When we encounter temptation, the invitation to evil and its consequences is obvious. Yet by God’s amazing love and power, there is a radically different possibility—an opportunity to show forth the triumphs of his grace! What we see in this account is an interesting contrast between the ugliness of human depravity and the beauty of renewed godliness. God made use of both to accomplish his own purpose.
Joseph suffered a furious attack of seduction by Potiphar’s wife. It happened while Joseph was at the place of duty (39:11). Remember Joseph’s prudence. Men sometimes encourage women by flirtatious or seductive talk. Since we live in a culture that lusts after salacious humor, it is too easy to say things that carry a double intent. At times, it is done for a laugh at a woman’s expense; at others to send out signals of the man’s interest in the woman. But Joseph had taken the opposite course (39:10). In God’s providence, he was in danger. No one else was in the house. The modern small office or store provides a similar situation. Proper behavior and good intentions alone cannot protect us from the snares of temptation (cf. Matthew 26:41).
Joseph had a narrow escape (39:12). Her act was whorish (cf. Prov 7:10-13). His only way out was holy flight. He used the best available means to resist her advances, his feet. “It is better to lose a good coat than a good conscience” (Henry). Joseph had a godly, instead of a worldly, concept of manliness.
Joseph experienced a bitter aftermath. One might expect Joseph to be even more outwardly blessed by God immediately after such obedience to him. However, Joseph’s battle is incomplete. Two new enemies appear.
First was the unsatisfied lust of Potiphar’s wife (39:13-18). An old saying says something like, “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned.” Potiphar’s wife was humiliated by Joseph’s refusal to join with her in sin. She determined to get revenge. Let us learn from her sin.
- Lust can never bring lasting joy. Consider the lust of Amnon for Tamar (2 Samuel 13).
- Lust eventually gives birth to hate. Love always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:7). Lust soon tires of its toy and seeks someone else for excitement. It should not surprise us that marriages built on the sand of selfish passion collapse. Only commitment to love one other person produces endurance.
- Lies then become easy to tell. She was able to twist the circumstantial evidence in her favor. Notice, by the way, her craftiness – “this Hebrew” (39:14). “A great deal of evidence may be brought against a perfectly innocent man. Let us, therefore, be slow to condemn persons of unblemished character” (Spurgeon. cf. 1 Timothy 5:19).
Second was the jealous anger of Potiphar (34:19-20). He is not to be blamed in this (Proverbs 6:30-35). However, she cleverly made him feel guilty (39:17). Watch out for those who manipulate people with guilt feelings. God restrained Potiphar’s anger so that Joseph was not killed. “This is to be ascribed to the good providence of God, which restrains the waves of the sea, and the passions of men, and sets them their bounds which they shall not pass, which watched over Joseph in a peculiar manner” (Poole). However, the rejection of forbidden pleasure gained Joseph shackles and irons. Deeper suffering came to him (Psalm 105:18).
I doubt the health, wealth and prosperity error would have had much appeal to Joseph at this point. Joseph’s obedient faith led him to a prison, Christ’s to a cross, and Stephen’s under a pile of stones. “The iron is entering into his flesh and into his spirit. The earth is shaken beneath him. The heavens are darkened over him. ‘My God,’ he may cry, ‘my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Psalm 22:1)” (Candlish).
Unexpectedly, Joseph receives a slight improvement in his situation. His life has been like a wiggly road along a mountain. He found that he had a “fellow prisoner”. The Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden (39:21 NIV; cf. Is 43:2; Ps 139:7-12). God’s worked by common grace in the warden’s heart to make him favor Joseph.
For this reason, we see Joseph back in training for God’s purpose for him (39:22-23). He received another supervisory position. He had learned to manage slaves. Now he had to learn to handle a more difficult group. In this, Joseph had renewed success. Notice the emphasis of the Spirit of God – the Lord. . . gave him success in whatever he did.
Learn to hope and endure, regardless of how deep and dark your prison may be. Think of how you may glorify God in that place. Your present darkness might be the place where God causes his glorious light to shine.
Grace and peace, David