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 you, 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, she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.” – Genesis 39:6b-18 ESV
Though having been sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph must have considered himself blessed of God to have ended up in the home of Potiphar. He appeared to be a kind and gracious master who saw Joseph’s potential for leadership and rewarded him by putting Joseph in charge of his entire household. It had not escaped Potiphar’s notice that everything Joseph did was blessed by the hand of Joseph’s God, and since Joseph was a slave and all that he did was done on behalf of his master, Potiphar was the beneficiary of all the blessings. But in the midst of all of Joseph’s success, trouble was brewing, in the form of Potiphar’s wife.
At the end of verse six, Moses relates a seemingly out-of-place bit of information regarding Joseph’s appearance. “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance” (Genesis 39:6b ESV). But this little descriptor plays a significant part in helping to explain what happens next. It seems that Joseph had not escaped the notice of Potiphar’s wife, but it had nothing to do with his household management skills. She was attracted to Joseph’s attractiveness. He was more than likely about 20-years old at this point in the story, and his master’s wife wanted more from Joseph than he was prepared to give. She was about to use full-court pressure and all her feminine wiles on Joseph in an attempt to seduce him. We know this was an attack of the enemy because for Joseph to give in to the temptation would have been a sin against his God. Joseph knew that to commit any form of sexual immorality was forbidden, especially adultery. The enemy has long used sexual sin as a primary means of bringing down God’s people. It is one of the primary appeals to the weakness of the flesh that has proven to be the most successful for him. The Proverbs of Solomon repeatedly warn about this very thing.
For the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey,
and her mouth is smoother than oil.
But in the end she is as bitter as poison,
as dangerous as a double-edged sword. – Proverbs 5:3-4 NLT
Stay away from her!
Don’t go near the door of her house!
If you do, you will lose your honor
and will lose to merciless people all you have achieved. – Proverbs 5:8-9 NLT
Drink water from your own well—
share your love only with your wife.
Why spill the water of your springs in the streets,
having sex with just anyone?
You should reserve it for yourselves.
Never share it with strangers. – Proverbs 5:15-17 NLT
Can a man scoop a flame into his lap
and not have his clothes catch on fire?
Can he walk on hot coals
and not blister his feet?
So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife.
He who embraces her will not go unpunished. – Proverbs 6:27-29 NLT
The passage tells us that “day after day” she tempted Joseph. We can only conjecture the kind of pressure she put on this young man to get what she wanted. But the Proverbs gives us an idea of the kinds of things she probably said.
“Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;
let us delight ourselves with love.
For my husband is not at home;
he has gone on a long journey;
he took a bag of money with him;
at full moon he will come home.” – Proverbs 7:18-20 NLT
The warning is clear, stay away from her. Run for your life. Her seductive-sounding promises are lies that will only result in death.
Don’t let your hearts stray away toward her.
Don’t wander down her wayward path.
For she has been the ruin of many;
many men have been her victims.
Her house is the road to the grave.
Her bedroom is the den of death. – Proverbs 7:25-27 NLT
And Joseph repeatedly spurned her advances, knowing that to give in to her would be to dishonor his master and to disobey his God. “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9 ESV). Joseph could have rationalized his circumstances and convinced himself that it was only fair that he take what was offered to him. After all, he had been treated unfairly and had never asked to be placed in this situation to begin with. What harm could he do by satisfying his own physical desires? But Joseph knew that his actions would have consequences. He knew that to commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife would be a sin against God, even though it would be years before the written moral law of God would be given at Mount Sinai. Joseph knew in his heart would God would have him do. So he refused to give in to the temptation and ran for his life.
It was William Congreve who penned the now famous words:
Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.
Potiphar’s wife was a woman scorned and she was furious. So much so, that she accused Joseph of attempted rape. Suddenly, Joseph found himself falling from favored status again. And it involved yet another one of his garments. In the earlier part of his story, his brothers took his torn and bloodied robe to his father and presented it as proof of Joseph’s death. In this case, Potiphar’s wife held out Joseph’s discarded garment as proof of Joseph’s supposed indiscretion. And in both cases, Joseph ended up imprisoned though innocent of any wrong doing.
Contrary to the popular opinion in some Christian circles, doing what God deems right does not guarantee that nothing will go wrong. Obedience does nothing to prevent opposition. Faithfulness to God will usually result in the a full-frontal assault from the enemy. Spiritual success will almost always elicit spiritual warfare. Joseph’s presence in Egypt had not escaped the notice of Satan. The blessings of God on Joseph’s life and the subsequent success he experienced in Potiphar’s household were threats to Satan’s rule. He did not want or need a faithful follower of God stirring up the pot in the god-suturated, yet God-less realm of Egypt. So Joseph could expect more of the same. But he could also expect God to continue His work in and around his life – regardless of the circumstances in which he found himself.