Joseph and the Egyptian Vixen

I’M STILL ATTEMPTING TO ANSWER THE QUESTION ABOUT HOW JOSEPH “FELL.” OR WAS SHOVED OR KNOCKED OFF STRIDE.  The Context for this part of the study is Genesis, chapter 39.  I’ve printed most of it below.  ESV


Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

39:1 Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field.So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.

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 yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

11 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, 12 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. 13 And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, 14 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. 15 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.” 16 Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, 17 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. 18 But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”

19 As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. 20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 


          The Bible states that Joseph was handsome.  He was young.  Obviously very bright. As you probably already know, sometimes such assets can quickly become liabilities.  He rose to favor in Potiphar’s (His owner, the high-ranking Egyptian military officer.) staff, but keep in mind he is still a slave!  He’ll be all right as long as he “knows his place.” And stays in it.  He gets noticed fairly early on, and rises quickly in the ranks.  Potiphar recognizes his ability and promotes him rapidly.

          Notice that a change has been taking place in this young fellow.  He doesn’t seem so cocky any more, does he?  He’s developing a sense of confidence, but not arrogance.  And it shows.  People don’t dread to see him coming like his brothers did.  He’s learning to earn the respect and trust of his colleagues as well as his superiors.  What’s taking place?  Is he, by chance, growing?   Does it seem to you that he’s already learning from his bitter experience?  Becoming more mature?  In that sense, has the brutal experience at the hands of his brothers already begun to mold and shape his character?

          Potiphar wasn’t the only one who took notice of the handsome young Jew.  Spoiled perhaps, Bored, no doubt, Mrs. Potiphar takes notice and shows interest. Before long, she started making subtle moves on Joseph.  Who, you remember is probably in his late teens or early twenties at this time.  He’s a strapping young man.  Red blood and testosterone are flowing freely.  The more he tries to ignore her politely, the more aggressive she becomes. There’s nothing to indicate he’s less than masculine, so my guess is that when a pretty lady starts flirting with him he’s flattered.  As any red-blooded male would be, if he tells truth.  As she “turns the pressure up a few notches,” Joseph isn’t sure what to do.  He’s not dumb.  He knows the possibility of peril as well as pleasure inherent in this “opportunity.”  And, if he has the good sense I give him credit for having, he’s probably a bit “psyched out.”  To put it bluntly:  He’s frightened. 

          Please keep several things in mind as you contemplate his current dilemma.  One is that he hasn’t read “The Ten Commandments.”  They hadn’t even been written at this time.  Moses would not be born for years and his trip to the top of Mount Sinai was generations  and miles away.  So Joseph hadn’t even heard the words: “Thou salt not commit adultery.”  But somehow, somewhere, that information was carved into his consciousness and his conscience.  Please don’t ask me how he knew, because I can’t say for sure.  But he knew what was about to happen ought not happen, and he tried as gracefully as he could to avoid getting further involved.  Remember:  This was not just his boss’s wife.  It was his OWNER’s wife.

          Keep in mind, too, that Joseph probably wasn’t accustomed to well-dressed ladies… Who smelled of sweetly scented, expensive, exotic Egyptian perfumes.  He had sisters who are not named in the Bible story.  And there were probably other cousins and girls whom he knew as grew up.  But they were nomads.  I don’t know if the ladies back there then were all wrapped up head to toe in the kind of things we see nomads wearing today in the Middle East.  But it isn’t likely they were clothed in silk or fine linen, flowing and accenting their female figures.  And I have an idea the females of his acquaintance back then, back when, didn’t take perfumed bubble baths frequently.  They probably had hairy legs and B. O.  BIG time!!  When I thought about the kind of females whom he’d experienced back home, about the only thing I could have added to make them less attractive was seeing them with rotting teeth and dipping snuff and drooling. 

          Now, abruptly, Joseph encounters a well-dressed, probably sophisticated, lady with only seduction and conquest on her mind.  Ninety eight or ninety nine percent of the men I know would have been an easy mark for her.

          I’ve run this episode through my mind numerous times, and always come to the same conclusion:  It was a REAL TEST.  Without being salacious or trying to titillate the senses, there are strong sexual undertones.  Make no mistake about it.  God is not afraid of sex.  He invented it.  He also invented fire.  And butterflies and morning glories.  And hummingbirds and hornets and rattlesnakes, and a host of other things which can be useful or beautiful or absolutely disastrous if dealt with unwisely or incorrectly.  And God expects us to use good sense and judgment in making the right decisions.  His people should always do the right thing, no matter what the pressure may be.  And invariably, there is that inerrant sense that warns when something “just ain’t right!”  We kid ourselves if we try to think otherwise. 

          The thing I hope you’ll keep in mind as you study this situation is that others have had similar experiences.  As far as I can determine in this case, Joseph was absolutely innocent. He wasn’t stalking her.  He wasn’t looking for trouble.  Trouble was looking for him.  If I’ve ever seen an instance in which someone was not complicit, this is it.  He was set up,  He played no role at all in the calamity which was about to strike.

           No matter how he resisted, she persisted and insisted until he finally ran away.  Far from being a cowardly act, that was the most sensible thing a young man could have done. . . given the set of circumstances he was facing at that time.  In some cases, the Bible challenges you to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  Or it encourages you to be strong and StandHold your ground.  In other instances, specifically referring to sexual indiscretion, the Scripture teaches that the best thing to do is “flee youthful lusts.”  Don’t hang around too long to see how strong. . . and WRONG. . . you can be.  Run!  Get away as far and as fast from the temptation as quickly as you can.

          That’s what Joseph did.  The only trouble is, she tried to grab onto his arm and he jerked away. . . leaving his coat.  Thus, he’s now twice brought an entirely new definition to the idea of giving someone “the coat off your back.”  I once read a sermon by an old Scottish minster who remarked wryly: “It’s better to lose a good cloak than to lose a good conscience!” 

          Running away didn’t solve this problem this time, though.  As Joseph fled the scene, the little femme fatale who so recently had been purring like a kitten began to yell like a banshee!  She was a “cougar” stalking young, innocent prey long before it became the current vogue among some older women seeking younger men.  “Boy toys.”   The soft, honey coated voice suddenly turned shrill and rattled the rafters of the palace.  The voice became shrill and harsh, vile with rage and spewing venom.  She even resorts to ethnic or religious insults.  At a very early age, Joseph was about to learn what a poet would pen centuries later;  “. . . Heaven hath no rage like love to hatred turned; And hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

          Since she couldn’t have him, she’d have her revenge.  And it was probably only by the grace of God that her false accusation did not cost our young friend his life. 

          Joseph was blind-sided.  Wrongly accused.  Falsely arrested.  Unjustly imprisoned.

          It came down to her word against his.  Whom will the authorities believe?  Whom would you believe? 

          Have you ever been an innocent victim of circumstances? Got pushed, or tripped, or shoved into a bad situation and you got blind-sided and played no role in it?  Someone, perhaps it was even your best friend, lied about you or betrayed you.  That happens.  And there is ample evidence that the male isn’t always the aggressor in male-female exchanges.  When Mrs. Potiphar didn’t get her way, the honey soaked voice turned sour and vile, venomous and vindictive.

          Later that afternoon, Joseph is probably still shaken in his quarters when Potiphar’s guards break in and whisk him off to the “slammer.”  He probably doesn’t even have a chance to speak in his own defense.  No phone calls to his family or his attorney.  In less time than it takes to tell the story, Joseph is thrown into a dungeon.  Potiphar’s guards lock the door and he’s left there in the dark again, alone, with only burning, unanswered questions.

          As night descends, darkness deepens in the dungeon, and Joseph has little or no idea about what has happened, or why.  Much less does he know of the years of loneliness and isolation that will follow.  Nor does he have the faintest notion that from this personal disaster God could use him to build a nation and inspire multitudes after he walks back into the sunlight again, a free man, with finely honed skills, ready and prepared to serve.  And he’s innocent.  Do you understand that!?  He has done NOTHING to deserve the mistreatment being meted out so mercilessly.

          As you can imagine, this incident struck me as being very delicate.  I do not intend to write carelessly or in poor taste.  I AM attempting to view and present the incidents as they actually happened.  I’ve been asking HOW did our friend get into such a mess.  In my own case, I can’t think of many instances in which I’ve been an “innocent bystander.”  Usually, I played some role in getting myself estranged from God or away from His fellowship. More often than not, my dilemma has been a mess of my own making!    But this young man did nothing wrong.  NOTHING.

          Joseph showed incredible self-restraint and integrity.  From the brash young man whom we met not too long ago, we see a man beginning to emerge. I do not doubt that someone, someday, somewhere will read this and KNOW this lesson was meant as God’s word to  you.  My sincere prayer is that you’ll discover the “key” to survival as Joseph did, and that this study will be hopeful and helpful. 

          A point I think we should consider very carefully is this:  Victory does not mean a thing unless there is a real battle, a struggle.  In order to understand and appreciate winning, I believe you need to be always aware of the possibility of defeat.  And the price you had to pay for victory.  Have you noticed, too, that the most celebrated victories are the ones which have had the most at stake and the ones that have been fought the hardest?  No one gets really pumped up or inspired by failures.  

          But In Joseph’s case, I confess to you that I’ve often pumped my fist and nearly shouted: “Yeah!!”

                                       His servant, your friend and fellow student, ~donkimrey


4 responses to “Joseph and the Egyptian Vixen

  1. Potiphar’s wife knew Joseph, but she didn’t KNOW Joseph. She underestimated his faith in God. If Joseph was tempted, Purity remained Priority.

    Joseph can be a lesson to us all. He was certainly dealt an unfair hand in his young years, but instead of falling into a pit of despair and self-pity, (as I’d have done) Joseph chose to obey and honor God, and God greatly favored his obedience and reverence. Joseph’s faith and obedience carried him through being thrown into a well, the lies of Potiphar’s wife and prison. Our faith and obedience will carry us through as well. God will see to it!

    Passages to ponder:

    “..for the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer…” 1Peter: 3:12.

    “..the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials..” 2Peter 2:9.

    “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8.

    “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:3.

    “ all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:6.

    And my favorite: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14.

    I admire your grasp-of-scripture and style-for-telling-it, Don. Thank you for Scripture Student.


  2. “But somehow, somewhere, that information was carved into his consciousness and his conscience.”

    I agree. Deep down we know right and wrong. I think Romans 2-3 addresses the law written on our hearts.

    Excellent points about fire and fleeing temptation!

  3. Aristotle said at one time that “… Learning is not child’s play; we cannot learn without pain.” It has certainly been true for me that my most important lessons have been learned through the self-inflicted pain caused by my own mistakes. Could this be said for Joseph? Is any of his pain self-inflicted? If not, is Joseph’s pain being created by God in order to strengthen him in preparation for God’s plan? How would we discern the difference between self-inflicted pain, and pain as a part of God’s plan?

    In the story of Potiphar’s I had never stopped to think about what it must have been like for Joseph in that situation. Had I thought about it at all, my conclusions most likely would have reflected my predisposition to believe that few men would choose to reject the advances. Thus, I found your essay to be thought provoking and well structured. It seems to me that you are not only a “scripture student.” You are a good writer, and you are really sinking your teeth into this blog site. You are reaching people. I am impressed.

  4. That robe just keeps getting Joe in trouble. First his brothers rip it off him and now Mrs. P does the same. This time, it probably wasn’t of many colors but she was evidently seeing red at least.

    Better to be unclothed of your handsome robe and yet retain a “breastplate of righteousness.”

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