June 20, 2016

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART IV: JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN (Gen. 37:1-50:26)

 

Topic #C: JOSEPH BECOMES GOVERNOR OF EGYPT. Gen. 39:1-41:57.                                                                                                                                                       

 

Lesson IV.C.2: He Is Falsely Accused and Imprisoned. (Gen. 39:7-20)                                      

 

 

Genesis 39:7-20 (KJV)

 

7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

8 But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

10 And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.

11 And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within.

12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.

13 And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth,

14 That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:

15 And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.

16 And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home.

17 And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:

18 And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.

19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.

20 And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.

 


Introduction

 

Potiphar had given Joseph the full run of his home, and Joseph was in charge of everything.  While Joseph was busy, Potiphar’s wife was also busy.  She was busy scheming.  Joseph was a handsome young man.  It may be that Potiphar was an old man because it was generally the custom in that day for an older man to have a young wife. She sees Joseph, and she attempts to entice him. 

 

Joseph is attempting to be true to God.  What a high goal he has!  Yet, what is going to come to pass happens because he attempts to serve the living and true God.

 

This man, Potiphar, as an officer of Pharaoh, would be away from home a great deal.  Maybe he was away from home too much.  This woman didn’t tempt Joseph only one time, but again and again and again.  She was a constant temptation to him, yet this young man did not yield.  You can imagine that there begins to well up in her a boiling resentment against Joseph.  The old cliché says it all, “Hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned.” Believe me; she is going to take revenge on Joseph. That is the background for this lesson.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

 

And it came to pass after these things

“After these things” means after Joseph was sold by his brothers to a caravan of slave traders heading to Egypt, and then sold to an important official named Potiphar, who promoted him to [4]overseer of his household and of all he owned.

 

 

 That his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me

At this stage in his career there was not much that Joseph could not do, but there was one thing: he could not lightly sin.  He was “a goodly person and well favored” (39:6), we read.  This means he was a good-looking fellow; Joseph had all his mother Rachel’s good looks.  Before long he caught the eye of his master’s [3]wife.  We need to bear in mind that at this point in time Joseph was a youth, and when a person is young temptations are the strongest, and he was far removed from all the restraining influences of home. 

 

God has promised He will always provide a way of escape when temptation draws near, and that he will never allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to bear it.  There is always a way of escape—even if it is simply running away.  Joseph could see the temptation coming long before it actually burst upon him in full force.  First there was the way the woman looked at him.  Then she would take pains to be where he was, especially when he was alone.  She would probably do little things for him, tried to make conversation with him, and let him know that she liked him.  The pattern is as old as life itself.  Joseph could see the thing coming, and he began to plot ways of his own, ways to avoid the woman.  He was polite, but he saw to it that he was never cornered by her when he was alone.

 

The tigress had scented her prey—the more Joseph tried to avoid her, the more she attempted to seduce him until it was obvious to everyone that the woman was infatuated with the good-looking slave—it was obvious to everyone, that is, except Potiphar.  Joseph was a young man with all a young man’s natural passions and desires.  He was friendless, sold as a slave by his brothers, a stranger and a slave in a foreign land.  He must have been greatly tempted by the persistent woman.  Then, no doubt, the evil one would attack his mind by planting seductive pictures and whispering, “You’re being accused of it anyway, so you might as well do it.  Most people would long ago have taken advantage of what’s offered if they had your chance”

 

We do not know how long the buildup lasted, but one day the dam burst.  Aflame now with burning desire, the woman caught Joseph alone. She threw aside all pretenses, flung herself at him, urged and pleaded with him to accept her.   But Joseph refused. “Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. No one here has more authority than I do. He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.” (39:8-9; NLT).

 

The woman, however, would not take no for an answer.  She kept up her campaign and one day physically forced herself on him.  The time for discussion and argument was past.  Joseph did the only thing he could—he fled.  How much temptation can be overcome simply by deliberately walking away from it?  It was not cowardice; it was courage and conviction of the highest order.  The Bible says, “Flee youthful lusts,” and so we should.  That ungodly crowd that exerts such a godless influence, that book that so inflames the passions, that television program that so defiles the imagination—walk away from them.

 

The woman was enraged.  As has been said, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” She stood there shaking with rage, Joseph’s coat in her hand.  The wheels whirled in her evil mind.  If she could not have him then, by the gods, she would make him suffer. She framed him.  Her screams brought the servants running.  Possibly her hands had been busy in the meantime and her disheveled hair and torn clothing would have told their own tale, adding up to irrefutable evidence of Joseph’s guilt—at least Potiphar thought so.  His servants might have been able to tell him otherwise had he cared to ask.  Joseph, falsely accused and with no defense against the woman’s lies was branded an ungrateful scoundrel and flung headlong into prison.

 

 

8 But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master [1]wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

 

Joseph successfully resisted temptation, but for someone else it might have been the occasion for yielding.  The boy, I am sure, did not find it easy to resist her advances; and there are several reasons for that. (1) It would not be right for him to defraud the master who trusted him. (2) He could not sin against God.  To sin against Potiphar was to sin against God.  He recognized that all sin is against God, first and foremost—“Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight . . .” (Psalm 51:4; NLT).  Nothing helps moral courage like an awareness that God stands behind it.  (3) The woman kept insisting. (4) She would surely cause trouble if he spurned her advances.  (5) He gave no indication of having been tempted.  We do not know if the woman was attractive.  (6) He may have thought, “What did God care about him, a lonely slave in a foreign land? (7) Joseph had probably made up his mind beforehand that he would not let such a thing happen.  Like Job he had made a covenant with his eyes (Job 31:1) and would not let the temptation began.  It was not “I will not” but “I cannot.” It was an absolute moral and spiritual impossibility for him even to contemplate the kind of action she urged.  What a magnificent way to say no to temptation.

 

This is the kind of situation John has in mind when he says, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9).  I cannot do this thing!  I cannot so grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Joseph’s actions are to be contrasted with Reuben’s (39:22) and Judah’s (38:16). Joseph fled, not like a coward, but in order to preserve his honor which the New Testament commands—“And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires” (2 Peter 1:4; NLT).

 

Joseph’s words help us understand the difference between guilt over sin and godly sorrow over sinGuilt means we are sorry for our sins because they are ruining our lives and may keep us out of heaven.  Godly sorrow means we are sorry for our sins because we know they grieve the heart of God.

 

 

10 And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.

 

And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day

The woman didn’t see things the same way Joseph did, so she continued to tease and tempt him.  Her approach to him was calculated and shrewd.  She openly accosted him and continued her advances daily.

 

That he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her

To be with her suggests that she offered a compromise that they simply spend some social time together to get better acquainted.

 

 

11 And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within.

12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.

 

Finally, at an advantageous moment when no one was in the house except the two of them, she became insistent, grabbing his [2]garment (39:12) to pull him toward her.  Joseph got free and ran from the house (that is when her lust turned to hate) but in doing so he left his garment behind, which she used effectively against him.  The fact that she grasped only his garment was due to the speed with which he was already moving away from her. 

 

This was the second time in his life that Joseph lost a garment (Genesis 39:12; see also 37:23), and the second time a coat of his is made to lie about him (37:31); but as the Puritan preacher said, “Joseph lost his coat but he kept his character.” There are times when fleeing could be a mark of cowardice (Psalm 11:1-2; Nehemiah 6:11), but there are also times when fleeing is evidence of courage and integrity.  Joseph was wise enough to follow the same advice Paul gave to Timothy, “Flee the evil desires of youth” (2 Timothy 2:22).

 

 

13 And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth,

 

His flight outside was probably not into the street but the court.

 

 

14 That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:

15 And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.

 

When she called unto the men of her house (14), she accused the Hebrew (taking full advantage of racial prejudice) of improper advances and claimed that she had resisted by crying out with a loud voice.

 

We are not told how the men of the household reacted to her story.  It was apparently received in silence, and with some doubt.  She was remarkably skillful at turning lies about Joseph into circumstantial evidence that could be used against him.

 

God was with Joseph.  It may not look that way now, but it will become more apparent as his story unfolds.  God had promised to be with his father and his grandfather (see Genesis 26 and 28) and had kept that promise.  It is fulfilled for Joseph, too.  As was the case for them, this means God made things work out well for him; it did not merely mean he had a feeling that God was with him.  It means he sees some fulfillment of God’s promise to his great grandfather that he would be a means whereby blessing came to other people’s (see Genesis 12).  Through Joseph, blessing comes to the Egyptians among whom he lives and works.

 

 

16 And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home.

17 And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:

18 And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.

 

She told her husband the same lies she had told her servants, and as a result Joseph was put in prison (20).  It seems that before this Potiphar was clueless about his wife’s shameless behavior.  All he cares about is his work and what’s for dinner.

 

When she told her husband, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me there was, no doubt, a curl to her lips and callousness in her voice. She used the term Hebrew in a derogatory manner intended to heap scorn upon someone consider definitely unworthy of any respect.  Its use may also suggest some suppressed disparaging attitude towards anyone from Canaan, which could be used to her advantage, since many shared the same mind-set.  Potiphar’s wife neatly shifted the blame onto her husband for having hired the Hebrew in the first place and she had stated this also before the servants (39:14).  This was an insult to her husband, especially since she said it in front of other slaves.  Note, the Hebrew term translated as officer in verse 1 ordinarily means “eunuch.” If Potiphar was a eunuch, this might help to explain his wife’s actions.

 

 

19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.

20 And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.

 

In this time and place, attempted rape was a capital offence. The fact that Joseph received a milder punishment instead of being immediately killed suggests either, (1) that the master, though angry, was not entirely convinced of his wife’s innocence in the matter (Had she done something like this before?), or (2) that the grace of God enabled Joseph to overcome the temptation, by avoiding the tempter, or (3) both are true. Furthermore, the King’s prison was a place for political prisoners and would hardly have been expected to accommodate foreign slaves guilty of crimes against their masters.  Another very telling observation is that the prison was in the basement of Potiphar’s house: “And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound . . . And he asked Pharaoh's officers that were with him in the ward of his lord's house . . .” (40:3, 7). 

 

One thing we can take away from this incident in the life of Joseph is that no one has to sin.  We can be pure, and shall be victorious if only we meet temptation as Joseph did.

 

 

End Notes:

[1] Wotteth not means “knows not.”

[2] Garment refers to the long shirt worn indoors.

[3] Egyptian women were not kept in the same secluded manner as females are in most Oriental countries now.  They were treated in a manner more worthy of a civilized people—in fact, they enjoyed a good deal of freedom both at home and abroad.  Hence Potiphar’s wife had constant opportunities to flirt with Joseph—the ancient women of Egypt were very loose in their morals.  Scheming and self-gratification were vices very prevalent among them, as the monuments do plainly attest.  Potiphar’s wife was probably not worse than many of the same rank, and her infamous advances made to Joseph arose from her superiority of station and an attitude of “I can do anything I want to do!

[4] Overseer means “steward”; a person who manages another's property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others.


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