Genesis 39: Joseph's Slavery in Egypt
Despite repeated experiences of injustice at the hands of men, Joseph remains faithful to God and discovers that God will be with him and use him no matter where he is.
Is it better to be in a place where you don’t want to be, but God is with you, or to be comfortable without God?
In Genesis 39, we learn how God can prosper a man without personal freedom or material possessions.
vv. 1–6 - The last verse of Genesis 37 informed us that the Midianites sold Joseph to an Egyptian known as Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard. Potiphar, as the man who kept the king’s prisoners, was a man of means and authority in Egypt. What he paid for Joseph, we are not told, but we soon discover that it was a worthwhile investment. The opening six verses detail God’s blessing upon Joseph’s life probably over several years. God’s blessing was so marked upon Joseph’s life and work that he rose in rank and authority within Potiphar’s home. v. 3 records that Potiphar saw that Joseph’s God was the reason Joseph was who he was, which seems to imply that Joseph was public about his religious beliefs, which meant observers made a connection between his character, activity, and the God he served. In addition, in v. 6, though the translation is slightly different, we learn that the same thing is said of Joseph as was said of his mother, Rachel, that she was “beautiful and well favoured” (Gen. 29:17).
vv. 7–19 - We learn that Joseph’s handsome appearance draws attention from his master’s wife. Like her mother Eve, Potiphar’s wife casts her eye on something forbidden and desires it. In contrast, Joseph responds like Adam ought to have. Joseph explains that everything belonging to Potiphar is in his hand, except for one thing. For Joseph, it is not the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; it is his master’s wife. He wisely resists, having a keen sense that to do such would be to sin against God. However, Potiphar’s wife continues to pursue Joseph day after day, until one day when no one was around, she grabs him and he runs, leaving his garment in her hand. Feeling snubbed and bitter, she then presents a false narrative accusing Joseph of wicked behavior.
vv. 20–23 - Potiphar, upon hearing the news, throws Joseph in prison. Many have remarked that if he really believed Joseph to be guilty of the accusation, Potiphar would have had Joseph killed. This is probable. So his anger (v. 19) is because the scenario put him in a tough spot. Face the embarrassment of bringing an accusation against his loose wife, or find some way of punishing Joseph while being merciful. Thus, Joseph suffers injustice, being put in prison in order for Potiphar to avoid the humiliation of the truth being known about his wife. Yet again, Joseph shows himself to be a dependable and capable young man. There was a possibility that great resentment might fill Joseph’s heart, and certainly disappointment. Yet, he maintains his integrity and enjoys continued prosperity in his new environment.
Authority is not to be unlawfully grasped, but granted through divine providence. While authority in the home is usually granted through marriage and parenthood, other forms of authority are not to be taken as a right. vv. 5–6 helpfully shows how authority is given. There is gift, faithfulness, and effectiveness which others recognize and they confer authority upon you. For example, it is one thing to desire to preach, and quite another to ask to preach. Let others recognize your abilities, and if you feel so exercised, pray for opportunities to exercise your abilities. But do not force yourself into places of greater judgment from God.
God’s providence may prevent us from an immediate clearing of our name against false accusations. Joseph has to endure the repercussions of a fraudulent testimony against him. We must learn that even the most faithful children of God may have to rest in their knowledge of God’s love for them while the world assumes the worst. God uses these experiences to see if our faith can leap over obstacles and trust God despite what our eyes see and our heart feels.
All sin is first and foremost against God. When Joseph faced the temptation of Potiphar’s wife, it wasn’t a fear of Potiphar that kept him from sin, but a fear of God. Sin is a breach of God’s law, not man’s law. It is first treason against God before it is wickedness against man. This sin of adultery has always been common, and was so in Joseph’s day, just as in ours. It must be resisted. Young people, be careful what you watch. The internet has the power to destroy you, and minimizing sin will wreck your life and cause the face of God to be against you. Flee youthful lusts!
No matter how bad things appear, they can often get worse. Being a slave in a foreign land in the prime of your life must have been a grueling experience for Joseph to accept, but he made the best of it. But, as hard as it was, Joseph discovered rock bottom has a basement. Ancient prisons were vile places. There were no comforts, no good food, no medical care, no entertainment, no rights such as a right to a speedy trial, etc. Joseph had no hope of ever getting out except through some extraordinary providence. Many assume that life will present for them an upward trajectory of opportunities and responsibility, but we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God.
Christ is the Mediator of the elect who took the form of a servant for His people. We see this truth typified in Joseph, as he enters a state of humiliation, becoming a lowly servant, and suffering satanic temptation, being falsely accused and condemned. Christ did this for us.
True prosperity is the covenantal presence of God. Three times it tells us in this chapter that the Lord was with Joseph. Why the need for repetition? Because his circumstances could lead people to conclude otherwise. Dear Christian, God cannot lie. You must learn to believe that no matter what your circumstances may be suggesting. You are not at the end of your story, so fight the temptation to believe that you are in your last chapter. What Christ is doing now, you may not understand, but you will know hereafter.
“The godly are tempted and tried. That is not true faith which is never put to the test. But the godly are delivered out of their trials, and that not by chance, nor by secondary agencies, but by the LORD Himself… This day it is not for me to pry into my LORD's secrets but patiently to wait His time, knowing this, that though I know nothing, my heavenly Father knows.” — Charles Spurgeon