Joseph is the leading character of this last section of Genesis. Last time we looked at Genesis 38, which was a short digression and an uncomfortable reflection on the life of the 4th born brother, Judah. We are now back with Joseph, our leading character.
1. 39:1-6 Though a slave now, God was with Joseph him and gave him favour.
2. 39:7-19 Joseph’s temptation and trial
3. 39:20-23 Joseph in prison: God’s favour and providence yet again
1. 39:1-6 Though a slave now, God was with Joseph him and gave him favour.
In Chapter 37 we saw that Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery. They had actually planned to kill him, but he was rescued by brothers Reuben (37:21) and Judah (37:26,27) and instead they sold Joseph into slavery. We shall later learn that this was all due to the hand of God. The brothers meant this for evil, but God was in the detail, and He overruled for their good (see Genesis 45:5). Sold into slavery Joseph then was bought by Potiphar an Egyptian officer (39:1).
What is evident in this entire passage is that God was with Joseph in this situation – see 39:2,3,5,21,23 Please note: God did not deliver Joseph from slavery, but He proved Himself to be his God in this unpleasant ordeal of being a slave. Here is a truth that we do not easily appreciate, accept or understand. We know that slavery is a moral evil, but the Bible does not deal with the moral issue of slavery. It focuses on the sufficient grace of God who is with His people in the midst of their ordeal. In the most unfavourable circumstance, God shows favour and gives success. We see this too in the account of Daniel and his three friends. They were essentially slaves of the Babylonians, but in the midst of this ordeal they found favour with God and men.
An interesting commentary on the plight of Joseph is found in Psalm 105:16-22: 17… he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.18 His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; 19 until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him.20 The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free; 21 he made him lord of his house and ruler of all his possessions,22 to bind his princes at his pleasure and to teach his elders wisdom.
Did Joseph suffer? Yes.
Did he experience pain? Yes. His feet were hurt… his neck was put in a collar of iron….
But is the focus on pain and slavery? No! The emphasis is on the word of the Lord and His testing of Joseph. The emphasis throughout is on the fact that the Lord was with him in this experience. We have seen that at least five times in Joseph's unhappy experience here. The God of his fathers, the God who is faithful to His covenant promises is with him, just as God was with the three friends of Daniel in the heat of the furnace. He was the 4th man present in the fire (Daniel 3:8-30).
In the same way He was with Daniel in the den of very hungry lions (Daniel 6).
He was with his people in their desert wanderings (Exodus).
He was with Jonah in the belly of a whale.
He was with Paul and Silas in their Philippian prison experience (Acts 16:16-40).
He was with Paul in his many shipwrecks, beating and stonings (2 Corinthians 11:23-12:10).
But He was not so with Jesus as He hung on the cross. There He was forsaken for our sake. God allowed Him to suffer my sin and your sin, unaided by divine grace. He bore the full wrath of God.
Back to Joseph. God keeps His people in the midst of their strong trials and testing. Now there is something worth thinking about in this. We have already seen that Potiphar’s name means 'he whom Ra (the Egyptian sun god) has given'. Joseph was not given into the hands of him whom Ra has given. Joseph was not at the mercy of the sun god of the Egyptians. He was in the hands of the one true God! And it was this God that was with him. It was He that caused Joseph to succeed. It was because of Joseph’s God that the Egyptian Potiphar was blessed and prospered, and therefore he trusted Joseph exceedingly.
39:7-19 Joseph’s temptation and trial
Just when we think, “well there is Joseph’s lucky break”, there appears another strong trial for Joseph. This section begins with these words, “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time the master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph…” (39:6,7). It is at this point that Joseph distinguishes himself from his brothers Reuben (see Gen. 35:22) and Judah (Genesis 38). Both men proved to be men of loose sexual morals – men who did not fear God.
Joseph’s response to Mrs Potiphar’s advances is found in 39:8,9. Firstly, in 39:8 he tells her, “I can’t do this. Your husband trusts me. He has given freedom in his house”, and by implication he is saying to her, “I don’t want to disappoint my master by abusing that one thing which is forbidden – to touch you, his wife” (39:9). He says, “how then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?“ Joseph knows that this is sexual immorality. He knows, that by doing this, he would primarily sin against God. Later in the law given through Moses this would be made more explicit: “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex.20:14) and “you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife”… (Ex. 20:17). This law was already written on the tablets of Joseph’s heart before Moses, under God gave this law to the Israelites. When David sinned with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), his confession ultimately steers in this direction, when he confesses to the Lord, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4).
Let this sink into our thick skulls: All sin is primarily an act of defiance against God ! We see here very clearly that, that which motivates Joseph, is the fear of the Lord.
In 39:10 we learn that this became a daily battle for Joseph, and he has our admiration, as day after day he resists this temptation. But, the moment comes in 39:11 when she corners him alone, and Joseph did what he had to do in such a situation. He fled! This is what the apostle Paul speaks about in 2 Timothy 2:22 when he tells Timothy to flee youthful passions.
Obeying God here carries a heavy cost for Joseph. There is a saying, “hell has no fury like a woman scorned”. This is a shortening of William Congreve's famous saying in his work, “The Mourning Bride” (1697), "Heav'n has no rage, like love to hatred turn'd, nor Hell a fury like a woman scorn'd".
The truth about such passionate desires as this woman had for Joseph is that they very quickly turn to hate when scorned. We have seen this before in the case of the rape of Tamar by Amnon in 2 Samuel 13. Following his rape of her we read, “then Amnon hated her with very great hatred…”. And so it is that she turns on Joseph with a viciousness that leaves him utterly vulnerable. There are no witnesses, and she has the proof of the shirt that she ripped off his body when he fled. Things could not be worse for poor Joseph. But, thankfully, there is One that has seen. And so Joseph landed in prison. nd God was there with him.
3. 39:20-23 Joseph’s prison experience: God’s favour yet again
We have noted the doctrine of God’s providence in Joseph’s turbulent life. From being his father's favourite, he became a hated brother, and then a slave, to successful servant, and now an accused as a sex offender and now a prisoner. But once again, in 39: 21 we are assured that the LORD (Covenant Name) who sees the truth was with him. He is with him in that he does not receive the death sentence, customary for servants /slaves in his position. And of course, God has him in that prison for a reason. It will be a while before that reason will become apparent. That is always a very difficult dilemma. What is God doing? Well, with what we have learned already, we know that God is doing a work in Joseph. So, although he was in the Refiners fire ( like Daniel’s 3 friends), he was not going to be destroyed there. Quite on the contrary! God was going to bless him there (see 39:21,23). What unusual providence!
This reminds me of that great hymn by William Cowper (1731-1800).. . particularly verse 5
1. God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform: He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.
2. Deep in unfathomable mines Of never-failing skill,He treasures up His bright designs, And works His sovereign will.
3. Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread; are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.
4. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
5. His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour: The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower.
6. Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan His work in vain;God is His own Interpreter, And He will make it plain.
Now, dear friend I do not know about your trials and temptations. But from biblical teaching and personal experience I know, that God works out all things for the good of those that love Him and are called to his purpose (Rom. 8:28ff). In and through our trials He blesses us and He moulds our character into greater Christlikeness. Every believer needs to recognize that in God's providence, God has a purpose for His people – even the dark mysterious providences. I remind you again of Cowper's words :
“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face."
The way you respond in the context of God's dark providences is an opportunity for you to bring glory to God. Every time you face a crisis, and whenyou bear up under it and demonstrate real faith in God, you are a great encouragement to the rest of us.
The unfolding story makes it clear that God’s unseen hand brought Joseph to Egypt for the task of preserving His people. All this was for the good. But we will have to leave that thought for the chapters to come.
May God enable you to believe that all that happens to you is a part of His goodness.