In our broadcast today we will continue with the story of Joseph in Genesis chapter 39, beginning in verse 7. Last week we looked at the first six verses of this chapter, where Joseph is a slave in Potiphar’s house. There, God is with him, God prospers him, he gains favor in the sight of his master, and everything in Potiphar’s house is committed to his care. If we skip over the middle section of this chapter and look just at the last three verses, where Joseph is unjustly incarcerated, we see that the Scriptures use almost exactly the same language to describe what happens in prison. There, verses 20-23 tell us, the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison, and the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all that happened in the prison, so that he did not have to concern himself with anything, and that all because the Lord was with Joseph and the Lord made everything that Joseph did to prosper.
As we look at this chapter, it is important that we notice that beginning and ending. The Holy Spirit is telling us two things. First, that in everything Joseph went through, God was with him to strengthen him and give him grace, even when it seemed otherwise. And second, that in all the events of Joseph’s life, good and evil alike, God was sovereign. Just as God in His providence had seen to it that Joseph was hated by his brothers and sold into Egypt, and just as God in His providence brought Joseph to the house of Potiphar and prospered him there, so God in His providence now leads Joseph through another dark period in his life in which he is sorely tempted, and then because he is faithful in that temptation, he ends up in prison. God brings to him both prosperity and adversity, and God is with him, both in prosperity and adversity.
In the verses we look at today, the wife of Potiphar, Joseph’s master, attempts to seduce Joseph, and when Joseph refuses, she lies about him, with the result that Joseph is cast into prison.
The temptation that Joseph had to endure here was real and was powerful.
For a number of years Joseph has been working for Potiphar, and as he matures, probably now in his early to mid 20s, he comes to the attention of his master’s wife. Verse 7 tells us that she “cast her eyes upon Joseph,” that is, she looked at him with longing eyes, and she said to him, “Lie with me.” In the absence of her husband she assumes authority, and she commands Joseph, “come to bed with me, now.” What a dreadful abuse of power.
God, I said, brought this temptation to Joseph. What occasioned it, according to verse 6, was that “Joseph was a goodly person, and well favored.” That is, he was handsome in appearance, and pleasant in personality. These two things, good looks and a pleasant personality, were God’s gift to Joseph. It was in his genes. The same language is used of his mother, Rachel, to whom Jacob was immediately attracted. And now, because of these, Joseph is put into a tempting situation. Joseph did nothing to encourage it, but rather God in His providence brought him there.
There is something for us to say here. Oftentimes when we are tempted, and think especially sexual temptation, oftentimes it is because we open ourselves up to temptation, we put ourselves in tempting situations. Maybe it is flirtatious behavior, or maybe we go to places or watch things that are inappropriate, or maybe if we are young and unmarried, we are alone with our date. Here, Joseph does none of those things. God simply leads him into a tempting situation.
Now, understand, this was a real and a strong temptation for Joseph. Joseph, like any normal young man, was created with hormones that produced physical desires. And I have to think that there was something attractive about Potiphar’s wife. Potiphar was, after all, a man who moved among the rich and famous in Egypt. This was not an old lady attempting to seduce Joseph. And then we notice also how persistent she is. Not only is she bold, telling Joseph exactly what she wants from him, but she is persistent. Verse ten tells us that day after day she made this proposal to him, trying to wear him down. No one is around. No one will know. Joseph could have reasoned, I deserve this; here I am, all alone, what other opportunities are there for love here? And she is available.
How similar this is to sexual temptation in our own day and culture. It is all around us, constantly making its offers, readily available, and you can do it in secret—in the privacy of your home, the privacy of Internet and movies. And everyone is told, “This will make you happy, and you deserve it, it’s your choice.” And it is just as brazen. Our young people find this out when they go to college or are in the workplace. There is no holding back on suggestive comments, crude humor, and men and women alike who make themselves available to you, especially if you, like Joseph, are attractive.
Behind it, is Satan, and, like Potiphar’s wife, Satan will work on us to wear us down, day after day. He will work on our eyes and ears, he will work on our thoughts and desires, he will work on our relationships, he will work through the media, he will work through books and literature, and he will not ever give up until he wins. In our society today, this is the predominant temptation. Satan is working harder with this temptation than with any other. Why is that? It is because Satan knows that if he can destroy the sexual morals of a society, he has destroyed the family. And if he has destroyed families, he has destroyed the church. Just look back to Joseph’s own family, and see how the polygamy of his father brought hatred and division, and how his sons Judah and Reuben had fallen into sexual immorality too. All this was a threat to the separate existence of God’s people in Canaan. Through sexual immorality the church becomes more and more like the world.
In response to this real and powerful temptation, Joseph says, NO. He resists the temptation. He refuses Potiphar’s wife. How did he do that?
We have here, in Joseph, both an example of how to overcome temptation, and a clear testimony to where Joseph found the strength to overcome.
Looking at Genesis 39, we notice several things.
First, Joseph refused immediately. In Ephesians 4:27 we are exhorted not to “give place to the devil.” Joseph gave no room for Satan, or this woman, to tempt him. He, like the godly man in Psalm 1, did not listen to the counsel of the ungodly. He refused the enticements immediately.
Second, Joseph made no excuses for sinning. What others would have used as an excuse for sin, Joseph used as a reason not to sin. In verse 8 he says, “My master doesn’t know what is with me in the house.” Others would say, he does not know, so here is my opportunity. Joseph says, “He doesn’t know because he trusts me, so how can I betray that trust.”
Third, Joseph verbalizes his refusal, and in doing this he takes a stand. He does not say, I’ll think about it, or not today but maybe another time. He does not say, I’m not attracted to you, or you’re too old. No, he flat out says no, and then explains why his answer is no. In verbalizing it, Joseph makes a confession of commitment to remain chaste and not to commit this act.
Fourth, Joseph makes an appeal to the conscience, to his own conscience and the conscience of his seductress. He says to Potiphar’s wife, “My master has kept back nothing from me but you, because you are his wife.” You, Mrs. Potiphar, you are not mine, you don’t belong to me. God has given you to Potiphar. I cannot do this.
Fifth, Joseph calls sin by its proper name. Today this is softened and called an “affair,” making it sound fun and attractive, something you might want to do. Joseph calls it “wickedness” and “sin.” In verse 9, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” This is not the way Mrs. Potiphar saw it, and not the way our culture sees it today. As long as two adults consent, our culture says, Do it. You’re entitled to it. Do not let anyone or anything stop you. But in Joseph’s eyes it is a great wickedness.
Sixth, Joseph was on guard. He took precautions so that he would not be tempted. Verse 10 tells us that as she daily enticed him, he not only refused to listen to her, but he avoided her. He does everything in his power to keep temptation at bay. When she comes in the front door of the house, he goes out the back door. Jesus says we should watch and pray so that we do not enter into temptation. This is what Joseph did. He did not trust himself. He did not say, Well, I’m strong enough, so I can be with her. No, he avoided the very opportunities to sin.
Seventh, he refused her repeatedly. He did not let Satan, or this woman, wear him down. “No!” was his immediate and consistent answer, and he did not waver on that. Pretty soon, she figures this out too. She is not going to wear him down, and so, to get what she wants, she has to resort to forcing him.
And then, eighth, he flees. When she ambushes him in the house, on his own, and grabs him by his coat and demands, “Now, lie with me,” he runs, leaving his coat in her hands. That is bravery and freedom. Potiphar’s wife is a slave to her sinful desire. Joseph, on the other hand, is free to refuse. He fled, and got him out, out of the house, as far away from the temptation as he could. In the New Testament, talking about this very sin, Paul alludes to what Joseph does here by saying, “Flee fornication.” There is such a power to this temptation that it requires a unique response. Other sins we may grapple with and take on in hand-to-hand combat, reasoning with the tempter, but the only proper course of action with this sin is to flee. This sin is like a baited hook; it looks tasty, but, as Proverbs tells us, the end thereof is death. You may meddle with it, but in the end a dart will strike through your heart.
Joseph did not meddle with and so was not taken in by this sin.
How remarkable! Proverbs 7:26 says of this sin, “many strong men have been slain by her.” How true. Some who, we have thought, were the strongest, the most spiritual, the most godly (David, a man after God’s own heart), have been sucked into this sin, slain by her.
But Joseph resists.
And how remarkable, too, when we consider Joseph’s background. If anyone might have a disposition towards this sin, and might use his family life as an excuse, it would be Joseph. His father had multiple wives, so multiple relationships. His own mother was the beautiful and unspiritual one. His older brother Reuben had slept with one of his father Jacob’s concubines. His brother Judah, in his prosperity, had gone seeking the services of a prostitute, who it turns out was his daughter-in-law. This is the home Joseph was from, and yet he was faithful.
Where did he get his strength?
Answer: The Lord was with him. I said at the beginning that this is the theme and line of thought through this chapter. The Lord was with him. Joseph was faithful to God, because God was faithful to him. God was with him. God had not only led Joseph into this temptation, but God also provided for Joseph a way of escape. Joseph not only experienced the power of this temptation, but also the greater power of the grace and Spirit of God. This was his strength. God was faithful to him and was with him.
There is great encouragement for us here. It may be that you were brought up in a family of bad examples. It may be that your past is peppered with this sin. But in the end, those things don’t matter, and must not be used as an excuse for sexual sin. Whatever our temptations, God is able to do exceeding abundantly above what we ask or think. He is able to keep us from falling. He will provide a way of escape. Whatever the sins of the past, God’s forgiving grace is greater. He has washed us and made us clean of the guilt of sin through the blood of His Son.
These are things that Joseph realized. Despite his background and despite the strength of his temptation and the weakness of his own flesh, Joseph looked to and lived before the face of God. This is his main argument against temptation, his main source of strength, his strongest tool of resistance. In verse 9, he says, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” God was more real to Joseph than anything else. Conscious of the fact that he lives before God, he says, “How can I, I who have been saved, I who have been loved, I who am a child of God, how can I do this to my God.” He did not say, “I might contract an STD.” He did not say, “There may be an unwanted pregnancy.” He did not say, “This may bring the wrath of Potiphar down on me and threaten my job.” No, he said, “How can I do this to my God?” This is the true secret of his strength: he loved God. He had a passion for God that was stronger than any other desire in his life. Joseph did not overcome temptation by simply saying NO, by mere power of the will. No, he loved the Lord and he lived before the Lord.
In Psalm 16:8 David says, “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” When I am tempted, I shall not be moved, because God is with me. Oh may that be our constant confession and resolve: to live before the face of God.
And then, also, to remember who we are and what God has done for us. In Romans 6:2 Paul asks this important question, “How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” This was in Joseph’s thinking. I may be a slave in Potiphar’s house, but I am not a slave to sin. I have been set free.
And so, remembering who he was, and living before God, Joseph refused and resisted the temptation.
And what was the outcome? The outcome was very promising, this: that God was with him.
Yes, the outcome for Joseph personally, in his experience, and in the circumstances of his life, was horrible. He was lied about, he was made to look like the bad guy, he was slandered, he was racially profiled, he was ganged up on, he was treated unjustly, he lost his job, he was imprisoned. Psalm 105 tells us it was with metal stocks and chains, all because he was faithful in temptation.
And, you know, when we in temptation are faithful to our God, this is exactly how we can expect to be treated by the world and by those who don’t know God. A young person who will not join in wild partying, a man on the job who will not laugh at or contribute to crude humor, a woman who is deliberately modest in her dress, can expect to be scorned.
Faithfulness will cost you something.
But God was with Joseph in prison, and prospered him there.
Somehow Joseph’s life is spared, and he ends up in the King’s prison. In prison, Joseph is blessed with a clear conscience. Potiphar is angry. His wife is guilty. But Joseph is free. He did not have to second-guess what he had done. No, he had confidence that what he had done was right before God. And God is with him in his relationship with the jailer. Somehow, his trustworthiness and godliness make an impression on the keeper of the prison, and he trusts Joseph with the care of all the prisoners and everything that goes on in the prison. Joseph is exalted again.
Do you not see a pattern in his life? Humiliation and exaltation. So often, this is precisely the way God works with His people. He brings us very low, in order to lift us up again, and prepare us in some special way to serve Him. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness before God was ready to use him to lead His people. David was hunted and chased before he was exalted to the throne. And Christ, too, was betrayed, denied, rejected, beaten, nailed to the cross, forsaken of God. It was humiliation with the purpose of exaltation.
It may be that, because of faithfulness to God, you are going through some very difficult and humiliating things in your life. And you do not know why. Joseph did not either. How could he? But God had greater things in mind for Joseph than working in Potiphar’s house. And through Joseph’s faithfulness and trouble, God would make those things happen. And His purpose was not just Joseph, but the salvation of His church. This is church history.
Because Joseph was faithful, he was cast into prison.
Because he was cast into prison, he interpreted the dream of the cupbearer.
Because he interpreted the dream of the cupbearer, he interpreted the dream of Pharaoh.
Because he interpreted the dream of Pharaoh, he became prime minister of Egypt.
Because he became prime minister of Egypt, the Egyptians were saved from starvation in a famine.
Because the Egyptians were saved from starvation, Joseph’s own family were also saved from starvation, and brought to Egypt.
And because Joseph’s family was saved and brought to Egypt, the Messianic line of Christ could continue.
And because the Messianic line of Christ could continue, Jesus Christ has come to be our Savior.
All because God was with Joseph, and he was faithful in temptation.
When people hurt us, and when God brings trouble and pain in our lives, we must not mope and whine, but know that God is behind it, and God is with us, working sovereignly to accomplish His saving purposes.
This is what we learn from the outcome of this story. God is with Joseph. And that is His promise to us too.
Let us pray.
Father, we give thanks for the grace that enables us to resist temptation. Lord, be with us, and help us to see that Thy sovereign hand directs all things for the salvation of Thy people and church. What a confidence and trust we have. Amen.