Imagine being punished for something you did not do. Jeff Titus is a 71 year old man who has been serving 21 years in prison for the murder of two Michigan hunters. But today, the state of Michigan is asking for his release. An article this past week explained that critical evidence was found relating to his case – evidence that was available during Titus’ trial back in 2002. But it was withheld. In what was described as a “stunning discovery” in 2019, over 30 pages of documents were found in the county sheriff’s office with details of an alternate suspect in the case. That suspect was a known and convicted serial killer from Ohio – a man who had killed multiple hunters and outdoorsmen. But that evidence never came out. While Jeff Titus was being tried for murder, there was evidence of someone else having committed the murders that never came out – evidence that would have been in Titus’ favor. Who knows why.
I don’t know whether Jeff Titus is truly guilty or not. Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. But imagine if he isn’t. Imagine it was you and you’ve spent 21 years in prison for murders you didn’t commit. Imagine going in at 50 years old and no longer getting to hold your wife and kids, missing your children’s graduations and weddings, the births of grandchildren, your parents’ funerals, missing your best “health” years. There’s no making up for that. There’s no way to get that time back and there’s no way to make up for missing those milestones in life. How would you go through that? How would you go through such an injustice?
This story leads us to our passage today in Genesis 39. In this chapter Joseph is going to discover even more just how unfair this world really is. Just when you think you’re climbing out of one of life’s holes someone stabs you in the back and throws you back down. Last week we saw Joseph’s life turned upside down by his brothers. This week he is going to be falsely accused and wrongly imprisoned.
When the Me Too movement was happening there were two things that came out of that. One was a lot of victimized women got revenge after having to stuff down what happened to them by predatory males. The other thing was a lot of innocent men were victimized by predatory women who made false accusations for attention. Let me ask you what’s worse: punishing an innocent man or not punishing a guilty man? Both are tragic failures of justice.
And that is what’s happening to Joseph: a tragic failure of justice.
Joseph is sold as a slave to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials. Joseph is impressive in two ways: for his work and for his looks. Potiphar is impressed with his work; Potiphar’s wife, however, is impressed with how good looking he is. After Joseph rejects her repeated advances she lies about him and gets him thrown into prison. Yet, while the chapter ends with Joseph in prison we see God is with him (Prov 24:16).
This chapter will force you to think about how God can be a good God while letting bad things happen to good people. It will force you to think about how a believer’s integrity stands up in the middle of injustice – specifically injustice. It will force you to think about what it looks like to trust God through evil circumstances. It will force you to look also at what it really means for God to be “with” us when life doesn’t look like He is. And a whole lot more.
JOSEPH PROSPERS (1-6)
Joseph Prospers, read v1-6…
Joseph is purchased by Potiphar. Potiphar is one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard. Potiphar is not a low-level official and he is not of meager means. Joseph becomes a standout as one of Potiphar’s servants. Potiphar noticed Joseph’s skills and promoted him as his attendant. Potiphar came to have absolute confidence in Joseph’s integrity and abilities at running the household and gave him power to run everything. Potiphar never gave the running of his household a second thought because he had Joseph. Potiphar probably spoke highly of Joseph to all the other palace officials, and they all probably wished they had a Joseph at home too.
Two things to see here. First, Joseph’s reliability. Second, God’s blessing.
First, Joseph was reliable. He is like his father Jacob when Jacob remained a faithful and successful servant to Laban (31:36-42). Joseph is in the same class as Daniel and Moses.
- Turn to Daniel 6:4-5 with me. Joseph was honest and he was competent. If your enemies are going to attack you don’t give them ammunition when it comes to your integrity or your work ethic. Like Daniel, force them to attack you for your faithfulness to God.
- Turn to Hebrews 3:2-4. Moses left nothing “undone.” Everything God commanded him he carried out. This is stewardship: taking responsibility for that which belongs to someone else.
This is what Paul was getting at when he said, “I have not failed to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” (Acts 20:27). Moses, Daniel, Paul – all faithful stewards of the responsibilities entrusted to them. Joseph is in their class: a man with whom Potiphar could entrust all responsibility to and have absolute confidence it would all be managed very well. Potiphar probably even believed Joseph did a better job than himself.
APPLICATION: Stand out as a steward. Be reliable. Be reliable with whatever responsibilities you’ve been given. Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings.” No matter what responsibility you have, carry it out in a way that would make you worthy of doing it for a king. If you clean floors would the floors of the palace look their best with you? If you teach, would the king want you tutoring his children? If you manage, would the king want you to manage portions of his kingdom? If you are a parent would you be worthy of raising the king’s children? What responsibilities are yours right now? A husband? Father? A child with chores and schooling? Your job? A caretaker? Serving at church? Some fiduciary role? Part of some board or committee in the community? Remember Colossians 3, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” We say a lot about our God by how we steward the responsibilities entrusted to us.
APPLICATION: Lets make our integrity stand out when we are mistreated. Joseph acted honestly when he had been treated dishonestly. Joseph didn’t let his heart become corrupted with bitterness and cynicism after what his brothers did to him. He didn’t develop a “Well I have to look out for myself because no one else will” attitude. He didn’t form a core attitude of “To get by in this world you gotta hit them before they hit you.” Like Job, Joseph kept his integrity after the world stabbed him in the back.
Secondly, God blessed. Joseph was reliable, and we also see God blessed him. Look at verse 2, “The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered…” Verse 3, “…his master saw that the Lord was with Joseph and that the LORD gave Joseph success in everything he did.” God was attentive to Joseph and by His divine help everything Joseph touched flourished. And Joseph knew it. Joseph wasn’t like Nebuchudnezzar who said, “Look at this great kingdom I have built by my own might” (Dan 4:30). James rebuked those like Nebuchadnezzar when he said, “All you who make plans and plan on making money by your plans, who are you? Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.” His point is that these people talk like they will do whatever they’re going to do and God is not even in their plans. They have no qualifying attitude that says, “If God blesses it will happen.” Instead they think their plans will happen because of them and their plans. To your credit many of you see your plans from the godly vantage point of Proverbs 16:3, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do and your plans will succeed.” Many of you know that your plans will succeed or fail because of God, and with James you say, “If it is God’s will we will do this.” The point here is that Joseph’s success was God’s blessing. Joseph could have been the same man he was: just as reliable, honest, competent, savvy, faithful, diligent, committed and so on. BUT, all of that would not have made the results of his work successful and the attitude of his master favorable towards him if God did not make it so.
APPLICATION: Acknowledge God in everything. Success and failure. Begin each plan with God. Carry on each plan with God. Leave behind each plan with God. Acknowledge God in everything.
APPLICATION: God blesses those around us because of us. Look at Potiphar getting blessed by God because of Joseph. Look at Laban getting blessed because of Jacob. Look at Lot and Ishmael getting blessed because of Abraham. I’ve said this before, but who around you is being blessed by God because of you? Your neighbors? Your workplace? Your family? Your wife? Kids? Your church?!
JOSEPH PURSUED (6b-10)
Next we see Joseph Pursued, read verses 6-10.
Lets pull out a few things here. First, Joseph is pursued because he’s the package deal. He inherited his mother’s good looks – Rachel was a head-turner. And so was Joseph, verse 6a says, “Joseph was well-built and handsome.” Joseph would’ve been noticed by all the women in the household I’m sure. They would’ve asked him to pick up heavy objects, reach up to the top shelf to get things…you know
Second, Joseph is pursued by a predator. Mrs. Potiphar is a predator. Maybe you can say she was neglected by Mr. Potiphar. Maybe she felt he worked too much and never paid her any attention. It does say in verse 6 that Mr Potiphar “didn’t concern himself with anything except the food he ate.” Which maybe can be taken as he didn’t concern himself with his marriage either. Maybe she was living in the shadow of his career and felt there was no passion between them. Maybe she was “vulnerable.”
But this woman is more than “vulnerable.” There’s more going on with her than just neglect or revenge, if those are even factors. She was a predator. She seemed arrogant; she felt entitlement, like she was used to getting what she wanted. She may have felt she deserved better than Potiphar, and looked down on her husband. This is probably not the first time she was committing adultery. It may have been an open secret that she ran around on her husband – with servants and with other palace officials. She seemed hedonistic even, obsessed with her own pleasure and using her power of position and seduction to get whomever she wanted.
Look at how persistent she is – day after day accosting him. She won’t take “No” for an answer. Joseph should want to go to bed with her. In a sense she probably believes he is obligated to go to bed with her. He should feel privileged that she is pursuing him. She may have felt a thrill in the chase and that she could “break him down” until he gave in. This is not a picture of neglect. This is a picture of arrogant, obsessive, lust. There is power there too, which we’ll bring out in the coming verses.
Thirdly, notice Joseph’s probity while being pursued by Mrs. Potiphar. The only person more resolved than Mrs Potiphar is Joseph. Her adulterous pursuit is exceeded only by Joseph’s unmovable integrity. How do we do with temptation? Joseph is running a clinic for us on resisting temptation.
First, remember you are accountable. He felt accountable to his master and God. Reading those verses you really sense in Joseph a sense of obligation to Mr. Potiphar for all he has done for him. And above that there was an obligation to God: “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” All sin is against God, “Against you” Psalm 51 cries, “Against you and you only have I sinned.” That sense of all sin is against God that brings a sense of accountability: it keeps God front and center when sin is trying to force its way in front of us. Think of Psalm 4:4 says, “Tremble and do not sin.” Tremble at the thought of sinning against God and that will strengthen you against sin. Joseph had a reverent fear of God that kept him from sinning. Joseph didn’t live feeling obligated to his flesh, but, with an obligation to God and to what is right. He is young, but this is very mature character. (This is why I said last week I don’t think he was “tattling” on his brothers, but he was reporting on them because of his deep integrity).
Second, remember every day that you live for higher things than some fleshly pleasure that may present itself during the day. Joseph didn’t live each day to gratify his appetites and feel pleasures of his flesh. His aim was above that. Philippians 3 says, “Many live as enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ: their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach (fleshly appetites)….” In other words people who will be destroyed are people who live to gratify all the cravings of their flesh, who are repulsed at biblical notions like “deny yourself” and “say ‘No’ to ungodliness.” Joseph, like all of God’s righteous ones, cherish such discipline, while those who are under God’s judgment hate it. Joseph lived each day by his moral convictions. He lived each day wanting to please God, not his fleshly appetites.
Third, gratitude is a powerful weapon against temptation. You can see a gratitude that Joseph felt towards God and Potiphar. Especially in verse 9 when he says, “How then could I…?” Joseph knew he had a great thing going on and it was because of Potiphar and God.
One of the ways we give in to temptation is through ingratitude. We start to count all our woes, we start to feel sorry for ourselves, we start to ignore and become blind to all our blessings, we start to obsess over our feelings of being cheated and injured and wrongs has been done to us. Joseph certainly “could” have felt that way. But he didn’t. But when we start feeling that way we are nurturing self-pity and moving towards justification of some sin we want to commit. We start to think “I deserve this. I’ve been through so much. I’ve been hurt. I’m entitled to this. This will make me feel good and happy, and I haven’t felt that in a long time. I deserve to. How can it be wrong? And if it is wrong, so what? Look at what I’ve gone through, I’ve been wronged.” Do you see how ingratitude powerfully tears down our moral defenses? Do you see how ingratitude is a guide leading us towards sinning?
APPLICATION: Develop your gratitude to resist temptation. Practice gratitude. Be intentionally grateful to God. Don’t wait to “feel” like your grateful. Act like you’re grateful. Again, Christians are not led by feelings. We lead our feelings by our convictions about what is right in God’s eyes.
Fourth, GET OUT of a tempting situation! Verse 10, “he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.” Joseph avoided Mrs. Potiphar. He dodged her. If she came in the room he quickly exited. If she was in a room he didn’t go in. He didn’t “hang around” her. He didn’t go near her. This is the complete opposite of the youthful idiot in Proverbs 7. Turn there with me. This youth was a moral idiot because he put himself in a situation to be tempted. Joseph went to extremes to avoid the adulteress in his life. One youth is wise, the other a fool. Proverbs spends so much time up front on adultery:
You could interpret this as wisdom and marital fidelity are indivisible. Proverbs is written in the form of a father speaking to his sons. Parents! Teach your kids wisdom! In teaching them wisdom teach them marital faithfulness. Articulate these things to them. I counted: in the first 9 chapters of Proverbs, which are a prologue to the whole book, the father spends 60 verses out of 256 warning against adultery. That is about 1 in 4 verses. Doesn’t that say something? Proverbs spans dozens of different moral topics and adultery gets that much attention right out of the gates. Doesn’t that say something?! Yes, it does!
APPLICATION: Joseph spent his youth devoted to God. He didn’t run wild and think I’ll settle down later and walk with God. Joseph was not the gutter to glory story. Joseph was a wholesome young man, a boy who did what was right and suffered for it. Joseph was a clean living boy.
APPLICATION to the APPLICATION: Don’t ever envy someone’s “glamorous” gutter to glory story. Don’t ever resent your clean, unrebellious childhood and feel like your testimony somehow isn’t as good as someone else’s. Don’t ever wish you were a Prodigal and could talk about all the trash you left behind to follow Christ.
- The glory of everyone’s “testimony” does not come from what they left behind, but what we all have come to: Jesus Christ. Stop comparing your background to everyone else’s and start comparing your history to Jesus Christ and you will be sufficiently humiliated, if that’s what you’re after. He is what makes our testimony glorious.
- You grossly underestimate your own sinfulness and what Christ saved you from if you think you weren’t a bad kid. The Son of God DIED for your sins – wouldn’t you say your sins are pretty bad then? Stop comparing yourself to other bad people and feeling good and then feeling bad about that, like you don’t have a testimony. If you want to start feeling bad about how “good” you were start comparing yourself to the Son of God, your Savior Jesus Christ, who is perfect in every way. That’ll make you thoroughly feel like a loser like you so badly want to feel.
APPLICATION to the APPLICATION to the APPLICATION: Admire those believers who’ve lived their entire lives faithfully. Do not envy those believers who lived wild in their previous years. Admire instead those who have lived faithfully all their years.
APPLICATION to the APPLICATION: A rich, mature old age grows out of a well spent young age. Someone gave me a great little book by JC Ryle this weekend called “Thoughts For Young Men.” On page 9 he says, “What young men will be depends on what they are now. Youth is the seed-time of full age.” Another book I like is Cicero’s “How To Grow Old,” and he exhorts young men to invest in their future old age by living well in their youth, “Study and practice wise and decent living. If you cultivate these in every period of your life, then when you grow old they will yield a rich harvest.” Joseph’s youth was a firm foundation for a rich, mature, admirable old age.