July 10, 2016

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe




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


Lesson IV.C.3: He Is Promoted in Prison. (Gen. 39:21-23)


Genesis 39:21-23 (KJV)

21 But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it.

23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper.



Joseph was imprisoned “where the king’s prisoners were bound” (39:20; see Psalm 105:17-20).  Though understandably angry (see 39:19), Potiphar put Joseph in the “house of the captain of the guard” (40:3),—certainly not the worst prison available.  For a foreigner charged with raping and Egyptian official’s wife, Joseph’s sentence might be considered light.  (It is probable from the lightness of Joseph’s punishment that Potiphar was not altogether convinced of his steward’s guilt.) Not to be overlooked is the fact that “the Lord was with him” (39:23).




21 But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him [1]mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the [2]keeper of the prison.

22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it.

23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper.


Potiphar’s wife had other servants of the household seize Joseph on the pretext that he had attacked her (39:13-15), and then she lied to her husband (39:17).  His master took him, and put him into the prison; a royal prison holding political prisoners.  This may have been a bit more comfortable (as prisons go), but still, how discouraging that would have been to the average person.  (See Psalm 105:17-18 for the details of his imprisonment.)  But the exciting thing was that God was still with Joseph, and showed him [1]mercy.  This is one of the most exciting truths in God’s word.  God faithfully demonstrates His loyalty to His people.  God had saved Joseph and now He was being faithful to His covenant with Joseph by giving “him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison,” who placed him in charge of “all the other prisoners who were in the prison.”

It is highly probable from the location of this prison ([3]40:3), that the [2]keeper might have been previously acquainted with Joseph and have had access to know his innocence of the crime laid to his charge, as well as the high integrity of his character.  That may partly account for his showing so much kindness and confidence to his prisoner.  But there was a higher influence at work; for “the Lord was with Joseph, and that which he did, the lord made it to prosper.” No one was more aware of this than Joseph, at least in later years.  After he had revealed himself to his brothers, he said, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” Years later after Jacob’s death, when Joseph’s brothers feared his revenge, he reminded them that they had intended to harm him, “but God intended it for good to accomplish . . . the saving of many lives.”

We do not know for sure how old Joseph was when he entered prison.  He was 18 when he entered Egypt.  He had served Potiphar long enough for his affairs to prosper exceedingly, maybe for a couple of years.  He was 20, perhaps, when the doors of the prison slammed behind him with the mournful sound of doom.  If so, he was in that prison for 10 long years for he was 30 when at last he stood before Pharaoh.

God is with Joseph and is leading him.  All of these experiences are moving toward the accomplishment of a purpose in this young man’s life.  Joseph recognized this, and it gave him buoyancy, an attitude of optimism.  The circumstances did not get him down.  He lived on top of his circumstances.  He recognized the hand of God in his life, and so he was not discouraged.  Discouragement is one of the best weapons Satan has—discouragement and disappointment.  This young man seems to have surmounted all of his circumstances.  He reminds us of the passage in Hebrews: “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11).

God permitted Joseph to be treated unjustly and put him in prison to help build his character and prepare him for the path that lay ahead.  The prison would be a school where Joseph would learn to wait on the Lord until it was His time to vindicate him and fulfill his dreams.  In prison, Joseph had time to think and pray.  God often removes our crutches so we’ll learn to walk by faith and trust Him alone.  During those ten years of waiting in prison, Joseph clung to the dreams God had given him, just the way you and I cling to His promises.  God had promised that people would bow down to Joseph, and he believed God’s promise.  He didn’t know how God would accomplish it or when it would happen, but he knew that God was faithful.

Note, when Daniel purposed in his heart “that he would not defile himself with the portion of the Kings meat, nor with the wine,” God then granted “favor” to Daniel “with the prince of the eunuchs” (Daniel 1:8).  God supernaturally caused this eunuch to like Daniel and show loyalty or faithfulness to him, to allow him to try the new diet for 10 days. 

Too often adversity is considered a sign of God’s abandonment.  Yet, in the life of Joseph, despite his difficulties, the Lord was present in his life, granting favor and success.  What a difference that made!  He was enabled to enjoy comfort and strength.  Plainly the story is establishing the providence of God in achieving God’s good purposes despite Joseph’s adverse circumstances. What was true for Joseph is also true for you and for me: “WHEN WE MAKE POSITIVE, DIFFICULT DECISIONS TO LIVE ACCORDING TO GOD’S STANDARDS, HE WILL REMAIN FAITHFUL TO US AND MEET OUR NEEDS.” Praise God!

The story of Joseph reveals that not every man has his price.  Satan says that he does, but there have been several men whom Satan could not buy.  Joseph was one of these.  Job was another, and the apostle Paul was still another.  Satan despises mankind but these and many more are men whom Satan found he could not buy.

Joseph is often regarded as a ‘type of Christ,’ the perfect servant who was unfairly condemned, and those who follow Christ may well find themselves walking in the footsteps of Joseph and Jesus.

Is it the will of God that Joseph be in prison?  Well, my friend, it is almost essential that he be there.  We’ll see that in the next chapter.



[1] “Mercy” can be translated “loyal love” (see Psalm 13:5).  Here in an Egyptian prison, Joseph experienced God’s loyal love.

[2]Keeper of the prison”: This was the warden who was under the “captain of the guard” (48:3), namely, Potiphar. It is clear from 39:1 that Potiphar was captain of the guard—“And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.”

[3] “And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound” (40:3).

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