Genesis 39:1-23 Never Alone
We join Joseph in Egypt in his first position. He is purchased by Potiphar as a household servant. Joseph serves faithfully as long as he is there.
Joseph is purchased right away by one of Pharaoh’s highest officers. Potiphar was the captain of the guard. He came as a slave for sale to any who had the price. He could just as easily have been purchased by a master who loved to mistreat his slaves. But he wasn’t. “Why”, you ask. Because “The Lord was with Joseph” (verse 2a). God had a purpose for Joseph from the beginning. His plan would take Joseph through some very hard places but he was always protected.
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Joseph stands silently on the auction block. He is not the only ‘slave’ for sale that day. He does not protest that he is not a slave. He is also not cringing in fear of what is to come. Somehow he has peace in his heart. He knows that the God of his father has not forgotten or abandoned him.
The marketplace is filled with people. They move about in groups from stall to stall. There are a few that move about on their own but this is not safe. Pickpockets lurk everywhere and being alone in the crowd makes one an easy target. It also makes one a suspect as this is how pickpockets operate. Darting in between the shoppers.
Joseph silently observes this bustle as he waits. As the time of the slave auction approaches the sellers cry out the attributes of their ‘wares’ to bring in a better crowd. Those interested in making a purchase ‘examine the merchandise’ to find a fit for their needs. Potiphar is in the market for a few slaves today. He looks them all over. He questions some of them as to their origin and experience. Joseph answers all his questions with respect and intelligence. Potiphar will keep his eye on this one. He hopes to obtain him for a fair price.
All gather around as the auction begins. Poorer quality ‘merchandise’ is dispensed with right away. Potiphar isn’t interested in obtaining any of these slaves as they are nearly worn out and useless already. They are sold to masters who give no care to their slaves and treat them as disposable items. Those slaves bring a pittance to their sellers.
Potiphar acquires two male slaves for his field from the healthier looking group and one young female for his kitchen as the auction proceeds. Joseph is being held as the last offering of the day. It is said that this one is intelligent, can read and write in several languages, and is young and strong.
Most of the buyers have dropped out of the bidding by the time Potiphar makes his first bit of 30 shekels. This is too high a price for most slave owners but Potiphar is prepared to go higher if needed. Something tells him that this slave will be worth it for him. The bidding finally stops with Potiphar’s winning bid of 48 shekels. He was prepared to go as high as 50 but is satisfied to have won his prize at a lower price.
The first month flies by as Joseph is instructed in all the household duties. He learns quickly and is diligent in all he does. Nothing is left undone or even half done by him. Potiphar is very pleased with his purchase. Joseph is taking on more and more responsibility every day as those around him marvel at his natural abilities. EVERYTHING he does turns out better than expected.
By the time six months pass; Joseph is in charge of all the other household servants. He is teaching them their duties and showing them the best ways to use the resources available. His ideas and practices have cut down significantly on household expenses. He even came up with some clever devices that worked so well they are now being marketed and earning Potiphar a small dividend.
It hasn’t been a full year yet and Potiphar has set Joseph in charge of ALL of his household. This is the wisest investment Potiphar has ever made. But Joseph is more than an investment. He has become Potiphar’s right hand man. They sit together in the evenings and talk about all manner of things. Household affairs, needs in the field, accounts, even interpersonal issues that arise in Joseph and Potiphar’s dealings. Potiphar is in awe of Joseph’s talents. Anything Joseph does is blessed by the gods.
One night as Joseph and Potiphar are talking Potiphar shares his observations and appreciation with Joseph.
“I have noticed over the time that you have been with me that ANYTHING I give you to do is done better than any other person ever could have accomplished.”
“You flatter me master but I do always try to do my best for you.”
“Your best is more than sufficient! I believe you have the attention of the gods and their favor on your side.”
“I can only speak for one God and I believe that He is always with me. I seek to always serve you as I would serve Him. That is what I strive for at all times. This is my best.”
“That is quite a high standard and I am honored to be the recipient of such high standards.”
Joseph favors Potiphar with a bow of his head.
“Something else I have noticed is that even areas where you are not personally attending to my affairs are increasing in prosperity. My fields are yielding more grain. My flocks are breeding healthier stock. I have discovered that the more of my estate I place under your care the more my wealth grows. It is as if I too am being favored by the gods. Or maybe I’m being favored by your God.”
“Thank you master for your confidence in me. I too believe God Himself is watching over my master’s affairs.”
“I believe I am being favored by your God because of you. As I have cared for you He has cared for me.”
“I am happy to serve however you require and am equally pleased that my God has chosen to bless you. He is a most gracious God to those who love Him.”
“I’m not ready to forsake all my other gods but I am most grateful for all the favor He has shown me. Because of such obvious favor that He shows towards you, I am placing ALL my affairs in your hands. You are to have free reign over all that I own. Treat my home and property as if it were your own. I trust you with all I have.”
“Master this is a great honor! I will serve you faithfully. As if I were serving my God Himself.”
Several years go by and Joseph’s service to Potiphar never waivers. Potiphar has been free of all worries at home. His only concerns are those of commanding of Pharaoh’s guards, and the food he puts on his plate. Life is wonderful for him.
Joseph has been encountering a growing problem. Potiphar’s first wife has been making advances towards him. In the beginning it was just lingering glances and smiles. Next came discomfort when she would stand closer to him than was appropriate. She would even occasionally reach out and lay her hand on his arm. Lately she appears to have lost all boundaries. She has come to him and directly asked him to lay with her! Joseph has rebuffed her advances from the beginning and makes certain to exit her presence as soon as possible. He has pleaded with her on several occasions; “Please mistress! This is not proper! I serve your husband and I would NEVER do anything to break his trust in me. You are his wife and it would be a sin against God to act as you suggest.”
Joseph knows the danger of what Potiphar’s wife is demanding. He also knows that he must be very careful to avoid any indication of impropriety. He makes sure there is always someone with him when she is around, to keep her advances at bay. It doesn’t eliminate them but it does keep them toned down.
Today Joseph is in the pantry taking inventory and making a list of supplies in need of restocking. Potiphar’s wife was to meet with a friend for the day so Joseph feels safe entering the home without a ‘chaperone’. Life is so much easier when she is away for the day. Joseph is examining the shelves on the right when he feels something brush against his hair. At first he believes it to be an insect and brushes his own hand over the spot. But as his hand moves through the air it butts against something solid. He turns to see what his hand hits and there stands Potiphar’s wife.
She is wearing a revealing gown and has a hungry look in her eyes. Joseph snatches his hand back as if burned. “Mistress, I didn’t see you there. Please excuse me.” He tries to step around her and head for the door.
“No. I won’t excuse you.” she purrs. “We are finally alone as you can see. I think it’s time we got better acquainted.” She traps Joseph in the pantry by pushing her body against his and begins to rub her fingers up and down his arms.
“No mistress! This is wrong! Stop please! I cannot betray my master this way or my God!”
“Who is going to know? It’s just us” she says with a smile.
Joseph removes her hand from his left arm and turns to the side in effort to reach freedom. As he moves closer to the door she grabs hold of his tunic. “You are not going to refuse me this time” she says. Fear surges through Joseph as he pushes her away from him and bolts for the door. Trying to hold him to her she does not loosen her grip on his tunic and it rips. Joseph doesn’t stop as the cloth tears from his body. He keeps running until he is exhausted. As he is running he hears her laughter ringing in his ears.
Potiphar’s wife weaves a tale of near rape that she spreads through the household. Joseph hasn’t told anyone of her advances, even when they escalated. He was protecting her honor and his master’s. He had always found clever excuses for someone to accompany him when in her presence so no one would suspect her. If only he had told someone before this encounter. Now she has his garment as ‘proof’ of his intentions! She even uses this same rouse on Potiphar when he returns home that evening. “He tried to have his way with me but I screamed and he ran out and left his garment here.”
Potiphar is indignant! After all he did for Joseph! How dare he treat his wife this way! Potiphar calls for Joseph to be brought before him.
“What is this that you have done to me?! My wife was the only thing I kept back from you. And now you would try and take her by force!”
“No master, I would never do such a thing.”
“Is this not your own robe? The robe presented to me by my own wife.”
“Yes master, that is my robe. But it was torn from me as I fled her presence.”
“So you admit this is your robe and that you were with her! Fled when she screamed because of your advances no doubt!”
“No master, I would never make advances towards your wife.”
“Are you calling my wife a liar!”
“No master, only mistaken or confused.”
“Take him away; I’ve heard enough!”
Joseph is taken and placed in the prison where the kings prisoners were held. Potiphar holds a small amount of unbelief and confusion regarding his wife’s account of the incident. This is why he had Joseph placed in one of the better prisons. There were certainly worse prisons he could be put into but this one would save face for both Potiphar and his wife while giving Joseph some credit for his version of the story. The robe was torn after all.
Joseph walks quietly between his guards. He does not struggle or rail against Potiphar’s wife for this unjust sentence. He knows that no matter where he goes God will watch over him.
The first week in prison is a difficult adjustment. Joseph is used to being busy all day and being outside for the most part. He begins to look for ways to help where he is at. He cleans his cell as best he can, talks with the other prisoners to calm them down, and even shows true respect to the guards as they go about their duties.
It doesn’t take long for the keeper of the prison to recognize Joseph’s innocence and his integrity. He begins giving Joseph small tasks to do within the prison. By the end of the month Joseph is caring for the other prisoners with genuine kindness. The guards’ job is easy when the prisoners are behaving.
The more Joseph does, the better the prison runs. Within months Joseph is practically running the place and the keeper begins to relax for the first time in as long as he can remember. God blesses Joseph’s work even in the darkest places. And Joseph knows that he is NEVER alone.
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Father God, I know from history that this trip was essential for Israel’s survival but I feel for Joseph. I can’t help but feel for him in these circumstances. I wish there had been another way to accomplish Your will. But then Jesus asked the same question of You in the garden. You never promise any of us an easy road. What You do promise is to be with us all the way through it. If You didn’t spare Your own Son from hard times, what makes me think all my days should be sunny? I can’t. But I CAN know that You have a purpose at the end of the pain and that purpose is WONDERFUL!
Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, YOU are with me! You don’t take me out of the valley. These are places I need to walk. You don’t let the shadows get me while I’m in there either. You are stronger than any shadow and THIS death holds NOTHING on me! And best of all, no matter what happens You are with me all the way through. Thank You Lord!