Joseph in Potiphar’s House

I. Potiphar – an Egyptian – Genesis 39:1-2 

A. Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh

1. “Officer” = Eunuch – The Hebrew word is specific.

2. This was a common requirement of senior officials.

a. To insure loyalty – usually an adult operation
b. To prevent the possibility of starting another dynasty

B. Potiphar, the captain of the guard

1. The Hebrew for “captain” (SAR) normally means:  “prince, ruler”.

2. The Hebrew for “guard” (TABBACH) can mean everything from “executioner” to “cook”, depending on the context.

3. The likelihood is that Potiphar was a senior court “prince” in charge of the personal bodyguard of Pharaoh.

C. Potiphar, an Egyptian

1. This is emphasized three times (verses 1, 2, 5).

2. This seems both unnecessary and unusual.

3. This was likely during the Hyksos dynasty.

a. They were Semitic invaders – probably from Canaan.
b. They ruled from ~ 1800 b.c. to 1530 b.c. (many differences).
c. They were not Egyptians – hence the emphasis on Potiphar.

II. Potiphar saw that “the LORD was with” Joseph (Genesis 39:2-4).

A. This particular emphasis is cited five times during Joseph’s captivity.

1. Three times during his life in Potiphar’s house

2. Two times during his imprisonment

3. An implied reference by Pharaoh himself (Genesis 41:38-39)

B. This unusual commendation is applied only to a few other leaders.

1. Joshua in Joshua 6:27 – emphasis on leadership fame

2. Judah (the tribe) in Judges 1:19 – emphasis on military might

3. Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:19 – emphasis on complete obedience

4. David in 1 Samuel 18:12 – emphasis on God’s favor

5. Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:7 – emphasis on leading a zealous revival

6. Phinehas in 1 Chronicles 9:20 – emphasis on wise leadership

7. Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 17:3 – emphasis on his faithfulness

8. John the Baptist in Luke 1:66 – emphasis on total commitment

9. Scattered Jews in Acts 11:21 – emphasis on their witness

C. This emphasis for Joseph was on his business acumen (Genesis 39:2-6).

1. Joseph was a “prosperous” man.

a. The Hebrew (TSALACH) means “to succeed” “to be on top”.
b. The biblical usage stresses “profitable” activity.
c. The term is used often of Jacob and of Solomon.

2. Joseph became Potiphar’s chief officer.

a. Potiphar made him “overseer” – one who governs.
b. Potiphar gave Joseph complete authority in the home.
c. Potiphar had the “blessing of the LORD” because of Joseph.
d. Potiphar knew that “the LORD was with” Joseph.

III. Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph (Genesis 39:7-20).

A. The marriage is probably political and not romantic.

1. Potiphar is most likely a eunuch – perhaps after the marriage.

2. Joseph is “a goodly person, and well favored.”

3. Adultery, although not sanctioned, was not uncommon among the wealthy – and tacitly accommodated among the courtiers.

4. Joseph’s rise to power makes him more attractive.

B. The seduction is initiated by Potiphar’s wife.

1. She “cast her eyes upon Joseph”.

a. This could mean: she “exalted” herself to Joseph.
b. This could mean: she “saw Joseph more desirable.”

2. She became the aggressor and “commanded” Joseph to sleep with her.

C. The refusal by Joseph was based on his integrity and righteousness.

1. Joseph could have rationalized the affair.

a. The invitation must have flattered and tempted him.
b. The household was gone – and likely would not have cared.
c. The wife was attractive and eager.
d. The dalliances were common – even in his own family.

2. Joseph tried to defuse the situation.

a. He did not attempt to berate or ridicule her.
b. He reminded her of the trust that Potiphar had placed in him.
c. He reminded her of her position as the wife of Potiphar.

3. Joseph finally refused based on His conviction of sinning against God.

a. This is a “great wickedness.”
b. This is a “sin against God.”

D. The constant effort to seduce Joseph finally reached its end.

1. She badgers Joseph “day by day.”

2. He refuses to listen to her constant efforts.

3. She determines to have her way by force if necessary.

4. She arranges an empty house – and grabs Joseph’s coat.

5. He “fled” and left his coat in her hand.

E. The cost of obedience sometimes requires an unjust result.

1. She is exasperated and insulted – and cries “rape” to the household.

2. She invents the lie and publicly confronts Potiphar.

3. Joseph is unjustly accused and put in prison.

4. Potiphar’s imprisonment is “mild” under the circumstances.

a. Potiphar had the power and the right to execute Joseph.
b. Potiphar had a long history with Joseph’s integrity.
c. Potiphar may have been lenient (the king’s prison).
d. Potiphar may well have known about his wife’s unfaithfulness.
e. Potiphar gave Joseph the “best” punishment possible.

IV. Joseph in the King’s Prison (Genesis 39:21-23)

A. The King’s prison was a political prison, rather than a dungeon.

1. It may well have been in the estates of Potiphar.

2. It was most likely under Potiphar’s control.

3. It was a place for the ruling class, not for common criminals.

B. The “LORD was with Joseph” in the prison, as in Potiphar’s house.

1. Joseph was given “favor” by the warden.

a. The warden probably knew Potiphar personally.
b. The warden probably knew of Joseph’s reputation.

2. Joseph was given total freedom and responsibility in prison.

3. Joseph was in charge of everything that transpired.

4. Joseph “prospered” because “the LORD was with him.”

C. Note:  The “blessing of the LORD” (Genesis 39:5) is frequently focused on physical prosperity in the Old Testament.

1. Deuteronomy 16:17 – Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD thy God which he hath given thee.

2. Deuteronomy 33:23 – And of Naphtali he said, O Naphtali, satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the LORD: possess thou the west and the south.

3. Proverbs 10:22 – The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.

4. See also Deuteronomy 28

D. The New Testament, however, stresses the spiritual side of the Lord’s blessing.

1. Ephesians 1: 3-11— Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:

…he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world,
…that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
…having predestinated us unto the adoption of sons
…he hath made us accepted in the beloved
…we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins
…he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;
…made known unto us the mystery of his will,
…gather together in one all things in Christ,
…we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated
The Patriarchs
ch. 39


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