Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Genesis 39 Joseph - Kept by God against many Odds


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[1] 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[2] 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.

[1] Lit. 'he whom Ra has given'

[2] William Congreve (24 January 1670 – 19 January 1729) was an English playwright and poet of the Restoration period. He is known for his clever, satirical dialogue and influence on the comedy of manners style of that period ( ource : Wikipedia)

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Genesis 39 Joseph - Kept by God against many Odds

  Joseph is the leading character of this last section of Genesis.    Last time we looked at   Genesis 38, which   was a   short digression ...