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Cultural Catwalk: Joseph, Potiphar, and Prison – Genesis 39

Last week we learned that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the three patriarchs of the ancient world, laid the cultural catwalk of faith. Remember from week one that we all have one clearly defined fixed foundation for belief and action in our lives that holds us together. Faith defined the patriarchs’ cultural catwalk. Faith became the underlying substance in each of their lives. Faith guided their beliefs and actions.

Unfortunately, Israel’s sons ignored the fact that faith was the foundation upon which their father lived. They sold their youngest brother, Joseph, to a Midianite merchant, who took him to Egypt, and sold him to Potiphar.

“Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there” (v. 1). Faith guided Joseph’s belief and action in his life, and promotions came to him quickly as Potiphar’s attendant. Joseph prospered and so did Potiphar, because of Joseph’s work ethic. Soon Joseph controlled everything in Potiphar’s house and fields. He was the most powerful man in Potiphar’s household.

However, a wrinkle in Joseph’s seemingly perfect life came about when Potiphar’s wife developed sexual lust for Joseph:

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her (vs 7-10).

Notice that Joseph’s anguish in this new cultural setting concerned sinning against God—not pleasing the wife—not fearing Potiphar—not allowing himself to get caught up in the sensual desires of a young “well-built and handsome man”—but sinning against God.

When Joseph rejected Potiphar’s wife, she was furious:

One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house (vs 11-15).

Potiphar believed his wife when she told him the preposterous story, and he had Joseph thrown in the king’s prison. However, the Lord blessed Joseph in prison:

So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did (vs 22-23).

Are questions looming in your mind? Questions such as:

  1. Why was Joseph able to prosper when he must have been angry with his brothers for what they did to him?
  2. Why didn’t Joseph try to defend himself?
  3. How did Joseph behave as a prisoner, which caused the warden to give him control of the prison?

Joseph’s actions in the midst of messy circumstances show that he chose faith as the fixed foundation of his cultural catwalk.

What do you think?

Next week: The Cupbearer and Baker

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