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Lesson 7: Genesis 39, 40, 41

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Have you read any good books lately? If you’re looking, read Bonhoeffer biography of

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) is known for writings on theology and ethics, his leadership role in the Confessing Church, efforts on behalf of peace and justice, opposition to antisemitism, and to Hitler. He was hanged by the Nazis on April 6, 1945 in the Flossenburg concentration camp weeks before the end of WWII. Those last few years, when he choose to stay in Germany rather than leave, when he spoke out when others were silent, all that he taught, believed about being a Christ follower was tested and proven authentic. He wrote from prison=

You have granted me many blessings; let me also accept what is hard from your hand.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Prayers from Prison

These are words Joseph could also have written. We’ve seen him in his father’s house as a young man of integrity and honesty but the Question is “will he stay virtuous outside his father’s protection, when he’s a long way from home? What will he do when he can sin and perhaps get away with it? How will he handle continued injustices and discouragement? Because we don’t really know who we until we’re tested, God allows Joseph to be tempted, mistreated and forgotten for the next 13 years, refining and developing him into the godly man and leader needed for such a time as this in history.


I. Joseph in Potiphar’s house is unjustly accused - Genesis 39

II. Joseph in prison interprets two dreams - Genesis 40

III. Joseph in the palace interprets Pharaoh’s dreams - Genesis 41

I. Joseph in Potiphar’s house - Genesis 39

A. Joseph’s success. READ Genesis 39:1-4. This phrase “the LORD was with Joseph” is repeated 4x (Genesis 39:2,3,21,23) and seems to explain why Joseph prospers, this is no ordinary prospering: unexpected, surprising, even Potiphar is impressed and gives the credit to Joseph’s God, Yahweh. Potiphar is not only impressed, he trusts Joseph, makes him his assistant delegating to him everything except probably his personal affairs. And then we read this little phrase READ Genesis 39:6c “well built and handsome” same Hebrew expression used to describe his mother Rachel, (Genesis 29) he got her good looks, he’s gorgeous, that sets up the central plot of our story:

B. Joseph’s temptation and resistance. READ Genesis 39:7-10

One commentator said he’s in a “no win” situation, he is a slave supposed to obey her, but he’s a loyal, moral servant to her husband. Tough situation repeatedly refuses her, his explanation = to sleep with her would be a sin against God

People cannot defiantly sin against what they know to be God’s righteous will when they are on the verge of becoming what God wants them to be. One cannot willfully sin against God and continue to enjoy his presence and his blessing.

Allen P Ross1

Even at his young age, Joseph knows this truth, you can’t sin and expect God to bless you, so he tries his best to avoid her.

C. Joseph accused. READ Genesis 39:11-12. One day she cornered him alone, and when she grabbed his clothes he took off. His response is exactly what the scriptures tell us to do when faced with any sexual temptation: I Corithians 6:18

NIV© 6:18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.

NLT© 6:18 Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.

Ie story: friend had an affair with another church member, respective spouses got together and they all agreed to forgive and put it behind and decided to stay in the church, live out their redemption. When she told me this, I said that’s a nice thought, sounds spiritual, not realistic, the scriptures are wise “flee immorality”- get away from temptation, can’t play around with it. Another friend who caught her husband having an emotional affair with someone at work, came to me for advice, somebody has to leave that workplace, that’s where you start, we have to run away from sexual sin.

Application: Do you hold your own personal purity with the same high esteem that Joseph did? Are you tempted to compromise or indulge in some sexual sin in thought or action? Are you flirting w/temptation or are you fleeing? You can’t be holy and be involved w/some sexual sin.

No doubt Potiphar’s wife is humiliated, embarrassed, and furious over the rejection “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” She first screams to the servants that he raped her and then when Potiphar came home she showed his clothes and repeated the false accusation. READ Genesis 39:19,20. Some have suggested that since his punishment was not the usual death sentence and he was put in the king’s prison perhaps Potiphar didn’t fully believe his wife’s story. What we do know is God protected him and God was allowing him to go through these trials, God is molding his character: this is the second time Joseph suffers for being faithful to his authority. Another lesson:

Truth: Choosing to be righteous and resisting temptation does not always receive immediate reward.

Application: Joseph suffered for doing the right thing and we may too, there may be a cost to our choosing righteousness. That’s the cost of discipleship, following God. Tertullian, early church father, story illustrates this. A man came to him and was struggling because his business interests were conflicting w/his faith in Christ, tempted to compromise, didn’t see a way out and keep his job, he said “What can I do, I must live” Tertullian replied “must you, must you live?” For Tertullian if it came to choice between righteousness and resisting temptation and making a living, Tertullian expected a believer to choose righteousness.2

Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Christ.” Bonhoeffer it’s what Christ requires of us..

D. Joseph in prison. READ Genesis 39:20b-23

Again we see the LORD was with Joseph giving him success, promoted, over all the other inmates, but he’s still in prison. The next chapter tells the story of the cupbearer and the baker; their dreams and what happens to them. Sets the stage for Joseph to ultimately see the fulfillment of his dreams but for the immediate next few years Genesis 40 is all about being forgotten.

II. Joseph in prison interprets two dreams - Genesis 40

A. Cup bearer and baker jailed. READ Genesis 40:1-4. After Joseph had been in prison for some time and had earned the trust of the warden, two new prisoners were assigned to him-the king’s cupbearer and baker. Cupbearers were usually trusted confidants of the king, their responsibility was to check the wine to see if it was poisoned before the king drank it. Chief baker would be responsible for the king’s food. We’re told king is angry not sure why throws them in prison and one night they each have a dream, each think it’s an important dream but they’re sad because they can’t find anyone to interpret the dreams.

Joseph says READ Genesis 40:8b what he’s saying is that God will use me (Joseph) to interpret for you. Cupbearer goes first and Joseph says it meant that in 3 days Pharaoh would restore him to his former job and he adds when that happens remember me READ Genesis 40:14.

The baker hearing the good news says tell me what my dream means too but his news was not good, in 3 days he would leave the prison but instead of going back to the kitchen, he would be impaled and hung on a tree. Sure enough 3 days later both dreams were fulfilled just as Joseph had predicted. It was certainly sad for the baker, but the fact that the predictions had come true must have encouraged Joseph’s faith, affirmed his God-given ability to interpret dreams, reminded him of his own dreams yet to be fulfilled. But then we read

C. Forgotten. READ Genesis 40:23. Probably in his relief at being restored to his job and his family he just forgot all about Joseph back in prison. Surely Joseph’s high hopes of getting out soon were dashed, he was forgotten. From a human perspective it seems so unfair to let Joseph just sit in prison, such a waste, but from a divine perspective we can be confident that God is working in his life for good, God has not forgotten him, God is continuing to develop him into this man, the leader that He needs for such time as this.

Truth: God is looking for faith that will not be destroyed by circumstances

NIV© 24:10 If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength. Proverbs 24:10

MSG© 24:10 If you fall to pieces in a crisis, there wasn't much to you in the first place.

Application: Are the circumstances of your life destroying your faith? Destroying is a harsh word, but is your faith weakening or growing right now? Are you looking at your life from a human perspective or can you see with spiritual eyes God wanting to do something good? Is it your health, job, finances, family? We look with admiration at Joseph not because he was this supernatural saint, but because he was convinced that there was a God in heaven who loved him, had good plans for his life, so he believed and trusted despite his on-going difficult circumstances. TWO YEARS GO BY…

III. Joseph in the palace interprets Pharaoh’s dreams - Genesis 41

A. Pharaoh’s dreams Genesis 41:1-14

Joseph is still in prison forgotten by all but God. One night Pharaoh has two dreams. The first: Pharaoh is standing by the Nile watching the cows as he often must have done. Cows in Egypt were not out in fields, Egypt doesn’t have meadows like we do, the cows were grazing among the reeds along the water bank. Dream had a twist-he saw 7 fat, healthy cows and then 7 malnourished cows come up out of the Nile and devour the healthy ones. Startled he woke up, then went back to sleep. Second dream had a similar twist. This time the dream was about 7 heads of grain on a single stalk that were plump and good, they were devoured by 7 thin ears, withered and scorched by the desert wind. How strange, what could it mean? He called in his wise men, they couldn’t help. At that crucial moment- Genesis 41:9 chief cupbearer remembered his own dream, nice-looking Hebrew slave – what was his name?

Truth: Even though we don’t always understand, we know God’s timing is always perfect.

God has been timing the circumstances of Pharoah’s need for a dream interpreter and the cupbearer’s remembrance of Joseph. If the cupbearer had remembered Joseph two years earlier perhaps the king would have ignored him, but the king now needs him.

Word gets to Joseph, quick, get out of those clothes, get cleaned up, Pharaoh wants to see you. READ Genesis 41:14. John Phillips commentary= Pharaoh was essentially a priest-king proposed to be a god, functioning as both the political and religious ruler of the nation. He wore long, fluted skirt made of Egyptian linen, gold sandals, on his head he wore a double crown that for 1000 years symbolized the union of Upper and Lower Egypt. In one hand he carried a crook symbolizing Upper and in the other a flail for Lower. Imagine how awesome he looked to Joseph, this powerful world leader, then he spoke.

B. Joseph gives God the glory. READ Genesis 41:15,16. This is remarkable, standing before this powerful man, Joseph corrects him and gives God the glory for interpreting dreams.

He uses the word “God”: Joseph began, “God may give Pharaoh a favorable answer,” not I. He goes from the prison to the throne of the king, and this is his first word. This speech is as pious as it is frank. He who is aware of God, is humble and fearless at the same time. Even a king is nothing compared to God…Joseph begins his interpretations with God (verse 25) and ends with God (verse 28) he emphasizes this once more by twice using “God” in verse 32. Benno Jacob3

C. Joseph interprets dream. Genesis 41:25-36

Pharaoh repeats his dreams to Joseph who then interprets: there will be 7 years of plenty and then 7 years of great famine, worldwide, and then Joseph gives Pharaoh a business plan on how to handle this upcoming disaster, put a wise man in charge, delegate some responsibility to overseers, collect and save 20% of food supply during good years to take care of the people during the famine years.

D. Joseph promoted. Genesis 41:37-57

Plan pleased the king, proceeded to install Joseph as the Prime Minister, second in command, heads up FEMA whatever their National Disaster Relief Program. Promoted because of 2 rare qualities Pharaoh saw 1) His character Genesis 41:39. 2) His countenance Genesis 41:38.

Genesis 41:40-57 describe Joseph’s new life as a ruler in Egypt. Think for 13 years he was a slave, all during those tough times he looked to God and found the strength to overcome and trust= now he’s exalted, but even now=he continues to look to God for strength for a new beginning where God has placed him. We see this in the naming of his sons, note: these are Hebrew names, not Egyptian: READ Genesis 41:51,52. Because God continues to be his strength and focus he handles well the challenge of success. Sudden reversals are difficult for the most of us- the reason is perhaps we’re not as focused on God’s sovereignty, involvement in our lives, as Joseph was. If our sudden reversal is for the worse- get depressed, sad, angry, say God has abandoned us. Or if it’s for the better- get proud, arrogant, taking credit for how smart we are. Promotions often ruin people. You may have known people that have gotten promoted w/more job responsibility, more perks, but have less time for God, less time for being with God’s people. Joseph was different, he was able to give God the glory with his life because his relationship w/God was his priority no matter circumstance. Paul would learn this too. READ Philippians 4:11-13.

Application: How have you handled the reversals of your life? Financial, career, relationships, moves, additions or subtractions of our lives? God gives and takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord, learning contentment no matter what the circumstances of our lives help us to live with inner peace, calm no matter what or where our path leads.


So, in reality, none of us really know who we are until we’re tested. We don’t know how strong our faith is until we go through trials. What an example Joseph is for us. We met a young man who was given a dream, glimpse of what God planned for his life, then we’ve seen him repeatedly mistreated, suffering greatly for doing what’s right, all the while he was learning long-term trusting and long-term believing, and finally being rewarded for his faithfulness, finally ready to lead others, finally ready to fulfill his destiny. I’m convinced the trials of our lives are only potentially preparing us for the next place God wants to take us. Are we willing to stay faithful?

1 Allen P. Ross, “Creation and Blessing” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1996) 626.

2 James Montgomery Boice, “Genesis” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1987) 78.

3 Benno Jacob, “First Book of the Bible” (New York:Ktav,1974) 280-81.

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