Introduction: Genesis Chapter 39 is most frequently remembered for Joseph’s virtue in resisting the unwanted sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife, the oldest recorded account of workplace sexual harassment. Yet, the story is much more than this. The story begins with Joseph’s suffering from being sold as a slave. The story ends with his suffering for being placed in jail for a crime that he did not commit. Thus, everything that happens in this chapter must be seen through the lens of suffering and how suffering frequently fits into God’s greater plans for you.
Jesus invites every person who wants to follow Him to first “count the costs.” (Lk. 14:28). Being a believer does not mean that God is going to change your environment to make everything peaceful. Instead, He wants to send you into places where you will suffer to bring light to the lost. In order to prepare you for this, He must first burn away the things of the flesh that might make you a bad witness for Him. His process of refining you frequently includes suffering. In order to create a diamond, tremendous heat and pressure must be applied to coal.
Joseph had to descend into darkness three times before he was ready for God to exalt him as His appointed savior. First, he descended into a wilderness pit that his brothers put him in. Second, he descended into Egypt and worked as a lowly slave. Third, he descended into a prison dungeon. In each place, he suffered. Yet, his suffering was necessary for God’s greater plans. From Joseph’s suffering, God reveals seven reasons why He allows godly people to suffer.
First, Joseph went from being groomed by his father to lead his family to being a lowly slave for Potiphar, a servant of Pharaoh. From this, God reveals that He may allow you to suffer as He molds you to be a leader for Him. Second, Joseph faithfully suffered as a slave and greatly blessed a pagan-worshiping Egyptian. From this, God reveals that He may allow you to suffer to help others for the greater good of His kingdom. Third, God allowed Joseph to be tested by Potiphar’s wife. When Joseph previously told his brothers about his dreams, he gave no credit to God. Here, after being refined in suffering, Joseph responded with virtue by telling her that her desires were a sin against both his earthly and heavenly masters. From this, God reveals that He may test you and allow you to suffer to boost your faith in Him. Fourth, Joseph suffered from Potiphar’s wife’s continued sexual advances and eventually fled. From this, God reveals that He sometimes allows you to suffer to protect you from temptation. Fifth, Potiphar’s wife made false accusations against Joseph. These false accusations would eventually rescue him from her by placing him in jail. From this, God reveals that He may allow you to suffer to keep you pure from sin for His use. Sixth, Joseph was humbled and placed in captivity for a crime he did not commit. From this, God reveals that He may allow you to suffer and be humbled so that He can exalt you at a later time without pride. Finally, Joseph descended into the darkness of a prison dungeon and brought blessings to those trapped in darkness. From this, God reveals that He may allow you to suffer so that you can bring His light and hope to those who have none. If He has healed you of an addiction or an illness, He wants you to bring hope to others who are suffering.
Joseph descended from prince to servant to save his world. Jacob had groomed his favorite son Joseph to lead his family. God would one day have Joseph fulfill this calling. He would one day save both his family and many others. Yet, before God would place him in this position, He first had to prepare Joseph by molding him through suffering as a slave to be a servant leader: “1 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.” (Gen. 39:1). Even though Joseph’s brothers sold him out of jealousy, greed and hatred, God was in control. He used their evil for His greater plans: “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Gen. 45:5). “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Gen. 50:20). “He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.” (Ps. 105:17). As He did with Joseph, God frequently uses suffering to mold His people for His greater plans.
God’s hidden wisdom in sending Joseph to suffer as a slave in Potiphar’s house. God knew in advance that He would make Joseph the second most powerful person in Egypt (Gen. 45:8). Yet, He had to prepare Joseph for this role. In the Promised Land, he taught Joseph the valuable skills of management, love, and compassion by having him serve as a shepherd. Making Joseph a slave in Egypt taught him the importance of humility and placing the needs of others before himself. Before he could lead others, he had to learn to empty himself of his own ambitions. He would also use this opportunity to teach Joseph the Egyptian language and culture. Without these things, he never could have led Egypt. Finally, to be a servant of God he had to learn to be patient and trust in God’s plans: “Love is patient, . . .,” (1 Cor. 13:4). Like Joseph, will you trust in God’s greater plans, even if they are not clear to you?
Jesus also descended from royalty to servanthood to save the world. Joseph foreshadowed Jesus. Like Joseph, Jesus emptied himself of his glory to become a servant. “but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2:7). “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28). “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Lk. 22:27; Jo. 13:12). “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9). His suffering brought life to the world (John 3:16).
God frequently uses suffering to mold His people. Like Joseph, God allowed the Jews to suffer in the wilderness to remold them into His people. “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” (Is. 48:10). “For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined.” (Ps. 66:10). “And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested.” (Zech. 13:9(a)). “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 . . . He humbled you and let you be hungry, . . .” (Dt. 8:2-3). Will you trust Him as he molds you in affliction?
Jesus also calls upon you to suffer as a servant for His Kingdom. Like Joseph, God also calls upon you to give up your place of comfort and suffer as a servant for His Kingdom: “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;” (Matt. 20:26-7). “Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.’” (Mk. 9:35). “And He said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.”’ (Lk. 22:25-6). This type of servitude frequently requires that you suffer for the benefit of others: “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 2:3). “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10). Will you suffer as a servant for His Kingdom?
Find joy and peace in the midst of your tribulations for Jesus. Joseph had joy and peace in his suffering. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (Ja. 1:2-3). “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;” (Ro. 5:3). When you suffer, you can also find peace in Jesus: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (Jo. 16:33). “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (Jo. 14:27; Phil. 4:7; Col. 3:15). When you suffer, do you look for Jesus’ peace?
Joseph’s blessings upon Potiphar as a Servant. As a transformed, lowly slave, God used Joseph to bless those whom he served for God’s greater plans: “2 The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. 3 Now his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. 4 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. 5 It came 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. 6 So he left everything he owned in Joseph’s charge; and with him there he did not concern himself with anything except the food which he ate.” (Gen. 39:2-6a). It might be easy to read this text and assume that Joseph did not suffer. That is a mistake. He suffered over the loss of his freedom, his father, and his family. Yet, he did not complain. He used His God-given gifts to prosper others. In so doing, he in turn was blessed: “Joseph was blessed, wonderfully blessed, even in the house where he was a slave. God’s presence with us, makes all we do prosperous. Good men are the blessings of the place where they live; good servants may be so, though mean and lightly esteemed. The prosperity of the wicked is, one way or another, for the sake of the godly. Here was a wicked family blessed for the sake of one good servant in it.” (Mathew Henry on Gen. 39). Many frequently measure success in monetary terms or in terms of worldly importance. Yet, Joseph shows that God does not measure His blessings in monetary terms. Frequently, He blesses believers so that believers can bless others to serve His Kingdom.
When you suffer as a faithful servant, you also will find God’s favor. Even though he suffered as a slave, Joseph showed godly virtue by faithfully working for Potiphar. Slavery is an evil man-made institution. Yet, believers are still called upon to be faithful to whoever they are serving. When you suffer as a faithful servant, you too will find God’s favor: “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,” (1 Pet. 2:18-21). “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ;” (Ep. 6:5). “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” (Col. 3:22). “All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.” (1 Tim. 6:1). “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.” (Titus 2:9-10). Even if you suffer under a mean supervisor, will you be a faithful employee and witness?
When you suffer for Him, God will also prosper you, yet not always financially. As a faithful servant, God prospered Joseph (Gen. 39:2-3). Yet, this did not mean that Joseph ever received a financial reward. As a slave, his only reward was inside. This fact may help to interpret God’s many promises to prosper believers when so many believers struggle financially. “Prosperity” in God’s eyes is not measured in financial terms. It is instead a measure of success in serving others in order to build His Kingdom. “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.” (Prov. 11:28). For example, God prospered David at a time when he in fact had few possessions: “David was prospering in all his ways for the LORD was with him. When Saul saw that he was prospering greatly, he dreaded him.” (1 Sam. 18:14-5). God’s blessings to Joshua also were not financial: “So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.” (Josh. 6:27). His prosperity brings the peace and joy of the Spirit and eternal life: “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” (Ps. 1:3). “For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jer. 17:8). “The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, he will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” (Ps. 92:12). “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.” (Dt. 28:3). Do you see His blessings even when you have no money?
Give God the credit when He blesses you to lead others to Him. Joseph most likely used his skills as a shepherd to increase the size and health of Potiphar’s flocks. Potiphar was an Egyptian idol worshiper. He could have easily interpreted his good fortune to one of the countless Egyptian gods. Yet, he gave credit to Yahweh: “his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand.” (Gen. 39:3). This would only be possible if Joseph attributed his success to Yahweh. For Joseph to praise Yahweh for his successes also shows how much God had transformed him through his suffering. When he was in the Promised Land and had a dream of his family and all creation bowing to him, he did not give credit to God (Gen. 37:5-11). Failing to give God the credit when He does a good work can give rise to the evil sin of pride. When God blesses you in your work or in other areas, do you give credit for your success to Him?
If you are not a servant, become Christ’s slave and use His gifts to serve others in need. For many westerners, wealth or other financial assistance has freed them from the need to live as servants. This is a good thing. Christ came to free His people from all forms of bondage and slavery (Is. 61:1-2). Yet, He wants to use your God-given freedom, to become His slave. You do this by submitting to others for His Kingdom. “Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.” (1 Cor. 7:21-22). Each person has been given gifts of the Spirit to help others. “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:7, 8-11). Joseph had a God-given gift of administration. He used this gift to first prosper Potiphar’s house. Later, he prospered in the jail where he served. Later, he prospered all over Egypt. Are you using your God-given gifts for the Lord and those around you?
Joseph’s refusal to sin against his earthly and heavenly masters. Like his mother Rachel, Joseph was blessed with good looks. Yet, Satan knew God’s plan and tried to make it fail. He used his good looks and his elevated status to cause Potiphar’s wife to be overcome with lust. She then sought to entice Joseph. Yet, Joseph showed that he was a man of God by refusing to dishonor either his earthly or heavenly masters: “6 b Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7 It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’ 8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. 9 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?’” (Gen. 39:6b-9). It might be easy to read these verses and also conclude that Joseph did not suffer from these flattering sexual advances. Yet, he was 17 when he was sold into slavery. He was at the height of his hormonal rages. He was also lonely. He also had no promise that he would ever be free to marry a woman. When Potiphar’s wife was alone with Joseph, he could have given in to her advances and experienced a moment of pleasure without being caught. He no doubt suffered torment. Yet, he refused to do evil in God’s eyes (Gen. 39:9). He knew that adultery was not just a sin against Potiphar. It was also sin against God (Ps. 51:4). He also knew that God would have known his sins if he had agreed. When he failed to stop her advances, he eventually fled (Gen. 39:12). God was testing him in the small things to build up his faith so that he would be faithful with the larger tests that would await him with power in Pharaoh’s court.
Jesus also refused to sin against His heavenly master. Like Joseph, Jesus also suffered from the devil’s efforts to tempt Him. After Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, He was hungry. Satan tested Him saying that He could end His hunger by turning the rocks around Him into bread (Matt. 4:3). Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”’ (Matt. 4:4). The words that Jesus quoted were in direct reference to Him as the Messiah. In Hebrew, a definite article appears before the word “man.” The sentence is literally translated as “the man does not live by bread alone, but the man lives by every word of God.” Jesus was referred to 88 times in the New Testament as the “son of Man.” This was a reference to Him as the Messiah. Jesus was telling the devil that “the Messiah” lives upon God’s Word, not bread. Jesus would not take the shortcuts that the devil offered. Nor should you. Jesus was the Word that came from God’s mouth and became flesh (John 1:1, 14). Just as Satan sought to tempt Jesus in times of weakness, he will try to do the same with you.
Memorize God’s Commandments to protect you from the evil enticements of sinners. Many today sadly see little value in God’s Commandments and His written Word. Yet, if you treasure His Commandments and His Word in your heart, He will guide you away from the evil desires of sinners: “My son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother; bind them continually on your heart; tie them around your neck. When you walk about, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk to you. . . To keep you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.” (Prov. 6:20-22, 24). “To deliver you from the strange woman, from the adulteress who flatters with her words;” (Prov. 2:16). “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” (Prov. 1:10). “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people;” (1 Cor. 5:9). “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;” (Eph. 5:11). Have you memorized His Word and His Commandments?
Fear God because there is no sin that you can hide from Him. When Potiphar’s wife was alone with Joseph, he could have given in to her advances and experienced a moment of pleasure without being caught. Yet, God would have known. “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” (Prov. 15:3). “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb. 4:13). It was the fear of God that kept Joseph from giving into temptation: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7; Ps. 111:10; Job 28:28). According to the Bible, to fear the Lord you must hate evil: “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil. . .” (Prov. 8:13). Unlike Joseph, Judah showed that he had no fear of God. He refused to provide Tamar an heir and even sought out the temptation of temple prostitutes (Gen. 38:11-26). Do you fear God by hating evil?
Rebuke the devil, and he will flee. God does not want you to engage with the devil. Instead, He has given you a tool that was not available to Joseph. He has given you the power to resist Satan and drive him away by rebuking him in faith in Jesus’ name. Jesus’ name is so powerful that the mere use of His name by the archangel Michael was able to drive Satan away: “But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!”’ (Jude 1:9). The Apostle James also admonished: “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (Jam. 4:7). Likewise, Peter also admonished: “But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” (1 Pet. 5:9). Have you rebuked Satan’s attacks in Jesus’ name? Or, like Judah, have you invited them through your actions?
Let God be your shield by taking refuge in Him. Like Joseph, you must put your trust in God’s holy name to resist temptation. For believers, this means putting on the armor of God: “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Ro. 13:12). “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” (Eph. 6:11). “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,” (Eph. 6:13-14; Is. 59:17; 1 Thess. 5:8). Jesus rebuked Satan and quoted scripture. Joseph rebuked Potiphar’s wife and told her that the sin was an offense not only to his master and her husband, but also God. When you trust in God, He becomes the shield in your spiritual armor. “Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov. 30:5). “You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield.” (Ps. 115:11). He has also left you with His Word as a sword against the devil. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12). Are you using each part of God’s armor against the devil?
Joseph flees from Potiphar’s wife. Joseph’s resistance made Potiphar’s wife long for him even more. Because her heart was evil, she (like Eve) longed for the one thing in her house that she could not have. With no way to reason with her, Joseph fled for his life: “10 As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her. 11 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. 12 She caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me!’ And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside. 13 When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside,” (Gen. 39:10-13). Potiphar was a “courtier” or “guard” of Pharaoh.” (Gen. 37:6; 39:1). “The Hebrew word for courtier is saris. In Biblical Hebrew, this word usually means “eunuch.” If Potiphar was a eunuch, it might help to explain his wife’s agitation.” (Torah Club, Unrolling the Scroll, Book 1, (First Fruits of Zion 2nd ed. 2014) p. 154). The handsome and successful young man in her house was too much of a temptation for Potiphar’s wife to ignore. Like Potiphar’s wife, Eve at one point had to be admiring the forbidden fruit before Satan used it to tempt her (Gen. 3:1-3). From this, God warns you to control what you fill your eyes with (Matt. 5:28). If you constantly fill your eyes with things that appeal to the lusts of your flesh, your lusts will eventually overwhelm your decisions. “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” (Ro. 1:24). Like Eve and Potiphar’s wife, are you filling your mind with things that will cause you to sin?
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606 – 1669 (Joseph and Potiphar's Wife)1
Giving into temptation only brings sorrow. The pleasure Satan offers for the adulterer does not last long (Heb. 11:25; Lk. 12:19-20). In reference to sinners, David said: “[God] gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” (Ps. 106:105). Through his suffering and later being placed in jail, God protected Joseph from an even worse punishment that would have fallen upon him if he had engaged in adultery: “With her many persuasions she entices him; with her flattering lips she seduces him. Suddenly he follows her as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool, until an arrow pierces through his liver; as a bird hastens to the snare, so he does not know that it will cost him his life.” (Prov. 7:21-23). “For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, and an adulteress hunts for the precious life. Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is the one who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; whoever touches her will not go unpunished.” (Prov. 6:26-29). “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (Ja. 1:14-15). “You shall not have intercourse with your neighbor’s wife, to be defiled with her.” (Lev. 18:20). Even if you have eternal salvation through Christ, God warns of “curses” or earthly discipline in the form of hardships for those who reject the covenant and choose to submit to the Devil’s covetousness (Lev. 26:14-37; Dt. 27:15-26; 28:15-68). This can include addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, and sex (Ro. 1:24-33). God disciplines you when you are willingly wayward in your walk because He loves you and wants to guide you back with his rod (Heb. 12:6). He also promises not to put you in a place beyond your ability to resist the temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). If He has caused you to suffer, He may be protecting you from an even worse sin. Are you using His mercy and grace as a license to covet and rebel against Him? (Ro. 6:15).
Flee temptation. Like Joseph, you also are commanded to “flee” temptation: “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.” (1 Cor. 6:8; 2 Tim. 2:22). Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, your desires are distorted (Gen. 3:15-16; Rom. 8:20). God knows that you are destined for bondage if you try to reason with temptation. Before God gave the Ten Commandments, He declared: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Ex. 20:2). His rules are meant to protect you from bondage. Through Jesus’ death, your body was bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). You are now His servant (Lev. 25:55). You were once a slave to sin. Now, be a slave to righteousness (Ro. 6:17-18). Are you “fleeing” temptation? (2 Tim. 2:22). Or, are you hanging out with people or doing things that will lead you back to bondage?
Temptation most frequently comes through small tests. Most people remember this story because of the final temptation of Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39:12). Yet, Potiphar’s wife tempted Joseph “day after day.” (Gen. 39:10). “How we handle the day-to-day temptations of life often determines how we will face the major issues that arise only occasionally.” (Bob Deffinbaugh, Genesis: From Paradise to Patriarchs, 39. From the Penthouse to the Prison, Gen. 39:1-23 (2004) Bible.org). If you fail in the small temptations, you are showing God that you are not ready for Him to entrust you with major responsibility. God cannot tempt you (Ja. 1:13-14). He does, however, test you (Jer. 17:10; 20:12). He tests you to show you where your heart is evil (Jer. 17:9). If He has shown you through the small tests of daily living where your heart is dark, have you repented of your sins? (1 Jo. 1:9).
Avoid places where temptation can arise. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph when he was alone (Gen. 39:11). Joseph had little choice in where he worked. Yet, it is never wise to be alone with a person of the opposite sex. Do you protect your heart by controlling your environment? Are you controlling the environments where your children place themselves?
Joseph was falsely accused of a crime that he did not commit. Potiphar’s wife showed that there is a fine line between lust and hate. She became filled with rage at his rejection and accused Joseph of a crime that he did not commit: “14 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. 15 When he heard that I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled and went outside.’ 16 So she left his garment beside her until his master came home. 17 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; 18 and as I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled outside.” (Gen. 39:14-18). If Joseph had given in, he would have likely suffered the same fate after she received her moment of pleasure. She could never marry him. Having him killed would eventually be the only way to protect herself from the charge of adultery. In a similar way, Ammon hated his victim Tammar after he overpowered her and raped her: “Then Amnon hated her with a very great hatred; for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, ‘Get up, go away!’” (2 Sam. 13:5). Potiphar’s wife’s hatred for Joseph for rejecting her was also intense. Her rejection transformed her lust into racial hatred. She referred to Joseph as a loathsome Hebrew (Gen. 39:14; cf., 43:32; 46:34). If you give into lust, hate also won’t be far off as you lose control of your emotions.
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606 – 1669 (Joseph Accused by Potiphar's wife)2
Jesus was also falsely accused of a crime He did not commit. Jesus was falsely accused of a crime that he did not commit and he was “numbered with the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12; Mk. 15:28; Lk. 23:37). “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21). “He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” (Ro. 4:25). Through God’s providence, the false charges against Joseph would set in motion events that would save Egypt and the surrounding areas. Likewise, the false charges against Jesus would set in motion His death. This would bring salvation to all who believe (Jo. 3:16).
Your purity is more important than your social status. To an outsider, it might seem that Joseph’s life was ruined when he lost his place of status in Potiphar’s house. Yet, from God’s perspective, it was better for Joseph to lose his status and remain pure than to keep his status and commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife. Indeed, the Bible makes clear that God “rescued” Joseph by placing him in jail: “The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household.” (Acts 7:9-10). “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt. 16:25-26). Today, your body is the temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:9; 3:16). You are therefore commanded to keep it holy: “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.” (1 Cor. 6:13). “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;” (1 Thess. 4:3-5). “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Have you kept yourself pure and holy for His use by avoiding the lusts of the flesh?
Take drastic steps to remove the temptations in your life. Just as God took the drastic step of placing Joseph in prison to remove his temptation, you should also take drastic steps to remove the temptations in your life. When you fill your eyes with darkness, you reduce your ability to resist temptation: “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt. 6:23). If you even lust after a married person, you have committed adultery in God’s eyes: “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28). Have you kept your eyes pure to protect yourself?
Joseph offers no defense to a crime that he did not commit. If Joseph had truly tried to rape Potiphar’s wife, he would have been summarily executed. This was the punishment in Egypt for his alleged crime. Yet, God protected Joseph by instead causing Potiphar to place Joseph in jail: “19 Now when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, ‘This is what your slave did to me,’ his anger burned. 20 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.” (Gen. 39:19-20). Joseph’s lesser punishment suggests that Potiphar knew the truth. Yet, he could no longer keep his favorite slave and his wife together. He also could not defend his wife’s honor by letting Joseph go. Again, Joseph suffered for no fault of his own. Potiphar became like Pontius Pilot in sentencing an innocent man to keep the peace. Like Jesus, Joseph also did not protest by any attempt to defend his honor. Placing Joseph in jail was part of God’s greater plan. In jail, God would set in motion events that would bring Joseph to Pharaoh. Joseph trusted in God, even though he did not know His plan.
Jesus also offers no defense to a crime that He did not commit. Like Joseph, Jesus did not fight back when he was wrongly accused. “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7). “And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He did not answer. Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?’ And He did not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so the governor was quite amazed.” (Matt. 27:12-14). He knew that His death was necessary. He also trusted in God the Father’s greater plan.
Love and forgive those who cause you harm. Joseph later forgave his brothers when he saw his suffering as part of God’s plan (Gen. 50:20). Jesus also forgave the people who crucified Him (Lk. 23:34). You are also likely to encounter people who will make false accusations against you. Jesus calls upon you to love and forgive these people. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt. 5:44). “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matt. 6:14). Is there anyone who has wronged you that you still need to love and forgive?
Allow God to humble you so that He can also exalt you without pride. The false charges against Joseph humbled him in prison. The false charges against Jesus humbled Him into death. Yet, God later exalted both Joseph and later Jesus. He also wants you to allow Him to humble you through your suffering so that He can exalt you in heaven alongside Him without any pride. “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12; Lk. 14:11; 18:14). “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.” (Lk. 1:52). “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (Ja. 4:10). “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,” (1 Pet. 5:6). “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5; KJV). Your suffering is one way for God to humble you. Are you humble so that He can exalt you without pride?
God will also reward those who overcome sexual temptation. Joseph was ultimately rewarded for overcoming his temptations. If you overcome your temptations, Jesus also promises to reward you in heaven. “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (Ja. 1:12). Are you giving Christ reasons to reward you in heaven?
Joseph’s suffering brought hope to those in captivity. Although Joseph had hit rock bottom by being placed in jail, God had not forgotten him for a moment. He again caused Joseph to be a blessing to all who surrounded him in jail: “21 But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. 22 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. 23 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.” (Gen. 39:21-23). Verse 21 says that Joseph received “favor” from the chief jailer. Some might read this verse to suggest that Joseph did not suffer in jail. Yet, this view is mistaken. Verse 22 makes clear that his favor was to be put in charge of supervising the other prisoners. Joseph was still shackled at his feet in heavy iron chains: “He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. “They afflicted his feet with fetters, he himself was laid in irons;” (Ps. 105:17-18). In Hebrew, being “laid in irons” literally translates as “iron entered his soul.” He also would have eaten the worst of foods given to prisoners. Being placed in charge of the inside of the prison also did not mean that he lived better than the other prisoners. He was responsible for (1) the cleaning of the latrines of all the prisoner feces, (2) the cleaning of the prisoner cells; (3) meeting the hard labor work quotas; and (4) rationing food amongst the prisoners. If food rations ran low, Joseph as a servant leader would have eaten only after all the other prisoners. He was also kept below ground in a “dungeon” (Gen. 40:15). Thus, he would have lived without any sunlight. Yet, by God’s providence, his dungeon was under Potiphar’s house. Potiphar was “the captain of the bodyguard, . . .” (Gen. 39:1). This jail is later identified as being under his house: “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.” (Gen. 40:3). He was put “in confinement in his master’s house, . . .” (Gen. 40:7). This may also explain why the chief jailer put Joseph in charge so quickly. Despite suffering in jail, God was still with Joseph. Even in jail, Joseph had God’s peace and did not complain about his circumstances.
Joseph’s three descents into darkness. Three times, the Bible says that Joseph was “taken down.” In Hebrew, the word used is “hurad”. First, he descended into a wilderness cistern (Gen. 37:24-25). Second, he descended into Egypt (Gen. 37:36; 39:1). Third, he descended into prison. These were “the three symbolic ‘descents’ that precede his ascension in the court of Pharaoh . . .” (Kenneth Mathews, “The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture” Genesis 1-11:26, Vol. 1B, (B&H Publishing Group Nashville Tenn. 2005) p. 725). If Joseph’s life foreshadowed Jesus’ life, we should also expect to find some correlation here to Jesus’ descent before His ascension.
Jesus’ descent into the different levels of darkness. Like Joseph, Jesus descended into darkness. He did not rise from his crucifixion until the third day (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19). Paul describes different parts or levels of heaven and hell. He was caught up to “the third heaven.” (2 Cor. 12:2). He also states that Jesus descended into distinct “parts” of hell: “Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?” (Eph. 4:9). If there is a direct opposite in hell to what Paul observed in heaven, this would suggest that there were at least three parts of hell. Joseph’s foreshadow suggests that Jesus descended to three levels of hell. In the 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy, the Italian writer Dante Alighieri suggested that there are nine “circles” of hell. Yet, he did not try to correlate these nine circles with verses in Scripture. Although there could be more, the Bible describes at least three parts or levels of hell. First, there was the “the bosom of Abraham.” Angels took Lazarus to this place (Lk. 16:19–31). This is the place that Jesus likely went to free the righteous by faith, like Abraham, who died before Jesus lived on the Earth. This was likely a peaceful resting place that did not include suffering. The second level is outer darkness, where the non-believers suffer from being separated from God’s love and light (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Lk. 13:28). The third level is the lake of fire. This place was created for Satan and his demons (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14). Just as Joseph had to descend into darkness to bring light to the lost, so did Jesus.
Jesus’ sufferings also brought hope to the lost in captivity to sin. On the first day of Jesus’ public ministry, He entered the synagogue and read from Isaiah 61:1-2. After reading the passage, “He has come to proclaim release to the captives . . . to set free those who are oppressed,” Jesus proclaimed: “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21). Jesus’ death brought hope to all who were once lost and dead to sin.
When you suffer for God as a faithful servant, you are a light to the lost. Joseph was God’s representative in Egypt. He was a good representative because he acted with integrity no matter where God sent him. He also never complained about his circumstances. By being a faithful slave and prisoner who did not complain, he was a light to the lost people of Egypt. When you labor faithfully for others without complaining about your suffering, you are also a light of the lost. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;” (Matt. 5:14). You are also called Christ’s ambassador (2 Cor. 5:20). When you suffer, are you a good witness for Christ’s light to those around you who are suffering in sin?
God may also allow your suffering to last for years for the good of His Kingdom. Joseph’s suffering also was not short. He was 17 when his brothers sold him into captivity (Gen. 37:2). He ascended into Pharaoh’s court at age 30 (Gen. 41:46). It took two years for the chief cupbearer to be restored to his position in Pharaoh’s court (Gen. 41:1). Thus, Joseph suffered for 13 years, as a slave and as a prisoner. In the Bible, the number 13 symbolizes rebellion. Joseph suffered from his brother’s rebellion. Yet, God used their evil for good (Gen. 50:20). Will you trust that God will turn your bad situations into good ones, even if your suffering lasts for years? (Ro. 8:28).