There is a particular event in Joseph’s life that illustrates why God used him in such a significant way and also reveals to us how to say “no” when sin comes knocking.
Genesis 39:7 says, “It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’” After what events? After Joseph’s rescue from the pit, after Joseph’s safe delivery to Potiphar’s household, after Joseph’s elevation from slave to steward. In other words, after Joseph had experienced God’s blessings there came a time of testing.
It was when Joseph was experiencing prosperity that Potiphar’s wife came to him, and said, “Lie with me.” That is mild in the English text. What she said was, “Have sex with me.” No dinner, flowers, or romance. Just some steamy, no-strings-attached sex. She knew all too well how to appeal to a man!
The Bible does not tell us much about Potiphar’s wife, but she was obviously attracted to Joseph physically. She was probably also attracted to the inner spark he had that caught her husband’s attention, as well.
Joseph was no saint either. He was a normal, hotblooded young Hebrew man being offered sex with a beautiful woman. Everything in his youthful body wanted to say yes, but the Bible says he refused (Genesis 39:8-9).
In an instant, Mrs. Potiphar’s lust turns into fury when she realizes she had been humiliated by this Hebrew slave. And so when her husband returns home, she repeats the lie to him. “This Jew you brought into our house and elevated to a place of leadership, look at what he has done to me.”
I think you can make a pretty strong argument that Potiphar wasn’t completely convinced his wife was telling the truth. You have to believe that she probably had a long history of affairs with other men. If Potiphar had really been convinced that Joseph had tried to rape his wife, torture and/or execution would have been the appropriate punishment, not imprisonment.
Still, he had been embarrassed. He ordered Joseph placed in prison. And as the episode fades to black, Joseph is once again in a pit, stripped of his favored position. But unlike the first time when his own arrogance motivated his brother’s mistreatment, this time Joseph was suffering for doing the right thing. Although Joseph could not understand why, God was not yet through with him. God was still with Joseph.
What are the principles from this passage that apply to us today? Allow me to list three.
- Hunters are also the hunted (1 Peter 5:8).
I once heard about a hunter who spent hours tracking a lion on a big-game expedition in Africa. When he finally had his prey cornered and was prepared to pull the trigger, something told him to turn around. To his horror, he saw another lion about to pounce on him. The irony is obvious. The hunter had spent hours hunting his prey not realizing that he, too, was being hunted.
All of us are hunting something: some hunt wealth, others hunt pleasure, others hunt significance. But as we hunt for these things, we are also being hunted by our adversary the devil who prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.
Joseph had the spiritual insight to realize that he was being hunted by Mrs. Potiphar, and had he engaged in immorality, he would not have been the victor but the victim. The ultimate hunter is Satan himself (1 Peter 5:8).
- Many times the most spiritual thing we can do is run (2 Timothy 2:22).
Joseph knew his limitations. He did not think more highly of himself than he should. About sixty more seconds alone with Mrs. Potiphar and he would have been toast, so he ran as fast and as far as he could.
When it comes to temptation, there are two kinds of people. Those who live close to the edge, seeing how close they can get without crossing over, and those who live as far from the line as possible. We call the first group victims and the other group victors.
That is not weakness, it is strength. Like Swindoll said: “Strength is not merely an ability to resist temptation; true strength is refusing to go where you know temptation will be.”
- Obedience does not always result in happy endings (1 Peter 2:20-21).
If you do something wrong and experience the consequences for it—like divorce, dismissal from a job, or imprisonment—that’s not suffering, that’s justice.
Suffering is when you experience negative consequences for doing what is right, not what is wrong. Just like Jesus did.
And notice what Peter says, suffering (experiencing negative consequences for obeying God) is part of God’s plan for our life, just like it was for His Son, Jesus.
God could have vindicated Joseph right on the spot in front of Potiphar. God was interested in something more important than Joseph’s immediate vindication. Joseph’s underserved imprisonment would ultimately put him in Pharaoh’s palace where Joseph would be used to save not only the nation of Israel but all of humanity.
Maybe some of you have faithfully obeyed God, and yet the reward for your obedience has been loneliness, poverty, or misunderstanding. Just as the final chapter had not been revealed in Joseph’s life, neither has it been written in yours.
Just as God was with Joseph, He is with you.