Series Summary: While he never did anything that we would normally associate with Biblical greatness—he never performed a miracle, he never slew a giant; he never saw a burning bush. Nevertheless Joseph was a great man. In his life we see a unique and powerful portrait of character and grace. In reviewing his story we see a God who is sovereignly working behind the scenes to work out His wise and loving purposes in the world.
Sermon Summary: Joseph was born into a seriously dysfunctional family. His father Jacob had two wives and two mistresses who together bore him 11 children before Joseph ever came along. When Joseph was born he became the center of his parents’ attention. In contrast to his brothers, Joseph was a godly young man who faithfully served his father. When Joseph was about 17 years old God came to him in a dream and revealed that one day Joseph would be a great ruler and would have preeminence over his family. But as far as his brothers were concerned, Joseph was a spoiled, tattle-telling, goody two-shoes. And they hated him for it. When we last checked in on Joseph he had been sold by his jealous brothers to some Ishmaelite traders who were on their way to Egypt.
Then Joseph’s brothers dipped his special coat into goat blood, showed it to their dad, and Jacob concluded that his beloved son was dead. And so Joseph, the faithful one, finds himself in a caravan on the way to Egypt where he was to be sold as a slave. You might conclude that God doesn’t care or that He isn’t trustworthy, or that He is weak and just can’t help—but you would be wrong. Things are not always as they appear. God is sovereign, wise, and good. But his ways are not our ways. He knows what we need, and he is more interested in developing our character than in preserving our comfort. God has a long term view, whereas we tend to be very shortsighted.
In Egypt, Joseph was sold to a man named Potiphar, who was Pharaoh’s chief executioner. He was a man of seasoned military experience and not someone to be trifled with. Joseph not only adjusted to his new situation, he flourished in it—because “the Lord was with Joseph” (Genesis 39:1-6). This was no ordinary prosperity! It was phenomenal and unexpected, so much so that even Potiphar realized that God was the agent behind Joseph’s success. So he promoted Joseph to a position of great responsibility (v. 5-6). What we’re seeing here is the partial fulfillment of a promise God made years before (Genesis 12:1-3). God is faithful to his promises, even though His methods—such as sending Joseph into slavery—seem strange to us.
Joseph’s success afforded him more privacy and trust—which in turn made him more vulnerable to temptation. The last phrase in v. 6 prepares us for the temptation to come. Potiphar’s wife used what we call the “direct approach” (v. 7)! Nothing subtle here. But Joseph knew that sex with her was wrong on so many levels (v. 8-9): It would betray the trust of his master, it would intrude on the sacred ground of marriage, and it would be a great sin against God. But Mrs. Potiphar didn’t take “No” for an answer (v. 10). She was persistent, and the more he refused, the more determined she became (v. 11-12).
Sometimes when faced with temptation the Bible says, “Stand firm.” But when it comes to sexual temptation, the Bible says, “Get out of there!” You don’t try to reason with sexual desire—you run! And when he did, she trumped up a charge of rape (v. 13-18). She blamed it all on Joseph and on her husband! It was his fault for bringing Joseph into their home. She was blameless. I am not convinced that Pharaoh believed his wife; he knew what kind of woman he was married to—and he knew what kind of man Joseph was. Had Pharaoh really believed that Joseph had tried to rape his wife, I think he would have had him killed on the spot. But instead, he imprisoned him with the king’s political prisoners.
Joseph ended up in prison—I guess the dream of being a ruler is on hold again. Let’s consider what God would have us learn from this snapshot of Joseph’s life. (1) We need to develop biblical convictions concerning sexual purity. That is what enabled Joseph to withstand this temptation. Folks, God created sex, and when enjoyed in its proper context, it is very good (Exodus 20:14; Hebrews 13:4; 1 John 1:9). (2) Don’t be deceived by persuasion. Your tempter or temptress will know just the right words to say. They will be very persuasive. You have got to be prepared for emotional manipulation and recognize it for what it is, a lie! The text says that Joseph refused to listen to her persuasive words. When possible remove yourself from the source of temptation. If you have to, flee! (3) Consider the consequences of yielding to sexual temptation. Joseph didn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize God’s dream for him. God has good works for you to do, too (Ephesians 2:10). Don’t let moral failure keep you from fulfilling God’s dreams for you. A serious consideration of the consequences can help fortify you against temptation. (4) Don’t be confused by the immediate results of your obedience. Godly actions don’t always translate immediately into tangible blessing. You may lose your job. You may be ridiculed. You may be the only one not “doing it.” Fine, then be the only one! If you name the name of Jesus Christ, name it fully, name it completely, and keep yourself morally clean from this day forward. Even if it means losing some friends or losing your job, get out! You owe it to your character and to your family. Most of all, you owe it to your God.