Further In and Deeper Down: God’s Presence in My Prosperity Part 1 (Gen. 39:1-6)
We are working our way through the life of Joseph. His story is interesting because until Gen. 37, it seems like God in Genesis is visible and audible and the stories are full of appearances of the Lord, miracles, dreams and voices. By the way, remember again that the miraculous things that happen in Scripture was not what was experienced every single day in the lives of Patriarchs. Sometimes 10-20 years go by before anything like it happens again. But in Joseph’s story, there is nothing, but what is called “the Hidden Hand of Providence.”
God’s silence never means His absence. This is Joseph’s biggest lesson that God was working throughout his entire story, keeping His Covenant faithfulness, even when Joseph couldn’t see it, all for Joseph’s good and God’s glory and His purposes. In the midst of feeling like Joseph is going further in and deeper down into trouble and hardship, God was actually taking Joseph further in and deeper down into God’s heart and purposes.
But sometimes it is not adversity that we will need prayer for. It will be prosperity. It will be after prayers are answered. It is after you get that job. I have never heard of an ugly wedding, but I have heard of plenty of ugly marriages. It is not just during the trial, after the trial is over. The saintly Scottish pastor Andrew Bonar (1810–1892) said, “Let us be as watchful after the victory as before the battle.” Times of victory are vulnerable times. God wants to take us further in and deeper down in Him not just in our adversity, but also in our prosperity.
If you do a Google search on this chapter, you will find endless blogs and sermons titled something like, “How to Defeat Temptation. And skimming those sermons will leave you with these applications: “Say No! Young people. Flee if you have to. Just say, No!” So the focus is entirely on sexual temptation. Ten things to do to fight sexual temptation. There is some truth to this, but I think we are often quick to make Bible characters our heroes without carefully looking at the text. Is that what Moses meant when he wrote this story? Is this just a moral tale on running away from temptation?
“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 house and made everything he did prosper.
The Lord blessed Joseph’s work in the prison and made everything he did prosper.
Let’s look at the structure of the text. Notice any parallels?
Who is the hero here? It is the Lord! This story is about God. Notice eight times God is referred to as “The LORD.” Capital letters refer to the Covenantal and personal name of God, Yahweh. The whole story is sandwiched with the presence of God. This story is about God’s hidden hand of grace with Joseph in the midst of everything in his life the good, the bad and the ugly. Actually Joseph is not just tempted in sexuality here, we will find two other kinds of temptations: in prosperity and adversity. Not only that, we have God’s grace for Judah. This is also a tale of two brothers. Judah in Genesis 38 fails in his sexuality, but Joseph succeeds, but it will be from Judah that God will bring the Messiah, the promised Seed. So, that’s what I want to talk about today. Let’s look at this only point for us today:
I. The presence of the Lord is sufficient in temptations of prosperity (vv.1-6b)
In Genesis 38, Judah willfully sins and disobeys, leaving the Promised Land. Here Joseph, sold outside his will, but completely in God’s will, to Potiphar, “an officer of Pharaoh.” This is devastating for Joseph. He is far from the Promised Land. His dreams of grandeur are shattered. He has become a common slave. He has lost warm home in Canaan to now be almost stripped naked and standing on a slave block for people to treat you like property. The narrator emphasizes Joseph’s low position by telling us Potiphar’s high position.
This high “insider” position was responsible to oversee the protection of the king of Egypt and also to oversee the punishment of those who incurred the king’s disfavor. He is the like the chief of the Secret Service, called to protect the boss, Pharaoh.
How far Joseph has fallen, from his father’s favorite and designated heir to lowly slave. Not only that. He is in a pagan land. It is a different culture, a different world and definitely a different religion. If you were Joseph and you looked around Egypt, their gods were everywhere. Will he survive?
Where is God in all this? Right in the middle. Look at verse 2: “The LORD was with Joseph.” Four times in this chapter you have this phrase. Though Joseph has gone down to the lowest of the low, God was with him. Though all of his human supports have failed him, though he is removed by distance to the community of faith, God stays with him.
Loved ones, I have said this before, no need to pray, “God be with me.” God is always with you. But do pray, “Open my eyes to see you.” Listen to the late pastor from Chicago A.W. Tozer: “So when we sing, “Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer, blessed Lord,” we are not thinking of the nearness of place, but of the nearness of relationship. It is for increasing degrees of awareness that we pray, for a more perfect consciousness of the divine Presence. We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts.”
Notice it does not say, “and Joseph was with the LORD.” This is not about Joseph’s faith, but God’s faithfulness. When Moses uses the Covenant name of Yahweh here, he is showing us that this is not just a glib, “God is everywhere,” comment, but that God is showing covenantal companionship here. The LORD was with Joseph.
Because the Lord was with him, notice he became successful. It seems like everything Joseph touches turns to gold. We find out in Joseph’s story that he is a wise guy. He is handsome (v.6). He seems capable and able. There doesn’t seem to a gift that Joseph doesn’t possess. But Moses wants to be clear here. Three times we read that the LORD’s presence makes Joseph’s work “successful” (vv.2,3 and 23). It was not Joseph’s wisdom or ability or looks or charisma that Joseph becomes successful, but because the LORD is with him.
God is the only source of our success. Though we say that, sometimes we think, “Man, if I was smart enough or had a more charismatic personality or was spiritual enough or had better looks or fill in the blank, then I will be successful. I would be married or I would have that job or so many friends, etc.” I think like that often! If I was a pastor like that guy or this guy, then I will be successful. So verse 2 in our honest theology sounds like, “And charismatic personality was with Joseph and he became successful. Or incredible good looks was with Joseph…or amazing networking skills.”
But the truth is that God likes to do things where the only real explanation is that He is with you. He has chosen the foolish of the world to confound the wise and the weak in the world to shame the strong…so that no human being can boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:27-30). See, we want to think that we need to get more worldly wisdom and we need to be stronger, but God says, “The sooner you can admit you are foolish and have absolutely no strength, the more aware you can be that I am with you and that is enough.”
Sometimes people ask me to pray for strength. I first pray something else. I pray that you will give up all delusion of strength and fall helplessly and utterly into the strong arms of a sufficient Savior. The Spirit does not help us in our strength. The Bible says the Spirit helps us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26). Pastor Ray Ortlund says, “Notice it does not say “weaknesses.” Singular, not plural. Our problem is not just weaknesses. More profoundly, our problem is weakness. Weakness is not just one more experience alongside our other experiences; weakness is the platform on which we have all our experiences. Weakness is a pervasive presence in all we are and do. It will not always be so. But for now, it is. Weak sinners, continually reassured by grace, will accomplish more for Christ than they would if continually confronted by demand. I am thankful that the Spirit meets us not in our strength but in our weakness, where alone His help enters in.” Do you want God to take you further in and deeper down in Him? Then how weak are you?
God prospers Joseph. Things are going well. Notice he ends up “in the house of his Egyptian master.” God places him not in the field, but promoted to work indoors. Easily Joseph could have been like, “I was right all along. My brothers didn’t respect my robe. Dumb fools. I am great!” If he thought that, we would not get verse 3. His master “saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.”
How does this pagan guy know Yahweh was with Joseph? Because Joseph talked about Yahweh and walked with Yahweh. Do people in our lives, especially unbelievers, notice that God is with us? Or do we try harder to fit in and be liked and not rock the boat around us? The old Indian preacher, Sadhu Sundar Singh once said, “Salt, when dissolved in water, may disappear, but it does not cease to exist. We can be sure of its presence by tasting the water. Likewise, the indwelling Christ, though unseen, will be made evident to others from the love which he imparts to us.”
One pastor says, “Most people walk into work into work just thinking, “How can I be blessed? How can they make my life easier? How can they cover my work? How can they support me? How can they benefit me?” No, we need to walk in with this posture of God has blessed me and sent me here on a mission to be a blessing so that everyone else would prosper; so that the business would prosper; so that the ministry would prosper; so that things would continue to go well. I am here to be a blessing. So very few people get in their car on Monday morning and drive into the office with this question in mind. How can I be a blessing to this organization? So very few people think that way. Joseph understands that God is a good God who blessed him so that he then could go forth and bless others.”
Joseph then becomes in charge of everything under Potiphar. He is Potiphar’s personal assistant and chief manager, in charge of everything Potiphar owns. Notice except “the food that he ate.” This figure of speech refers to Potiphar’s private affairs. This could mean Joseph has power. He has status. He is, as Charlie Sheen would say, “winning.” But what is really happening? Gen. 12:1-3 is coming true: I will bless you to be a blessing and in you all of the families of the earth will be blessed. Commentator John Sailhamer says, “This is not a story of the success of Joseph; rather it is a story of God’s faithfulness to his promises.”
And he will need prayer. As one commentator put it, “Joseph may be over Potiphar’s household, but he is under Yahweh’s blessing and guidance.” And that is a very tempting situation. This is where most people have power but then power ends up having them and they use power for their own gain. Potiphar’s wife will do that in a second. Joseph took power but he was not taken up by power. He stewarded his power well.
By the way, if you saw a book on the shelf entitled, “the people God uses,” what would you think it was about? We would think it was about evangelists, pastors or missionaries. We are conditioned to think God only uses Christian vocation, when the reality is God can use you in any vocation and even give you great success in the world’s eyes. So we say things like, “Oh you like to sing and you want God to use you, then join the worship team in church. Oh you have communication skills? You should be in ministry.” But it is interesting to me that the first person God uses to bless the nations is not a prophet or a missionary or evangelist, but a successful businessman who ends up being an important government leader who uses his administrative skills to organize a hunger relief program to save thousands. God will use any man or woman consecrated to Him in any sphere of life. Just remember that though you may be over whatever you want, you are always under God.
Why does the Lord promise to be with us? The reason is because 2,000 years later, there was another one like Joseph. He had all power, all wealth and all status. He was the strongest person in the world. But we have a God who became weak, unknown, powerless, so in our weakness, we can have His strength. God can never forsake us because Jesus was already forsaken on our behalf. We can fall into His arms of strength and love in our weakness, because Jesus gave up His life and fell into the arms of wrath. He became a curse for our sins, so we can now have the blessing of God and be the blessing of God to everyone around us.
This is true prosperity. He has made our soul prosperous by His work on the cross, so even in our greatest prosperity, we know it is nothing compared to the one who has truly blessed us by removing our sins, robing us in His righteousness, crowning us with lovingkindness and bringing us unworthy sinners into the Kingdom.
This is why He can say, “I am with you always.” So as we close, maybe some of you wonder if God is with you. Perhaps the real question is, “Is God for me?” Some of us don’t believe that, especially when things don’t work out in our lives. But God loves to do things where the explanation is not you, but God with you. God is for you, loved one. Perhaps you have been praying for strength, but you have been denying that you really are powerless. Confess your powerlessness. The Spirit of God does not meet you in your strength, but in your weakness. Pray that you will continually confess your weakness to the Lord. Secondly, pray for Living Hope. Pray, “Lord, do something where the only explanation is that God is with this church.
Greidanus, S (2007). Preaching Christ from Genesis (378). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Greidanus, S. (387).
Butler, J. G. (2008). Analytical Bible Expositor: Genesis (368). Clinton, IA: LBC Publications.
Greidanus, S. Ibid.
Tozer, A. W. (2006). The Pursuit of God (62). Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread.
Ortlund, R. quoted in http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2010/05/26/not-weaknesses-but-weakness/ accessed 12 October 2012.
As quoted in Water, M. (2000). The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations (428). Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.
Driscoll, M. “Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife,” http://marshill.com/media/genesis/joseph-and-potiphars-wife#transcript accessed 13 October 2012.
Waltke, B. K., & Fredricks, C. J. (2001). Genesis: A commentary (520). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Sailhamer, J. H. (1990). Genesis. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (234). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Hamilton, V. P. (1995). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18–50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (460). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.