Genesis 39 Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 5 From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field. 6 So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7 And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. 9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, 12 she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. 13 And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, 14 she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. 15 And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” 16 Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, 17 and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. 18 But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”
19 As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. 20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21 But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.
As we work our way through Genesis 39, we’ll see four significant truths: (1) Joseph prospered in trial because the hand of God was upon him, (2) Joseph faced significant temptation even though he was faithful to God, (3) Joseph faced significant persecution even though he was faithful to God, and (4) Joseph remained faithful to God even in his temptation and persecution. Combined, we’re given an important reminder of the rightness of walking as God calls us to regardless of our earthly circumstances or consequences. Let’s pray for God’s help to do just that.
JOSEPH PROSPERED IN TRIAL BECAUSE THE HAND OF THE LORD WAS UPON HIM (1-6A, 21-23)
Our passage for this morning opens (once again) where 37 left off. At the very end of chapter 37 Joseph had been sold by his brothers to Midianite/Ishmaelite traders, who then sold him to a man named Potiphar once they got to Egypt. Potiphar was a very powerful man, the captain of the guard for Pharaoh (the ruler of all of Egypt). That’s exactly where we pick up at the beginning of 39.
From there the passage quickly moves to a really important description of God’s blessing of Joseph and its impact on Joseph and those around him. In particular, there are five “steps” of God’s blessing that are helpful to recognize. This is not how God always works, but there is a lot here for us to see.
Step One: The LORD was with Joseph (2).
The beginning and key to everything that follows is that the “LORD was with Joseph.” My experience is that most people focus on what comes next as the true blessing from God to Joseph—his success and favor with Potiphar. But the presence and happiness of God is the greatest good.
That brings us back to the questions we’re constantly trying to keep in front of you. Which do you desire more, God or His blessings? Or, is God your goal or the means to your goal? Or, if you could have everything you ever hoped for (health, life, eternal life, money, looks, fame, success, etc.) apart from God, would you take that deal?
The point I’m trying to make, because I believe it’s the point the text is trying to make, is that God’s highest blessing for Joseph was that He was with him. If nothing else followed, this was still the greatest possible blessing. Settle on that Grace, or every trial will have the potential to crush and overwhelm you. Settle on that Grace, and you, like Joseph here, will be able to endure every trial in hope.
Step Two: God made Joseph successful under the enslavement of Potiphar (2).
God with us is enough, but God’s benevolent presence almost always leads to specific outward blessings. We’ll come back to this in a bit, but how many of you would be tempted to throw a giant pity party for yourself if you were put in Joseph’s situation? If you found yourself enslaved by a pagan military leader at the treacherous hands of your own family, how would you frame the story? Do you even have a category for something like Joseph’s situation being objectively and eternally better than if Joseph were safely back home surrounded by a loving family? Does the fact that God was with Joseph in this miserable situation fit within your usual framework for trials? Does the fact that God caused Joseph to succeed more under Potiphar’s enslavement than he did outside of it even make sense to you?
Verse 2 simply tells us that “The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.” In no sense did Joseph’s brothers’ sin or Joseph’s enslavement in Egypt tie the LORD’s hands. In fact, as we move through the Joseph story, we’ll see that the brothers’ sin and the Egyptian enslavement were actually critical parts of God’s plan to bless Joseph and all the children of Abraham.
Again, then, the question before us is this: Do you understand trials in this life mainly in terms of their deprivation of comfort or mainly in terms of their provision of a different path to sanctification and blessing?
God was with Joseph. And as a result, Joseph became successful in his captivity in a manner that far exceeded his success in his freedom. Such is the nature of God’s mysterious providence when His people endure suffering.
Step Three: Potiphar noticed Joseph’s success was the result of the LORD being with him (3).
The third step in God’s Genesis 39 process is that He allowed Potiphar to recognize the source of Joseph’s success. Potiphar saw, “that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.”
It might not seem like it, but this really is a gift. We know that every good thing comes from God (James 1:17). But that fact is definitely not clear to everyone (Romans 1:21). Even as believers we are prone to forget this fact. Therefore, it is significant that Potiphar saw this. We’re not told exactly how he knew, only that he did.
Again, this is not how God always works. There are many places in the Bible where God blessed His people and the unbelievers around them failed to recognize (much less appreciate) it. But it is how God worked here. He gave Joseph the gift of being with him. Then God gave Joseph the second gift of extending that blessing to earthly success. And then He gave another gift to Joseph and Potiphar in allowing both of them to know that all of this was from Him.
Would you take a minute to ask God to help you see the true source of the good gifts in your life? Would you do so that you might rightly honor God for them even when they come in less comfortable packages? And would you do so in the hope that the non-believers around you might notice them and give glory to God?
Step Four: Potiphar favored Joseph on account of the LORD’s blessing and put him in charge (4, 6).
The next thing to see from the opening paragraph of our passage is that Potiphar was eager to be blessed by God, through Joseph.
V.4 says, “So Joseph found favor in [Potiphar’s] sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.” Similarly, v.6 says, “So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.”
There is no indication that Potiphar acknowledged God as the one true God. All we know is that he was glad for the blessing whatever its source. Again, this is often the case, isn’t it? It might take some drilling down into our hearts to test this, but I invite you to consider whether or not this is the case for you as well. Are you fine being blessed regardless of the source? You might be tempted to say “No” quickly, but you might want to be a little more careful.
I think one of the best tests is to ask yourself a couple of questions. Upon receiving some good gift, do you typically move straight to enjoying it? If so, you might be more like Potiphar than you’d like to admit. Do you tend to take credit for the good things you receive (especially if getting them involved hard thought or work on your part)? If so, you might not care as much as you should about the source of your gifts. On the other hand, upon receiving the blessing of God, do you immediately turn to God in thanksgiving (1 Corinthians 1:4) or to others to brag about God for His kindness (1 Corinthians 1:31)? If so, you’re probably heading in the right direction.
Simply, we cannot be indifferent to the source of our gifts. We must honor God as the giver of the good gifts He gives and refuse those who offer them as enticement to sin.
The LORD blessed Potiphar through Joseph’s blessing for Joseph’s sake. God made Potiphar happy with Joseph because God had plans for Joseph and his family in the land of Egypt.
Step Five: The LORD blessed and continued to bless Potiphar through Joseph (5).
Finally, it’s important to see that God continued to bless Joseph and Potiphar through him in almost every way for some time. Verse 5 says, “From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field “.
In order that we might give God all the glory He is due from this marvelous work, it’s really important for us to notice that the same pattern repeated itself even when Joseph was sent to prison?
20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21 But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.
By the sinful hands of others, Joseph went from enslavement to imprisonment. And yet, God was with him the entire time, working a far greater good than the evil of his brothers and his master’s wife. Again, the repeated pattern is meant to help us to see God’s hand: (1) God was with Joseph (this time adding that God showed steadfast love to Joseph). (2) God showed favor to Joseph and blessed him in his trial. (3) The keeper of the prison recognized God’s favor on Joseph. (4) Because of this, the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge—he was blessed through Joseph’s divine blessing. (5) And finally, the LORD continued to bless Joseph and the prison keeper through him.
There are three main takeaways for us. First, God is in control. That ought to be clear in the first example (Joseph’s thriving during his enslavement to Potiphar). To make it absolutely unmistakable, though, God did the same thing again (during his imprisonment). This passage gives us yet another (of countless) reason and call to trust God’s good governance of all things.
The second main takeaway, is that God doesn’t need our wisdom or strength or anything else to accomplish His purposes. That God sometimes chooses to use us is a gift to us. This passage makes clear that God didn’t choose to use Joseph because he was competent, but rather that Joseph was competent only because God chose him. Are you in a situation that you can’t imagine how good might come of it? Rest easy.
And third, once again, Joseph’s circumstances—dire as they were—did anything but cut off his access to God or the blessing of God. We often act as if being in a place of hardship is the very definition of being outside of God’s blessing. This passage helps us to see that this is anything but true.
This whole Joseph-cycle really is something for all us to pray for as well. It is good for us to want God to bless us, to want God’s blessing of us to be clear to the unbelieving, watching world, and to want God to bless others through our blessing that God’s name might be shown to be great.
Consider what that might mean for work, home, family relations, church involvement, etc. What might it look like for God to bless you right now in such a way that others can’t help but notice? And what might it look like for you to immediately and intentionally turn that blessing into praise for God and blessing for others?
JOSEPH FACED SIGNIFICANT TEMPTATION EVEN THOUGH HE WAS FAITHFUL TO GOD (6B-7, 11)
All of that leads to the second main point: Joseph faced significant temptation even though he was faithful.
There is no record of any hint of injustice or faithlessness on the part of Joseph. Every indication is that he simply went about doing his best to honor God in whatever situation presented itself to him, regardless of how unjust the circumstances were that got him there.
The practical result was that was enslaved. And in his enslavement, he was propositioned by his master’s wife.
6 Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7 And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.”
11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, 12 she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.”
Do you remember how I pointed out that it was only once Joseph’s brothers were far away from their father (tending sheep) that they finally had the cover and courage to act on their hatred toward Joseph. I suggested that this is often how sin works its way out of us—we give in when our usual defenses are down. With an empty house and a persistent temptress, Joseph was tempted in a similar way. His brothers were faithless and experienced temptation in isolation. Joseph was faithful and he too faced temptation in isolation.
The simple point is that faithfulness to God does not mean we won’t experience temptation. Indeed, the most faithful man of all time, Jesus Christ, “…who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin…” (Hebrews 4:15). Grace, in some ways, we are more likely to be tempted when we walk in faithfulness. Such is the nature of living in a fallen world.
JOSEPH FACED SIGNIFICANT PERSECUTION EVEN THOUGH HE WAS FAITHFUL TO GOD (13-23)
Again, Joseph’s faithfulness didn’t keep him from experiencing temptation. Similarly, it didn’t keep him from experiencing further persecution either. In spite of the clear hand of God upon him, in spite of the remarkable blessing he’d been to Potiphar and his house, and in spite of the fact that at Joseph’s hand Potiphar, “had no concern about anything but the food he ate,”
19 As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. 20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison.
It’s important to note that the ordinary penalty for that which Joseph was accused of would have been death. The very fact that he was imprisoned rather than killed, indicates that Potiphar probably had some suspicion that the charges his wife brought were suspect. And yet, in case it seems as if Joseph knew no real suffering, consider Psalm 105’s (16 – 19) account,
When [God] summoned a famine on the land
and broke all supply of bread,
17 he had sent a man ahead of them,
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 [Joseph’s] feet were hurt with fetters;
his neck was put in a collar of iron;
19 until what he had said came to pass,
the word of the LORD tested him.
Though this would all turn to good, it was no easy path that God had for Joseph to walk. His persecution and suffering were significant.
And the simple point is that faithfulness to God does not mean we won’t face persecution. Again, the most faithful man of all time, Jesus Christ, was mocked, beaten, and crucified for His faithfulness. Grace, in some ways we are more likely to be persecuted when we walk in faithfulness. In John 15:20, Jesus promised as much, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
But He also promised that those who are persecuted for being faithful will be blessed, full of rejoicing, glad, and rewarded as citizens in heaven!
Matthew 5:10-12 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Following Jesus almost always means walking a hard, hard road—one filled with significant temptations and persecutions, but also one filled with greater blessings and rewards.
JOSEPH REMAINED FAITHFUL TO GOD EVEN IN HIS TEMPTATION AND PERSECUTION (8-10, 12)
God was with Joseph. Joseph faced temptation and persecution even though he was faithful to God. And, finally, Joseph remained faithful to God even though he was tempted and persecuted.
6 Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7 And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. 9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, 12 she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.
- Where Judah was immoral, Joseph was moral (8). This contrast is an important reason for chapter 38.
- Where Adam and Eve were denied only one thing, but couldn’t resist, Joseph held fast (he was denied only his master’s wife) (9). This too is an important contrast, given to us to help us recognize the power and grace of God in Joseph.
- Joseph called sin, sin—”wickedness” (9). He was not being propositioned with having an “affair”, but a wicked act of adultery.
- Joseph acknowledged the horizontal offense that lying with Potiphar’s wife would have been to Potiphar, but more importantly he grounded it in the vertical offense it would have been against the LORD (9).
- Joseph continued to resist temptation, even as it was presented to him repeatedly (10). Through his direct refusal, attempt at reasoning, and then finally fleeing, Joseph modeled for us 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those [Joseph] who have called on the Lord from a pure heart.”
Grace, Joseph did not remain faithful because he was strong enough or resolved enough. Rather, it was because God was with him to keep him. And just as Joseph was kept by God, so too will be all who hope in Jesus. Grace, the promises of God are sure, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). And “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37).
Perhaps the most significant implication of these things is one simple reality: no circumstances—no matter how difficult or painful—ever put us outside of God’s reach. Consequently, no circumstances—no matter how dire they seem—are outside of God’s perfect plan for perfect good for all who hope in Him.
Joseph prospered in trial because the hand of God was upon him, Joseph faced significant temptation even though he was faithful to God, Joseph faced significant persecution even though he was faithful to God, and Joseph remained faithful to God even in his temptation and persecution.
So what do we do with all of this? Let me conclude with suggesting two things: First, look to Jesus. If you are hoping in Him, He is with you always, even to the end of the age. Fight to remember that you are never alone and never without the blessing of God. Consider Joseph and recognize that God is with us even more than He was ever with Joseph. Remember this in times of joy and trial and be strengthened in both.
And second, consider how you might turn your God-given blessing into a blessing for others. What might you do this week (even, and especially if you are in a hard place yourself) to live in such a way that God’s blessed presence in your life is clear and obvious and a source of help to others.