The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Genesis 39

Gen 39:1

Gen 39: Joseph's elevation in Egypt. Joseph as a type of Christ, going to the Gentiles. Christ in "Egypt", a "slave" to mortality. But a faithful slave.

Why Joseph had to suffer: See Lesson, Joseph, suffering?

POTIPHAR, AN EGYPTIAN: He is consistently called an Egyptian, because at this time the Pharaohs, etc of Egypt were Hyksos, a Semitic people (cp vv 2,5).

Gen 39:5

One person being blessed because of the righteousness of another: In Gen 30:27 Laban says that he was blessed by the Lord for Jacob's sake. In Gen 26:24 Isaac was blessed for his father Abraham's sake. And of course those in Christ being blessed with forgiveness of sins and eternal life due to the righteousness of one -- Jesus Christ (Eph 4:32; 1Jo 2:12; etc.)

Gen 39:6

Joseph was a "goodly person" (AV), given "goodly garment" (Gen 37:3).

HANDSOME: Cp the beauty of his mother Rachel: Gen 29:17.

Gen 39:7

COME TO BED WITH ME: Impl great power to be had ("All kingdoms of the world": Mat 4).

Gen 39:8

BUT HE REFUSED: Joseph remained sinless where the elder bro, Judah (Gen 38), had sinned. In this he typifies Jesus, tempted in all points like his brethren, yet without sin (Heb 4:15).

"Joseph's chastity was an expression of [his character and faith, in several ways]:

(a) His compliant spirit for righteousness -- he knew about suffering and death and forbidden sexual activity; the punishment for pride, jealousy, and deceit. He knew how not to imitate those that had caused family dysfunction and pain amongst his own kith and kin. He was sensitive to the dignity of others in such matters.

(b) His overcoming of the overpowering temptation, like that of Adam and Eve over the fruit of the tree, to know good and evil.

(c) Potiphar's wife may have seen the seduction of Joseph as an accustomed thing but Joseph did not see it as a usual practice.

(d) His knowledge of his inferior slave status to Potiphar's wife, his superior in every way (except in his love for God). He could not have a relationship with a superior, where he would have to be passive, and do her bidding, in a master/slave, power situation, not a loving one.

(e) His recognition of his own family's need to keep racially pure, for he would know of other occasions when the seed line was threatened, and he would not wish to be party to that.

(f) His knowledge of his father's hatred for the land of Egypt, in which he found himself -- his father loathed Hagar's land, where they worshipped the dead, and animals. He knew his father loathed, also, the notion of market sex, where both boy and girl prostitutes practised freely, and daily, and where the gods blessed it all. 'He would not go awhoring after the gods of Baal.' He had seen enough of that in Canaan.

(g) His wish not to shame the father. Even though Joseph had not contacted his father for so long, his need not to shame him would be a paramount consideration. Noah's shame by his son, the shame of Lot by his daughters (to raise up seed), the shaming of Jacob by Reuben, with Jacob's concubine (Bilhah) were known to him. Nakedness and sex, in their right place, are innocent and unsuspect, but when they acquire a transferred significance, as Baal folly, it is sin. So Joseph, knowing that sex has a price tag for the unmarried, is influenced by what shame he might cause his father, or his God.

(h) His understanding of sin, 'against thee only would I sin.' Joseph, like David, knew that sin, ultimately, is sin against God, and Joseph's sense of rightness kept him from sin.

(i) Joseph saw it as a denial of the promises to Abraham.

(j) His knowledge and understanding of the blessings given by God to the fathers. He knew that with the covenant blessings came responsibilities as well, that is, to witness about Yahweh to those about him" (BRus).

Warnings against prostitutes, and immorality: Pro 1:10, 2:10-19; 5:3-8; 6:20-25,29-33; 7:5,25-27; 9:13-18; 22:14; 23:26-28.

Gen 39:9

There is none greater in his Father's house than Jesus!

AND SIN AGAINST GOD: This is the proper attitude: Every sin against any other man is also a sin against God. Paul in 1Co 6:15-20 tells us that our bodies are not our own, that they are members of Christ and therefore should not be made the members of a harlot. So even though it is true that the sin of adultery (or fornication) can affect others as well and one's self (1Co 6:18), the primary sin is against God Himself, whose we are and to whom all our honor and allegiance is owed.

"Noble words from a noble son, and noble slave. Words for all of us in our desires, for none of us is alone, nor different in our desires. Loyal service to each other is required in all of us, that we may not affront, and shame the dignity and sensitivity of another with disloyalty, for, in the end, it is always God that we offend. They were alone in the palace, there would have been no witness, but Joseph knew he could not hide the deed from God, nor could he live with it himself... The greatest gift that we can bring to our life partner, is purity and fidelity, moral and ethical self control. We need to remember that the persuasion of Mrs Potiphar was all a lie. Yield, or resist, is the only choice, and to resist, you must flee... You must not be weakened by your situation. You must not be deceived by persuasion. You must not be gentle with your emotions. You must not be confused with the immediate results... The great speech of Joseph should be engraved on our hearts to stiffen our resolve when temptation calls. Deceptive baits are all around us, and especially for the favoured young. It was the greatest moment in the life of Joseph, for he turned all the family dysfunction that had gone before into a muddy backwater. The stream ahead flowed crystal clear, free and pure, though the way was rough. When he was stripped of his coat once more, he found again, that he was clothed with 'the heavens' embroidered cloths' (Yeats)... Joseph practised 'safe sex'. The best safe sex there is. Would that the world would see it that way. We can't tell our children often enough" (BRus).

Gen 39:10

DAY AFTER DAY: An ongoing temptation.

Gen 39:11

Vv 11,12: "Even when 'Mrs Potiphar's' scheming mind organised well arranged circumstances to fulfil her lusts, Joseph still maintained his faithfulness. As he put it so well in v 9, 'How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?' Whilst the committing of this sin would have been a sin against his own body (1Co 6:18), and a trespass against Potiphar himself, Joseph rightly estimates that ultimately such action is a 'sin against God', as indeed, all transgression is (Num 32:23). Because of his faithfulness, and trust in the Almighty, Joseph remained a 'eunuch for the kingdom of heaven's sake' (Mat 19:12) -- and was ultimately elevated to being co-ruler of the then known world (Gen 41:39-45). God will reward the faithfulness of all HIS servants with elevated positions in the coming Kingdom of Glory (Mat 25:34)" (CY).

Gen 39:12

BUT HE LEFT HIS CLOAK IN HER HAND AND RAN OUT OF THE HOUSE: "In contending with certain sins there remains no mode of victory but by flight... He who would be safe from acts of evil must haste away from occasions of it. A covenant must be made with our eyes not even to look upon the cause of temptation, for such sins only need a spark to begin with and a blaze follows in an instant. Who would wantonly enter the leper's prison and sleep amid its horrible corruption? He only who desires to be leprous himself would thus court contagion. If the mariner knew how to avoid a storm, he would do anything rather than run the risk of weathering it. Cautious pilots have no desire to try how near the quicksand they can sail, or how often they may touch a rock without springing a leak; their aim is to keep as nearly as possible in the midst of a safe channel. This day I may be exposed to great peril; let me have the serpent's wisdom to keep out of it and avoid it. The wings of a dove may be of more use to me today than the jaws of a lion. It is true I may be an apparent loser by declining evil company, but I had better leave my cloak than lose my character; it is not needful that I should be rich, but it is imperative upon me to be pure. No ties of friendship, no chains of beauty, no flashings of talent, no shafts of ridicule must turn me from the wise resolve to flee from sin" (CHS).

"Perhaps she thought his reluctance was caused by his slave position, and that she must make the first move, and the second, and so keep up the intensity. (Her sin was the bait, and his would have been the bite, but she baited and baited and baited, and he did not bite). He fled, fled the bait. 'Run, is the message of the Bible'... The Spirit of God forcefully commands 'Flee'. In circumstances like this, there is nothing else to do; 'you cannot yield to sensuality if you flee from it' " (BRus).

Gen 39:13

"Flee fornication": 1Co 6:18.

Gen 39:14

Potiphar's wife, an Egyptian, was naturally resentful of any Semite -- esp during this time of Hyksos rule. Passion (esp illicit passion) so quickly turns to hatred, as in Amnon with Tamar (2Sa 13:15).

"Potiphar's wife was a woman scorned. She tempted, he resisted. Now a fury worse than hell overtook her. She caught his cloak. She used the cloak to accuse him. She waited for Potiphar, and with the cloak as evidence. She told him of the wicked slave who had betrayed his trust. She told him of her strength in resisting him. She painted the picture black. She blamed Potiphar for buying a foreign slave and putting all the women at risk" (BRus).

Gen 39:19

Like a sheep before her shearers, Joseph does not open his mouth in his own defense.

Gen 39:20

JOSEPH'S MASTER TOOK HIM AND PUT HIM IN PRISON: But he did not order his execution, as might have been expected, showing he did not fully believe his wife's allegations. (Notice her attitude toward her husband: one of bitterness, hatred, resentment: v 14.) Typ Jesus at his trial -- believed to be innocent by Pilate: "What evil has this just person done?": Mat 27:23,24.

"Potiphar did what he had to do, but not one whit more. Women were so powerful in Egypt... so much so, that Potiphar had to accept her story, for he may not have wished to offend her. The punishment could, and should have been much worse, but Potiphar's love for his hard working slave, together with a tiny doubt led him to send Joseph to his prison. We can imagine what that tiny doubt might be. But matrimonial peace was high on Potiphar's agenda" (BRus).

JOSEPH WAS THERE IN PRISON: "Dylan Thomas mourns that 'Tomorrow weeps in a blind cage', for 'dark is a long way.' So it seemed to Joseph, as he went down the second time to the prison and the pit. As well, we might feel in the darkness, that so much more is required of us, than we are prepared to give, but for Joseph, that thought probably never entered his head... At the foot of Joseph's height he dwelt once more, he was down, down again' he knows his valleys, and his depths; but he does not know how high the mountain peak will be, when at last he approaches it. We do know. 'Soon, Joseph, soon', is the voice in the wind, the message from God, as He whispers in Joseph's ear. 'Be patient; I am ever near.' It is the still small voice of God. Soon it will be like a thunder clap, and the lightning of His voice shall light his way around Egypt - but not yet, not yet, and Joseph doesn't know when, or what, that 'yet' will be" (BRus).

Gen 39:21

God was the true "prison warden"! Often the godliness of one man has a profound impact on nonbelievers: Mat 5:14-16; 1Pe 2:11,12; 3:1,2. Consider Daniel and his 3 companions with their Babylonian captors.

Gen 39:22

Typ: Into the hands of Christ are committed all prisoners!

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