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. Genesis 39:1
Joseph was the first born of Jacob’s favored wife, Rachel. Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other sons and made an ornate robe for him. When Joseph shared his dreams with his brothers, they were enraged. Joseph’s brothers provoked by jealousy had plotted to kill him, but Judah persuaded them to sell him to some Ishmaelites traveling in a caravan instead. Then they stripped Joseph of his ornate robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. They showed the robe to their father Jacob who assumed Joseph was torn to death by a wild animal. Meanwhile Joseph was sold into slavery down in Egypt to Potiphar who was one of Pharaoh’s officials and captain of the guard. Potiphar was either the chief of the state police or captain of the palace guard. In either case, he was a man of wealth and position.
The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. Genesis 39:2
Slaves who were captives of war were generally sent to labor in the field and subjected to harsh treatment under the “rod” of their taskmasters. Usually slaves who were purchased were bought for domestic purposes. Joseph lived and served in the house of 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. 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. Genesis 39:3-5
Potiphar knew that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was with Joseph. But how would an Egyptian official in Pharaoh’s service who worshipped idols know about Yehovah the God of the Hebrews? Another Pharaoh had a personal encounter with the God of the Hebrews. This Pharaoh and his household did not receive blessings but were seriously afflicted by Yehovah.
Abram had gone down to Egypt along with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot during a time of famine in Canaan. Since Sarai was very beautiful, Abram had deceived the Egyptians into believing that Sarai was only his sister when in fact, she was his wife. Pharaoh believing that Sarai was unmarried took her into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired many servants and much livestock.
But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. In his inquiry to understand why he and his household were afflicted, Pharaoh discovers that he has taken Abram’s wife as his own and is being punished for it. Pharaoh is angry. He blames Abram for not telling him the essential truth – that Sarai is Abram’s wife – rather than that she was his sister. Because Pharaoh senses that he is being judged for taking Sarai, he doesn’t punish either Abram or Sarai, but instead sends them out of Egypt.
Potiphar may have known of the account of this dramatic personal encounter between the God of the Hebrews and the Pharaoh of Abram’s day or Potiphar may have witnessed Joseph worshipping the LORD. In either case, Potiphar understood that Joseph was successful in whatever he did because the LORD was with him.
The LORD made the following promise to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 11:13-15:
So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul—then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.
The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had both in the house and in the field, because the LORD was with Joseph and Joseph loved and served the LORD whole-heartedly.
So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Genesis 39:6a
The blessing of the LORD was upon everything that Potiphar owned. In addition, Joseph must have earned Potiphar’s respect and trust by his faithful service to his master since Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care.
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!” Genesis 39:6b-7
Egyptian women were not kept in the same secluded manner as females were in most Oriental and Middle Eastern countries. They enjoyed much freedom both at home and about. Therefore, Potiphar’s wife had ample opportunity of meeting with Joseph. The ancient women of Egypt were very loose in their morals. Joseph was 17 years old when he was sold into slavery. By this time, nearly ten years had passed. Now a man of 27, well-built and handsome, Joseph was ordered by his master’s wife to come 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. Genesis 39:8-10
Joseph had a reverent fear of the LORD and a respect for his master. He understood the sacredness of marriage and that adultery was both a wicked act and a sin against God.
One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants were inside. 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. Genesis 39:11-12
Paul writing to Timothy admonishes his son in the faith to:
Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 2 Timothy 2:22
Righteous Joseph had a pure heart and literally fled the lustful advances of Potiphar’s wife.
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.” Genesis 39:13-15
There is a well known saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Potiphar’s wife, furious that Joseph would reject her lustful intentions, lies by claiming that she was the victim of Joseph’s sexual advances.
She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.” Genesis 39:16-18
Joseph is a type of the suffering servant Messiah of Isaiah 53.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53:7
Joseph like Jesus was an obedient servant. He, like Jesus, although innocent was falsely accused. He, like Jesus, did not open his mouth in his own defense.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15
Joseph, like Jesus, was tempted but did not sin.
When his 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. Genesis 39:19-20
Potiphar did not have Joseph executed, but jailed. Notice it does not say he burned with anger against Joseph. Potiphar knew Joseph and his wife too well to really believe that he had heard the whole story. Potiphar probably burned with anger at his wife because more than likely this wasn’t the first time he suspected something like this and because he realized that he was going to lose a trusted slave. But more than anything, he realized he would lose the services of one who had been extremely profitable for him. Nevertheless, for appearance’s sake, he had to do something.
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. Genesis 39:21-23
Joseph, who had been entrusted with all that Potiphar possessed, now is in charge of all the prisoners and entrusted with all the responsibilities associated with his position because the LORD was with him.
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. Luke 16:10
Joseph’s faithfulness and service in Potiphar’s household and now in the king’s prison is preparing him to be entrusted with a position of authority over the welfare of the entire nation of Egypt.
Joseph didn’t complain of the injustice he suffered. Instead, Joseph served whole-heartedly and trusted in the LORD no matter how lowly were his circumstances.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-15
May all of us who claim the name of Christ follow Joseph’s example so that our good deeds will glorify our heavenly Father.