Further In and Deeper Down: God’s Presence in My Prosperity and Adversity Part 2 (Gen. 39:7-23)
We are studying the Gospel according to Joseph. He has been going deeper down and further into trouble, but God has been taking him deeper down and further into His heart, purposes and plans. Today we are going to continue looking at Genesis 39 and here we have seen that it is not just about sexual temptation, but two other temptations as well: in our prosperity and in our adversity. Let’s look at the structure of the text again:
“The LORD was with Joseph.
“The LORD was with Joseph.”
Joseph found favor in the sight of Potiphar.
Joseph found favor in the sight of the prison warden.
Potiphar put Joseph in charge of everything.
The warden put Joseph in charge of everything.
The Lord blessed Joseph’s work in the penthouse and made everything he did prosper.
The Lord blessed Joseph’s work in the prison and made everything he did prosper.
Remember that these narratives or stories in the Bible are not just about history. They are theology. They are teaching us something. Moses is teaching his people something in Genesis and the structure of the text helps us see what those are. It looks like the theme of this chapter is the Lord’s presence being sufficient despite the circumstances. Joseph is a slave then promoted and then in prison. Here is the blindfolded rollercoaster ride called life once again. You cannot predict the dips, but only know that God is with you. So the first thought was this:
I. The presence of the Lord is sufficient in temptations of prosperity (vv.1-6b)
Joseph is a very gifted in many areas, but the text makes it clear that the only reason he succeeds is because God was with him Prosperous times are times to pray for God to make you usable and not get sunk into the temptations of pride, self-sufficiency and delusions of power. Gen. 12 promise is coming true partially here as he is a blessing to the nation of Egypt. This is not so much about the success of Joseph but the faithfulness of God’s promises coming true. The first person God uses to bless the nations like this is not a prophet, a missionary or evangelist, but a guy who is in business and doing administration. God can use you anywhere! Secondly,
II. The presence of the Lord is sufficient in temptations of sexuality (vv. 6c-10)
At this point, if I were Joseph I would have been like, “Ohhhhh. I get it now, Lord. You had to sell me into slavery to bring me to Egypt. I get it – thanks for teaching me this lesson!” Have you ever done this? Have you felt like you “understood” God’s lesson in your life and now He will order everything as it should be? We know it most often is not this simple. Never assume you know what God is doing. Because you don’t.
Joseph seems to have not let his power get to him, but just when he’s enjoying this mountaintop experience, and then here comes another temptation. Jesus faced temptation right after the baptism. And Joseph, after climbing the ladder of success, is faced with a temptation to sin sexually. Sometimes the greatest temptations come on the heels of the greatest blessing.
Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. Can you say, “Oh oh.” In the Hebrew, this means he was tan, brown skin, about 5 foot 10, dark black hair and with a goatee. Actually it means he was well-built and good-looking. And notice again people’s eyes getting them into trouble. This is not a glance. This is a gaze. It is the double-look. Potiphar’s wife, name not mentioned here (probably because the narrator does not want to honor her in any way), starts to seduce young Joseph. We don’t know how old Joseph is, but most likely he’s in his mid-20’s. Mrs. Potiphar seems to have a habit of getting what she wants. Who’s the slave here and who’s free? She is! She is a slave to unrighteousness. Her eyes ensnare her heart.
Sarna also captures the dramatic irony: “She, the mistress of the house, is a slave to her lust for her husband’s slave! She says, “Lie with me.” The English is really nice here, but in Hebrew this is raw lust plus power (two-word proposition nearly impossible to translate into English), almost like, “Sex. Now!” This is a command and demand. She is the original desperate housewife. I don’t think this was the first time she had done this.
Joseph refuses. Why? It is not because he isn’t as red-blooded as the next guy. Think about it, he could have had every excuse in the book. You could hear the rationalizations in his head:
“I’ve been lonely for so long.”
“Never again. Just this once.”
“God wants me to be happy.”
“I deserve a little pleasure. “
“Lord, if you don’t want me to do this, take the desires away!”
“She initiated it. She’s the pursuer.”
“She’s a powerful woman. Maybe if I can get on her good side,
she can set me free.”
“It’s not my fault I’m this hot.”
“It’s in my blood. Look at Reuben (and Judah).”
“No one would know. I can send all the slaves away. My family is
not even here.”
He says no. He’s the free one. He is free to say no. She can’t say no. How does he do this? Notice he does not see this as just between him and this woman. His whole life is integrated. That’s what holiness really means: wholeness. You see that choices you make affect everything entrusted to you. Sometimes with sexual sin we tend to think it is just me and this battle. But failure in sexual sin is just a symptom of a bigger problem of not entrusting your whole life to God. Sexual sin and any sin really, says I know what I need better than God does. I am God. This is why covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5).
Over time, he had been seeing himself not over anything, but under God. Everything belongs to God. This is why he even makes no provision for his flesh (or be with her in v.10). He makes sure that he does not put himself in a place to play with fire. This is why if you sexually sinning with pornography where accountability is good and filtering software for your devices is beneficial because you are not duping yourself to think you are strong enough to handle it.
Secondly, notice that he calls sin by its proper name: great wickedness against God. He doesn’t call it “momentary weakness or momentary lapse of judgment. He doesn’t say, “It is a mistake or a consequence of being raised in a dysfunctional family.” Often we use these terms to undermine the essence of personal responsibility. Loved ones, you don’t fight sin until you call it sin.
However, was it merely willpower that helped Joseph? Is self-control merely looking at your heart and saying, “Wow I have all these desires. Suppress them. Just say no.” Boom. Self-control happens. Notice Joseph. He is not looking inside to suppress his desire for Potiphar’s wife. He is looking outside to enhance his desire for God. Notice his ultimate argument: “This is wickedness against God.” He doesn’t just say, “It is wickedness against Potiphar.” It is not willpower. It is heart power.
How does self-control work (of any kind)? Remember Jacob and Rachel? Jacob, Joseph’s father, fell in love for Rachel and ends up working seven years for her. This requires a lot of self-control. You want a vacation. You want a break. But he didn’t quit. Day in and day out, punching the clock so to speak. He went all seven years. What was the key? “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her” (Gen. 29:20). I’m sure he wanted many things, but not like he wanted her. Rachel was the one thing that overmastered all the other things. One overmastering, passionate and supreme love that masters and puts all other loves in its proper place and reordered. You need a Rachel.
We have access to something better. There is another Joseph who was beautiful and had it all, who lost it. He endured through every temptation and went all the way to the cross, even losing His beauty and majesty why? For us. We were His Rachel. We were the overmastering desire of His heart for His Father’s glory. When you begin to see that we are the object of His affection, then He can be the object of our affection.
Keller says, “The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved by it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you. And this needs to be happening all the time. This type of worship is the only thing that can replace the little if only fire burning in your heart. We need a new fire that says, ‘If only I saw the Lord. If only he was close to my heart. If only I could feel him to be as great as I know him to be. If only I could taste his grace as sweet as I know it to be.’ And when that if only fire is burning in your heart, then you are free.”
Freud says, “Spiritual longings are just frustrated sexual desires. But the Bible says that sexual desires are frustrated spiritual longings. So if you are thinking, “If I just found someone and got married, it will not be a temptation anymore,” you will be in for a rude awakening. Marriage does not take that away. In the deepest depths of our soul, we need an ultimately beautiful person to say, “I find you beautiful and I give myself wholly to you.” Isn’t that what sexual temptation promises? Satan takes that desire and perverts it. In the Gospel, you get that. You have the most ultimately beautiful person, the Ultimate Beauty who looks at you, knows all about you and loves you and gives Himself to you. The Lord’s presence is sufficient in temptations of sexuality. Lastly,
III. The presence of the Lord is sufficient in temptations of adversity (vv.11-23)
There is a saying that goes, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” I would add: see Genesis 39. Something tells me this is not the first time she has done this. Potiphar’s wife now becomes insistent, not just inviting. She moves from seductress to aggressor. She abuses her power, enslaved by her lust. Once she set her eyes on him, she will have him. Like a black widow spider waiting in the shadows, she caught him. This word describes an act of violence.
Joseph’s clothes always get him in trouble. His blood-smeared robe served as a false evidence of his death (Gen. 37:33) and now his garment serves as a false evidence of his crime. So she uses his robe as revenge for his rejection. She immediately calls for the other slaves, to be her witnesses. Look at her language: “among US” and “at US.” We are all together now all of a sudden. I am sure before it was always, “them.” She is identifying herself with the slaves against him. And she calls him a Hebrew slave. This is an ethnic slur. She doesn’t say “Hebrew man” either. To be sexually attacked by a Hebrew man is bad enough. To be sexually attacked by a foreign slave makes her accusation seem like she is the victim of the worst kind of injustice. We are not safe here from this evil man! None of our women are safe. Something needs to be done right now! She lies saying there was attempted rape and that’s why she screamed. Did Joseph leave because she screamed? Or did she scream because Joseph left? This is the original Wicked Witch of the West!
Notice also that she blames her husband: “he has brought among us…” And even when he comes home, she puts this on him: “The Hebrew servant whom you have brought…” What is doing? She is putting the blame on Potiphar’s reputation and creating a climate in which she can get rid of Joseph. And Potiphar can’t see himself as a guy without discernment and what will people think of him?
Interesting that he takes Joseph and does not execute him. It makes you wonder, maybe he really doesn’t believe his wife? This guy basically works for law enforcement right? He can see through deceit I think. He knows what kind of woman she is and Joseph’s character has been always above reproach. Nevertheless, the best thing to do is to get rid of Joseph. This is horrible. Joseph refuses Potiphar’s wife’s advances, he rejects evil, he follow’s God and he is the one who ends up in prison as a criminal.
This is probably the greatest temptation of all. Why? Because in this section, Joseph does everything right this time and everything goes wrong for him. In Genesis 37, he was a spoiled brat and kind of brought on the circumstances. But now he resists the temptation for power to get to his head and he resists the temptation for sexual sin, but the hardest temptation is the temptation to despair when you have done everything right and life still goes the wrong way.
He ends up in a dark, dirty dungeon. What’s going on here? Joseph gets no answers. What does he get? He’s gets what he really needs: the presence of God. The same presence that was with him in temptations with prosperity and temptations with sexuality is with him in his temptations with adversity. Even in the depths of despair, God shows Joseph his hesed love. This is God’s covenantal love. This is God’s never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.
Sometimes winning will feel like losing. We know the rest of Joseph’s life. He doesn’t at this point. And we know that God is working His plans out that Joseph cannot see. But here we see, come what may, nothing can derail God’s quiet care for you and His ultimate plan for your life. God is with you and for you in all seasons. Remember again how this chapter is framed: the Lord was with Joseph. What is God saying here? He is telling us how to interpret life. We live in a fallen, wicked world full of dangers, toils and snares, pain and adversity, and temptations all around. It is a rollercoaster ride. It will not always make sense. But at the same time, we live in the context of the presence and purposes of God so that whatever darkness and confusion occurs in the middle paragraphs of our lives, we can know for sure God is at work.
Remember humility always precedes exaltation. This is the pattern in the Bible: “Humble yourselves … under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you” (1 Pet 5:6). Moses was 40 years in the backside of he desert taking care of stubborn sheep, only to realize God was training him to lead the stubborn sheep of Israel for 40 years. Jesus, betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, rejected by Jews, beaten by the Romans, nailed to a cross and forsaken by His Father. But that wasn’t the end. After Good Friday came Resurrection Sunday. After the cross, came the crown. God doesn’t always keep us from the storm, but carries us through them.
Watch an artist put the first few brushes on a canvas. Who would go to Him and say, “This is a horrible piece of art. You don’t know what you are doing!” No one would say that. Why? Because you have no idea what is in his mind and he’s not done yet. Likewise, a few unpleasant strokes and right away in our lives, we judge Him.
We are very what Pastor Josh Blount says, “I’m chronologically near-sighted with my own life. I measure change in my sanctification by the time-scale of a day – am I less selfish now than I was yesterday? Am I more humble and loving? I evaluate my marriage or my ministry this way, too. I was impatient with my wife this morning – I’m a terrible husband! I just gave that person really good counsel- I’m the best pastor in the history of Christendom! The tide of my joy or my despair so often ebbs and flows on an hourly basis, full of faith one moment, discouraged the next. Do you see the problem? When I’m chronologically near-sighted I miss the fact that God has a much bigger time-scale than I do. His agenda for change in my life is much bigger than mine, and it is also much longer. I’d be content with a few obvious tweaks to my heart and attitude that God and I could accomplish together in a few days, or a couple of months at the most. God’s reform plan, however, began before I was born and won’t be completed until my death or the coming of Jesus. And – this is the best part – God’s fine with that!
Today, this day, no matter what has occurred, God has been at work in your life to make you like Jesus. That is true for every Christian regardless of how you feel your sanctification is going or how well you can perceive change at work in your life. Don’t measure your progress by your own time scale.”
What discouragement is weighing down on you? What anxiety fills you? Are you tempted now to despair? Are you measuring your progress by your own time scale? God’s not done yet. Don’t judge him based on the few broad brushes made on the canvas of your life in this moment. His presence is available to you. He does not let you cry one tear without keeping it in His bottle (Ps. 56:8). Right now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Cor. 13:12). What you might see as disappointment is actually His appointment to accomplish something your eyes cannot see. In the mean time, the presence of the Lord is sufficient in temptations to despair.
William Cowper, a hymn writer who struggled his whole life with depression and doubt wrote this hymn. Let me share some of it with you:
God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants his footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm. Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
As quoted in Waltke, B. K., & Fredricks, C. J. (2001). Genesis: A commentary (520). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Adapted from Azardia, A.’s sermon, “When Winning feels like Losing,” http://spiritempoweredpreaching.com/downloads/Genesis_39_When_Winning_Feels_Like_Losing.MP3 accessed 13 October 2012.
Adapted from Keller, T.’s sermon, “Temptation,” from http://sermons.redeemer.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&Product_ID=18141 accessed 13 October 2012.
Adapted from Keller, T.’s sermon, “Temptation,” from http://sermons.redeemer.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&Product_ID=18141 accessed 13 October 2012.
Hamilton, V. P. (1995). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18–50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (465). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Keller, “Temptation,” Ibid.
As quoted in “Don’t be so doggone nearsighted!” http://www.theblazingcenter.com/2011/12/are-you-near-sighted.html accessed 19 October 2012.