Monday, January 31, 2011

Genesis 39 & 40 - Joseph's Trials

LINK: Genesis 39 & 40


"Let no man be sorry he has done good, 
because others have done evil!
 If a man has acted right, 
he has done well, though alone; 
if wrong, the sanction of all mankind 
will not justify him."
Henry Fielding

What a contrast we see in the lives of Judah and Joseph! Perhaps this is another reason that God placed these chapters right next to one another. In Genesis 38, we see a man responding to sexual temptation without a second thought, and in Genesis 39, we see his brother, Joseph, resisting the seduction of Potiphar's wife. Joseph's situation is a real life example of the New Testament admonition to "flee immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18).

Even among the great heroes of the faith like Noah and David, the area of sensual sin did not escape them. Joseph had a wonderful opportunity to quench his sexual passions (he was in his "prime," after all); yet he refused: and what a refusal:
. . . my master does not concern himself with anything in the house and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God? (Genesis 39:8-9)
How is that for a rejection? Joseph was not concerned with whether her husband would find out, whether someone else might see them, or whether he would invite Potiphar's wife's wrath in denying her. His only concern was that he would sin against God. How often do we not sin more because of the social consequences and what others might think rather than what God alone, who sees in secret, might think about the matter? Joseph's example so challenges me!

There is a spiritual principle here that needs to be heeded but is sadly a major stumbling block for many believers. It is a simple one: When you see temptation staring you in the face, DROP YOUR COAT AND RUN regardless of the consequences, and in this case, they were severe.

William Cosgrove once wrote, "Heaven has no rage like love turned to hatred, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." Indeed, these pages in Genesis sizzle with her scorn! So, in her humiliation, she falsely accused Joseph and he lands in another "pit." This time it was the pit of Potiphar's prison (Yes, Potiphar was the captain of the bodyguard and the prison was in his house according to 40:3), The customary punishment for Joseph's behavior would have been death. So, one wonders whether Potiphar believed his wife since he did not punish Joseph properly!

The key phrase in all of this is mentioned four times:

"The Lord was with Joseph."
(39:2, 3, 21, 23)

Joseph knew God was with him because we do not have a record of him complaining or having a "why me" pity party even after he was thrown in prison and interpreted dreams and the chief cupbearer forgot him! In all of this, we see Joseph trusting his God and God prospering him even in prison. He would know slavery and then imprisonment for a total of thirteen long years. Yet, he still trusted in His God. Amazing!

The Scarlet Thread of Redemption

Joseph is a "type" of Christ. Jesus was also tempted by sin, but He withstood the pressure of the devil himself (Matthew 4). He was also arrested having committed no crime (Matthew 26:55). Beyond the life of Joseph, Jesus was crucified even though no guilt was found in Him, and the very people He had come to help wanted to see him dead. He was most definitely an unappreciated servant. Jesus knew the glory that was to be set before Him. Therefore, He was willing to endure the pain of the cross. He knew that it was necessary to fulfill God's sovereign plan of salvation for all mankind.

Fun Facts

Regarding Pharaoh: Potiphar was captain of the guard under the Pharaoh we think was Sesostris II (1897-1879 BC, click on link if you are a history buff in addition to being a Bible buff).

Regarding Dreams: The Egyptians and Babylonians both regarded dreams as important for predicting the future. There were "experts" who had training based on dream literature that contained keys to dream explanation. Their view was that the gods gave dreams but did not give interpretation, and this was left up to humans. We know that Joseph relied on God for the interpretation of the dreams (Genesis 40:8).


 "The child of God is often called 
to suffer because there is nothing
 that will convince onlookers 
of the reality and power of true religion 
as suffering will do, when it is borne 
with Christian fortitude."
F.B. Meyer

Joseph was falsely accused, misunderstood, and incorrectly judged. Once again there is a spiritual challenge for our own lives in how Joseph responded.

Can we accept what is dealt to us even when it is painful and undeserved? Can we ask God, "What can I learn from this trial?" rather than, "Why are you doing this to me?" How often do we look up and cry out to God in anger and question Him saying, "What did I do to deserve this?" The simple answer from God may be that we have not done anything to deserve the unjust treatment or unexplained suffering we are sometimes called upon to endure. We need to put the matter squarely in God's hands in order that His sovereign plan might be fulfilled in our lives. (And we will see that plan continue to unfold for Joseph's life in the remainder of Genesis!)

Joseph's attitude is beautifully reflected in James 1:2-3, and I love it in the Phillips paraphrase of the New Testament:
When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers, don't resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. but let the process go on until that endurance has been fully developed and you will find you have become men [or women] of mature character with the right sort of independence.
Imagine yourself in Joseph's position: You dream you are supreme above your brothers and the sun, moon, and stars. One minute you are walking around in a stylish coat; and the next minute, you are in a dark pit--coatless. Then, you are sold as a slave. So you decide, "All right, I am going to make the best of this situation." God is with you. As a result, you rise above your circumstances, and you prosper. Then, in an effort to live righteously before God and be a responsible steward of your master's property, your coat gets ripped off (again) by a sex-craved Egyptian woman, and you end up in a dark pit--coatless (again). 

How would you respond?

Once again, Joseph was still willing to find peace in his situation, and this was the second injustice! Many good-natured people might have found it in their hearts to turn the other cheek when it happened the first time, but twice might just be the things that breaks even a good-natured person's patience!


Do you know that God is with you all the time and has your best interest at heart? How do you respond in adversity?

Memorize the Phillips version of the James 1:2-3 passage! Hide it in your heart so it is settled deep when trials come.


Lord, we know that You are trying to grow us and mature us and trials and adversity are often Your means of accomplishing this in our lives. Help us to respond to trials and temptations by welcoming them as friends. It is so counterintuitive to us! Please help us to know that You are with us every step of the way in this journey of life. Thank You for the ultimate example of responding to suffering in the life of Jesus. It is in His name that we pray. Amen
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