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Genesis 39 : From penthouse to prison

Genesis 39 is sometimes used to show how a believer can and must conquer temptations – particularly sexual temptation.
Here we find an attractive single young man who has suddenly risen in circumstances. He is presented with a golden opportunity when an attractive married woman comes to almost force herself on him. But he does not use the opportunity. He firmly refuses it. He realises that it is not from the Lord. He realises that he has nothing to gain and everything to lose. Unambiguously he chooses against the temptation.

It is easy to imagine that Genesis 39 wants to teach us principles about temptation. And yet I think that that is not the essential message of this chapter. It is more about the question of suffering.

Few will doubt that the Lord God was with Joseph in Potiphar’s comfortable penthouse. But was He also with him in prison? And why did the Lord allow that Joseph was to be unfairly accused and innocently sent to prison? It just does not make any sense.

We will readily agree that Joseph’s prosperity in Potiphar’s household was a gift from the Lord – especially because he was a faithful and devoted believer. But was the prison-episode also a gift from God? Joseph was so obedient to the Word of the Lord when he refused Potiphar’s wife. And then he is rewarded for it with a prison cell? Was that also from the Lord? Does obedience and devotion to the Lord then not result in prosperity and success? When you are a devoted Christian, surely things must work out successfully? Away with little money and ill health! In today’s world, churches would certainly invite Joseph as motivational speaker! The Joseph in Potiphar’s household, not the Joseph in prison!

Today’s message >> The results of a life of obedience to the Lord: Promotion and demotion!
Joseph’s rise to a position of extreme power did not happen overnight. At least 11 years passed while he was in Potiphar’s household and in prison before he was promoted to second in command in Egypt. Gradually Potiphar became aware of Joseph’s qualities and entrusted Joseph with more and more responsibilities.

Potiphar also became aware that Joseph’s relationship with the Living God made him more effective. From the beginning Joseph did not claim the honour for his abilities, but confessed his faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Potiphar did not have wonderful spiritual discernment, but Joseph’s life simply gave all honour openly to the Lord, and Potiphar noticed it. The Lord blessed everything that Joseph laid his hands on. And in that way Potiphar trusted Joseph with more and more, and so he also reached a position of great power in Egypt.

But take note: The Lord’s blessing and the way the Lord worked with Joseph in/through Potiphar, went hand in hand with testing and temptation.

Joseph was physically handsome, but Potiphar’s wife would not have taken any notice of him if he did not become such an important man. It was only after he’d been given such an important position, that his attractiveness registered with her (verse 7). “Well, well, well, what have we here? A handsome fellow with leadership qualities who will go far”!

From that time onward, Potiphar’s wife made life very difficult for Joseph. It was something which took place over a period of time, and must have had a very draining effect on him – especially because he loved and served the Lord, and something like adultery and immorality did not exist in his vocabulary. But she wanted to break down his resistance. And because he was appointed in charge of Potiphar’s household, there were continuously opportunities for her to entice and seduce him.

Then the day arrived that Potiphar’s wife tempted Joseph straight out by saying to him: “Come to bed with me!” But he made a definite choice against this horrific sin.

Joseph’s handling of this temptation progressed in three phases:
1 First, he tries to reason with her and explain what his situation is, namely that her husband trusts him with everything, but that he did not give him his wife. Because she is married, he will be guilty of adultery and that is a great sin before the Lord.

It is significant that although Joseph did not have the Ten Commandments, he knew that it is sin. There was not yet a 7th commandment. At that stage the Law had not yet been given by God. Although there was as yet no law, Joseph knew what sin is as a result of his life with the Lord and the fruit of the Holy Spirit. All through Scripture sex outside of marriage between one man and one women is sin and under God’s judgement.

2 The woman does not care one iota for Joseph’s reasoning. She continues with her artifice, and Joseph has to resist her over and over. He did not even want to come into contact with her.

3 Joseph flees. When they eventually end up alone, she tries her last attempt, grabbing him by his clothing and starts to plead: “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hands and immediately ran out of the house.

That is the only God-willed and devout thing he could do, and what any Christ-believer ever can do – also in situations of inner temptation, for example to watch pornography or whatever it might be – especially where nobody can see you. Flee! Joseph did! Flee for your life! Don’t say: “Oh well, the temptation is in my heart again, therefore I am a failure and am hopelessly fallen”. No! Temptation is not the sin. When you are tempted, you have not fallen yet. Run away! Then the temptation will let go of your heart and you will experience the joy of knowing that you are living in obedience to the Lord.

Usually lust turns into contempt and even hate very easily. Because lust is not love. That is what happened here. Immediately Potiphar’s wife plans a cunning way to make Joseph pay for his “folly”. With his cloak in her hand it was easy for her to make a case that Joseph was the one who tried to attack and rape her and that she was the one who ran away!

Potiphar’s reaction is predictable. He is absolutely furious. Joseph has broken their relationship of mutual trust. Potiphar puts Joseph in prison. One actually expected something much worse. For attempted rape one could rather expect capital punishment.

But that does not happen. Instead of capital punishment, Potiphar puts Joseph in a prison cell. The place where the king’s prisoners were confined. Most probably it was in Potiphar’s house – perhaps underground. One deduct that from what it says in chapter 40:3 and 7, that Joseph was confined in the house of the captain of the guard. And Potiphar was the captain of the guard (39:1).

The strange fact that the warden put Joseph in charge and responsible for all those in prison, we will understand better if we see that the prison was at Potiphar’s house, because that means that the warden must have known Joseph well. It would also be convenient for Potiphar to have Joseph close-by so that he could continue to benefit from Joseph’s wisdom and abilities. Potiphar would most certainly have consulted Joseph daily concerning the movements on stock exchange and other economic matters. Suddenly Joseph is merely a consultant and no longer in control. How strangely things can become muddled in the life of one who lives a life fully devoted to the Lord!

However it may be, the fact remains that Joseph was demoted from the top floor to the underground prison cell! Suddenly. Within minutes. Where was the Lord in these terrible events? How should we understand this? Joseph is seeking the honour and glory of the LORD when he runs away from this enticing woman, and what is his reward? It seems as if the Lord is PUNISHING him for his devotion. Strange, indeed!

1 Should we compare the beginning and the end of this chapter, it is perfectly clear that the Lord was present with Joseph in both the penthouse and the prison. It is exactly written like that. The Lord made Joseph prosper in both places. That is the miracle of this chapter.

And that is saying much, because it means that the Lord is with His children in the same way when circumstances are both good and bad. A Christian can prosper even though circumstances are bad. It is very often the suffering that allows the root system of a tree to develop strongly and to anchor the tree well.

2 The REASON for Joseph’s imprisonment was because of his victory over sin and his passion to live a holy life to the glory of God. Because he ran away from a tempting woman, he ends up in prison and lost his managerial position.

That shows us that a life of righteousness and obedience is not necessarily a life of moonlight and roses, but often quite the opposite. As someone like king David would also discover when he – as the God-anointed king – had to flee from Saul. Unfair suffering is often a part of a committed Christian’s lot. It is not abnormal. It is part of God’s merciful dealings with His people to bring them to obedience. Someone who knew that full well was our Lord Jesus himself! In Hebrews 5 we read about Him that He learned obedience by the things He suffered.

3 The things that Joseph suffered in Potiphar’s house prepared him for a much greater task that the Lord had called him for. He was destined for the top position of second only to the Pharaoh! But he had to undergo preparation.

His prison cell was God’s answer to his prayers for deliverance from Potiphar’s cunning wife. In prison he was safe from her. But even more: In prison he had to get to know the Pharaoh’s cupbearer, because that was the man who would eventually introduce him to the Pharaoh. Yes, Joseph’s downgrade from penthouse to prison was according to God’s Divine plan.

4 Genesis 39 also teaches us something about how believers should deal with temptation.

Temptation does not always cross a Christian’s path in one dramatic way. Potiphar’s wife tempted Joseph day after day (verse 10). Long before he finally fled, he already made his decision and learned to trust the Lord. His victory therefore, took place over time and not in one moment. When eventually she grabbed him by his cloak, he had already gained the victory.

When Jesus taught us to pray: “Father, do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” – what did He mean by that? That we have to plead with God to please not lead us into temptation? No, James 1 says that God does not tempt anyone.

What we should rather pray is that the Lord will put the desire into our hearts to avoid even the situations that could lead to temptation. Even though Potiphar’s wife created the situations, Joseph avoided and resisted it – in his own heart.

Sometimes we say that we desire to live a life of victory, but then we still hope that tempting situations would come our way.

Like the man who would first stop at the pub on the way home from work, although it was out of his way – he had to turn off the direct road going home. But he told everyone that he would like to stop drinking. He actually wanted to be tempted and to give in to it.

That is exactly the opposite to what Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer.

Joseph experienced that prayer first-hand, without him knowing the Lord’s Prayer.

That shows us that it was a fruit and a working of the Holy Spirit. Because although Joseph did not know the Lord’s Prayer, he had the indwelling of the Spirit, and so too everyone in 2019 who truly knows the Lord.

It is the power of the indwelling Spirit that makes all the difference!

And interestingly enough, the indwelling Spirit ALWAYS guides the believer according to God’s Law. For example the 7th Commandment. There is no need for a believer to have the command attached to the fridge. It is the Spirit leading us in the tracks of the law. Law-keeping itself can never us in a right standing with God. Only the death of Christ can do that. But the person who IS right with God (justified) through the blood of the cross will find that the law has come back in a new way. The spontaneous fruit of the Spirit always follows in the footprints of the law. Is that not fascinating?

Translated by Marthie Wilson

Main Source: Bob Deffinbaugh

Category Genesis Series

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