Genesis Chapter 39: Joseph in Potiphar’s House, Joseph in the King’s Prison

Mar 10th, 2010 | By | Category: Genesis, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Genesis Chapter 39: Joseph in Potiphar’s House, Joseph in the King’s Prison

Gen. 39:1 And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.

“Potiphar” is an Egyptian title (like Abimelech), not a personal name, and the pharaonic relationship is right in the title. The Ishmaelites/Midianites sold Joseph to Potiphar, who was an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.

It is interesting that it mentions that Potiphar was an Egyptian, it would seem kind of obvious. The reason is that the Pharaoh was not Egyptian.

“The origin and identity of the Hyksos, or Shepherd, kings have been the sourse of much study, speculation, and contention among historians. Some would identify them as Semitic; others as Scythian; others as Hittites; some as Accadians, others as Elamites; and still others as Canaanites. About all we are safe in saying is that they were foreigners, from Asia.

“They appear to have been ruling Egypt as far back as the days of Abraham. They introduced the horse into Egypt; and the use of chariots and cavalry–things unknown in Egypt until the Hyksos–is one reason the foreigners conquered the Egyptians. …

“Owing to the religious differences between the native Egyptians and the invaders, the monuments of Egypt reveal that the native Egyptians gave the Hyksos or Shepherd, people the epithet of “aat,” which is an exact equivalent of the word “abomination” in Genesis 46:34. This strikingly confirms the Biblical statement that “every shepherd is an abomination unto the [native] Egyptians.”…

“When Joseph’s father, Jacob, and his brethren entered Egypt to live, Joseph wisely advised his father to tell Pharaoh that he and his people were shepherds. (Gen. 46:31-34) When the Pharaoh learned that Jacob and his sons were shepherds, there was instantly a common bond between them (Gen 47:1-10). The Pharaoh, being from a royal race of shepherds, gave Jacob and his sons permission to reside in the very best of the land of Egypt (vs. 5,6,11). Had not Joseph informed his father what to say, the Pharaoh might have placed them with the native Egyptians, thus causing misunderstanding and hardships; for the Hebrews offered many cattle as sacrifices in connection with their worship to God…..

“Would anyone describe an officer of the English government by the additional term of “an Englishman,” or an officer of the American government by explaining that he was “an American,” unless there were special reason for such a description? …”

Gen. 39:2 And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.

God was with Joseph in Potiphar’s house, causing him to be prosperous.

Gen. 39:3 And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand.

Recognizing that the Lord was favoring Joseph and causing all that Joseph did to prosper, Potiphar concluded that Joseph was very unusual. In associating the prosperity of having Joseph as a slave in his house with the Lord’s favoring Joseph, Potiphar felt that Joseph had some sort of relationship with the Superior Being of the universe. Nevertheless, he kept Joseph as a slave—although he did honor him.

Everything connected with a Christian does not turn to gold in business matters, but just as Potiphar could fully trust Joseph, so employers can trust Christians for complete honesty in regard to money, doing an honest day’s work, etc. If the employer is at all perceptive, he will recognize this quality.

Gen. 39:4 And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.

Joseph found grace in Potiphar’s sight, and Potiphar made him overseer of his house, putting him in charge of all that he had. Notice, Potiphar did not have Joseph doing manual work but made him an overseer in charge of the house; that is, Joseph was a steward for Potiphar, being in charge of everything. Potiphar was relieved of all onerous tasks because he had such confidence in Joseph. At this time, Joseph was probably 20 or 21 years old and evidently very mature for his age. With everything of Potiphar’s being put in Joseph’s hand, the suggestion is that Joseph had administrative authority over all except Potiphar’s wife (see verse 9).

Gen. 39:5 And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field.

From the time Joseph was made steward, God blessed Potiphar’s house for Joseph’s sake. The blessing was on both house and field. Apparently, Joseph was first given charge of the house.

When he proved to be very beneficial in that role, Potiphar set him in charge of the field too.

Gen. 39:6 And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not aught he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and wellfavoured.

Potiphar put all he had in Joseph’s hand and “knew not aught he had, save the bread which he did eat.” The situation was rather humorous. Potiphar committed all responsibility unto Joseph and was living like a retired person.

“A goodly person, and wellfavoured,” Joseph was gracious in manner. The Revised Standard Version states that he was “handsome.”

Gen. 39:7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

In time, Potiphar’s wife “cast her eyes upon Joseph” and said, “Lie with me.” She was physically attracted to Joseph and apparently figured, “If everything connected with Joseph prospers, then I will prosper too from association with him.” Thus she was willing to risk jeopardizing her relationship with Potiphar if her seduction of Joseph became known. Obviously, she felt her future was secure with Joseph even if her husband cast her off.

Gen. 39:8 But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

Gen. 39:9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

Joseph refused and said, “My master has put me in charge of everything in his house and kept nothing from me except you. How, then, could I do such a great wickedness against him and sin against God?” Joseph tried to reason with her. To listen to her would be a breach in the confidence Potiphar had manifested in him by giving him all the authority. Thus Joseph tried to show the impropriety of heeding her suggestion even from a natural standpoint. Then he mentioned the religious aspect of conscience.

Comment: To say that adultery would be a sin against God is the same principle in regard to a Christian who commits a grievous sin. It is not just an individual matter but a sin against the Church and a sin against God.

Comment: It is far-fetched to say that one can be forgiven 490 times (70 x 7) no matter how grievous the sin. Joseph’s noble character made him see that such a sin would be against God.

“God” here is Elohim, that is, not Jehovah but a title that should have appealed to her as an Egyptian because “God” was more or less international, whereas Jehovah was Jewish in its connotation. In other words, they would both be sinning against their respective God.

Gen. 39:10 And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.

The temptation continued. “Day by day” she spoke to Joseph, trying to seduce him, but he steadfastly resisted the persistent trial. It got to the point where he would not even be in the same room or area of the house with her, and then not in the house at all if she was there.

Comment: The Vow reminds us to be on guard at all times. We are to avoid not just the sin but even a situation that might cause problems and temptation because it could lead to sin.

Reply: We are to make straight paths for our feet.

Gen. 39:11 And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within.

One day when Joseph entered the house to perform a business function, none of the other men of the house were there. This fact leaves open the possibility that when Potiphar’s wife tried day by day to make advances to Joseph, the servants noticed.

Gen. 39:12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.

This time she grabbed Joseph’s garment to hold him there and entice him. He fled, leaving his garment in her hand. This was a severe experience for Joseph, but he fled for his spiritual life, as it were. A scorned, rejected woman can be violent and seek revenge. As the saying goes, “There is no fury like a woman’s scorn.”

Although the servants knew Joseph’s character and knew of her repeated attempts to seduce him, they also knew where their financial security lay. Hence they did not stand up for principle (very few do) and tell Potiphar later. They did not want imprisonment or worse.

Gen. 39:13 And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth,

Gen. 39:14 That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:

Gen. 39:15 And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.

Potiphar’s wife knew what she wanted and was getting more and more desperate. When she was rejected, therefore, she accused Joseph. She called the menservants of the house and said,

“Potiphar has brought a Hebrew unto us to mock us. He came in to lie with me, but I cried out and he fled, leaving his garment behind.” In other words, after Joseph fled, she deviously contrived the lie that she had cried out before he fled.

Although the servants would not know the particulars, they did know the character of both Joseph and this woman. After hearing the story, they had to decide whether or not to back her up. Probably 99.9 percent of people would not risk telling the truth in such a situation. Besides, the garment was circumstantial evidence. Hence there could have been doubt that perhaps Joseph had succumbed.

Comment: The other servants may have been jealous of Joseph, a Hebrew—and a young one at that—being given so much authority. Potiphar’s wife could have played on their jealousy by saying, “He brought in a Hebrew to mock us.”

Comment: If the woman represents someone in a denomination and Joseph pictures a true Christian, she tried to force her wrong beliefs on him. He refused. Meanwhile, the servants would represent others in the denomination who were suspicious of this nondenominational outside person. They would not agree with the teaching of their own denomination but would be afraid to speak out lest they be excommunicated. They would consider the risk too great.

Gen. 39:16 And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home.

Potiphar’s wife kept Joseph’s garment to show Potiphar when he came home.

Gen. 39:17 And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:

Gen. 39:18 And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.

She repeated the falsehood to her husband, accusing Joseph and using the garment as circumstantial evidence.

Gen. 39:19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.

Gen. 39:20 And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.

Potiphar was angry at Joseph and reacted emotionally by putting him in prison, which was a place where the king’s prisoners were bound. The prison placement was providential because of the butler’s and the baker’s dreams subsequently, for both were servants of the king. Potiphar realized that if he backed up Joseph, he would lose his wife, and since she supposedly had the servants on her side, he had shame to consider. It was easier for him to get rid of Joseph. And he might have thought he had given Joseph too much authority.

Comment: This was all in God’s providence. It looked as if Joseph was going lower and lower, but eventually he was uplifted to Pharaoh’s house.

Comment: All things work out for good to those who love the Lord (Rom. 8:28).

Reply: What seemed to be jeopardizing Joseph’s career at a time when a pinnacle of confidence had been placed in him turned out well. He ended up elevated to the right hand of the throne.

Comment: This incident is a reminder of Psalm 23:4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”

Q: Is there any significance to the fact that twice Joseph’s garments were a problem? The first occasion was when his coat of many colors was taken by his jealous brothers and dipped in blood, and the second time was when Potiphar’s wife grabbed his garment?

A: There may be something there that we do not perceive at the moment.

Comment: When Joseph was exalted by Pharaoh, he was rewarded with a garment of fine linen.

Comment: After Joseph was exalted, Potiphar would have realized it was providential for a Hebrew to be so honored.

Reply: Yes, and Potiphar knew that his own house had prospered while Joseph was there, so when Joseph was exalted, Potiphar realized that Joseph had been telling the truth.

Comment: Potiphar’s prosperity would have ceased when Joseph was put out of the household. And then to observe Joseph’s great elevation would wake him up.

Potiphar put Joseph in the prison where the king’s prisoners were bound. Psalm 105:18 gives further information: “Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron.” Hence being “bound” means that Joseph was bound with iron fetters. His feet were in chains but probably not his hands, or he could not have performed other duties. Also, the antitype pertains to the feet members, the Joseph class, the John the Baptist class, who will be put in prison. Depending on the picture, Joseph can represent Jesus alone, The Christ, the Church, or the feet members.

Comment: It was logical (and providential) for Joseph to be put in the king’s prison because Potiphar was an “officer of Pharaoh” (Gen. 39:1).

Gen. 39:21 But the LORD was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

Gen. 39:22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it.

God was with Joseph, showing him mercy and giving him favor in the sight of the prison keeper. Of course it took time for Joseph to be so recognized by the keeper, probably several years. Seeing that Joseph was unusual, the keeper placed confidence in him similar to what Potiphar had done earlier. All prisoners were committed into the custody of Joseph, who was himself a prisoner and a slave or servant. What an unusual situation!

Gen. 39:23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper.

In what way would the prison keeper have been made aware of Joseph’s character? (1) Joseph probably had a way with unruly men, being able to calm them and get them to work. Being well mannered, he was able to communicate orders in a way that made service seem like a privilege. (2) No doubt he had a sense of justice with the other prisoners, plus common-sense reasoning, with an approach something like the following: “Do you want to be put in isolation?

Calm down.” (3) The keeper of the prison may have prospered in that the prisoners had to do certain work (like a “chain gang”), and Joseph got notably increased production because of his attitude. (4) Joseph probably said he was in prison because of a false accusation, yet he submitted to the experience, waiting on the Lord. He was young and handsome but not hardened and embittered by the experience. (5) Although Joseph’s feet hurt him, he did not complain. That would have been observed. (6) His previous experience with Potiphar helped him organize the men and get them to be productive.

Comment: In all of his experiences, Joseph never lost sight of the fact that he was subservient to his master: Potiphar, the prison keeper, and Pharaoh. He was loyal even in their absence.

Joseph was only 17 years old when he was sold into slavery. We do not know how long he served Potiphar or how long he was in prison, but at age 30, he was elevated by Pharaoh (Gen. 37:2; 41:46). That is a difference of 13 years. The prison term was probably longer than the time in Potiphar’s house, for it would have taken time for the other prisoners to recognize Joseph in the sense of admiration and for the keeper to see that he was prospering through Joseph. Also, Joseph’s patience with his hurting feet became evident.

Comment: When one is 17 years old, 13 years is a long time, yet Joseph remained faithful, always giving God the glory. His attitude showed his character.

Joseph was 17 when he was taken to Egypt as a slave. He was in Potiphar’s house perhaps five years at most. Then he was in prison about eight years, the last two years being after he had interpreted the butler’s and the baker’s dreams (Gen. 41:1). At age 30, he was made second in command to Pharaoh.

Comment: There was a similarity between Joseph’s being in Potiphar’s house and his being in prison; in both cases, he had full authority or control.

Reply: Joseph’s experience was somewhat similar to that of Daniel. Both rose to great prominence. Daniel was promoted and had authority under three successive rulers. Both individuals were very talented.

(1987–1989 Study)

VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 4.5/5 (2 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.20_1166]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Genesis Chapter 39: Joseph in Potiphar’s House, Joseph in the King's Prison, 4.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave Comment