1Now 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.
2The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, 4Joseph 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. 5From 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. 6So 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.
Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, "Come to bed with me!"
8But 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. 9No 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?" 10And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even to be with her.
11One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12She 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. 13When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14she 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. 15When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house."
16She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17Then she told him this story: "That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house."
19When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, "This is how your slave treated me," he burned with anger. 20Joseph'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, 21the LORD was with him; He showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.
In this chapter, we return to continue the events in Joseph's life, who very quickly went from favored son, to slave in Egypt: "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" (vs. 1). Being handsome, young and strong, Joseph was most likely the "pick" of the slaves, thus he was bought by "Potiphar", one of Pharaoh's highest officials.
Now, the next statement of the narrator Moses seems strangely out of place: "The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered" (vs. 2). This statement raises all sorts of questions. How could "the LORD [be] with Joseph" if he has been almost killed by his own brothers, taken from his home, and sold as a slave in Egypt? And then, how could he be said to "prosper" as a slave in Egypt? Could it be that our traditional gauges of prosperity are incorrect? We would normally not think it possible for a slave in Egypt to live a prosperous life, nor would we consider the Lord to be with someone who has been taken out of his home and sold as a slave. So, here we learn in the Bible that our gauges of prosperity need to be modified. Here we learn that the Lord can be "with us", even as we face great affliction. We learn also that we can be prosperous even in humble circumstances, for true prosperity is defined not by material status, but by how faithful and diligent we are in the circumstances in which God has placed us. Joseph did not allow himself to use his change in status as an excuse to alter his godly character. "Though changed in condition, Joseph was not changed in spirit; though stripped of the [many-colored] coat that had adorned his person, he had not lost the moral graces that distinguished his character; though separated from his father on earth, he still lived in communion with his Father in heaven; though in the house of an idolater, he continued a worshipper of the true God." "Instead of complaining that God was unjust to him, that his lot so far away from home was utterly hopeless, [Joseph] put his whole power into the work that he had to do, and [so] we are not surprised to read that `the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous men.'"2
Joseph's attitude in affliction was a great testimony to those around him, and made quite an impression on his master: "When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, 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" (vss. 3-4). Though Potiphar worshiped false gods, he had an innate knowledge of the true God, and could discern God's favor upon Joseph, thus, Potiphar "saw that the LORD was with [Joseph]". "[T]he most worldly, unprincipled masters always admire and respect religion in a servant when they see that profession supported by conscientious principle and a consistent life." Oh, that those around us would be able to look at our behavior and character, and say, "The Lord is with him." We should strive to be a testimony of godliness for those around us, just as Joseph was. Note that Joseph's fine attitude in affliction mitigated his suffering. Though he was a slave, yet Potiphar "left in Joseph's care everything he had" (vs. 6). Thus, Joseph essentially lived as a free man.
Alas, though, with success comes risks and temptations: "Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, `Come to bed with me!'" (vss. 6-7). Joseph's success in Potiphar's household brought him to a position where he could be noticed by Potiphar's wife. And then, the fact that Joseph was "well-built and handsome" led her to attempt to seduce him. At times, being "blessed" with attributes that the world values can be a curse. Joseph's good looks led to great temptation. I thank God that I am not "well-built and handsome", and thus not subject to such temptation! There are definite advantages to not having the physical attributes that the world admires. It is much easier to live a godly life without these.
Joseph refused Potiphar's wife, saying: "With me in charge,... my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 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?" (vss. 8-9). Joseph knew it would be wrong to take advantage of Potiphar's kindness, and the freedom that Potiphar gave him. But more important to Joseph, to submit to the temptress' seduction would be to do "a wicked thing and sin against God". Joseph was more concerned with pleasing God than he was with pleasing man. And likewise, Joseph's fear of God was greater than his fear of man. "And, indeed, nothing is more powerful to overcome temptation than the fear of God."
Potiphar's wife, however, was not rebuffed by Joseph's refusal. She persevered. Quite probably, she considered her husband's slaves to be her property, to do with as she pleased. This, in fact, may be the first recorded instance of sexual harassment! Most assuredly, as Solomon wisely noted, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun" (Eccl. 1:9).
Joseph kept his honor and continued to refuse her: "And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even to be with her" (vs. 10). Resisting such temptation must have been very difficult for Joseph, especially given that he was in his late teens at the time. Such temptation is the real test of morality. Many of us refrain from sin merely due to lack of opportunity. We stay pure because we are not sorely tempted. The real test of our virtue is resistance to real temptation. "Temptation is one of the great tests of life and character. It transforms innocence into virtue."
Not that we should seek out temptation in order to test our virtue. No, we should (of course) do our best to avoid situations in which we will experience temptation. Much of Joseph's success in resisting the advances of Potiphar's wife is due to the fact that he avoided encountering her, for we are told that "he refused to go to bed with her or even to be with her." And then later, when Potiphar's wife "caught him by his cloak", Joseph "left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house" (vs. 12). For most forms of temptation, flight is the best way to resist. To reason with the tempter almost never works. Don't reason. Turn tail and run! Remember this, young men and women! These days, so many young people hear the same words that Joseph did: "Come to bed with me." Many times these words will come from what one considers to be a trusted companion. Thus, one will be inclined to reason with the tempter. This is dangerous. Do as Paul advised to young Timothy: "Flee the evil desires of youth" (II Tim. 2:22).
Potiphar's wife's anger at being rebuffed turned to revenge: "When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 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. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.'" (vss. 13-15). Potiphar's wife was a case of sin gone mad. She had absolutely no more shame. The devil could do with her what he pleased. The end result of her lies was that the godly Joseph was unjustly thrown into prison: "When [Joseph's] master heard the story his wife told him, saying, `This is how your slave treated me,' he burned with anger. Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined" (vss. 19-20).
Now, Joseph was righteous in the situation. He withstood the temptation and remained faithful to God. So here, we might ask: "How could God allow Joseph to be thrown into prison?" In answer to this, we must note that God's people have never been promised an affliction-free life here on earth. On the contrary, we have been promised that "in this world, [we] shall have trouble" (see John 16:33). In fact, Peter tells us that if we are going to suffer, "it is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil" (I Pet. 3:17). So it is quite possible that the time will come when we do everything right in God's sight, and yet (like Joseph) still suffer for our actions.
During such times, we must (like Joseph) maintain our trust in God--our trust that God has the situation under control. This is a real test of our faith. We have no problem believing that God has everything under control when things are going well, but it is very difficult to believe this when we are in the midst of affliction.
Despite what we think, God is under control. We can especially see this in Joseph's situation. If we read the next couple of chapters in Genesis, we see that Joseph's imprisonment leads to his becoming the second most powerful man in Egypt (see Gen. 41:43). Until that time, though Joseph was in prison, God stood by him during his time of testing: "But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; He showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 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. 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" (vss. 20-23).
Father, we praise You that You are always with us, even through affliction, working out Your plans and purposes. Help us, by Your Spirit, to keep our trust in You even in times of trouble, just as Joseph did. Also help us to be a good testimony for You to those around us as we live our lives. May those around us see, by our attitude and behavior, that You are with us. Be glorified in our lives. In the name of Your Son, who suffered so much for our sakes, we pray these things, Amen.