Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

There are some stories in the Bible that don’t have much application to them.  They are included as evidence of the nature of God, historical background for the later generations, or for many other reasons.

Some pastors and certainly more than a few church members believe that unless there is a clear application to a particular scripture passage, it isn’t worth teaching.  This thinking is erroneous and stifles our growth as Christians.  Just as in life, not all things are easily packaged into small, digestible parts.

Fortunately with the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, that isn’t the problem.  This morning’s story has one of the clearest applications in all of the Bible and if you’re familiar with the story you probably already know what idea you should take home from the it.  Nevertheless, there’s a few other things to point out along the way.

Genesis 39:1

1 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there.

We pick up where we left off last week with Joseph in the hands of slave traders.  Joseph is sold to the Ishmaelites.  Now the Ishmaelites are actually relatives of Joseph.  In this generation, the Ishmaelites are actually second cousins to Joseph.  However we must remember the amount of time that has passed.  Ishmael was sent away from Abraham shortly after Isaac was born.  Isaac didn’t marry until he was forty and didn’t have children until sixty.  Only fairly recently in the book of Genesis has he passed away at the age of 180.  Joseph is only the grandson of Isaac.

On the other hand, there have likely been a few more generations removed from Ishmael.  At this point it has been at least 170 years since Ishmael first left Abraham.  If one would look at the history of Fulks Run and go back 170 you’d find that most of you are cousins of some degree that you can’t even explain.  This is the case with Joseph.  Even though the Ishmaelites would technically be related, neither party is likely to have any clue.

Slavery is an issue that appears in the Bible a few times.  Now there is no good side of slavery but there still was not the abuses that are commonly pictured when slavery is mentioned.  Slaves were mainly prisoners of war and people who could not pay their debts and were forced to sell themselves into slavery rather than starve.

Not to make light of slavery or in any way compare it to what was in America, but many of you are essentially slaves.  You do jobs that you do not want to do without having any input as to how to best do that job, all because you are otherwise unable to pay your bills and feed your family.  There was no welfare or unemployment services.  If you couldn’t pay your bills because you had no job, you’d be forced into slavery where you would have a job and at least have food, water, and shelter.  It wasn’t something that someone would do willingly but it was better than starving.

After entering the Promised Land, God actually gave rules for slavery.  First and foremost slaves were still people created in God’s image and were not to be mistreated.  Slavery was also not meant to be lifetime “employment.”  It was supposed to be for a period of time to repay debts.  When the time came to be released from service, some slaves chose to continue to work for their master and stay under his care rather than return to their freedom.  They entered into a lifetime contract with their master where they would continue to work and the master would continue to provide for the slave.  Needless to say, this is not the typical picture when we think of slavery and Joseph would not have had it so good but he does have it better than we might think.

Vs 2-6

2 The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So he left in Joseph’s care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.

Passages such as these occur frequently in the Bible.  Laban saw that he was blessed when Jacob was with him.  Several kings of Babylon saw that they were blessed by Daniel’s presence and stewardship.  And here, it seems as if everything that Joseph touches turns to gold.

We shouldn’t mistakenly think that God is going to bless every devout person who has their heart set on following Him however.  The Bible is also full of people whose lives were filled with hardship.  Most of the prophets are examples of that.  Elijah in particular spent much of his life on the run and in fear of being killed.  Even after his great victory over the prophets of Baal, he soon falls into a depression when he sees the people’s lack of faith.  God has promised to take care of us, not make us wealthy and prosperous.

Hidden in this passage is also one of the keys to evangelism however.  This idea is more important now than ever so listen closely.  Joseph doesn’t do anything other than live his life the way it is supposed to be lived to get Potiphar’s attention.  By serving faithfully, Potiphar notices that Joseph is different.  He then takes notice that his household is being blessed.  Eventually he puts two and two together and realizes the Joseph is the source of the blessing.  The more that Potiphar trusts to Joseph, the more he find himself blessed.

Here’s where this ties into evangelism.  Joseph is a child of God.  He has the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in his DNA.  He has specifically been given dreams that tell him he is to be a ruler and his own family will bow down to him.  As Joseph arrives at Potiphar’s household he is most certainly unhappy about his situation.  But rather than demanding that Potiphar listen to him on account of who he is, he just gets to work and lives his life according to what he has been taught.

Christians have an attitude problem.  Yes, we have the gospel and the only means of salvation.  You and I hold the single most important piece of information in life.  People around us are dying every day and they need what we have.  And the most tragic part is the fact that they don’t care.

People don’t care about the message that we have because we spend far too much time saying “Hey, I’m a Christian.  I have all the answers.  Listen to me!”  People don’t care about what we have to say.  They need to see that what we have is a better way.  We have an obligation to share the gospel but we foolishly think that the only way to do that is by running our mouths.

St. Francis of Assisi is attributed to saying “Preach the gospel and when necessary, use words.”  Actions speak louder than words.  Sometimes we need to just shut our mouths and let our lives do our witnessing for us.  Joseph lived his life properly and Potiphar took notice of it.  That’s evangelism in its best form as far as I’m concerned.

Vs 6b-10

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”

8 But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.

With success comes opposition however.  Satan doesn’t like it when God blesses us so he throws stumbling blocks in our way and tries to tempt us.  On top of everything else, God has given him good looks.  I like to think that I was blessed with the opposite of good looks as I didn’t face the temptation that Joseph faces and still ended up with a beautiful wife.

Joseph first attempts to apply logic to the situation by explaining that he had everything placed under his care and was trusted with everything in the household except for his master’s wife.  But sin and temptation so rarely succumb to logic.  Usually we try to twist logic to justify our own situation.

I recent spoke with a man whose marriage is ending after forty years.  For the last several years he has been having an affair.  This is a man who I believe is a solid Christian, who has taught Sunday school in his church.  But he fell victim to sin, just like we are all apt to do.  The difference is that his sin has far more reaching consequences than most of our sins.  I don’t know what began his problems but he knows that there are no justifications for his actions morally and the courts aren’t going to have any compassion for him in divorce proceedings either.  But at the time, I feel certain that he had all sorts of justifications for his actions.

Despite Joseph’s attempts to dissuade Potiphar’s wife, she keeps coming after him and Joseph has no choice but to avoid her completely.  This is the best way to avoid temptation – stay out of places where you know you will be tempted.

This means that if you’re an alcoholic, stay out of bars.  If you can’t control your finances, leave your credit cards at home.  If you struggle with lust – and men, this is virtually all of us and don’t even pretend like it’s not – don’t watch movies and shows that are going to feed that temptation.

Vs 11-15

11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.

13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

Final application for dealing with sin – RUN!

Vs 19-23

19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. 20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.
But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

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