by Bruce Okkema
As much as she coaxed Joseph day after day, he did not yield … Genesis 39:10 JPS
Joseph will be a powerful figure in biblical history if he lives true to the drama that accompanies his introduction in Genesis 37. The story teller begins by emphasizing this young man’s part in a polygamous family in which there is much tension, and we read of his unfavorable report about his brothers to his father. Soon our hearts go out to him as he is mercilessly thrown into a pit and sold into slavery by his brothers. One comes back to rescue him and finds him gone, then his brothers lie about what they have done, even reporting to Jacob that his favored son has been killed. But what happens next in chapter 39 is almost unbelievable, especially for men.
The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in this eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned … now Joseph was well-built and handsome … and after a while his master’s wife … said … ‘Come to bed with me’ … day after day. (Gen. 39:2-10).
A glance at artwork from that time period in Egypt will reveal that royal women were not known for their modesty. And knowing the power of lust, you might be able to imagine how Potiphar’s wife may have been dressed as she whispered, “come to bed with me, I desire you, we are alone, nobody will know …” Aside from his own natural desires, Joseph would have known that slaves were commonly used for sexual pleasure, and his master’s wife was issuing him a command! Any adult will instantly understand the intensity of this temptation and the ease with which a young man could have succumbed.
But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:8-9)
Then the story continues to build until she physically grabs him and he runs from her, leaving his cloak in her hands.
There is a lot to this story that we are not told, but reading between the lines, it is likely that Potiphar did not totally believe his wife’s account. She had softened the accusation of attempted rape which she had made to the other servants, to one of “making sport of me” when she told her husband. Also, Joseph may have had a chance to tell his side of the story even though it is not recorded. Neither is his reaction recorded in the account of his brothers throwing him into the pit (Gen. 37), yet later, in their retelling of that story (Gen. 42:21), we read, “he pleaded with us.” Potiphar could have certainly executed Joseph, which would have been the normal punishment for such crimes, but rather he had him imprisoned. And he knew Joseph’s character, having trusted him so much as to put him in charge of his entire estate. His wife’s character, as evidenced by her behavior, was questionable.
Hopefully, we will not find ourselves in such an irresistible situation as was Joseph, but we don’t have to go very far to see all manner of such temptations or to hear Satan beckoning us. Bless the Lord for giving Joseph the strength to do the right thing and then passing on the story! Be encouraged that when we look up, God will do the same for us.
Photo: www.africamaat.com and VwGevEwX5KoxpA at Google Cultural Institute