May 28, 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.1: His Prosperity Under Potiphar. Genesis 39:1-6.                                                         

 

 

 

Genesis 39:1-6 (KJV)

 

1 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.

And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.

And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand.

And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.

And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field.

And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.

 


Introduction

 

We return to the story of [4]Joseph after the interlude of chapter 38, which we classified as one of the worst chapters in the Bible because it certainly tells a disgusting story of the man Judah.  But we will discover that Joseph is altogether different from Judah.  There is no person in the Old Testament in whose life the purpose of God is more clearly seen than Joseph.  Joseph is often called a type of Christ by Bible scholars.

 

Like Paul arriving in Rome, Joseph arrived in Egypt in chains, his high hopes shattered, and his life in ruins.  The taunts of his brothers were still ringing in his ears: “Bye, bye, Joey!  Happy dreams!” What had become of those fine dreams of his?  Dreams of power, dreams of position, and dreams of the resources and the riches of the world poured into his lap?  He was a slave!

 

The Holy Spirit has chosen to not tell us anything about the long, hot trek across the sands of Sinai, past the Egyptian forts and into the land of Egypt.  On down the Nile they went, Joseph’s sharp eyes noting everything.  There were the great camel caravans converging on Egypt with the wealth of the world, there the papyrus boats cutting through the placid waters of the Nile, there the great and thriving cities, and there the fabled pyramids and sphinx.  For a moment the young man’s sorrows would be forgotten in the wonder of the mysterious new world into which he was being taken.  Here was life as he had never dreamed it could be.  On the other hand, Egypt was a country shackled by religious superstition.  The people recognized at least two thousand gods and goddesses, including Pharaoh himself; and the special emphasis was on preparing for the after-life when the god Osiris would judge one’s deeds.  In a very real sense, Egypt was a land devoted to death as much as to life.

 

The caravan road arrived at last at the slave market where Joseph was tagged and priced and put up for sale.  There was something about his obvious good looks, perhaps, or his perceptible air of self-control and general confidence that attracted the eye of a buyer used to sizing up men.  The buyer was [3]Potiphar, the wealthy and powerful captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard.  Some say he was “chief of the executioners,” while others say he was “head of the police.” After finalizing his purchase Potiphar, who was pleased with his purchase, took the foreign country boy to his spacious suburban home.

 

Joseph’s reactions to stress and misfortune were remarkably different from those expressed by his brothers when they were faced with difficult situations.  They had reacted with strong negative feelings involving jealousy, lust, and hatred which showed itself in murder (34:25), in incest (35:22), in plots to kill, then to sell into slavery (37:20-23), in callous deception of their father (37:31-33), and in irresponsible immorality (38:15-28).  In contrast, Joseph was a young man of remarkable moral strength who did not give way to bitterness, self-pity, or despair.  Instead, he overcame his difficulties with a courageous sense of responsibility and high moral values.  In every situation he demonstrated confidence in God, kindness and wisdom in his dealings with others, and honesty in regard to every trust bestowed upon him. 

 

This chapter clearly establishes the historical (yet unpopular and often unrecognized) principle of righteous living specifically, that “all who desire to live godly . . . will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).  It is through such persecution, however, that the greatest “training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16) often occurs as the believer learns what it is to truly depend on God.

 

Joseph entered Egypt at the age of eighteen.  He left it at the age of one hundred ten to go to Glory, and for eighty of the intervening years he was the highest lord of the land.  What a success story!  What was there about Joseph that marked him out for such an incredible career?  What was there about him that lifted him on high when so many sold off the auction stand that day simply sank into the anonymity of slavery and vanished on the rubbish heaps of time?  What was there about Joseph that, be it in the prison or the palace, men instinctively trusted him and promoted him?  It is no ordinary rags-to-riches tale.  The years between the time he is seen with an iron chain on his wrist and the time he is seen with a gold chain about his neck were years of great testing for Joseph.  From those years we can learn how faith can shine amidst the gloom and how hope’s anchor can be fastened securely to faith in God.  Because the Lord was with him, he was a man of accomplishment, but what Joseph accomplished, we can accomplish too, if we trust in the Lord and seek to honor Him as he did.

 

Throughout Joseph’s life, the Lord is behind the scenes and working to develop his character and training him so that he will one day have the skills he needs to rule a nation and to save his own family from the increasingly dangerous conditions depicted in chapters 37 and 38.

 

 

Commentary

 

1 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 [2]Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.

 

Nearly 13 years past from the time Joseph was sold into Egypt to his standing before Pharaoh (probably, “Sesostris II,” 1897-1879 b.c.).  He was confined some years in prison, but more time passed while he served Potiphar’s family, where he had opportunities of acquiring the sort of knowledge which his future station required.

 

Joseph was blessed, wonderfully blessed, even in the house where he was a slave.  God prospered him.  It is God’s presence with us that makes all we do prosper.  Good men are blessings to the places where they live; even good servants may be so, though poor and lacking respect.  The prosperity of the wicked is, one way or other, for the sake of the godly.  Here was a wicked family blessed for the sake of the one good servant in it.

 

When he was at home in Hebron, Joseph’s brothers considered him to be a trouble maker, but in Egypt he was a source of blessing because God was with him.  God promised Abraham that his descendents would bring blessing to other nations (12:1-3), and Joseph fulfilled that promise in Egypt.  Like the blessed man described in Psalm 1, everything he did prospered: And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. (Psalm 1:3; see also Joshua 1:8).

 

Our enemies may strip us of our self-respect and our value as a person; but wisdom and grace cannot be taken from us.  They may separate us from friends, relatives, and country; but they cannot deprive us of the presence of the Lord.  They may exclude us from outward blessings, rob us of liberty, and confine us in dungeons; but they cannot shut us out from communion with God, bar us from the throne of grace, or deny us the blessings of salvation.

 

 

And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.

 

The secret of Joseph’s career at that stage of his life can be summed up in a single phrase—“boundless industry.”  The long face, the sullen look, the resentful air—these things were not for Joseph.  Neither were senseless criticisms of his fate and long wasted hours plotting revenge.  Not for him was the futile cursing of God and the gnawing cancer of longed-for revenge.  Not for Joseph was the dull acceptance of his fate that would have turned him into a plodding brute.  Evidently Joseph decided, once the initial stunning shock was absorbed, that God had some wise purpose in allowing him to be sold as a slave.  He might well have assured himself that “All things work together for good to those that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” The will of God is “good and acceptable and perfect.”  I will therefore trust God in these dark circumstances.  If God wants me to be a slave, I shall be the best slave in Egypt.  I shall study my master until I know him better than he knows himself. I shall study his interests and make them my own, and I shall perform every task allotted to me, not as if I did it for Potiphar, but as though I was doing it for the Lord.  Thus these bonds will no longer be the bonds of a slave; they will be the bonds of the Lord.  I shall consider myself God’s bond slave and in all my ways and words I shall attempt to please Him.” With such an attitude, Joseph quickly rose from being an ordinary slave working outdoors to working indoors, in the house of his . . .  master (39:2).  Then he was appointed as Potiphar’s personal attendant (39:4), and finally he was put in charge of the whole household (39:4-5).  Joseph’s success was not merely a reflection of his ability but of the fact that the Lord was with him and that through him Potiphar enjoyed God’s blessings (39:5).

 

So often, adverse circumstances find us bemoaning our fate instead of looking for ways to glorify the Lord Jesus in them, and through them.  We have to learn of life’s adversities before we can be trusted with life’s advancements.

 

And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand.

So young Joseph gave himself to the task of becoming the very best slave Potiphar ever had, and Potiphar noticed, for he was a shrewd judge of men and accustomed to command.  He soon saw in that Hebrew slave of his all the traits of a good manager.  Joseph was loyal, he could be trusted, he worked well with other people, he was a leader, he had creative talent, and he had a knack for finding better ways to get things done.  He was always willing to take on more responsibility.  He did his own tasks well and was always on the outlook for ways to advance his master’s cause.  He never lost an opportunity to educate and improve himself.  He asked an endless stream of questions.  He was enthusiastic, and infected others with his zeal.  Moreover he planned ahead and was always looking to the future.  Such men were rare, and still are.

 

Potiphar noted other things as well about his strange slave; things that concern Joseph’s religious beliefs, for the young man made no secret of his ancestral faith.  Perhaps Potiphar questioned Joseph about the strange Jehovah of whom he spoke, and learned how Joseph’s ancestors had migrated to Canaan in the pursuit of the true and living God, and how a covenant relationship had been established between God and his fathers.  Perhaps Joseph told him much more like how the eternal God had twice spoken to him in dreams.  Something of Joseph’s testimony left its mark, for “his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper.” God had promised to be with his father and his grandfather (See Genesis 26 and 28) and had kept that promise, then there is good reason for believing that the promise will be fulfilled for Joseph, too.  As was the case for them, so it was with Joseph: 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.  Yet the presence of God in one’s life and the extent of success is not to be measured by the absence of adversity but a faithful attitude in the midst of adversity.  On this score, Joseph was a great success.  While some might attribute Joseph’s success in Potiphar’s household to his diligence at work, it was truly because the Lord caused all that he did to prosper.  Though separated from his father on earth, he still lived in communion with his Father in heaven; though in the house of an idolater he continued a worshipper of the true God.

 

 

And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.

 

Through Joseph “the lord blessed the Egyptian’s house” (39:5), i.e., the affairs of the master prospered. This expression, “Joseph found grace in his sight,” means that Potiphar reacted with generosity and kindness toward Joseph and elevated him to a position involving a more personal relationship between the two of them. With the raise in status there was an enlargement of responsibility, which Joseph met with skill—Joseph was actually managing the entire household, except for the food Potiphar [1]ate.

 

Unknown to Joseph, God planned to fulfill the dreams He had sent him. “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.” (Proverbs 22:29).

 

 

And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field.

 

Potiphar made him overseer over his house, “And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand.”(39:6). The more Potiphar trusted Joseph, the more his business ventures prospered. And it came to pass that from the time he made him overseer . . . that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house and fields for Joseph’s sake. One can picture Potiphar discussing the phenomenon in the officers’ mess.  “I cannot explain it,” he might have said, “But it’s been this way ever since I made this fellow Joseph my manager.  He’s a Hebrew slave I picked up for a song from some Ishmeelites.  But what a prize!  He is the finest manager I’ve ever set my eyes on, and honest!”

 

But his faithful service was not only a blessing to the household; it was also a blessing to Joseph himself.  Had he stayed home with his pampering father, Joseph might not have developed the kind of character that comes from hard work and obeying orders.  God’s method for building us is to give us a job to do and people to obey.  He tests us as servants before He promotes us to be rulers: “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:21).  Before he allows us to exercise authority, we have to be under authority and learn to obey.

 

 

And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.

 

“I’ve never known an honest slave, few honest men, and no honest officials, but this fellow is the absolute soul of integrity.  He attributes it to his God, some strange God named Jehovah.  I wish all my slaves worshipped him!” Thus we see Joseph as a slave man, trusted by a prosperous master.  We see a man marked by boundless integrity.  In every situation Joseph behaved himself as a believer should.

 

The description of Joseph in this verse prepares the way for the episode involving Potiphar's wife.  Not only was Joseph godly, dependable, and efficient, but he was also handsome (well favored), qualities he inherited from his mother (29:17). 

 

Dear reader, in our own lives we need to count on the fact that “. . .  whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6).  If we are the children of God, in the will of God, we can have the assurance of God that nothing comes to us without His permission.  God works all things together for good to them who love Him.  Even our misfortunes, heartbreaks, and sufferings are for our good and His glory.

 

 

 

 

Special Notes:

[1] The Egyptians didn’t eat with the Hebrews (43:32).  It wasn’t so much a matter of diet as it was their exclusive attitude toward other people.

[2] As the story in chapter 39 now stands, it is not in conflict with 37:36, which says that Joseph was sold to Potiphar by the Midianites.  Verse one (chapter 39) says the same thing except that it was done by the Ishmeelites.  It is quite possible that that there were two ways of telling the Joseph story, but they were not in conflict.  They simply use different names for the people who sold him to Potiphar.

[3] Potiphar’s name signifies “devoted to the sun,” the local deity of On or Heliopolis, a circumstance which fixes the place of his residence in the Delta, the district of Egypt bordering on Canaan. [4] Joseph is the one patriarch to whom God did not appear directly, according to the text of Scripture.

 

 

 

 

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