The Expository Files

Lessons from Joseph in Potiphar's House

Genesis 39:1-12


One approach by which the Lord has chosen to instill within us a sense of being proper examples, is to provide us with examples. Examples are effective in inspiring us to make a change. For instance, if a friend has just lost forty pounds, one may reason, "If he could lose forty pounds, surely I can lose my twenty." Bible examples are not recorded for merely interesting reading - they are recorded for our learning (I Cor. 10:11). The story of Joseph in the house of Potiphar recorded in Gen. 39:1-12 provides some interesting lessons.

In verse 2, the text states, "And the Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. . . ." Though this has reference to becoming materially prosperous, Joseph was also, of course, successful spiritually. One of the lessons that can be learned as the story unfolds is that even a spiritually successful person is not exempt from temptation. Paul warns, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall" (I Cor. 10:12). We must always be on guard against the schemes of Satan.

"The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house on account of Joseph ." (v. 5). A second lesson to be learned is that even those outside the Lord can be blessed by simply having some contact with one who is in the Lord. The effective personable personal worker can be instrumental in leading many to Christ. The believing wife who is married to an unbeliever can have a profound influence for good on her husband (I Pet. 3:1-2). Christians will often pray for non-Christians, even enemies. The influence of one who is in the Lord transcends the circle of Christians only.

Joseph was "handsome in form and appearance" (v. 6). A third lesson is traits that the world esteems can become stumbling blocks to those who possess them. For instance, the handsome young quarterback who is convinced that he is God's gift to womankind or the beautiful cheerleader who considers herself on a higher level than anyone else has a mixed-up view of priorities. It is obvious from the text that Joseph did not allow his good looks to cause him to stumble. If you are a person who has been blessed with an attractive appearance, thank God for it but don't stumble because of it. Always remain humble as our Lord was humble.

Godly Joseph queried, " then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?' (v. 9). A disservice to one's fellowman is foremost a disservice to God. When Nathan exposed David's sin with Bathsheba, the king's reply was, "I have sinned against the Lord' (II Sam. 12:13). Later, when David was reminiscing about his awful deed, he reflected, "Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight ..." (Ps. 51:4). Did David's sin not effect others - of course it did, in many ways, but he realized that most importantly he had sinned against his God. When the prodigal son finally returned to his good senses, he vowed, "I will get up and go to my father and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight" (Luke 15:18). Notice the order in which "heaven" and "in your sight" appear. What an important lesson to be remembered - when we sin against our fellowman, we first do a disservice to God.

Still, there's another lesson to be gleaned. The inspired record informs the reader that Potiphar's wife enticed Joseph not once, but rather "day after day" (v. 10). That means that she attempted to seduce him when he was weak as well as when he was strong. Some of life's strongest temptations are those which occur "day after day." To the dieter, it's not so much the one big meal that "does him in" as it is the day by day temptations for just one more bite. No wonder the AA organization strives to impress upon recovering alcoholics to live one day at a time - if they can get through one day without a drink, that's quite an accomplishment!

Finally, Joseph's response to his temptress' attempt to force herself upon him is impressive. One word describes that response -"fled" (v. 12). Joseph had a choice - he could either stay and attempt to justify himself that after all, it was her doings and he had no choice, or, flee. One must be willing to accept the consequences of one's own actions. It is never in order to say, "He/she made me do it." He may have contributed to the temptation but he didn't make you do anything. Some years back, a man in Newport Beach, CA ignored signs which stated, "Danger! No diving - shallow water." When he sustained serious spinal injuries after diving into the water, he sued the city for damages. We must be willing to accept the consequences of our own actions.

These are some lessons which can be learned from this story of Joseph in Potiphar's house. It appears, however, that the overriding lesson to be learned is moral purity. Honor, glory, and praise to God for giving us this example of moral purity for men of all generations.

 By Larry Houchen
From Expository Files 6.9; September 1999