Genesis 39

The Word Made Fresh

1Meanwhile, Joseph had been taken to Egypt. Potiphar, the captain of the Pharaoh’s palace guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who brought him there.

2But the LORD was with Joseph, and he did well and lived in the home of his Egyptian master. 3When his master, Potiphar, saw that the LORD was with Joseph, making him successful in everything he attempted, 4he made Joseph his personal attendant. He put Joseph in charge of his household and everything he owned. 5From then on the LORD profited the Egyptian’s house and everything else that belonged to him. Everything Potiphar had, at home and in the field, profited from the LORD’s approval. 6So, he left everything under Joseph’s care, and with Joseph in charge he wasn’t concerned about anything other than the food he ate.

Joseph was a good-looking young man 7and it wasn’t long before his master’s wife tried to lure him into her bed. 8Joseph refused her. He said, “My master has put me in charge of everything in his house, and he doesn’t have to worry about anything. He has entrusted everything he owns to me. 9Nobody outranks me here. The only thing he has kept from me is you, his wife. How could I do such a thing and sin against God as well?”

10Day after day she tried to get his attention, but he would not give in to her and tried to stay away from her altogether. 11But one day when he went into the house to do his job, while no one else was looking 12she grabbed his sleeve and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he slipped out of his clothes, left them in her hands, and ran away from her outside. 13He left her standing there holding his clothing, and when she realized what had happened 14she screamed. When the other household members came to her, she said, “Do you see? My husband brought this Hebrew here to insult us! He tried to force me to bed and I screamed, 15and he dropped his clothes beside me and ran!”

16She kept Joseph’s clothes with her until his master, her husband, came home. 17She told him the same story. “That Hebrew slave you brought into our house tried to rape me, 18but when I screamed, he left his clothes on the floor and ran out.”

19When she told her husband, Joseph’s master, her story, saying, “your servant did this and this to me,” he was livid, 20and he took Joseph and locked him away in the prison, the one where the king’s prisoners were held, and that is where Joseph stayed.

21But the LORD was with Joseph and watched over him and made the prison keeper find favor with Joseph. 22He placed all the other prisoners under Joseph’s care, and Joseph did everything that needed doing in the prison. 23The prison keeper didn’t have to watch over anything Joseph was in charge of because the LORD was with him and made everything Joseph did turn out well.


1-6: We return to the story of Joseph, now a slave in Egypt. He is purchased from the Ishmaelites by Potiphar, head of Pharaoh’s palace guard. To our surprise Joseph, a spoiled brat with a huge ego, does everything well and succeeds in every task Potiphar gives him. He puts Joseph in charge of his entire household and all his domestic affairs, and under Joseph’s leadership, Potiphar’s household flourishes. This only takes six verses to tell about, but it obviously happens over a period of time, perhaps several years.

7-18: But trouble is in the air. Potiphar’s wife turns out to be a brazen hussy who openly invites Joseph to her bed. He refuses, again showing more character than we might have guessed. She persists day after day, and although he doesn’t give in, she finally will not take “no” for an answer and one day she grabs hold of him and shamelessly insists that he have sex with her. He runs for his life, unfortunately leaving an article of clothing in her hands, which she presents to her husband Potiphar when he comes home as evidence that this “Hebrew” slave has tried to molest her. (This is only the 2nd time the word “Hebrew” has occurred. The first use was in reference to Abram — see 14:13 — before he became Abraham. Some scholars think the word was a sort of racial slur the Egyptians used for foreigners.)

19-23: Surprisingly, the incident does not result in Joseph’s immediate execution, which has led some commentators to speculate that Potiphar knows what kind of woman he is married to and suspects that Joseph isn’t entirely at fault. Potiphar has Joseph put into prison, but may have given the jailer special instructions because the jailer pays special attention to Joseph and assigns him some rather surprising responsibilities over the other prisoners. Once again we find that Joseph has become a mature and dependable and capable man. Go figure.


The moral of this story is that if we follow the ways of God we may find ourselves falsely accused and punished. But we shall see that the punishment is also part of God’s will to put Joseph where God needs him to be. The same may be true of us when we feel we have been dealt with badly; so be faithful and be at peace. God knows what God is doing.