NIV Genesis 39:1 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. 2 The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So he left in Joseph's care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, "Come to bed with me!" 8 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. 9 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?" 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. 11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, "Come to bed with me!" But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. 13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. "Look," she said to them, "this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house." 16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: "That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house." 19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, "This is how your slave treated me," he burned with anger. 20 Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined. But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.
So far I think you all might agree that Genesis reads like an afternoon soap opera. There were more scandals in Jacob’s family than in politics. Lies, deceit, jealousy, betrayal, revenge, prostitutes, sister-wives, and death sentences have marked this family throughout. And yet through it all God remained faithful to the ones he called. Some members of Jacob’s family responded well to God’s faithfulness. Jacob repented of his sin and sought to follow the Lord. His son Judah repented of his sin as well. Some members of Jacob’s family did not respond as well. Rachel died in bitterness, full of discontent. Esau chose to live his life apart from God. Whether or not the end result was positive in someone’s life, their past sinful actions had horrendous consequences for others. Two weeks ago we watched in horror as Joseph’s brothers, led by Judah and Reuben, first thought to kill Joseph out of jealousy, but eventually decided to sell him into slavery. Joseph’s brothers thought they had it made. Not only were they finally free of their spoiled brat of a brother, they had made good money disposing of him. But Jacob’s grief was terrible. No one could comfort him. His constant grief reminded the rest of the brothers that Jacob loved Joseph more than any of them. Moses left us hanging with a brief mention that Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. Then last week we heard the story of Judah and Tamar. Sexual depravity was on show for all to see last week and the consequences of that depravity were often great. But this morning we come back to the true story of Joseph. We begin this morning by discovering that Joseph was taken down to Egypt by slave traders and sold to a powerful man in Egypt.
Egypt was a terrible place. Some of you might be surprised to hear me say that. Growing up we all learned about Egypt in our public school history classes. We learned about the great civilizations of Egypt and Rome and Persia and Greece. We were taught to wonder at their amazing accomplishments. Egypt had some major accomplishments. It was an amazing civilization by worldly standards. But it was an evil civilization by God’s standards. The great pyramids were built by slaves; by people who were beaten and abused and had no hope of freedom for themselves. It was a civilization that worshiped multiple demonic gods and goddesses. Brutality was prized and sexual indulgence was encouraged. Sadly, it reminds me a lot of our own culture. America is a great nation. We have done some amazing things in our history. Our armed forces are known for bravery in combat and integrity in service. We have freed people from oppression. The kingdom of God has been served well by many Americans both on the home-front and on the mission field. And yet our culture has continued this slide toward evil. We have been built on the backs of slaves. Even today slaves around the world make our clothing, technology, and toys. We are an atheistic culture that worships the self above all else. Brutality toward the unborn is considered healthcare. Sexual indulgence is encouraged. Joseph found himself in a culture very much like ours. This once pampered child found himself all alone in a strange, wicked, and demonic culture. How would he respond? Would he live his life faithful to God or would he just give into the culture around him because it was the easier thing to do? As we look at this true story of Joseph it seems like he lived his life according to two principles: How can I honor God and how can I serve others? As we work through Joseph’s life we will see how these two principles guided the decisions that he made.
Joseph Found Favor
When Joseph arrived in Egypt he was sold to Potiphar. Potiphar was a big man in Egypt. He was one of Pharaoh’s officials. Pharaoh was what they called the king of Egypt. While he worked for Potiphar Joseph found favor. Most slaves worked outside and were not allowed to be in the house of their owners. Since they were only considered property their owners couldn’t trust them. But Joseph was different. Through God’s grace and favor Joseph was able to work and live inside Potiphar’s house. Genesis 39:3-4 says, “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 his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.” So here we have this foreign-born slave, a man who was a stranger to Potiphar when he first arrived, not only being trusted to live in Potiphar’s house, but also being trusted enough to become Potiphar’s attendant. When Moses tells us that Joseph was Potiphar’s attendant it doesn’t mean Joseph stood by Potiphar’s side waiting for an order to go fetch his paper or get him a snack. Joseph was Potiphar’s Executive Administrative Assistant. He had access to everything that belonged to Potiphar: credit cards, keys, social security number, schedule – everything! He was still a slave. He had no rights. He couldn’t get his freedom. He didn’t receive a good paycheck. But even as a slave Potiphar trusted Joseph completely.
How did Joseph work his way into this position? Joseph accomplished this because of his two guiding principles. When he did his work he always sought to honor God and serve Potiphar. Joseph probably had some horrible jobs when he first started out as a slave. Slavery is not really a good job. Yet Joseph worked hard and worked honorably. I know there are some in our congregation who are working jobs you absolutely hate. Your hours aren’t good and your pay is even worse. But as you go to work each day I would encourage you to think about Joseph. Try to live your life the same way Joseph did. Do your job well. Honor the person you work for. Work faithfully and with integrity. Ask yourself every day how you can honor God and serve other people. Our culture teaches us that jobs exist purely to make money so you can get to the weekend; that our jobs are primarily about us. But I want to challenge that thought this morning. What if we looked at our jobs differently? What if we saw our jobs as opportunities to honor God and serve others? How would it change the way we worked? What if we consider our jobs, no matter what they are, as opportunities to minister to others? That is how Joseph saw his slavery. And God blessed him in it. Potiphar saw Joseph’s integrity and hard work and promoted him. He saw that God was with him.
And that’s the most important part of it. Potiphar could see God through Joseph’s work. Joseph was living in Egypt, away from home, away from everything he knew. He was completely alone. And yet Moses tells us repeatedly that God was with him. Even while working as a slave, while in a situation in which he was reduced to being sub-human, Joseph knew that God was with him. It was God’s presence that enabled Joseph to work hard with integrity. God blessed Joseph in his faithfulness. Potiphar saw this and that is why he trusted Joseph. That’s an important lesson for us this morning. We should conduct ourselves at our jobs in such a way that people can see God. If you are a Christian that means the Holy Spirit is actively living through you. The Holy Spirit will guide you and strengthen you to do what is right and to work hard with integrity. The hope is that other people will see it and turn to God too. Potiphar saw that God was with Joseph. He didn’t decide to follow God but Joseph at least gave him an awesome witness. When I finished working for UPS in Kentucky Alex, one of my fellow supervisors, came to me and said, “You have been like Jesus for me in this building.” That was an incredibly important moment for me. Without realizing it I had been a witness to God’s character to Alex. It was also a moment of reflection as I realized how many ways I had failed to be a good witness. This is something we should all focus on when we work.
Joseph Had Opportunity
Since Joseph was in charge of everything that Potiphar owned, that meant Joseph had opportunity to do whatever he wanted. He could choose to use his power and authority to build himself up or he could use it to faithfully serve his master. But he also had another choice that presented itself. Genesis 39:6-7 says, “So he left in Joseph’s care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’” This was the original “Desperate Housewives.” Let’s take a look at everything going on here: Joseph was a great looking guy, he was far from home, he was probably an 18-21 year old virgin, as a slave he may never get the chance to marry, he had no one around to keep him accountable, he couldn’t quit his job because he was a slave, he was in no position to sue for sexual harassment, slaves were expected to perform sexual favors for their owners, Potiphar was a negligent husband, and this woman was very willing to enter into an affair with Joseph. Everything pointed to Joseph making the choice to sleep with Potiphar’s wife. Our culture would just expect it to happen. We promote this weird idea that as long as they are both consenting adults it makes any type of sex acceptable. Everything was pushing Joseph to sleep with her. With Potiphar not around Joseph could have easily gotten away with it. It was the defining moment of Joseph’s life. Would he choose to continue honoring God and serving other people or would he seek to bring pleasure to himself? There are some decisions we face that have profound implications for the rest of our lives, where our future hangs in the balance. This was one of those moments for Joseph.
Joseph Remained Faithful
In this amazingly difficult test Joseph remained faithful. Genesis 39:8-9 says, “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?’” This woman was relentless. She approached Joseph day after day for what was probably years, trying to get him to sleep with her. But Joseph stayed strong in his decision to be faithful. He knew that not only would he be hurting Potiphar but he would also be sinning against God. Joseph knew that to sleep with Potiphar’s wife would be to turn his back on his two guiding principles: to honor God and to serve others. Not only did Joseph make the right choice but he also set himself up for success. Joseph knew that if he was even alone with her that the temptation might be too great, so he stayed completely away from this woman as best as he could. He resisted temptation and did his best to keep himself away from tempting situations.
Our culture constantly bombards us with sexual messages. We are told constantly to do whatever makes us feel good. You can’t drive from here to Wilkes-Barre on 309 without seeing sexually enticing images. Everything seems to be stacked against us in our culture. But it was the same for Joseph. Like Joseph we must make no provision for the flesh. Joseph had a real life woman standing in front of him. We now have the internet and the privacy of our own homes to engage in secret affairs and pornography. They are both evil. Pornography can even be considered worse since the women on the screen are exploited and often controlled by violence and manipulation. We have it hard, and yet God still expects us to make the right decision. What we do matters to God. If you are in a situation where you are sinning you need to remove yourself from that situation. If having the internet in your house trips you up then get rid of the internet when you are home. If you are having an affair then end it and make sure you are never around that person again. We need to orient our entire lives in the direction of holiness so that we can honor God and serve others, not just expect to stay free from sin when we willingly place ourselves in the middle of it. Because the truth is that there are some people out there who just want to destroy us. We’ve already seen some men like that in Genesis, now we meet a woman of destruction. Moses is very clear throughout Genesis that both men and women are bent toward evil. While Joseph was a slave he was actually free because he was able to control himself to honor God and serve others. Potiphar’s wife was a wealthy woman who was actually enslaved by her own lust. If you know someone like this, someone who just wants to take you down with them, run away as fast as you can!
Joseph Was Set Up
Joseph did everything he could to do the right thing. This only angered Potiphar’s wife. She was used to getting what she wanted. There was no way she would allow a slave to deny her and get away with it. Because of his integrity Joseph was set up. This woman continued to show just how evil she was at her core. Potiphar’s wife continued to pursue Joseph despite his constant rejection. One day she set Joseph up for a final showdown. My guess is that she made sure no one was in the house. When Joseph came in she propositioned him again. She thought she had him trapped. No one was around to see. There was no way he could refuse her beauty again. She violently grabbed Joseph’s cloak and demanded of her slave to come to bed with her. But Joseph wrestled himself away from her and ran. That’s when she took her revenge. If he wouldn’t sleep with her then she would get rid of him. She called the servants back into the house and told them that Joseph had attempted to rape her. She told them that the offence was also against them. She screamed for help but no one came to help her. Then she waited for her husband to return home, proudly keeping Joseph’s cloak beside her as she waited. Genesis 39:17-18 says, “Then she told him this story: ‘That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.’” In other words, she said to her husband, “You made this mess, you fix it.” As the guilty person she got her side of the story out first to control the situation.
Joseph Was Punished
Joseph did everything he could to get away from a bad situation, but since he was Potiphar’s slave, he couldn’t stay away for long. He had to come back at some point. He hoped that his master would believe the truth, but Joseph was punished for something he didn’t do. Genesis 39:20a says, “Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison.” In a perfect world someone like Joseph would be lifted up because of his high moral standard and integrity. But we live in a fallen world. We live in a world where morals and values are considered suspect, wrong, and intolerant. Even though Joseph had done the right thing he was still punished. It is likely that Potiphar believed Joseph’s innocence. After all, the punishment for adultery, let alone rape, would have been death. Potiphar only threw Joseph in prison. It was like Potiphar felt obliged to believe his wife. He didn’t want to be known as the guy with that type of wife. Potiphar didn’t want to lose his best slave, but he also didn’t want to lose his reputation. When we are faced with a he said/she said situation we must always use wisdom. There are always two sides to the story. Anyone with children knows that. One child comes up and says that her brother hit her. When you find her brother you realize he has a bloody nose that she caused first (contrary to what you are thinking, this is not a situation that took place between Karis and Josiah). We must always be careful not to defend someone in their sin like Potiphar did.
And yet, even in prison God continued to be with Joseph. Despite being a slave and a criminal charged with rape God led the warden to see that his favor was on Joseph. Eventually Joseph was put in charge of the entire prison. The warden gave a convicted criminal the keys to the prison and trusted him not only to stay, but to run the prison for him. I’m not entirely sure how our prison system works in Pennsylvania, but I would guess that a warden would be fired over something like this (well, maybe not in our county). Joseph had great success while serving in the prison, but he was still in prison for something he didn’t do! There were no weight rooms or cable TV in an ancient Egyptian prison. It was a dark, smelly hole in the ground. He served God faithfully, rejected temptation, and yet was still punished. Eventually Joseph was vindicated and became second-in-charge over all of Egypt, but that is not a common outcome. Many times we will have a hard life because of our choice to follow God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. We will go through all of the trials Joseph faced without any of the vindication here on earth. Many times the disobedient life is the easier life. But we must choose between being obedient and having things easier in life. Life doesn’t always go well when you follow God. In fact, to be a Christian is to be treated like Christ: to face hardship, to go through betrayal, to face false accusations, and to be persecuted. But here’s the key – while Joseph was in prison the Lord was with him. If you remain faithful to Jesus Christ the Lord will be with you too.
We are called to be like Joseph in the way we live our lives. We are called to constantly ask ourselves how we can honor God and serve other people. It doesn’t matter what the outcome will be in this life. We may never catch a break while we honor God and serve others. But even if we don’t catch a break in this life we will have eternity with God in the next. Our faith in Jesus Christ is about dying – dying to sin, dying to self, dying to perversion, dying to finances, dying to power, dying to our selfish desires, dying to control. Instead, we seek to honor God and serve other people. That is what life in Jesus Christ is about. Joseph lived this out well. Our memory verse, Romans 6:11 says, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Joseph may have looked like a poor man and a slave but he was truly free and rich in God because he lived in integrity. He became a blessing to others because he stayed obedient to God. That is our goal in life. If you are a Christian you exist not for yourself but for others. Through your life and your obedience others should come to see God so they can make the decision for themselves, whether they will follow him or not. But for our part, we must continue to honor God and serve others, no matter what.