Genesis 39: Joseph and Potiphar’s wife
This is a pretty famous story. At least, in Christian circles. If you don’t go to church, or hang around with Christians, maybe you won’t have heard it before.
As you may recall from Chapter 37, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and he was bought by an Egyptian named Potiphar. In this chapter, we find out that Joseph did pretty well for Potiphar. In fact, the LORD so blessed Potiphar under Joseph’s care that Potiphar put his entire household under Joseph. Verse 6 says that Joseph was doing such a good job running the household that Potiphar didn’t concern himself with anything but the food he ate.
But Joseph wasn’t just good at running a household. He was also “well-built and handsome” (verse 6), and soon Potiphar’s wife began to take notice of him. She tried to get Joseph to go to bed with her, 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. 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?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. (verses 8–10)
But this didn’t deter Potiphar’s wife. One day he got caught in the house when there was nobody there but him and her; she caught him by the cloak, and tried to get him to go to bed with her, but he ran out of the house, leaving the cloak in her hands.
I guess this was the breaking point for Potiphar’s wife. When Potiphar came back, she showed him the cloak, and told him that Joseph had tried to rape her. She said that when she screamed for help, he panicked and ran off, leaving his cloak. (For some reason, she tells this story to the other servants, first, before Potiphar gets home. I guess to practice.) When Potiphar heard this, he “burned with anger” (verse 19), and had Joseph thrown into prison.
And this is the part that I found the funniest: When Joseph gets thrown into prison, the warden looks kindly on him, and puts him in charge of the prison. He does such a good job that the warden “paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care” (verse 23).
Joseph is my kind of guy: always trying to do the right thing, even if he gets in trouble for it. He could have probably slept with Potiphar’s wife and gotten away with it, and saved himself a lot to trouble, to boot. But he did the right thing, and took the consequences for it.
Notice that, when Joseph is turning down Potiphar’s wife, he says “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (emphasis added) It wasn’t even Potiphar that Joseph was worried about, it was the LORD.
And, speaking of the LORD, I should point out something: the Bible makes clear that Joseph didn’t succeed just because he was good at running things; he succeeded because the LORD gave him success. It’s mentioned numerous times:
- verse 2: The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered…
- verse 3: …the LORD was with him and … gave him success in everything he did…
- verse 5: …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.
- verse 21: …the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.
- verse 23: …the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.