Genesis 39 Study Notes


39:1 This verse, which retraces details presented in 37:36, returns the storyline to Joseph. The terms Midianites and Ishmaelites are used interchangeably by the writer (37:28,36; see note at 37:25-28).

39:2-6 Because the Lord is God over the whole earth (1Ch 29:11; Ps 47:2; 83:18; 97:9), he was with Joseph even in Egypt. God’s active presence in Joseph’s life made him successful. Potiphar noticed the teenage Hebrew slave’s remarkable effectiveness, and as a result Joseph not only found favor with him, but was put in charge of Potiphar’s entire household as well. With Joseph in charge, the Lord’s blessing extended to all that Potiphar owned.

39:7-10 In contrast to his brother Judah, who sacrificed his honor for the pleasure of a prostitute (38:15-16), Joseph refused the advances of his master’s wife. To commit adultery would have been an immense evil and a sin against God (cp. Ex 20:14). Potiphar’s wife persisted, telling Joseph day after day to “lie beside her” (go to bed with her).

39:11-15 When the subtle approach failed to seduce Joseph, Potiphar’s wife resorted to a more direct method. Finding—or perhaps creating—a situation where none of the household servants except Joseph was in the house, she grabbed Joseph by his garment and ordered him to sleep with her. In a courageous display of godly self-control, Joseph resisted, escaped and ran outside . . . leaving his garment in her hand. This is the second time that a woman used the personal effects of one of Jacob’s sons (cp. Judah, 38:25) to get the upper hand in a situation where they would otherwise have been put to death. Potiphar’s wife then lied to her household servants, perhaps playing upon the other slaves’ jealousy that had been inflamed when Potiphar placed the Hebrew young man over them as their boss. The presence of Joseph’s garment seemed like circumstantial evidence for her false claim.

39:16-20 When Potiphar’s wife repeated the story to her husband, she framed the lie in a way that placed the blame squarely on him. Her story made Potiphar furious. Without investigating the truth of her claims, Potiphar declared Joseph guilty. But instead of killing him, he had him thrown into prison (lit “the round house”). Why? Ancient Jewish opinion held that Potiphar’s wife intervened because she hoped to take advantage of Joseph later. Perhaps this is true. It is also possible that Potiphar already distrusted his wife and thus doubted the truth of her story.

39:21-23 The Lord, who is present in Sheol (Ps 139:8), was also with Joseph in prison. God, who is rich in “faithful love” (kindness; Hb chesed; see Ex 34:7), demonstrated his love by granting Joseph favor with the prison warden. For the third time in his life (cp. v. 4; Gn 37:14), Joseph was given authority over his peers—in this case, all the prisoners who were in the prison. Mirroring Potiphar’s level of confidence in Joseph, the warden did not “see anything in his hand” (bother with anything under Joseph’s authority) because the Lord caused everything Joseph did to be successful (Hb mats-li-ach; cp. Ps 1:3 “prospers”).