Joseph: Ongoing Opposition, Unwavering Integrity – Gen 39
Have you ever arrived somewhere and not known a soul? That’s always a very unsettling feeling-and unless you’re an extrovert extraordinaire who loves talking to random strangers it’s probably not something you enjoy. But think about a time where you arrived somewhere and didn’t know a single person. There you were-it was a new place, a new setting, an unknown situation and there wasn’t anybody to talk to that you’d ever met before, no one to show you around or help ease you in. How did you feel? Nervous, awkward, alone, scared, uncertain? Probably all of that wrapped together. I can think of a few of those experiences in my life. When my parents dropped me off for my first day of college-I knew my roommate-it was my cousin (which really confused people because he was 6’3” – the only Erwin to officially break the 6” mark! You guys are related?) But he wasn’t there yet when my parents dropped me off and I remember feeling really alone once my parents left-thankfully I knew a few high school friends in one of the dorms way across campus and went to go visit them. Or when Monica and I were first married and moved to TX to start teaching we had family help drive our stuff down in the moving truck-but once they left that afternoon-there we were for the first time in our lives 17 hrs away from anyone we knew feeling really alone-thankfully we had each other. Or the first time we attempted coming to Long Island-there was crazy amounts of fog and our plane got diverted to DC . We were stuck at the airport there all day and had to take the train from Union Station in DC to Penn Station. So by that Friday night at 11pm, there was Monica, I and Jacob standing outside Penn Station with our suitcases, the Knicks game just let out at MSG, the place was packed and we didn’t know a soul. All we were told to do was look for a white SUV circling the station driven by the great Don LaBianca! But as 3 Iowans standing there on 34th St. it was quite apparent that we a long ways away from the farm! So as nerve-racking as those scenarios were-and maybe you’ve had some similar nerve-racking moments of being somewhere alone in life too-at least Monica and I had each other and weren’t totally alone. But as we resume our series in the life of Joseph he is showing up to a place where he doesn’t know anybody, not a single soul, not a familiar face. Joseph doesn’t have anybody to talk with or lean on. Or does he?
Open your Bibles this morning to Genesis 39. We started off the series by looking at Joseph’s background. And we quickly saw 2 crucial things-the first was that Joseph comes from a great godly heritage. His family line is what constitutes the bulk of Genesis-that being Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They’re known biblically as the Patriarchs-and eventually Jesus comes from this family line. But Joseph is the 11th son of 12 from his father Jacob. And you can imagine what it would be like to have 10 older brothers-talk about getting picked on and beat up and forced to do all the chores they didn’t want to. But besides the typical things brothers do to each other-these guys were downright terrible. Joseph didn’t just have 10 older brothers-he had 10 rotten, no-good, very bad brothers. And we looked a couple weeks ago at all the stuff they got up to-murdering and pillaging villages, desperately wanting to murder Joseph and lie about it to their father. In chapter 38 there’s an awful story about Judah-brother number 4. It’s the kind of thing you’d hear about on Jerry Springer’s talk show! But when chapter 39 begins Joseph is with the band of traveling gypsies because his brothers had tossed him into the pit and then sold him to the gypsies. Who literally sells their brother to make a profit? These guys did-and let their father wallow in misery thinking that Joseph was dead. But we left off last time in Joseph’s story by saying that sometimes the pit is God’s starting place. And I’m sure you’ve felt like that in your life. Maybe you feel like you’re there now. Sometimes life is that mountaintop experience where you’re cruising along on a plateau of good fortune and blessing-but often life can feel like you’re stuck in a pit with no help and no water like Joseph. And yet God didn’t abandon Joseph in the pit just like He doesn’t abandon you. Two weeks ago we closed with looking at Lam 3:55-57. Now these were Jeremiah’s words who was also in a pit in his life. But this promise from God isn’t any different for Joseph. Sometimes the pit is God’s starting place. And that’s exactly what chapter 39 is telling us. What we might conclude to be just an unfortunate series of events in Joseph’s life, an ongoing stretch of opposition and misfortune-is actually God’s hand at work. Being sold to this band of traveling gypsies wasn’t another stroke of bad luck for Joseph-when will this guy catch a break-but was God’s sovereign plan in action.
So Gen 39:1. This traveling caravan stops in Egypt. They pull out all their good and wares to sell, all the slaves they’ve picked up along the way and have an auction. And a well-respected, wealthy, high-ranking employee of Pharaoh comes along. And he looks across all the different slaves for sale and sees Joseph and says-Let’s see here-I’ll buy that guy. Now obviously slavery isn’t a good thing-but here’s God at work in our broken world using evil things like slave trading to accomplish His purposes. God’s gets his man into Egypt to do the great things He’s prepared for him-although at the moment Joseph doesn’t see that. He has no idea what awaits him. The dreams he once had now probably seem like a distant memory. His once great future of being the favored son of his wealthy father has been replaced with working for Potiphar. He’s a nobody in a distant land-a random slave. So this morning I want us to think about how Jospeh is processing all this. What’s going through his mind? Because no matter what we face-the real battle, the first battle is in our minds. All sorts of things will happen to us far outside of our control, things we can’t do anything about-but are simply a part of living in this broken world. But how we respond to them is won or lost in our mind. Will we face the circumstances of life with God’s perspective? Or just react out of our feelings or fears? Now we don’t get to read Joseph’s thoughts in Gen 39-but we sure get to see the way he handles himself and hear the words he says in order to draw some conclusions. So Pt1:Joseph’s Self-talk: Alone in a distant place, I’m never alone because my God is near. As this chapter unfolds we’re going to see God take Joseph down some dark and distant roads he never would have chosen for himself. Joseph never wanted to be thrown into the pit and sold to slave traders. He pleaded with his brothers to let him out. Now he’s been sold a second time into Potiphar’s employment as a young kid of 17. No doubt he’d much rather be back at home and reunited with his family than stuck as a slave in Egypt! But look at how God used this in Joseph’s life-v. 2-3. Here’s Joseph being taught one of the most important lessons in life-that God is with him no matter where he goes. God hasn’t abandoned him. He hasn’t lost sight of him or forgotten him. God wasn’t hard to reach or too busy with other things. God didn’t say-I’ll get back to you at some point just hang on the best you can. No! The Lord was with him-2X it says that! And it’s no different for us. No matter where you go, no matter what roads life takes you down, or the twists and turns you encounter. No matter how alone you might feel, or how far out of your comfort zone you are, you’re never alone because your God is near. He’s with you. He isn’t going anywhere. Look at Ps 139:7-10. That’s what God does for you. You’re never alone if you’ve trusted in Him-even if you are on the far side of the sea. Joseph was as far away from home as you could be back then. It doesn’t get any further away-there were no discount airlines or train service from Egypt to get him back home-but His God was with Him-and yours will be too! At the beginning of the message we said that Joseph doesn’t know a single soul in Egypt-and yet He knows the One who matters most. Back to Pt1.
And what I love about this passage is that here’s Potiphar, an Egyptian all his life-having grown up in their pagan culture of idolatry worshipping Ra the Sun god, Osiris the god of the underworld, Isis the goddess of magic and countless other gods and goddess of Egypt. He doesn’t know who the Lord is at all-and yet he sees something very different about Joseph. There’s something about Joseph that he doesn’t see in other people. Something that makes him think-The Lord is with this guy. God is working in his life. So I ask the question-could the same be said of you? That when people look at your life they see that something’s different-especially by those who don’t know the Lord? Maybe they can’t articulate what it is-but they know that something’s different. Would people say the Lord is with you-or would they see that stress is with you, anxiety and fear is with you, frustration and conflict is with you? Potiphar saw the Lord’s presence in Joseph-and look at where it led-v. 4-6a. You’re not making me an omelette, buddy. I’m cooking my own dinner-but everything else is in your hands. Joseph could have easily been bitter and angry for being stuck in Potiphar’s house-but he wasn’t. We’ll come back to that point later-but Joseph leaned upon God, He trusted in God and followed Him in this far away and distant land-which was very important for what happened next.
Take a look at v. 6b. He’s been put in charge and basically become head butler and house manger for Potiphar-a position with a great deal of respect and responsibility-but now we find out that Joseph is a good looking guy too! If he was short and stocky back home-he’s grown up to be tall, dark and handsome in Egypt. So everything seems to be coming together in his life. And it doesn’t go unnoticed-v. 7. She’s not playing hard to get or being subtle about it. She’s clearly taking the direct approach-let’s sleep together. And you can imagine how something like this could have gone straight to Joseph’s head to bolster his ego but far more than that to tempt his flesh. Joseph’s a young man of 17-18 yrs old in the prime of life, hormones would be raging-this would have been the most natural thing for him to do. And yet right away, without hesitation Jospeh responds with unwavering integrity-v. 8-9. Don’t think for a minute that Joseph was some kind of spiritual giant who wasn’t interested in her offer or some super-holy kind of guy that can’t be tempted. The Bible doesn’t paint it that way at all. This is describing the very real scenario of a sophisticated Egyptian woman offering herself to a young servant boy. As we said-the most normal thing in the world would have been for Joseph to say yes. The rationalizations were so easy. No one would ever know. Joseph was far from home. His family would never know-plus his family was full of this kind of behavior anyway-so that wasn’t out of the norm. Her husband was gone all the time and clearly not meeting her needs as she’s turning to Joseph. This was the simplest and most logical temptation Joseph could have given in to as a young man. I like how author Chuck Swindoll phrases it in today’s terms-Joseph, 34-35. Because let’s not forget what God’s Word said in Joseph’s day-just as it does in our day-that sex is between a husband and a wife-it’s for marriage-not for dating, not for engagement, not for casual hookups or one-night stands. It’s not for two lonely people like Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Isn’t it interesting how relevant God’s Word is! It’s not some dusty old book-but it describes the very same temptations we face today. The very thing our society is consumed with-and what kept Joseph from stumbling and giving in to her alluring demands? Go back to his words at the end of v. 9. Yes-it would have been wrong to have an affair with his boss’s wife. Certainly Potiphar would have been furious at Joseph-especially after entrusting him with so much responsibility in his house. But more than that-Joseph knew it was wrong before God. First and foremost it wasn’t a sin against Potiphar, it was a sin against His God. So P2:Joseph’s Self-talk: Sin is always and ultimately against my God who loves me. That’s what Joseph is thinking in his head and saying to Potiphar’s wife. I follow the Lord, He’s been with me in this hard time in my life. Thankfully he’s blessing me-so how could I sin against Him-the God I worship by sleeping with you? This isn’t God’s plan for us. The answer is no! Joseph’s response needs to be our response every time we’re confronted with temptation like this. I like how one Bible commentator puts Joseph’s words into our words-Boice, 923. That’s the self-talk we need to have. Look at 1 Cor 6:18-20.
And that’s exactly what Joseph does-he flees from sexual temptation. But look at v. 10. She turning the heat up big time and being relentless-day after day. Yes Joseph is still standing strong-but imagine how hard this is! She’s trying to wear him down and won’t take no for an answer. Who knows how alluring or seductive she got-and yet this is where Joseph displays that unwavering integrity by leaning upon the Lord and not listening to a word she says. Look at v. 11-12a. This is temptation literally grabbing Joseph by the arm, tugging at his shirt. And let me say-it’s not wrong to be tempted. We live in a world of temptation-it’s all around us. Jesus was tempted. What’s wrong is when we give in to it and willingly step into its trap. But a word of caution-staring at temptation and thinking about it is never good. The longer you look at it and consider its offer the more mesmerized and vulnerable you become. The reason is because we’re human-and temptation always offers something we want-but not in the way God wants us to have it. God created men and women to enjoy the intimacy of sex-but it’s for husband and wife-not boss’s wife and employee or any other way temptation presents it. So Joseph does what God’s Word says and flees. He doesn’t wonder about it or think what if-he just bolts the other direction, knowing that if he didn’t he probably would give in-v. 12b. Here’s Joseph is running shirtless down the street-but v. 13-15. So she’s already making up lies, trying to cover her tracks-while Joseph has done exactly what God’s called him to do by fleeing temptation. And I don’t believe Joseph would say he did it because he was strong-rather Joseph knew the seriousness of sin and what it meant. Back to Pt2. Just like he said in v. 9b. And so he didn’t.
Now you may be sitting here this morning saying the same thing as Joseph-but where he didn’t, you did. That while he stood strong in the face of temptation, you fell badly. Let me say that if you’ve made mistakes in this area or some other sin, if you have regrets from the past or painful consequences you’re living with, God’s not done with you or writing you off. Look at what David said in Ps 51:3-4. David is saying the same thing Joseph said-that sin is always and ultimately against God. Yes it harms other people, particularly sexual sin-but at its core sin is an offense against the God who made us. And yet who is it that David turns to-Ps 51:1-2. God is in the business of forgiveness. Mercy and unfailing love is the way God operates. He doesn’t desire us to sin, He wants us to see the reality of sin and flee from it at all costs-just like Joseph. But He provides forgiveness when we don’t. He provides the cleansing we so desperately need-Ps. 51:10, 12. As a child of God there’s one thing we have in common-we’re all sinners saved by grace. His forgiveness is absolutely essential in our lives. Don’t think that anybody this side of heaven has moved beyond the realm of sin. There’s not some old Christian out there saying-Years ago I did some of that sinning-not anymore though-got that all taken care of. We are not perfected until we stand in the Lord’s presence when this life ends to be forever glorified. One day when God remakes this world, when the new heavens and new earth appear sin will be gone. But while we walk on this earth and have breath in our lungs, sin and temptation will always dog us, they’ll always be chomping at the bit and ready to strike at any moment. So what does David pray for-a willing spirit to sustain him. Meaning that when we confess our sins the Lord is ready to forgive us and set us back on our feet. He’s ready to restore us and strengthen us and sustain us so that the next time temptation strikes we can lean on Him and flee from it. Look at 1 Cor 10:13. God is not setting you up to fail, He’s strengthening you to succeed-just like Joseph. There is a way of escape, a chance to flee. I’m only human, I couldn’t help myself isn’t valid.
Anybody gone to one of those escape rooms? They’re hard! You have to follow the clues, piece it all together and figure it out. I don’t think I’m good at escape rooms. I’m in there and wonder-how did I get into this room in the first place. Why did I willingly enter a room I have to escape from? But never once think of your escape from temptation like that. It’s not hard clues to sort out, it’s not difficult or cryptic. It’s as simple as trusting God and turning the other direction to flee. It’s running down the street in the opposite direction like Joseph. God is glorified every time you turn away from temptation and take that road of escape He provides. Back to Pt2.
But the world doesn’t always agree or respond with that same approval. The world doesn’t always cheer when you have victory over sin. Look at v. 16-19a. What did he do? Not believe her and thank Joseph for being a man of integrity to his wife; for not violating his trust and being honest and upright? Nope-v. 19b-20. This is how Joseph’s treated for his great obedience! Wouldn’t you think Joseph should be rewarded? At least given a pay raise and some appreciation for his faithful actions? Joseph does the hard thing by not giving in to temptation, for being a man of unwavering integrity and he ends up in prison! It’s all so backwards and unfair! I don’t know about you but it’s really easy to think that God owes us when we’re obedient to Him. That after a good week of following God, doing our devotions and not giving in to temptation He’s going to reward us. Have you thought that way before? Okay God, I’ve been on a good streak, I’ve been super obedient to you-can’t wait to see what blessings you’ve got coming my way! And then we get discouraged when the blessings don’t come. We wonder why we were so obedient in the first place if God’s not going to notice it. Have you felt that way before? It would have been very easy for Joseph to think that way. That all of his obedience and integrity were for nothing because look at where it landed him-right in prison. I don’t think any of us would have blamed Joseph for complaining to God-This is how you’re rewarding me, Lord! I fought off that woman’s temptations everyday and this is how you treat me! Chains and shakes in prison! Look at 1 more Ps 105:17-18. That’s what Joseph’s experiencing. He went from the pit to the palace of Poitphar’s house to prison! Failure and discouragement could have easily been at the forefront of Joseph’s mind. Who wouldn’t feel that way in his shoes-or in his shackles! But P3:Joseph’s Self-talk: Bitterness and thoughts of vengeance don’t have to be my comfort. Nowhere in the passage does it say that Joseph spent his time in prison thinking and scheming and plotting his revenge when he would get out. And Joseph had a lot of people to be bitter and angry at. When I get out of here that Potiphar is going to pay-if he thinks he can get away with unjustly accusing me-wait till he sees what I have coming. And Mrs. Potiphar-I’ve give her a piece of my mind. And don’t even get me started on my brothers. Those jokers are the ones who started this whole thing off by chucking me in the pit! Oh are they going to regret that and fear the day when I get back at them. There’s none of that! And yet isn’t that what we often do? We find comfort and take solace in our bitterness. Our thoughts of vengeance and the creative ways we’re going to get back at someone consume us and drive us. And we convince ourselves it’s well-warranted. That what they did to us was so awful that bitterness and vengeance are our only options. But the truth is they’re not. This wasn’t Joseph-and it doesn’t need to be us. What did Jesus say in Matt 5:10-12. Now Joseph didn’t know Jesus-even though Joseph is a vivid picture of Jesus-but Joseph is standing for truth, he’s doing the right thing-and he’s being persecuted for it. What about you? Are you being persecuted for doing the right thing at work? Persecuted at school for obeying God and not doing the things your classmates are doing or persecuted by your family for following God? The reality is that persecution will happen when we follow Jesus and do what He says. And when that persecution comes, when the world treats us badly we don’t have to respond with negatively. Back to Pt3-because the Lord can be our comfort.
Look at how this scene concludes for Joseph-v. 21-23. This is exactly how the chapter started! The very same statement repeated 2 more times-the Lord was with him. God hadn’t abandoned Joseph. He didn’t bring him all the way to Egypt just to leave him in prison. God knew exactly what he was doing-this was all a part of his perfect plan. Joseph should have been immediately executed for charges of adultery-especially with someone as high ranking as Potiphar’s wife-but he wasn’t. God sovereignly spared Joseph’s life, had him go to prison instead and next week we’re going to see how God uses that time in a profound way. But P4:Joseph’s Self-talk: God’s timetable isn’t mine, His training program isn’t what I would choose-but I trust Him. That’s what we see Joseph doing. He didn’t wallow in his misery, become consumed with bitterness and comfort himself with thoughts of vengeance, instead he let himself be used by the Lord. He allowed his character to be molded by the Lord, to trust the Lord, to be a light for the Lord-even in a place like prison. Joseph was once again a man of unwavering integrity in the face of ongoing opposition. And you can too! Joseph’s self-talk can and ought to be your self-talk. Maybe you’re not in prison-but whatever you’re going through God will be there with you. His promises, His abiding presence and steadfast love don’t change. Obviously your timetable is different from God’s. No doubt each of us would choose a different training program than what God’s taking us through-but that’s not for us to decide. Have you thought about that? Jospeh didn’t have any input on the matter-and neither do we. God doesn’t ask us about the best way to make us more like Him. He doesn’t look for our suggestions on how to mold us and shape us. I wish He did-Jim, would it be okay if I bring a little suffering and struggle into your life right now-got a few things to teach you-would that be alright? The Lord doesn’t ask us because He knows how we’ll respond. You bet, Lord, no problem. In fact give me a little extra struggle-crank up the heat-I want to really learn what you’re teaching me! Of not-we run at the face of suffering and struggle. But God sovereignly uses those things in our lives. He works according to His perfect plans and purposes-and just as we’ll see great good come from what Joseph’s going through-so God will bring great good from what you’re going through.
With God there’s nothing wasted or superfluous in your life (I love that word!) But there’s nothing unnecessary or pointless-everything you go through has a purpose-God doesn’t waste your sufferings and struggles-just like He didn’t waste them with Joseph. His timetable, His training program is perfect in your life. Do you believe that? Do you trust Him? There’s an old story I had read years ago but was reminded of this week while working on this message-and it talks about a guy during the Great Depression in the 20’s who had lost his job, his wife and his home. He was a believer in Jesus-but was at rock bottom in life-much like Joseph in prison. Things had taken a bad turn and all his wealth has quickly evaporated. But one day in the midst of his depression, he happened to be walking by some men doing stonework on a huge church in the city. One worker was busy chiseling a triangular piece of stone which intrigued the man so he asked what he was going to do with it. And the story says that the worker responded by pointing to the top of the spire-See that little opening up there near the top. Well, I’m shaping this stone down here so that it fits in up there. I love that statement-and that was exactly what the man needed to hear about his life. That God was shaping him for eternity up there through the struggles he was going through down here. And it’s no different for you and me! God’s the master stoneworker-but He’s chiseling our hearts not stones. He’s shaping you down here so that you’ll fit in up there with Him. He’s preparing you for eternity, molding and shaping your character-and all the while-throughout His perfect timing and training program-He’s with you-just as He was with Joseph! From the pit to the prison-and everything in between-your God is with you!