Last Sunday we established five central, overarching truths about the story of Joseph essential to our understanding of his plight. Let me quickly recap them: One… From the very beginning it was clear God had a very important plan for Joseph’s life. Two… A portion of this plan had been revealed to Joseph through a divine revelation (two specific dreams).
Three… Regardless of whatever would transpire in his life, Joseph was continually loved by his Father. Which is important to keep in mind for it’s also undeniable that Four… God’s sovereign-will specifically yielded incredible suffering, and that Five… Joseph’s faithfulness and obedience not only failed to temper the severity of his circumstances, but in actuality ended up being the very reason his suffering continued and often increased.
As we dive into Genesis 39 Joseph’s story has gone from bad to worse. As mentioned last Sunday… Sold into slavery by his own brothers, Joseph has been taken down into Egypt against his will and sold again to an influential man by the name of Potiphar. Note: Potiphar worked directly for Pharaoh and was likely the captain of the Egyptian police.
Not only has Joseph been stripped of his status as his father’s favorite son, but he now finds himself as a common slave required to serve the fickle whims of a pagan master. And while no one would blame Joseph for possessing a sour attitude, we see the opposite reaction.
First, Joseph cedes that while this situation was not what he would have planned for himself if God allowed it there had to be an important reason. Then, with that perspective in mind, Joseph sets about making the most out of this unfortunate turn of events. With time Joseph eventually proves himself faithful and gains the trust of his master Potiphar.
In a twist… Because God was blessing Joseph, Potiphar recognizes he’s being blessed by default. As such he does the wise thing by not only promoting Joseph to “overseer” over his entire household, but verse 6 informs us that Potiphar’s trust in Joseph was so complete he “left all that he had in Joseph’s hand and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate.” Though still a slave Joseph is a freedman within Potiphar’s home.
Genesis 39:6-9, “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’ But he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’”
This phrase that “Joseph was handsome in form and appearance” is interesting. The idea is that Joseph had a good-looking face and possessed a rocking bod. Eugene Peterson paraphrases this verse as “Joseph was a strikingly handsome man.” Note: We only find this statement used to describe two other men in Scripture… King David and his son Absalom.
Don’t forget Joseph’s mother Rachel is described by the Holy Spirit in Genesis 29:17 as being “beautiful of form and appearance.” It would seem our man Joseph was the recipient of some good genes. Imagine this 22 year old as being a Jewish John Stamos. Just one look and any woman would have said, “Have Mercy.” (Yeah, that was a Full House reference.)
There really shouldn’t be a surprise then that Potiphar’s wife would “cast longing eyes on Joseph.” Not only was Joseph a hunk, beautimus, hot stuff, eye-candy, mackadoucios, sexy, gorgy, even swankalishious, but his position in the home made him available and easily accessible. My Dad always cautioned, “Time plus opportunity always equals trouble.”
Please understand there was no sin in noticing Joseph’s good-looks. Aside from this there was no sin in being tempted. That said… This married woman set herself up for a tragic fall the very moment she allowed what she saw to foster a deep, sexual longing within her heart.
She saw Joseph’s physical appearance. She was attracted to what she saw. This attraction grew into a wanting. Her eyes stirred her heart which in turn stimulated her imaginations. You would be correct in saying this woman was going “Coo Coo for a Hebrew cocoa puff.”
Before we progress any further it should be pointed out that most temptations increase in intensity and become all the more dangerous the very moment you allow what you see to become the thing you dwell upon. This woman’s error did not occur when she saw that Joseph was physically attractive. Her error took place the instance she allowed herself to become physically attracted to Joseph through her “longing” for him.
Friend, while it’s true it’s important you guard what you allow your eyes to see, I’m going to be honest that in our sexually-inundated culture that has become more and more difficult to accomplish. Sex sells. The classification of what is pornographic has been diluted. And therefore our societal norms on what is appropriate have been irreparable warped.
For example… Today, full female nudity has become so normalized in our mainstream media that Playboy (the most iconic men’s adult magazine in American history) has had to pivot their business model away from peddling smut to more journalistic pursuits just to attract an audience. Now that’s saying something!
Here’s my point… Though you will not be able to control what you see (unless you cut off the internet, unplug the TV, don’t drive down 85, no longer receive the mail, don’t go to the beach or pool, and black out your windows), you do retain the power to control what you choose to dwell upon! As Martin Luther famously said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
My Dad always told us that if we happened across a good-looking gal instead of sizing her up or checking her out (all of which foster longing) we should simply say, “Good job God!” You see it’s hard for an acknowledgement of God’s handiwork to transition into lust when that acknowledgement also concedes her identity… That she’s a daughter of the Most High.
I think it’s misguided, but there are those who try to excuse the actions of Potiphar’s wife by claiming such behaviors were culturally accepted in ancient Egypt. I’ve even heard people claim that her actions were in line with the sexual freedoms women possessed in that society. Sadly, such a position falls short because it overlooks the Egyptian view of marriage.
One of the interesting things about ancient Egyptian culture was their unique emphasis on the sanctity of marriage. Unlike many early societies that viewed marriage as nothing more than a civic duty, because Egyptian “women were equal to men as far as the law was concerned possessing the ability to own property, borrow money, sign contracts, initiate divorce, appear in court, etc.” love and genuine affection between parties were celebrated.
While we do not know their backstory, historically speaking it’s likely Potiphar and his wife were married because they had fallen in love. This wife hadn’t been forced into matrimony. It hadn’t been some transactional prearrangement. She chose to be Potiphar’s wife.
Sadly, the one inequality within Egyptian society centered upon adultery which was defined as “sexual relations with a married woman - not a married man.” This meant Potiphar’s wife was expected to remain faithful, while Potiphar himself was free to have some side action.
Understanding this dynamic (that adultery was a divorce-able offense and that at one point this woman had married Potiphar for love) makes her proposition for Joseph to “lie with her” so much more heart-wrenching and honestly shortsighted. Even in Egypt this was not ok.
Aside from the obvious consequences getting caught in such an act would have for Joseph (who had no protections under the law), what she was proposing would place her own future in peril as well. If caught she’d also loose everything. Her lust clouded her judgment.
And yet, what she lost sight of Joseph saw with crystal clear clarity. We’re told in response to her advances Joseph “refused” which indicated an unwavering resistance. Now before you simply gloss over this, keep in mind Joseph is a 22 year old virgin at the peak of his sexual drive. Aside from the fact he has a beautiful woman more than willing to get into his pants, acquiescing to the wishes of the master’s wife could have yielded a practical benefit.
And yet, Joseph doesn’t entertain her proposal in the slightest! Instead Joseph immediately refuses her advances before then verbalizing to Potiphar’s wife the reasons why. Notice the first word out of Joseph’s mouth following her proposition… He tells her, “Look!”
While she’d become blinded by her longing Joseph could see how the story would play out. He could see the consequences over the horizon. He knew what he had to loose and how a moment of pleasure would permanently effect Potiphar, this women, as well as himself.
I also find it significant that Joseph rejects such a proposal on the grounds that it was not an appropriate response to the kindness and favor Potiphar had shown him. He says, “My master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife.” It was clear to Jospeh Potiphar’s wife was off limits.
In a profound sense it was the grace Joseph had received that in turn became the great motivator for his behavior. It’s as though Joseph is saying, “Your husband has been so good to me… So kind… So gracious… His favor so obvious! And you know - I’m genuinely thankful. Committing such a sin is unthinkable because it runs counter to how I really feel.”
Aside from this notice how Joseph defines what Potiphar’s wife was proposing… He calls it a “great wickedness!” In the Hebrew this word “rá” is translated 442 times as “evil” as opposed to the 59 times it’s translated as “wickedness” or the 25 times we find it as “wicked.”
We must ask… How did Joseph know such an action was “wicked” and a “sin against God” since the Law wouldn’t be given for another 500 years? Keep in mind a “sin” is simply defined as anything that misses the mark - an action that falls short of God’s original design.
Interestingly enough, God’s design for marriage predated the Law and was first established in Genesis 2:24 when He said, “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Joseph didn’t need stone tablets to understand adultery was a “great wickedness” because it countered God’s blueprint for marriage. Adultery was therefore wicked (not because of Law), but on account it violated God’s design.
Personally, I don’t think it’s an accident we now refer to marital unfaithfulness as being “an affair” as opposed to using the Biblical title of “adultery” which then classifies it as a “sin against God” and therefore a “great wickedness.” Let’s be honest while no one argues that committing such an act is ok, calling it “an affair” serves to lessen the severity of offense.
We do this with all kinds of things: “Colorful language” as opposed to “profanity”, “lapse in judgment” over “transgression,” “religious insensitivity instead of “blasphemy”, “male homosexuality” in place of “sodomy”, “lesbianism” verses “fornication”, “premarital sex” sounds better than “sexual immorality”, “tipsy” verses “drunkenness”, “stuffed” instead of “gluttony”, “self-confidence” as opposed to “pride”, “white lie” over “deceit”, “a bad choice” as opposed to “rebellion”. And this list could go on and on…
Here’s why we do this… If we can remove the Biblical term and therefore definition we subsequently detach the behavior as being a “great wickedness” and a “sin against God!” If there are no wicked behaviors then there are no righteous ones. Removing God leaves the individual with the authority to define what is right or wrong for themselves.
To his credit Joseph refused this woman’s advances because he correctly understood that sex with this married woman was a crime committed not just against Potiphar, but against God’s design for marriage! Joseph rightly believed to act in such a way was therefore evil!
With this in mind Pastor Damian Kyle correctly observed that what’s wrong with today’s Christian culture is that “no one uses the word ‘wickedness’ anymore - other than God.”
As we continue please keep two things in mind: Joseph stood against this temptation because he understood (1) committing such an act would be an insult to the grace Potiphar had shown him, and (2) the act itself was a “great wickedness” and a “sin against God.”
This is why he says, “How can I?” With these things in mind, aside from this action yielding both temporal and eternal consequences, Joseph realized committing this transgression was not consistent with his identity. As a child of God “how can I” behave in such a way?
Genesis 39:10-12, “So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her. But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside.”
Imagine what this must have been like for Joseph… Even after refusing her initial proposal “day by day” this horney woman was on the prowl looking for a way to seduce him. And don’t forget even with his position as “overseer” Joseph is still a slave and was therefore required to maintain a measure of decorum around his master’s wife - as well as accessibility.
Every single day this seductress is finding reasons for Joseph “to be with her” hoping she can convince him to “lie with her.” She’s unrelenting. Her flirtations overt. Though the easier path would be for Joseph to relent and give in to her, he remains firm. Finally, the perfect opportunity arose where the conditions were perfect for her most forceful approach yet.
We’re told “it happened when none of the men of the house were inside” that “she caught Joseph by his garment” - which was likely an outer garment. While up until this point her overtures had been subtle and playful, in this moment her passion and desires come out with a vengeance. This time Potiphar’s wife had no plans on taking no for an answer.
She physically grabs hold of Joseph preemptively working to remove this outer garment all the while demanding he “lie with her.” Joseph realizes even a forceful “No!” is not going to suffice. Desperate to spurn her advances without adding unnecessary insult to injury Joseph pulls away from her “leaving his garment in her hand” before “fleeing” the house.
Joseph knew his actions may very well place him into a dicy situation, but as Matthew Henry once wrote Joseph believed, “It was better to lose a good coat than a good conscience.”
Genesis 39:13-20, “And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, ‘See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside.’
So she kept his garment with her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him with words like these, saying, ‘The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside.’ So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, ‘Your servant did to me after this manner,’ that his anger was aroused. Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison.
It’s been said, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Well for poor Joseph that proved to be true. Realizing the object of her desire would not succumb - that Joseph was not going to play her game and be her boy-toy… Coupled with the fact she was likely experiencing a measure of obvious embarrassment maybe even possessing a fear Joseph might report the incident to her husband, this woman concocts a story to cover her tracks.
As we just read Potiphar’s wife claims that Joseph had been the aggressor by making an unwelcome sexual pass her. Luckily he fled once she mounted a resistance and “cried out,” but not before leaving behind his garment - which she now presents as proof of her tale.
Moses tells us that upon “hearing the words which his wife spoke to him” Potiphar’s “anger was aroused” and he “took Joseph and put him into the prison.” While there are those who make the case Potiphar’s anger was aroused at Joseph because he believed his wife, it’s unlikely this is true. If he had Joseph the slave would have been swiftly executed.
What is more likely is that Potiphar’s anger was aroused on account that his wife’s actions have placed him into an impossible position. Aside from the fact there were obvious holes in her story - not to mention the accusation didn’t fit the character and reputation Joseph had developed, Potiphar was the chief of police and not an idiot. He knew his wife well.
Sadly, the psychological profile of this type of sexual compulsion indicates a strong likelihood this was not the first time she had pulled such a stunt. My guess is that Potiphar knew his wife was a recidivist - which may even explain why he had specifically promoted Joseph. He trusted Joseph’s integrity knowing his wife was likely to make these type of sexual advances.
Though speculative, what I believe angered Potiphar was that because his unfaithful wife had made such a public spectacle of the situation he would now be forced to act to maintain a measure of dignity within his home - even knowing Joseph was actually innocent. I mean it simply wouldn’t look good for him to side with a Hebrew slave over the word of his own wife.
Though he’s done absolutely nothing wrong and has instead handled himself in a Godly manner, Joseph is once again stripped of his standing and sent to the king’s prison.
In closing… I want to take the final few minutes we have together to discuss what we learn from Joseph’s example about how to handle temptation. First, like Joseph, when faced with a temptation the initial key is to refuse to even entertain the thought.
While Potiphar’s wife allowed her passions to stir concerning Joseph, Joseph wisely refused to give any thought to committing such a sin with her. “How can I?” was his perspective. Because of the identity Joseph possessed as a representative and child of God, the choice Potiphar’s wife was presenting to him was simply unthinkable. It’s been correctly stated that it’s always easier “to shun the bait, than struggle in the snare.”
Secondly, like Joseph, it’s then critical when faced with a temptation to remain steadfast in your refusal. The reality about temptation is that, like Potiphar’s wife, they often don’t take no for an answer. Instead, temptations and the very real enemy behind them will only increase in their relentlessness and tenacity. This is why, like Joseph, there may even be times when drastic times call for drastic measures.
Thirdly, like Joseph, when faced with a temptation it’s important you recognize the consequences that would result. In His famed shorted story that centers upon a series of demonic conversations about temptation C.S. Lewis wrote in the Screwtape Letters, “Whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
I’ve never met some who, with the passage of time, comes to see that succumbing to the temptations of the enemy made their lives better. How important it is we think through the full consequences of our behaviors (how our choices effect those around us) before we act.
Fourth, like Joseph, when faced with a temptation it’s essential you realize the essence of the act itself. Aside from the practical consequence, Joseph was able to resist the temptation to sleep with this woman because he understood the act itself wasn’t just innocent fun. Instead, Joseph saw adultery as being “wicked” and a “sin against God.”
Never forget, at it’s core, the temptation of the enemy is designed to get you to question the goodness of God and therefore the wisdom behind His commandments.
Finally, like Joseph, when faced with a temptation it’s necessary you remember the very grace that has afford you the life you presently possess. Joseph resisted the advances of this women because he rightly understood that committing such an act against Potiphar was simply inconsistent with the life he’d been given. Grace was his motivator.
In much the same way, before you give into a temptation always consider how good God has been to you. His amazing grace should always motivate you to a greater Godliness.
Here’s the thing about temptation… The fundamental strength to overcome a temptation resides not in yourself or your ability to prevail, but instead exists in the absence of need. You see the most effective way to resist whatever lie that temptation is promising is to rely on the life you’ve already been given in Christ Jesus.
To this point William M. Taylor wrote, “The best means of saying no to sin is to say yes with the whole heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. If you wish to dispel the darkness you will bring in a light… Our refusal to sin will be, then, only the outworking of our satisfaction with him; the consequence of our delight in him, and not the result of any outward compulsion. Here, young man, is the key to the whole position… Fill the heart with Christ, and when the tempter comes he will find it so preoccupied that there is no room in it for him and his seduction.”
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