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Potiphar's House & Prison

The Story of Joseph

Aug 7, 2022


by: Jack Lash Series: The Story of Joseph | Category: Suffering | Scripture: Genesis 39:1–23

I. Introduction
A. Genesis 39:1–23 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.
II. Story
A. Last week we talked about how Joseph was the eleventh of twelve sons of Jacob, also called Israel.
1. Because he was the son of Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel, Joseph was favored over his other brothers. This made his older brothers very jealous, and they ended up seizing him and selling him to traders passing by on their way to Egypt.
B. When Joseph arrived in Egypt, he was sold as a slave to an important man there named Potiphar.
C. But even as a slave, God prospers Joseph in Egypt. Genesis 39:2-6 The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master...and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had...
D. Potiphar’s wife comes after Joseph. Genesis 29:6b-12 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 has not kept anything back 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 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.
1. She then brandished his garment before the other slaves and then later her husband, claiming that Joseph had tried to rape her.
E. (Joseph is put in prison.) As a result of this Potiphar took Joseph and put him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were confined. (It seems strange that as a slave charged with such a serious crime, he was not executed, so it is very possible that Potiphar knew Joseph was telling the truth. This is what my seminary OT professor {Dr. Meredith Kline} believed, and this is how it was portrayed in the 1995 Joseph movie starring Ben Kingsley as Potiphar and Martin Landau as Jacob, and had the same director as the Jesus film. It is available to buy on Amazon Prime in two 2016 episodes for $2.99 each. It’s under The Bible Collection, season one, episodes 4 & 5. It is not appropriate for little children.)
F. But even in prison God prospered Joseph. Gen.39:21-23 “The Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 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. 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.”
G. Now we’re planning to spend four sermons on Joseph, this being the second. Amazingly, not only does Joseph survive, not only does he prosper, but he ends up delivering his family – yes, the very ones who sold him into slavery – from starvation during a terrible famine, and brings them to Egypt where they are reconciled and flourished.
III. There are several themes in this chapter which have very much been in the public discussion of our modern society:
A. The Me Too movement has brought sexual aggression into public consciousness. But, of course, sexual assault has been going on for thousands of years. And the Bible doesn’t shy away from it.
1. Here, the first thing we notice is that inappropriate sexual aggression is not always male-to-female. It seems to be more a matter of power rather than gender.
a. In most situations, men have the power over women.
b. But in this situation, Potiphar’s wife had power over Joseph.
c. But her power was in position, not in physique. He was a 20 something man. She was an older woman. He was a slave. He probably had considerably more strength and more speed than she did, so he was able to escape. She didn’t have the physical capability to have her way with him. That’s one reason why female-on-male rape is so rare.
d. Of course, whether it’s physical power or positional power, the abuse of power is very real and very harmful. That’s why the Bible teaches that when a person is in a place of power, he must remember that there is a Power over his power (Col.4:1; Eph.6:9).
e. We don’t know if Joseph pled innocent and told Potiphar what really happened. He certainly had much to lose by doing so – just like many victims of sexual harassment or rape today.
2. Good looks
a. This part of the story actually begins in v.6, “Joseph was handsome in form & appearance.”
b. This language is used very rarely in the Bible. Ten chapters earlier this Hebrew language is used in Gen.29:17 “Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.”
(1) Rachel was Joseph’s mother, of course. So, he probably got his good looks from his mom.
(2) Similar language is used to describe Esther.
c. No one chooses how they look, of course. It is a gift of God, or it is an assignment from God.
d. Everybody wishes they were really good-looking, but it is actually a pretty hard life to live.
e. There are advantages of being good-looking, of course.
(1) You get noticed. People pay more attention to you.
f. But there are also disadvantages of being good-looking.
(1) It can also go to your head, like riches. It is very hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom.
(2) You never really know why people like you and give you attention. Do they really like you as a person, or are they just after you like Potiphar’s wife was after Joseph? And when your beauty fades, will they still love you, or will they cast you off for someone more beautiful?
(3) And here in this story, we see that good-looking people often get unwanted attention. Sometimes people even make passes at you. Your guard has to constantly be up.
B. There are also examples of racism in the story.
1. 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.”
2. When Potiphar came home, 17 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.”
3. Its obvious that the Egyptians looked down on the Hebrews. And so she used the fact that Joseph was a Hebrew to make her lie more believable.
C. Unjust judicial system
1. Often it doesn’t really matter to the authorities whether an innocent person gets caught up in the system and punished unjustly. There are so many sad stories.
2. If Joseph had gone along with Potiphar’s wife and done something wrong, he would presumably not have ended up in prison. But because he refused to do wrong, he was punished.
3. There are people in American prisons who have done nothing wrong. In fact, there are people in prison because they did nothing wrong, because they refused to do wrong and paid the penalty.
4. There are people in prison who are more godly than any of us.
D. These are realities in a sinful world. But though these things are in the story, they are not what the story is all about. The story is about...
IV. God’s gracious and sometimes grueling way of dealing with His people
A. We see in the story of Joseph that under the wise rule of God, life is full of ups and downs.
1. Up: Joseph’s birthright/robe
2. Down: sold into slavery by his brothers
3. Up: prospers as Potiphar’s servant, put in charge of his whole household
4. Down: falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison
5. Up: God prospers Joseph in prison, not only elevating him to a position of leadership and responsibility there, but eventually to a high position in the land, second only to Pharaoh.
6. Down: Joseph has one more DOWN: at the very end of Genesis he dies before his brothers.
7. Up: but one day Joseph will rise again according to the promise of God, and live in glory.
B. My American grandfather met my English grandmother in Paris and they married and lived here in America. And one of the stories which I heard growing up was when my grandmother’s mother visited from England and was taken for the first time to an amusement park. My grandmother thought she’d have some fun with her mum and took her on the roller coaster – only telling her that it was a tour ride through the park. She’d never even heard of a roller coaster. You can imagine how that went.
1. Well, in the same way, it’s important that we have the right expectations of life, that it is a roller coaster filled with ups and downs.
2. Roller coasters are scary enough without false expectations of an easy ride.
3. When you know you’re on a roller coaster, at least you have the confidence that things are not spinning out of control, and that it will soon come to an end, and when you get off of the ride, you will be in a place of peace.
C. The fact is, many of us in America have false expectations. We expect a relatively smooth life, a ride in the park, with no really good reason for that expectation. It may be part of the American dream, but it is not part of what the Bible leads us to expect.
1. So, the ups and downs of life alarm us because we’re expecting a tour of the park!
2. But if we listen to God’s word, we shouldn’t be surprised when things go wrong!
3. 1Pet.4:12 says: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
4. The fact that Peter wrote this means that God’s people are often surprised by difficult things.
5. We say, “What’s wrong?” – as if troubles were a strange thing for a believer to experience.
6. But Scripture tells us that the world is cursed by God Himself. And just as He’s good at blessing, He’s also good at cursing. This means that life will not be a fairy tale, that things will go wrong, that things often won’t work like it seems they should, or happen like it seems they ought to.
7. And believers are the ones who ought to understand why life is like this; we’re the ones who shouldn’t be surprised. We’re the ones who ought to know that ultimately a smooth and easy life is not even good for us.
D. The good news is that Christians have three things which enable them to face life’s trials and even have joy in the midst of them.
1. They have the knowledge that there is a good purpose for their troubles, that they are sent to help us grow.
a. God disciplines those He loves – to produce a harvest of peace & righteousness – Heb.12:6, 11.
b. God has a curriculum for each one of us, custom-crafted perfectly for who we are, and like every good curriculum, God’s curriculum includes difficult and challenging things.
c. God knew just what Joseph needed. God wanted to prosper him and make him great! But He knew that in order for Joseph to prosper and be an effective tool for delivering God’s people, he would need to be broken and humbled and shown his own weakness – all through suffering.
d. And God in His perfect wisdom knows exactly what we need – to become who He wants us to be.
e. And all we need to do is trust: trust that He knows better than we do, & loves us with perfect love.
2. Secondly, believers know that in the end everything will make sense and a glory will be experienced which far outweighs all the pain.
a. This is the whole point of the story of Joseph! At the end, everyone is happy, everyone is better off, everyone understands what happened and why, everyone sees that God was making everything work for good.
b. And so it will be for us! And this assurance helps us trust in the face of our struggles.
c. Now often we’re pretty good at handling minor troubles: losing our wallet, getting a headache, being misunderstood. But we’re not so good with major troubles: being sold into slavery, having our precious son killed by a wild beast, being put in prison for something we didn’t do.
d. But the story of Joseph shows us that even major things are a part of God’s good plan.
3. But there is a third thing believers know which helps them through the hardships. They know that God is with them, helping them as they struggle.
a. We certainly see in this story the reality that things in the world are pushing us down, and yet at the same time, we see that God is lifting us up.
b. 2Cor.4:8–9 “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.
c. The Lord’s blessing is often not in removing our hardships, but in prospering His children in the midst of their hardships.
(1) 2 The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man
(2) 21 The LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
d. You know it’s much better to be a slave who God is helping than a free person who doesn’t feel the need for God’s help. It’s much better to be in prison being shown the Lord’s steadfast love than to be free but be distant from any sense of the Lord’s love.
e. Even if you are a slave, even if you are in prison, you can prosper!
f. God can prosper us even in very difficult circumstances.
(1) He can prosper you when you are unemployed.
(2) He can prosper you when you are sick.
(3) He can prosper you when you are alone.
(4) He can prosper you when you are old.
(5) He can prosper you when you are retired.
(6) He can prosper you when you are abused.
(7) He can prosper you when you are rejected.
g. The story of Joseph teaches us that we have a gospel big enough to work for slaves, big enough for those in prison, big enough for those who lose a loved one, big enough for those whose children turn against them.
E. However, this does not take away from the fact that sometimes life is very hard, sometimes it feels like more than you can bear.
1. I personally don’t like roller coasters. I went on a few when I was a young man, and I’m not interested in going again. But I have to admit that the experience of riding a roller coaster did me good. I saw that things can be very much in control even when they seem very much out of control. I learned that terror and joy aren’t as far apart as we might think. I learned that one moment you can be wishing to die, and the next moment so happy to be still alive.
2. The life of Joseph was a roller coaster.
3. This is not a story of Joseph happily smiling his way through all his troubles. In the movie of Joseph, we see him in prison crying out to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And that’s probably pretty accurate in terms of his experience.
4. It sometimes looks like faith doesn’t work. Joseph did just what he should have done: he fled Potiphar’s wife’s unwanted advances. And yet he ended up in prison!
5. Sometimes in Joseph it looks like the ones who do whatever they want get rewarded, while the ones who do the right thing are deprived.
a. That’s the way life looks for you and I as well.
6. But it’s only temporary! This is what Psalm 73 is all about. The psalmist tells the story of how it seemed like his righteousness was actually hurting him, while the ones who just did whatever they wanted seemed to prosper. But this all changed when he walked into the temple of God and realized that in the end the ones who do whatever they want will be “destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors” (Ps.73:19) while God is continually with His children, guiding them and eventually receiving them in glory (Ps.73:23).
7. Joseph’s life looked like one disaster after another, heartbreak on top of heartbreak. But God was with Joseph, and that made all the difference in the world!
8. And through it all, God shows us that it’s better to be a slave with Him than a master without Him. It’s better to be with God in the dungeon than without God in the bed of adultery. It’s better to suffer loss with God than to have everything you want without Him.
9. Because ultimately he who has Christ has everything. And he who is without Christ has nothing.
10. And if you are without Christ, don’t go another day without giving your life to Him, without repenting of your sin and running into His arms of love.