The Expository Files

 

Joseph’s Defense

Genesis 39


“…Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.
And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, "Lie with me."
But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge.
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 can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?"
And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house,
she caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me." But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.
And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house…,”
(Gen. 39:6b-13).

Joseph was a man with high genealogical privilege: the eleventh son of Jacob and great-grandson of Abraham. He was in that great line of patriarchs through whom God worked to build the Jewish nation. “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones,” (Heb. 11:22).

While all of that is good, the pathway of life for Joseph brought him into a variety of tests and temptations. He is born into a big family with lots of brothers, and nobody fights like brothers. Family closeness, which is attended with such rich warmth and blessing, can also be a place where there is friction, jealousy and strife. (Genesis tells of several great brotherly rivalries: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers.) Sold into slavery, Joseph experiences all kinds of adversity, but the inspired writer tells us several times: God was with him.

In the account given in Genesis 39, Joseph is hit with temptation with powerful directness accompanied by immediate opportunity. The devil wants us to think, when such temptation comes, that we can go ahead, indulge the pleasure and nobody will know. He wants us to reason, I will do it only this one time . . . no permanent change to my character. And the devil wants us to think: If I don’t do this, I’m going to upset somebody, to my own peril. The situation is unbearable. There is no way of escape. I must sin!

But the case of Joseph bears witness that there is no compelling reason to sin, nor any excuse after we do it.

Joseph essentially gave one primary reason for not seizing this moment of lust: How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? Yes, Joseph was smart, respectful of his boss, trustworthy, diplomatic and socially prudent. But it was his respect for God that kept him from this sin. His sense of loyalty and fear of God was greater than – the short-lived pleasure offered by this seductive woman. {Kent R. Hughes, in his book, Genesis: Beginning & Blessing, describes (and condemns) the modern ill-conceived rationale: Sexual promiscuity was a daily part of all slaveholding households. Besides, by giving in to Mrs. Potiphar’s wishes, he could enhance his career. This is a time-honored political strategy. What is so wrong with a little “strategic adultery” if it furthers the cause? And face it, old Potiphar was gone all the time and was not meeting his wife’s needs. She was entitled to a little caring affection. This would actually be the loving thing to do. In today’s terms, the situation demanded this ethic. Even more, who could blame him? It was in his blood. Just look at his brothers Reuben and Judah! And again, not a soul would ever know. Clever from a carnal standpoint, but just wrong.}

That’s the frame of mind each of us must develop. And we develop this defensive frame of mind by opening ourselves to the discipline of the Word of God. Specifically, observe these three elements of Joseph’s defense against sexual immorality.

(1) His refusal was quick. There was no, “let’s talk about this first,” or “not now, maybe later.” There was an immediate dismissal of the wicked proposal. Joseph illustrates the wisdom of Proverbs 1:10. “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” There is no good reason to hesitate, postpone or consider it. The first response ought to be, “no, I cannot do this. I will not do this!” Adulterous affairs seldom ever begin in bed. Friendships, flirting, emotional closeness and private meetings lead to the bed of adultery (and sin is often committed before the physical act, see Matt. 5:28). Let’s learn from Joseph to offer a quick refusal, no matter how easy it would be or how physically and emotionally attractive the offer and tempter is.

(2) He told the woman that his presence with her did not mean he could have he
r! Opportunity never justifies any sin. The fact that two people happen to be present together should never be considered as an argument that they can or should become intimate. In point of fact, this whole scene argues that male and female should guard against privacy, considering it to be a temptation in itself (aside from generating suspicion in the minds of others). Joseph wanted her to understand, “my presence in my master’s house does not mean that I can have you!” Men and women who are not married should observe discretion about privacy. {For as long as I can remember, older preachers have advised younger men – do not visit women who are alone! Take someone with you, preferably your wife. Some who have ignored that advise have fallen.}

(3) Flee! State your refusal, make it clear and then GET OUT OF THERE! “Flee fornication,” in 1 Cor. 6:18 can often have a literal application. Don’t stay around and let the thought processes linger (Jas. 1:14,15). I’ve heard people in affairs say things like, “we are trying to end the relationship,” or, “we are in the process of breaking up.” The process needs to be, “Flee!” If it is wrong before God, that is sufficient reason to end it immediately.

Finally, would you consider that you must make up your mind not to sin before the moment of temptation comes. I do not believe Joseph had to quickly think through the various dimensions, pleasures and problems of this. His response was an impulse – the right impulse, based on his previous development of devotion to God. All his commitments and priorities toward God long before this moment – became the substance of his response, “No. I will not sin against God.”

“In short, Joseph refused to sin against a) the trust given him, b) the woman’s husband, and c) God himself. Joseph’s integrity was of one fabric. And because he was faithful in all relationships, he could resist being unfaithful in this instance. This story is not just about sexual fidelity — Joseph’s life was a web of moral accountability. He saw his moral life as a unified, integrated whole. His overall faithfulness had helped him reject this massive temptation. We must understand that “little sins” pave the way to “big sins” — and that Joseph was on no such path. It was the power of this quality of his life as a whole that enabled him to resist the woman’s advances. Of course, the greatest deterrent to falling to the sexual siege was Joseph’s awareness that God was with him — not because of the narrator’s voice-over but because this is what God had repeatedly promised Joseph’s forefathers and had been his personal awareness all of his life. The grand deterrent to Joseph’s sinning was the awareness that God sees all and that a sin that no one knows about, committed behind locked doors in a dark room, is actually done in the presence of a holy God. Joseph believed this. And I am convinced that the personal realization and conviction of this truth is the strongest deterrent to sin that there is. King David invoked it after the horror of his own sin ravaged his soul: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:3, 4a).” - Kent R. Hughes (Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, p.#463).
 

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 18.5; May 2011

 

 

 

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