Sermon: Joseph in Potiphar’s House

If you brought a Bible with you this morning, I invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 39. Genesis 39, beginning in verse 1. Genesis is the first book in the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. If you didn’t bring a Bible, don’t fret. Just open your ears to listen well to God’s Word. Genesis 39, beginning in verse 1.

This summer we are working our way through the story of the sons of Jacob, it is a story of the faithfulness of God when life is in the pit. Last week, we heard how Judah went down and away from God, and threw his life and his family into ruin, yet when confronted with his sin, he repented and was restored by God. Two weeks ago, we heard of Joseph, the beloved and exalted son, who was hated by his brothers. These brothers took him, stripped him off his robe, threw him into a pit, then dragged him out and sold him into slavery to some Ishmaelites. They then took the robe, dipped it in blood, and convinced their father that Joseph had been killed by wild animals. Yet, Joseph was very much alive, but had been brought down to Egypt. We pick up Joseph’s story in slavery in Egypt this morning. It’s Genesis 39, beginning in verse 1. But before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me. 

Lord, open our ears to hear your Word and believe it. Correct our vision to see the world in light of your Word, and in faith, give us feet to walk faithfully the path your have placed before us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 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. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.

Now Joseph was handsome and good looking. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment and said, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and ran outside. When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to the members of her household and said to them, “See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.” Then she kept his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to insult me, but as soon as I raised my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled outside.”

When his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, saying, “This is the way your servant treated me,” he became enraged. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailor. The chief jailor committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

Every couple years, I need to go in for an eye exam. I don’t particularly like it. My eyes get dried out, I do my best to see all the right letters, but wonder if I’m doing it right. 

Yet, it is important, because it makes sure my glasses have the right prescription so that I can see the world as it is. If I take my glasses off, all of you are blurry. In fact, anything farther than my hand is from my face starts to blur. Without glasses, I cannot see the world as it truly is. But when I have the right lenses in front of me, I can begin to see the world rightly, to see it as it truly is. 

This morning, Genesis 39 is going to be a bit like an eye exam for us. By listening well to God’s Word here, we are going to get our prescription checked so that we can see the world around us as it really is. In particular, Genesis 39 will help us see three things. First, it will help us see blessing as what is really is. Second, it will help us see sin as what is really is. Lastly, it will help us see hardship as what it really is. 

We begin with blessing. In Genesis 39, we see that all blessing truly comes from the hand of God. Verses 2 through 5: The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 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.

Joseph had been sold as a slave by his brothers and brought down to Egypt. When he arrives, he is purchased by a powerful man named Potiphar. His new master is an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard. Those who know much more about ancient Egypt than me believe that this means Potiphar was the head of the Pharaoh’s personal bodyguard. A powerful man indeed. Yet, Joseph is but a slave in his house. 

However, the LORD is with Joseph. Circumstances change, but God’s faithful presence with us does not. Everything Joseph touches seems to go well. When Joseph works, things succeed. No doubt Joseph was smart and well trained by his father in household management. He was raised as the heir after all. No doubt Joseph worked long, hard days for Potiphar to see things worked well. Joseph did not sit around and wait, magically expecting everything to succeed without any effort on his part. Joseph worked for Potiphar and for his house.

Yet, the blessing and the success came from God. Joseph becomes successful because the LORD is with him. Potiphar’s house is blessed by the LORD for Joseph’s sake. Yes, there was hard work involved. Yes, there was expertise and acumen. But ultimately, success came from the hand of God. Because of God’s faithful presence and God’s blessing, Joseph was successful and Potiphar was blessed. For Joseph, all blessing truly comes from the hand of God.

When watching sports, I love watching the game itself, but I also enjoy listening to the post-game interviews. Maybe that makes me a bit weird. Usually, they are interviewing the winning players and coaches. They ask what was the key to victory. We were able to read the defense. We managed to execute our gameplan. My teammates believed in each other and we worked hard to get here. All that is very true and I appreciate every time a winning player shows an ounce of humility. But every once in a while, a player or coach will begin differently. “I’d like, first and foremost, to thank God for giving me the opportunity to play.” My heart always soars a bit. Not only because someone is praising the name of God on national TV, which is great, but because these athletes who have put hundreds, no thousands of hours into their craft, who have poured out sweat and blood and dedicated their lives to pursuing the goal of their sport, these people at the pinnacle of human potential, stop and say, “My blessing comes from God, not from me.” 

What was true for Joseph is true for you and me: all blessing truly comes from the hand of God. Some of us grew up with plenty of advantages and have leverages those into a good and successful career and a stable and thriving home. I know a lot of effort and sacrifice went into that, but remember that your blessing, your success comes not from yourself, but from God. Some of us grew up without advantages, or with the deck firmly stacked against us, and we scraped and scrapped to get where we are today. I know a lot of effort and sacrifice went into that, but remember that your blessing, your success comes not from yourself, but from God. 

Somehow, it was obvious where the blessings came from in Joseph’s life. Maybe he readily gave God credit when asked why things had gone so well. However it happened, Potiphar saw it and could name it as the LORD who was with Joseph. When we begin to see our blessing as what they really are, gifts from the hand of God, then we become free to point others to God through them. 

This is the first thing Genesis 39 helps us to see rightly, to see as they truly are, our blessings. All blessing truly comes from the hand of God. 

But Genesis 39 also helps us to see sin for what it is, because Joseph’s story takes another turn here. Sin breaks relationship with God and others, its temptation is constant, and sin shifts blame from ourselves to others. 

It turns out that Joseph was not only very successful, but very handsome. Potiphar’s wife takes notice and decides she wants him. This puts Joseph in a very difficult position. Not only is he facing natural temptation, but her power over him as his master’s wife makes this worse. But just as God was with Joseph when he arrived in Potiphar’s house and everything was going well, God was with him in the midst of temptation, and strengthen Joseph to resist. While we are always genuinely called to resist sin and temptation, it is not a matter of just trying harder. We, like Joseph did, need to power and presence of God. In short, we need Christ to enter into the battle of temptation for us, as he did for forty days in the desert and throughout his life. Only in the strength of Jesus’ victory over sin can we stand in the face of our own temptations. Joseph faces great temptation at the words of Potiphar’s wife, but Joseph refuses. In the last chapter, we saw Judah run headlong into sexual sin, but when Joseph is faced with a similar temptation, he resists. And his argument with Potiphar’s wife shows Joseph understands just what is going on in the temptation to sin. 

Sin breaks relationship with God and others. Listen to what Joseph says, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”

He claims first that this sin would be a breach of trust with Potiphar. Even though he did not choose the relationship, Joseph has been placed into the household of Potiphar and been entrusted with everything, everything except Potiphar’s wife. To give in to her demands would shatter that trust, even if Potiphar himself never finds out. This sin would break his relationship with Potiphar. But sin is more than that. Joseph’s telling of his position in Potiphar’s house echoes the description of Adam and Eve in the garden. All the trees have been given to them for food, everything in the garden is theirs, except for one thing. Will Joseph, like Adam and Eve before him, take the forbidden fruit? He does not. He recognizes that this sin not only has to do with him and Potiphar, but him and God. How then could I do this great wickedness and sin against God?

When we are tempted to sin, we are being tempted to breach our relationships with one another and with God. There are lots of occasions in life where we need to seek forgiveness. However, we are learning in the Shaffer household that when you have young children who are all close in age, somehow the opportunities seem much more plentiful. One of the things we have struggled to remember as we teach our children to seek forgiveness is to hold both of these realities together at the same time. Our sin breaks relationship with our brothers and sisters and with God.

There have been occasions where we have done it right, but far more often we forget. One kid pushes another, a name gets called, a toy is taken, crying ensues, and after settling everyone down, we ask them to apologize to each other. But if I am honest, only rarely do I then ask them to turn around pray for forgiveness from God for what they had done. 

I don’t think I am alone in working through this as a parent, because I doubt I am alone in working through it as a Christian. It is easier for us to look at our sins and see the fallout in the lives of others and keep our eyes there and forget that all our sins are also sins against God. It is easier at times to look at our sins and ask God’s forgiveness and forget all those hurt and broken by what we’ve done. 

Sin breaks both our relationships with others and with God. We see this in Joseph’s response to Potiphar’s wife’s proposal. It would break his trust with Potiphar and would be a sin against God. The same is true for us. To see sin rightly, to see it as it truly is, we need to see both breaks – sin breaking our relationship with others and sin breaking our relationship with God. Then we will be better strengthens to resist or, when failing, to seek full forgiveness. 

Two more things briefly we learn about sin from this exchange between Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. First, temptation to sin is constant. Joseph makes his argument, but she doesn’t let up. Verse ten says, And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. Day after day. The battle against temptation is not won once, but daily. Every victory should be savored and God should be praised, but temptation comes day after day. Which is why Joseph was wise to avoid being alone with her, alone with temptation. Because temptation, whether to lust or greed or gossip or anger, can be relentless and backbreaking when handled alone. 

Second, sin tends to shift blame. We see this all the way back in the garden when the man blames the woman who blames the snake. Here, when she finally traps Joseph alone and he flees from her (honestly, a very good response to temptation is to flee and get as far away as possible) – when he runs and she is left with his garment in her hand, Potiphar’s wife immediately starts shifting blame. She was the one filled with lust for Joseph, but she lies and claims he assaulted her. But if we look closely, she actually blames Potiphar for the whole thing. See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! and then The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, has come in to insult me. Somehow, this all becomes Potiphar’s fault in her reasoning. Sin twists and shifts blame. She doesn’t take responsibility for what she has done, but quickly blames another for her own sin. Be mindful of this tendency in yourself. We, too, like to blame others for our sins and refuse to take responsibility. This is part of fallen human nature, and part of the reality of sin. 

Joseph’s time in Potiphar’s house invites us to see the world rightly. First, we were called to see our blessings for what they are, gifts from the hand of God. Next, we have seen sin for what it is – a break in our relationship with God and others. It is a constant temptation that must be resisted in the strength of Jesus. It twists and shifts blame to others so that we do not take responsibility ourselves. 

Lastly, Joseph’s time in Potiphar’s house invites us to see hardship for what it truly is – a place where God chooses to dwell with us. I mentioned earlier my odd fascination with post-game interviews following sports events. I remember once sitting with my Dad after watching a football game and he remarked, “Plenty of players praise God when they win the game, but none of them seem to do so when they lose.” 

He was right. Do we think God is more with us when we win than when we lose? That his presence and love is seen more in blessing than in hardship? When we win, when we sink the shot or score the goal, sometimes we look up and say, “Thank you, God, my blessing comes from you.” But when we miss the shot, strike out, or don’t make the stand on the goal line, do we then turn around and say, “Thank you, God, for being with me and caring for me.”

But this is what we see in Joseph. God is with him even in the hardship, even in prison. After Potiphar’s wife accuses Joseph, Potiphar flies into a rage and throws Joseph into prison. Yet, verse 21 says, “But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love.” Think about that a moment. Far from prison being a sign that God was not with him, that God was not on his side, that God had left him, prison is the place where God shows Joseph his steadfast love. 

Genesis 39 is bookended with claims that God is with Joseph. When he enters Potiphar’s house and the blessing starts to flow, God was with Joseph. Yet also when he is falsely accused and thrown into prison, God was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love. When we enter into hardship, God chooses to dwell with us there. God does not leave us when things get hard, but it precisely there that we often see and know his steadfast love. 

Shortly after I met Dave, his eldest daughter ran away from home. She moved in with an emotionally abusive boyfriend and cut off all contact with the family. The next year and a half was beyond painful. Confrontations led to court dates led to more heartbreak. I remember sitting on the back patio with Dave as he showed me another series of texts that indicated she just might be willing to talk with them. He looked at me and said, “Up until this point, everything I did in life just worked. I am working in the career I want, living in the home I wanted, three kids who were doing well. Then out of nowhere everything falls apart. I’m not sure where God is in all of this.”

But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love. The end of Dave’s story is important, his daughter is now home and reconciled with him, just as the end of Joseph’s story is important. But equally important is that in the hardship God was with him. When out of nowhere life just falls apart, God did not abandon him, God was not suddenly absent, but in fact God was with him and showing him steadfast love. 

Wherever you are this morning in your life, God is with you. If like Joseph in Potiphar’s house, you are being blessed and the work of your hand is prospering, God is with you. Give thanks to him for he is the source of all your blessings. If you, like Joseph before Potiphar’s wife, you are in the throws of temptation, struggling day after day to say ‘No,’ God is with you, just as he was with Joseph. Lean on his strength and presence. Or if, like Joseph in prison, you are in the midst of hardship, God is with you. No matter how high, how far, or how low Joseph was brought, the LORD was with him. Now matter how high, how far, or how low we go, the LORD is with us too.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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