Bible Commentary: Genesis 39

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Genesis 39

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Joseph in Potiphar’s House

Joseph was sold again by the Arabian traders to an officer of the Egyptian pharaoh. God surely had a hand in Joseph being sold to Potiphar, “in order that in the house of one so closely connected with the court, he might receive that previous training which was necessary for the high office he was destined to fill, and in the school of adversity learn the lessons of practical wisdom that were to be of greatest utility and importance in his future career” (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown Commentary, note on verse 1).

Although Joseph prospered in Potiphar’s house, this was not God’s ultimate purpose for Joseph in his human life—God had a greater design for him. To reach that intent, Joseph had to be thrown into prison, creating the environment where God would later exalt Joseph to the right hand of Pharaoh. This illustrates something very important for us to remember: Sometimes Christians must endure hardship and trial to reach God’s final outcome. Keep in mind that God has created us for an awesome purpose. While Joseph would eventually be taken from prison and given a position in Egypt equivalent to what we would call the nation’s prime minister, we will eventually be taken from this physical, limiting existence and, along with Joseph, will be made co-rulers with God over the entire vast universe! So if it takes suffering and tribulation to help us attain that purpose, God will allow us to be subjected to it. Yet, although things may look quite bleak at times, God will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6 Deuteronomy 31:6Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD your God, he it is that does go with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you.
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; Hebrews 13:5 Hebrews 13:5Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.
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). So we can be patient in times of trial, trusting God and continuing to serve and obey him, knowing that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28 Romans 8:28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
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) and that He will not allow us to be tried beyond what we are able to endure (1 Corinthians 10:13 1 Corinthians 10:13There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.
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).

We can learn many lessons from Joseph’s example. Take some time to look up the following scriptures and notice their relation to this trying period of Joseph’s life: Proverbs 22:29 Proverbs 22:29See you a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.
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; Proverbs 10:4 Proverbs 10:4He becomes poor that deals with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
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; Proverbs 12:24 Proverbs 12:24The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute.
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; Matthew 25:21 Matthew 25:21His lord said to him, Well done, you good and faithful servant: you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your lord.
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; 1 Corinthians 6:18 1 Corinthians 6:18Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body.
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; 1 Peter 3:17 1 Peter 3:17For it is better, if the will of God be so, that you suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
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; Romans 5:3-4 Romans 5:3-4 [3] And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience; [4] And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
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; Romans 8:35-39 Romans 8:35-39 [35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? [36] As it is written, For your sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. [37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. [38] For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, [39] Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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.

One important lesson is that obeying God in all circumstances ultimately works out for the best. Joseph knew that adultery was sin and refused—even though it may have cost him his life—for He trusted in God to bless those who obey Him. (And even if Joseph had lost his physical life, God would have blessed him in eternity.)

Incidentally, this particular episode brings up something else we should notice. Joseph’s response to Potiphar’s wife’s seduction provides us with important information that has sometimes gone overlooked. Joseph asks, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9 Genesis 39:9There is none greater in this house than I; neither has he kept back any thing from me but you, because you are his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?
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). Many today believe that the Ten Commandments were not in place before the time of Moses. Yet not only do we see Joseph’s virtue in his response, but we also find proof that God’s law was known at the time. According to Romans 5:13 Romans 5:13(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
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, “Sin is not imputed when there is no law.” Yet Joseph clearly calls adultery sin, thereby showing that God’s law was in force prior to its codification around 250 years later at Mount Sinai.

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