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Sold to a different human owner, Joseph soon found himself in more painful and perplexing circumstances beyond his control. But he also continues to experience the Lord’s presence and blessing through it all.
“Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned” (Genesis 39:1-4).
Another trial for Joseph
Joseph had the “misfortune” of being “well-built and handsome” (Genesis 39:6a). This would result in Joseph being the object of lust and false accusation. As the story continues, “After a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’” (Genesis 39:6b-7).
This was a very real and dangerous test for Joseph. Sexual temptation is real for all men. Joseph, however, responded with a kind of principled integrity that sets a great example for all men.
Yet doing what was right did not mean that he would be “blessed” circumstantially. Joseph paid a severe price for his obedience.
Follow closely the line of reasoning he used for refusing to give in to sexual temptation. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:8-9).
Guided by four great principles — Trust, Reputation, Ownership, and Obedience to God, Joseph stood firm against temptation.
Did God bless him for his obedience? Should we expect obedience to bring blessing? Did it for Jesus?
Joseph stood his ground even as things intensified from sexual temptation to sexual harassment. “And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her” (Genesis 39:10). The persistence of this woman would not be deterred and Joseph couldn’t do anything to change what happened as a result.
Often in life we become the object of other people’s passions. Joseph was the object of parental favoritism, sibling envy and hatred and now lust and false accusation by Potiphar’s wife.
Another abrupt change occurs for Joseph.
“One day he (Joseph) went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants. ‘Look,’ she said to them, ‘this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.’ She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story: ‘That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house. When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, ‘This is how your slave treated me,’ he burned with anger. Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined” (Genesis 39:11-20).
Have you ever been falsely accused?
It is a very painful experience. It cuts into a person’s heart. When we do the right thing only to be misrepresented, slandered and wrongly charged, temptations toward self-pity, resentment and despair are hard to overcome.
How would Joseph respond to this abrupt and undeserved turn in his life? Would he be confused? No doubt! Would you have been?
Could you hear his prayers, “Dear God how could this happen to me?” “Haven’t I suffered enough?” “How much can one man take?” “I tried to do the right thing and look where it landed me!”
We don’t read much about Joseph’s struggles but we must not treat him as if he didn’t. I am sure he wrestled through a number of dark nights of the soul. Have you had any dark nights like this?
Shortly we’ll notice that Joseph did not take lightly or completely forget the wrongs committed against him. Joseph was human and battled feelings common to all people.
But, again, I suspect that through a series of deep, dark nights of the soul, Joseph reaffirmed his conclusions about God and life (we will see these soon).
Once again, he faced options. We always do in our trials. Joseph needed something to lift him from the temptation to self-pity and despair; resentment and bitterness.
If he had chosen these responses, the story would not have been the same — for him and for many others (Genesis 45:7; 50:20). Our responses always have generational consequences.
Joseph prospers in the prison
“But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (Genesis 39:21-23).
Notice again that the Lord’s presence with Joseph and the blessings of God’s kindness and Joseph’s success (whatever it looked like) did not translate into immediate release from prison.
- So what did God’s kindness look like in prison?
- How did Joseph experience it?
- Did he question whether God cared?
- Did Joseph pray for release?
We know his desire for release and memory of his suffering never left him. Some time later he would interpret a dream for a new prisoner that indicated this prisoner would soon be released. Then he said to the prisoner, “But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon” (Genesis 40:14-15, emphasis mine). His sense of justice was clear.
The prisoner was released just as Joseph said. No doubt, this inspired renewed hope in Joseph that he would be release from prison. Yet to Joseph’s trial was added the additional pain of being forgotten.
With a simple stroke of the historian’s pen we read, “The chief cupbearer (the prisoner who had been released), did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Genesis 40:23).
It hurts to be forgotten.
Could you hear his prayers? “Please God, cause him to mention me.” “Don’t let me be forgotten in this place.” “I have had so much evil committed against me, I am not sure I can take much more.”
But again, with another simple stroke of the pen we learn that, “When two full years had passed…” (Genesis 41:1), Joseph would finally be remembered.
Have you ever had to wait two full years for something? Why two full years? How did Joseph guard his heart against discouragement and despair? Was God not good and great enough to lift him from this dungeon?
At the risk of being repetitive, allow me to again emphasize that through a series of deep dark nights of the soul, Joseph had to reaffirm his conclusions about God and life. He needed something to lift him from temptation to self-pity, resentment and bitterness.
Ultimately, we see that he resisted the temptation to resign to fate — to stop believing that God cared. There was something stronger that held and guided Joseph through his many abrupt changes and dark years of doubt and discouragement?
But it also protected Joseph from a darker prison — the prison of anger, resentment and bitterness. More than that, (and how important this is), Joseph’s chosen perspective blessed many people and preserved a remnant for Israel (Genesis 45:7; 50:20).