The story of Joseph who was pursued by Potiphar’s wife is found in the book of Genesis chapter 39. For a complete understanding it is worth reading all 23 verses. To begin, let’s summarize:
- Joseph arrives in Egypt and is purchased by Potiphar the captain of the guard
- He excels. He’s placed in charge of everything Potiphar owns.
- Potiphar’s wife (PW) notices him. He’s handsome and well built. It seems through hardship that he maintains good health. He is probably eating well, sleeping well and he is working hard. A good recipe for enduring trial.
- He is propositioned. He refuses. He’s assaulted. He escapes. He’s accused. He’s sentenced. He gets thrown in jail, but notice that he is not executed.
Here are a few questions to ponder as we reflect on this story.
1. What do you do when a woman (or a man for that matter), who’s in a position of authority, or not, demands a favor that goes against your principles?
The ‘favor’ might not be for sex. It might be to lie, or to cover up some wrongdoing. It might be to be dishonest. Maybe you are a Sabbath-keeper and you were asked to work on Sabbath? What do you do? Does it make sense to have a plan of escape or a prepared response to an illicit request?
Rather than trying to avoid PW, should he have stayed in her face, and tried to maybe laugh it off? Should he have tried some kind of ‘counter-aggression?’ Maybe Potiphar’s wife (PW) tried to entice him by saying, I could get you back to your family. Or, I can get rid of Potiphar–we can elope. All thoughts one might shudder to think. We will not go wrong when we stand on principle.
2. What guidelines would you offer to someone facing a ‘Joseph situation?’
Could Joseph have gone to Potiphar and said, ‘hey, your wife is hitting on me! Could you ask her to back off? As a slave, I’m not sure that would have gone over too well. However, in a job situation today there may be other means of handling the situation such as filing a report.
Maybe Joseph could have asked for an assistant that he could have kept with him 24/7? They probably did not have cameras so he might not have been able to record her and it seems like he wasn’t going to get any eyewitnesses to take his side. As a Hebrew the odds were stacked against him. He could have done anything, but what he chose to do was run. Not a bad option.
3. Have you ever had a craving for something you know you should not have?
At the end of the day, life comes down to two choices. Are we encouraging others to do good or are we not? Are we luring others into a sinful life by our own selfish desires or are we luring others to Christ? Are we being passive in our approach or are we seeking to be an active witness? Are we seeking to stay close to God or not?
What could have prompted PW to act the way she did? The story suggests that she was attracted to Joseph physically, but there could have been other factors as well. Maybe she was lonely, discontented or dissatisfied with Potiphar. May she wanted to see how much power she could wield or whether she could control Joseph. Whatever the motivation was, she persisted in her pursuit and fell prey to the enemy’s prompting or her own vices. In life, situations will arise that seek to test our character. Rather than yielding to temptation we are challenged to hold on to Christ.
In the books of the Bible referred to as the gospels, the story is told of another woman who touched. See Mark chapter 5, 24-34. Jesus is on his way to the house of Jairus when a woman with an issue of blood finds him and touches his robe. What prompted her to do this specific thing? Instead of touching, she could simply have asked to be healed.
As compared to PW who had an evil desire to satisfy her longings, this woman sought healing. Her consuming desire prompted her to find Jesus and touch him. No judgment here. Her faith made her whole.
I have a similar desire to touch Jesus’ robe. I’ve been dealing with stuff all my life. Like the apostle Paul, I have a thorn in my flesh. In addition, at times I desire things that I shouldn’t. However, the ultimate solution to many of our problems lies in connecting with God, reaching out and touching his robe, as it were. And as we stay in touch with him, we find strength to fight our battles. Our connection may also allow us to touch others in a positive way.
Through the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife I want to encourage you to do three things:
1. Keep God with you!
Throughout Genesis chapter 39, we see repeatedly that God was with Joseph (Gen 39: 2-3, 9, 21, 23). It might have been easy for Joseph to abandon God in a foreign land, if he had thought God had abandoned him. He could have been tempted to consider PW as a feather in his cap. Instead he chose chastity over consent. How was he able to do this? God was with Joseph and clearly, Joseph chose to stay close to Him as well.
2. Recognize a commitment to God in your actions
Nine times out of ten, we know when someone is interested in us; however, as a rule, or personal policy, it doesn’t hurt to put a few boundaries around us that people should not cross. If by some reason another person crosses that boundary, we must be prepared to leave our proverbial cloaks. It might mean losing a job, or a relationship. Our very lives might be at stake. In all things we must recognize that we are accountable to God!
In verse 9 Joseph asks a pivotal question. ‘How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.’
Here we can see that Joseph’s decision wasn’t even based on what he thought Potiphar’s reaction would be. As it turned out, he was really in a no- win type of situation. The only way to win was with God!
Joseph had a kind of moral compass that many of us are challenged to follow. By God’s grace, let us make and recognize our commitment to God in all our actions.
3. Don’t be discouraged by adversity. No matter what, remember that God has a plan and a future for our lives
People generally like those who are hard-working. If you find someone that is diligent and conscientious you want to hold on to that person.
Short testimony. I was working in a certain organization for quite a few years where I thought I was doing a good job. I was getting good performance reviews and bonuses year after year until one day my supervisor called me in and said in essence, ‘in three months’ time your services will no longer be needed.’ I was shocked. It wasn’t as if the company was going out of business. Rather, they claimed that they wanted to re-organize including hiring more qualified staff.
What does it mean to add value to an organization? Notwithstanding my competence, I believe my lack of certification made me less competitive. Being able to work hard by itself may not be good enough. Like certification, we may need God’s favor.
Joseph must have been a hard worker, but more than that, he had God’s blessing on his life. As a result, he was successful in all that he did. Although his circumstances looked dim at times, he never gave up on God. He knew God was with him based on his choosing.
I don’t know what you might be going through but stay close to God; make a commitment to Him and follow through in your actions–we are accountable to him! Even when things look dim, stay connected. He has a plan, and a future for all of us who desire to be with Him, to learn more, and to accept His sacrificial life on our behalf.
A Prayer for Today
Father, you know our struggles. If we confess, you are faithful to forgive. Help us to stay close to you and to remember you in all our undertakings.
We thank you for what you continue to do for us here and the future you have for us. Help us to know that you love us unconditionally. Bless us and keep us for all of our days and until you come. In Jesus’ name. Amen