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Genesis 39

Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (39:1–23)

Can we claim “credit” for obeying God? No. Can we “earn” God’s acceptance? No. Is it we who “make” the promises come true? No. We have a part to play, true; but compared with God’s part, our part is small. And even our small part—trusting and obeying—is made possible by God’s grace (1 Corinthians 15:10). Later on in biblical history when God promised to make a “new covenant” with mankind, He said He would write the law on people’s hearts—that is, He would give them “new hearts” so that they could obey His law (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10). Ultimately, everything is of God, from the beginning of our Christian lives until the end; and to ensure His continued blessing along the way all we need to do is trust and obey.

11–18 A final test came for Joseph when he was falsely accused of trying to seduce Potiphar’s wife. One day she caught hold of Joseph, and he literally fled from her room (2 Timothy 2:22). But she managed to hold on to his cloak (verse 12). Joseph lost his cloak but kept his character. Angered by being rejected yet again, Potiphar’s wife took her revenge. She accused Joseph of the very thing she herself had been attempting all along.

And this time she had the “proof”: his cloak. This “proof” convinced the other servants and it convinced Potiphar as well, and Joseph was sent to prison.

Joseph is the first major biblical figure to become a victim of slander and false witness. Slander itself is often based on truth: “I have Joseph’s cloak.” But its purpose is to defame someone behind his back. This episode provides a warning for us: when we think we’ve seen the “proof” concerning someone’s behavior, we need to remember Joseph and his cloak.

19–20 So Joseph was thrown into prison. Most people, when they suffer, suffer because of their own sin or stupidity. Joseph suffered because of righteousness (Matthew 5:10). Joseph is often thought of as a “type” of Christ,121 a faithful servant who was falsely condemned and suffered deeply as a result. Both Joseph and Jesus have given us an example: if we desire to be followers of Jesus, we too must be ready to suffer for His sake (see 1 Peter 2:21–23).

21–23 Joseph remained in prison for more than two years—his final testing. Surely God used that time to further prepare and equip His faithful servant (James 1:2–4). Joseph soon found favor with the prison warden, just as he had found favor earlier with Potiphar (verse 4). And because the Lord was with him, Joseph was put in charge of all the prisoners; and the Lord gave him success in whatever he did (verse 23).

Every person at some point in life will be falsely judged, as Joseph was. The issue may be minor; it likely won’t result in prison. But God will be concerned with how we respond to such trials. Will they make us better, or will they make us bitter? Will they strengthen our faith or weaken it? Will we be able to forgive, even as Christ forgave?

We can do at least three things that will help us bear our trials. First, like Joseph, maintain a clear conscience; avoid all sin, including sins of attitude such as bitterness, anger, or an unforgiving spirit. Second, cast all cares upon the Lord (1 Peter 5:7); keep trusting in Him; He will work all things for good (Romans 8:28). Third, “practice the presence of God.” Repeatedly in this chapter we have been reminded that God was with Joseph. That divine presence is something we can actually experience—“practice”—hour by hour, moment by moment. God has promised never to leave us (Genesis 28:15; Matthew 28:20); we must take hold of that promise and believe it. Then we will not only be able to bear our trials and benefit from them; we will even be able to rejoice in them (Matthew 5:11–12).

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