39. From the Penthouse to the Prison (Genesis 39:1-23)
When I was in college (too many years ago to say), a strange thing happened as I was walking between classes. Since I attended college in Seattle, Washington, there was always more than enough rain to go around. Consequently, there was frequently a patch of mud here and there. A fellow classmate who I did not know was walking beside me when, all of a sudden, the girl coming toward us was in trouble. She had attempted to save a precious moment in time by cutting across the grass rather than staying on the sidewalk. As you may have guessed, she found the mud and began to lose her balance. Her books were thrown into the air, and as she was on her way down, she made a desperate grab for the fellow alongside me, who happened to be closer to her than I was.
Failing to grasp the situation as an opportunity to be chivalrous, the young man jumped free of her grasp, and the inevitable happened. She fell to the ground, books and papers flying about her, and she was a muddy mess. As gracefully as she could at such a moment, she snatched up the majority of her belongings and hurried away, hardly unnoticed.
It all happened so suddenly that it was hard to sort things out for a moment. Mechanically both I and the other fellow started out again on our way to the next class. Finally, feeling compelled to give some word of explanation, my companion confessed, “I thought she was going to attack me.”
Many who live in our day would look at Joseph’s actions the same way that we would view the response of my classmate. Joseph, an eligible young bachelor who was quickly rising in power and prestige, missed his chance to make the most of a golden opportunity. The two situations are not at all alike, however. The college student had the opportunity to spare a young woman physical harm and personal embarrassment. Joseph was faced with a married woman who had persistently thrown herself at him. He had little to gain and everything to lose.
As you would expect, this chapter has some valuable lessons to teach us regarding how to face temptation, but I do not believe that is the central message which God intended for us to learn here. The thread which ties the entire narrative of chapter 39 together is the theme of suffering. Few would disagree with the statement that God was with Joseph in Potiphar’s penthouse, but many would question how God could be with Joseph in the prison. All would agree that Joseph’s prosperity in Potiphar’s house came from God due to his faithfulness as a hardworking servant, but how many can say with as much conviction that Joseph’s purity with regard to Potiphar’s wife rightly resulted in his being put into prison.
Since Christians today seem to think that obedience should always bring success and prosperity, Joseph’s imprisonment should cause us to rethink the success strategies that are so popular in our circles. While Joseph would have made a great after-dinner speaker during the peak of his career with Potiphar, how many would have asked him to lecture during his years in prison? Much of our thinking concerning suffering and success needs to be challenged and changed. I know of no better place to begin than in Genesis 39.
The Results of Righteousness—Promotion and Prison
A brief look at the chronology of Joseph’s life will enable us to gain a better grasp of what takes place in this chapter. When Joseph was sold by his brothers he was 17 (37:2). At the time he was elevated to a position of power by Pharaoh, he was 30 (41:46). Thirteen years thus elapsed between his arrival in Egypt and his promotion to the second highest office in the land. Furthermore, we know that two years passed from the time the chief cupbearer was restored to his former position by the Pharaoh (41:1). That leaves us with eleven years that Joseph was either in the house of Potiphar or in the prison. Joseph’s rise to power was therefore not achieved quickly or easily.
Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there. And the LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. Now his master saw that the LORD was with him and how the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge. And it come about that from the time he made him overseer in his house, and over all that he owned, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph; thus the LORD’s blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field. So he left everything he owned in Joseph’s charge; and with him around he did not concern himself with anything except the food which he ate (Genesis 39:1-6a).
From these first six verses we can determine a sequence of events which culminated in Joseph’s promotion to the second highest position of power in Potiphar’s household. Joseph was a shepherd, so it would have been natural for him to begin his “career” in the fields of Potiphar. His success would first have been observed by his master there. Good reports reached the ears of Potiphar, who then brought him into his house (verse 2). Now, under the watchful eye of his master, the administrative skills of this Hebrew shepherd boy were even more apparent.
Potiphar not only observed that Joseph was a valuable employee, but also he discerned that his effectiveness was due to his relationship with his God (verse 3). Joseph had to have revealed his Hebrew origins from the beginning (cf. also verse 14), as well as his own faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. While he could have taken all of the credit for his unusual abilities, Joseph gave the glory to God. I do not think that Potiphar discerned this from his religious sensitivity44 but from Joseph’s clear and consistent testimony. While no one would have ever guessed that Judah was blessed of God (cf. chapter 38), Joseph’s life was one that brought glory to God. Obedience and purity give glory to God in a way that disobedience and immorality cannot.
Potiphar was wise enough to recognize the extraordinary ability of Joseph. Under his supervision more and more authority was given to this Hebrew. Not only did God bless the areas over which Joseph was given authority, but Potiphar was blessed in proportion to the authority he gave Joseph. Eventually, Potiphar made Joseph his administrative assistant and gave him full charge over every facet of his enterprise. Potiphar was wise enough to stay out of Joseph’s way and let him handle virtually everything, save the food which he ate and the woman he had taken as his wife.
This gradual rise to power over a number of years was not unrelated to the test he was to face in the person of Potiphar’s wife. Had Joseph not proven himself to be such a capable leader, she would hardly have acknowledged his existence. And had he not come to such a position of power in Potiphar’s house, his temptation would have been inconceivable.
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And it come about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, with me around, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?” And it come about as she spoke to Joseph day after day, that he did not listen to her to lie beside her, or be with her. Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside. And she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside (Genesis 39:6b-12).
Jacob was a physically attractive young man. Interestingly, the same description of Joseph is used with reference to his mother also (cf. 29:17). But his good looks were not the only reason why he caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife. (Incidentally, do you notice that this woman, like the wife of Judah, is never named?) It was “after these events” (verse 7), namely Joseph’s rise to power and position, that the physical attractiveness of Joseph registered with this woman. There is little chance that she would have had any interest in a slave, a mere hired hand. But a man who had great leadership abilities and good looks—well, that was something else. The text indicates that it was over a period of some time that this woman came to the conclusion she must have him.
Joseph probably had his “office” inside the house of Potiphar. He now had the authority to come and go wherever and whenever he pleased. He had constant and ready access to the house of Potiphar. We should not go too far afield if we were to assume that Potiphar was often away from home (cf. 39:16). After all, he held an important position under Pharaoh, and with a capable administrator like Joseph, why should he concern himself with matters at home?
It was inevitable that contact with Potiphar’s wife would be more frequent and under more private conditions. More and more, this woman began to capitalize on this. Finally, she brazenly propositioned him (verse 7). From then on she hounded him, probably engineering opportunities to entice him and persistently trying to break down his resistance.
The temptation of Joseph is strikingly parallel to the test of Adam and Eve in the garden. They had free use of everything in the garden, save the fruit of one tree. So Joseph had access to anything of Potiphar’s except his wife. But while the forbidden fruit just hung there tempting Adam and Eve, Potiphar’s wife actively pursued Joseph.
Joseph dealt with this persistent pursuit in three stages. First, he endeavored to reason with the woman. He explained to her that he had come to a position not only of power, but also of privilege and trust. To possess his master’s wife and satisfy his own personal desires was to violate the sacred trust which was committed to him. Furthermore, she was a married woman, and as such their relationship would be adulterous. For both of these reasons the act which Potiphar’s wife proposed was one that would be a great sin against God.
But Potiphar’s wife was in no reasonable mood. She cared little for Joseph’s logic, and so Joseph had to continually resist her advances. Even her requests which sought to bring the two in closer contact were refused. It appears that at times she appealed to him only to be near her, but Joseph knew all too well that she wanted more, and even this would be inappropriate. He was not responsible to meet either her emotional or physical needs, which were the concern only of her husband.45
Finally, Joseph had to run from her. Day after day she sought to break down his defenses. In fact, she may have been spurred on by his resistance, for this made him even more of a challenge. Always before there had been someone about, it seems, but at last they were alone, hardly an accident I would think. At least there were no men about (verse 11).
I doubt that anyone who worked as a domestic in Potiphar’s house was ignorant of their mistress’ intentions toward Joseph. It does not appear that she cared whether they knew or not, for she daily hounded him. But when they were alone, she must have thought that Joseph would now be persuaded. Was he not resisting because he was afraid of the consequences of being caught? Who would know now? And so she boldly grasped him by his garment and pled with him.
This was no time to reason with the woman. It was not a time to “pray about it” or to meditate. The only godly course of action was to flee from her. This Joseph did by slipping out of his garment and leaving it in her grasp. Hurriedly, Joseph went outside where one would suppose there were others about and no further advances could be made.
As is often the case, the passion of love can quickly turn to hate (cf. II Samuel 13:15). The garment left behind by Joseph was still in the hands of Potiphar’s wife, who hastily devised a plan to make him regret his resistance.
When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and had fled outside, she called to the men of her household, and said to them, “See, he has brought in a Hebrew to us to make sport of us; he came in to me to lie with me, and I screamed. And it come about when he heard that I raised my voice and screamed, that he left his garment beside me and fled, and went outside.” So she left his garment beside her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him with these words, “The Hebrew slave, whom you brought to us, came in to me to make sport of me; and it happened as I raised my voice and screamed, that he left his garment beside me and fled outside” (Genesis 39:13-18).
Calling the men of the household, whose absence had precipitated her final pass at Joseph, she accused him of attempting to rape her. Not only did she appeal to the emotional reaction that such a crime would bring, but she also highlighted the fact that this “attack” was by a detested foreigner, a Hebrew (verse 14, cf. 43:32; 46:34). Because no one had been about, she could claim to have screamed, which no one could have heard from such a distance. This explains why the “attack” occurred with no apparent cries for help. The scream she falsely reported did explain the garment of Joseph in her hands, however, for she alleged that when she cried out it frightened Joseph so that he left his garment and fled.
It was truly a story worthy of this woman. There is no record of any response on the part of those to whom she told this tale, those who all were under the authority of Joseph. Personally, I doubt that any of them believed her account. Day after day they had observed her giving him the eye (verse 10), but never had he acted inappropriately toward her. Indeed, the only talk of the hired hands may have been about how Joseph avoided her and how some of them were compelled to accompany him into the house.
The response of the other slaves did not really matter, though, for they were no more inclined to report to Potiphar about his wife’s misconduct than was Joseph. Neither were they willing to take Joseph’s side and deny the account of this woman when her husband returned. What husband would not burn with anger and indignation if told this story?
Now it came about when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, “This is what your slave did to me”; that his anger burned. So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail. But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. And the chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper (Genesis 39:19-23).
Potiphar’s response was predictable. A slave, a Hebrew slave no less, had attempted to violate his wife. Naturally Potiphar was angered beyond words. Joseph is not said to have been questioned, but even if he were, the truth would be harder to bear than the accusation against this slave. If not touched with some sense of compassion, it must at least have troubled Potiphar to have to imprison such a valuable employee, for much of what he possessed was the result of Joseph’s service.
Certainly, Potiphar’s punishment of Joseph is not nearly as severe as we would have expected. As “captain of the bodyguard” (verse 1), he must have had authority to execute criminals. Such a crime as rape, attempted by a foreigner, must have been considered worthy of death. Instead, Potiphar cast him into “the” prison, the place where political prisoners were confined (verse 20). The word for this jail is unique, suggesting that there is something of particular interest here.46
Two passages in chapter 40 make it almost certain that the prison referred to is located nowhere other than in Potiphar’s house, probably in a dungeon in the basement.47
So he put them in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, in the jail, the same place where Joseph was imprisoned (Genesis 40:3).
And he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were with him in confinement in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?” (Genesis 40:7).
Taken together we know that Joseph was imprisoned in a house which belonged to the “captain of the bodyguard” (40:3), and we know this captain to be Potiphar (39:1). Finally, Joseph is said to have been in confinement “in his master’s house” (40:7). Where else could the prison be but in Potiphar’s house?
This would certainly fit the details of the story as Moses recorded it. First, it explains why the place of confinement was called “the” jail (verse 20); it was the jail that was located on the premises of Potiphar’s estate. It also explains why the chief jailer so quickly placed matters under Joseph’s charge. Joseph was a man well known to the chief jailer if our suggestion is correct. Finally, it is consistent with the doubts that Potiphar may have had concerning the truthfulness of his wife’s accusations. Even if he did believe his wife, Potiphar could continue to benefit from Joseph’s uncanny abilities if he confined him in the prison that was found in his own house.
Joseph, so far as I can tell, was thus demoted. He was banned from the penthouse and bound in the prison. He went from the top floor to the basement. And if that is the way it was, I can visualize Potiphar going down to Joseph each day to discuss the stock market, the economic conditions of the country, and all of the areas which used to be under Joseph’s direct control. Now he was only a consultant.
When we compare the first part of the chapter with the last, we are forced to a very significant conclusion: God was with Joseph every bit as much in the prison as He was in the penthouse. In verses 2 and 3 we are told that the Lord was with Joseph as he worked for his master. We are told the same thing in verses 21 and 23 regarding God’s presence with him while in the prison. Again, in verses 2 and 3 it is recorded that God prospered Joseph and made him successful. This same statement is also made in verses 21 and 23 when Joseph was in the prison.
The conclusion is undeniable: God is present as much with His saints when they are suffering as when they are peacefully prospering. More than this, a man can prosper as much in times of affliction as in times of affluence and ease. God does not grow hot-house Christians. He causes our roots to grow deep in the soil of adversity in order that we may better know and serve Him.48
We might expect Joseph to be cast into Potiphar’s prison if he had committed some terrible sin, but the reason for his captivity was his moral purity. It was because he would not go to bed with Potiphar’s wife that he was wrongly accused and condemned. Righteous living does not always bring about flower-strewn pathways; often it brings about the opposite. Joseph’s experience is only one example of this.
What a lesson this chapter provided for the Israelites who first read this account from the pen of Moses. They should have known that Joseph’s experience was not the exception but the rule, for it was they who had just spent 400 years in Egypt suffering as slaves under the cruel hands of their masters, and through no fault of their own. It was this people who would read from the book of Deuteronomy:
And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).
David, later in the history of this nation, was prepared for leadership and the prominence and power of being the king of Israel by being unjustly persecuted by King Saul. Throughout the Scriptures we are taught that suffering is not abnormal, but it is a part of God’s gracious dealing in the lives of His children to develop maturity and obedience. Even our Lord was subjected to the discipline of God which is common to Christians:
In the days of His flesh, when He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and who was heard because of His piety, although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:7-9).
We dare not forget that this time of adversity was designed for Joseph’s good as well as for the good of his kinsmen. Let me suggest three ways in which Joseph’s time of service to Potiphar was profitable to him. In these three areas, and no doubt in many others, we see that the hand of God was good and gracious in this time of affliction.
First, the service to Potiphar was beneficial to Joseph in that it prepared him for the important task which lay ahead, that of serving as the second highest official in the land of Egypt. If one were to know that such a position of power and responsibility was 13 years in the future, how would one best prepare for it? Surely it would be necessary to learn the Egyptian language, as Joseph did (42:23), as well as their culture (cf. 43:32). There were no language schools, especially for foreigners like the Hebrews. In the providence of God we can now see that this experience was, for Joseph, Potiphar’s Prep School. Here he learned the language, culture, and political interworkings of the nation, incidentally but not accidentally.
Second, Joseph’s imprisonment by Potiphar, while unpleasant, was probably the answer to his prayers. Knowing that day after day this woman persisted at trying to break down Joseph’s resistance, I would imagine that one of his most oft-repeated and earnest supplications was, “Lord, protect me from this woman.” And that is precisely what those prison bars did. His imprisonment was the answer to his prayers. Those bars and chains (cf. Psalm 105:17-18) in no way hindered God’s plans for Joseph, but they did keep Potiphar’s wife from him, the very thing he sought, unsuccessfully, to accomplish on his own. How frequently the answers to our prayers come wrapped in a different package than we expected.
Finally, it was in this prison that God had planned for Joseph to have an appointment with a man who would introduce him to Pharaoh and his position of power. Who would ever have thought that a job interview would have been conducted in such an unlikely place. But it was in that prison for political figures (verse 20) that Joseph was appointed to meet with the cupbearer of Pharaoh, the man who would someday tell this ruler of Joseph’s unusual ability to interpret dreams. Humanly speaking, to avoid imprisonment would have meant breaking an appointment which would lead to an incredible future.
The necessity of suffering and adversity is everywhere taught in the Scriptures, particularly that of suffering which is undeserved or results from righteousness. It is to be viewed as a part of the normal Christian life and expected as a result of righteous living.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body (II Corinthians 4:7-10).
For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29).
For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know (I Thessalonians 3:4).
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evil doer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God (I Peter 4:12-16).
Since suffering innocently is a part of the normal Christian experience, let me suggest two practical implications. First of all, it suggests to Christian parents that the loving thing to do for our children is not to give them anything too quickly or easily. In our materialistic society, loving our children is equated with indulging them with every kind of material possession and luxury. To condition our children to expect the Christian life to be just like this is to greatly mislead them. They will tend to grow up expecting God to be an indulgent father who gives to His children all that they want and desire and Who will keep them from all uncomfortable experiences and deprivation. A loving father is one who disciplines his children in such a way as to develop obedience and endurance:
Furthermore, we had Earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness (Hebrews 12:9-10).
Second, many Christians have grown up under indulgent parents, who have taught their children not to expect suffering, trials, and hardship in life. I must tell you, my friend, if that is the way you were raised, your experience does not fit reality or God’s revealed Word. Your parents may have been well-intentioned, but they were totally wrong. God cannot be expected (and certainly not demanded) to continue to make your life easy, just as your parents did. In love, God will bring difficulties into your life in order to build up your faith and develop maturity and endurance. If you have been pampered and protected, your whole life outlook needs to be reshaped to conform to the way life is and the way God works in the lives of His own.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials; knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
This chapter also has much to teach us about facing temptation. Two major misconceptions are exposed in the account of Genesis 39. The first is that we are to look for temptation to come in some dramatic fashion and in one momentous event. When we think of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, we think only of the one incident, the one described in verses 11 and 12. The significance of this particular incident is that it was the final attempt to seduce Joseph. By his refusal and running off without his garment, Potiphar’s wife brought about the false accusation of Joseph which led to his imprisonment.
The text tells us plainly, however, that the temptation of Joseph took place “day after day” (verse 10). The temptation of Joseph took place over an extended period of time, then, and in a variety of forms. Joseph did not deal with temptation victoriously in one momentous occasion, but in the day-to-day events of life. More than this, the victory which Joseph won over sin on that last occasion was directly related to his previous decisions.
A mistake that we often make is to look for our tests to come in some dramatic confrontation where the issues are crystal clear. By thinking in this fashion we tend to overlook the necessity for standing apart from sin in the mundane and seemingly insignificant matters of daily living. Joseph had settled the issue at hand long before this final confrontation. That decision had to do with the use or misuse of his master’s possessions. As a slave he faced the temptation of taking things which belonged to Potiphar and using them for his own benefit (cf. Titus 2:9-10). Practicing honesty in the smaller matters made it much easier for him to resist the temptation to take advantage of his master’s wife. How we handle the day-to-day temptations of life often determines how we will face the major issues that arise only occasionally.
Second, the temptation which Joseph successfully resisted was not one that pictures the ideal situation for the Christian. I said to someone the other day, “Most Christians want to resist temptation, but they want to be propositioned first.” For Joseph, just the pursuit by Potiphar’s wife could have been ego inflating. Think of the fact that a woman finds you attractive and desires to be with you. But, you see, Joseph could do nothing about the temptations of Potiphar’s wife. She was the only one over whom Joseph was not in authority. That is why he found it necessary to run from her.
In most of our situations we cannot say that the temptations we face are beyond our control, for we are not a slave like Joseph was. Many of the temptations we face are those which we have allowed, and perhaps even encouraged.
I heard a true story of a man who was an alcoholic. A godly preacher was counseling with him, trying to help him avoid another fall. He asked the man how he happened to walk by the tavern. Was it on his way home? The man had to confess that it was not and that he had to take a longer way home in order to pass by it. The real problem was that the man wanted to be tempted and to fall.
Joseph’s experience gives us valuable insight into the words of our Lord when He taught us to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Our Lord was not suggesting that God needs to be begged not to tempt us (cf. James 1:13-14), but he was telling us that the desire of our hearts should be that we not only resist sin, but also shun situations which will solicit us to sin.49 In this sense, we should never desire to reproduce or repeat Joseph’s victory over this particular temptation. His circumstances do not provide us with an ideal, but his attitude not to encounter the temptation of this woman by so much as having any contact with her whatsoever gives us an example to follow (cf. verse 10).
Our chapter has several other lessons by way of inference. The first of these pertains to the matter of spiritual gifts. Joseph’s gift was one of administration. Do you notice that wherever he was, and no matter what the circumstances, his gift began to bear on that situation? I believe Joseph became a leader and manager in the house of his father, much to the dismay of his brothers. In the fields of Potiphar and then in his house and finally in his prison, he used his gifts to prosper his master. It comes as no surprise that this same ability would become evident to Pharaoh also.
In the New Testament we are taught that every Christian has at least one spiritual gift (e.g., I Corinthians 12:7,11). These gifts are bestowed for the common good, not just for the pleasure or enrichment of the one to whom the gift is given (I Corinthians 12:7). These gifts are to be utilized as a stewardship (I Peter 4:10). Many Christians seem to be waiting for the ideal time and place to utilize their gifts rather than to employ them wherever they are. Wherever there is a need that we are able to meet, we should meet that need. The New Testament teaches us that not only is the gift we are given within the sovereign will of God, but also the place where it is to be utilized and the results it will bring.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons (I Corinthians 12:4-6).
Let us learn from Joseph that no matter where we may be, we are to use the gift(s) that God has given us to the good of those about us and to the glory of the God Who has given them to us.
One final word should be said about the matter of prosperity. Prosperity in the Bible should not always be equated with financial affluence. Of course God may give some financial means, and this is not wrong (cf. I Timothy 6). However, being rich is not the norm for the Christian, even for those who are spiritual (cf. I Corinthians 1:26-29; Matthew 19:23-24). Joseph, we are told, was blessed of God, and the Lord prospered him greatly (Genesis 39:2-3, 21-23)—but he was a slave. He did not work for wages. He was not in the company profit sharing program. The prosperity which God speaks of here is the blessing that God gave in the exercise of his gift so that Potiphar prospered (financially) and so that the chief jailer was successful (probably in non-monetary matters). As the writer of the Proverbs put it, “It is the blessing of the Lord that maketh rich” (Proverbs 10:22). The blessings which God poured out upon Joseph were not to be measured by his bank book, nor will they necessarily be for us.
If you are reading this message without ever having come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I urge you to do so now. But I want you to understand that trusting in Him, while it assures you of forgiveness of sins and eternal life, will not guarantee a carefree and trouble-free life. What it does promise is that every hardship, every injustice, every trial, will be from the hand of God for your good and His glory. He will be personally present in every trial, and His purposes will someday prove to have been good and perfect for the Christian.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
“Not that Potiphar had any spiritual insight into the ways of Jehovah, but being in some sort a religious man, he became convinced that Joseph’s powers must come from a Divine source.” W. H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), p. 370.
45 It is possible, though not necessarily probable, that Potiphar was unable to meet his wife’s physical needs. Leupold states: “It seems very strange that a eunuch should be married, as we learn of Potiphar in this chapter. Two possibilities confront us, and the choice between them is difficult. It actually happened in days of old that eunuchs had wives. On the other hand, the term ‘eunuch’ (saris) very likely lost its original meaning and came to signify: prominent court officials.” H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), II, p. 992.
46 “An unusual word, sohar, found only in these chapters, is used for prison: the Hebrew root suggests a round structure and therefore perhaps a fortress, which is the term used by LXX.” Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p. 191.
“Scarcely, indeed, is there any point in which the notions and practices of the people of the East differ so essentially from ours as in those which relate to the treatment of criminals; for while in Europe there are places reared for the confinement of offenders, and officers specially appointed to have the custody of them, the houses of the highest and greatest persons in the East, are not unfrequently dedicated to the purposes of a prison, and men who fill public and official stations of the greatest dignity, perform the duties of an office which, in our estimation, is the most ignoble. From the earliest times, the jails in the East have been of this description, and under the care of persons of elevated rank; and as it is highly probable that the palace of Joseph’s confinement was some dungeon, or secluded port of the house of Potiphor, who was the principal state officer of Egypt at the time, the knowledge of this circumstance furnishes a natural way of accounting for the freedom allowed to Joseph by the deputy jailer, . . .” George Bush, Notes on Genesis (Minneapolis: James and Family, reprint, 1979), II, p. 257.
48 “The symmetry of this chapter, in which the serene opening (1-6) is matched, point for point, at a new level at the close (19-23) despite all that intervenes, perfectly expresses God’s quiet control and the man of faith’s quiet victory. The good seed is buried deeper, still to push upward; the servant, faithful in a little, trains for authority in much.” Kidner, Genesis, p. 189.
49 This petition establishes the principle that the true saint will not only desire to overcome temptation, but he will hate sin so much that he will not even desire to be put to the test. There is absolutely no suggestion that God would ever tempt us in the sense of soliciting us to sin (James 1:13-14). The most effective prayers are those which request that which God has promised. It is the attitude of heart that shuns not only sin but the occasion which solicits it that our Lord is teaching by example.