The Plan of God in the Book of Genesis—Part 25

Joseph Honored and Imprisoned


VERSES 1-6  “Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.
“And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.
“And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand.
“And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.
“And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field.
“And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not aught he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.”

‘The Lord was with Joseph’—this is the explanation of how it was possible for one who was brought into a country as a slave, ultimately to become its ruler, second only in authority to the powerful Pharaoh, who ruled as a dictator. Not for Joseph’s sake alone did the Lord bless him, but also, and principally, because of his family, the nucleus of the Hebrew nation—the natural seed of Abraham, the chosen people of God.

Arriving in Egypt, Joseph was sold as a slave to Potiphar, ‘captain of the guard,’ or, as we would say today, the ‘Chief of Police.’ This officer of Pharaoh was evidently a wealthy man and had many servants, probably all of them slaves. Three times in this brief account it is emphasized that Potiphar was an Egyptian. Why should this be, since the whole scene is set in Egypt? Within recent years, discoveries in Egypt indicate that at the time of Potiphar, Egypt had come under the rulership of a new dynasty which apparently had ousted many of the former Egyptian officers, hence emphasis is laid on the fact that here was one who had gained favor with the new rulers and was permitted to retain his position. Thus is the authenticity of the Bible further verified.

Joseph found favor in the sight of Potiphar, and the Lord blessed him and blessed the household of Potiphar because of him. Joseph’s humility in giving all the credit for his success to the Lord was one of the chief reasons the Lord could use him so wonderfully in the outworking of his purposes. He undoubtedly also possessed ability as a manager and organizer—ability which was quickly recognized by Potiphar. But regardless of his talents, God could not have used him had he lacked the quality of humility.

Nor did the honor which came to Joseph ‘go to his head’ or cause him to forget the Lord. This sometimes occurs with those who are suddenly honored with weightier responsibilities in the Lord’s service. While youth might be more subject to temptation along the lines of pride than those who are older, those long in the service of God have been known to stumble and fall when they found themselves occupying more prominent positions in the Lord’s vineyard. All who serve the Lord can with profit observe the example of Joseph.

‘Joseph was a goodly person, and well favored.’ There is much meaning in the expression, ‘goodly person.’ It implies that Joseph was polite and kind, sympathetic, and just. We take it that he was the sort of person who got along well with everybody, that he did not stir up animosity among those with whom he associated, but created good feelings among all. He was also trustworthy. These qualities made him the sort of person Potiphar could use as a supervisor over his household, but Joseph gave the credit to the Lord. He was also ‘well favored,’ which suggests that he was good looking, perhaps even a handsome man.

VERSES 7-20  “And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.
“But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;
“There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?
“And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.
“And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within.
“And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.
“And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth,
“That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:
“And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.
“And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home.
“And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou has brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:
“And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.
“And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.
“And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.”

His being ‘well favored’ led to a great trial for Joseph through the indiscretion and anger of Potiphar’s wife. But in this trial Joseph’s goodness and chastity were victorious. In this experience, no doubt, as in all his ways, Joseph looked to the Lord for guidance and strength, and the Lord did not fail him.

God permits evil, but always for a wise purpose. He permitted Joseph to be misrepresented by Potiphar’s wife, and as a result to be put into prison. Here again Joseph’s humility before the Lord is manifested. He did not complain nor charge the Lord with being unjust.

It is so easy to praise the Lord when everything is going pleasantly with us, yet we so often wonder why he permits this trial, or that calamity. We should learn to realize, as Joseph did, that all our ways are being directed by the Lord and that he sees the ultimate purpose he is accomplishing in us. Therefore he knows what is best to permit in our day-by-day experiences, while we can see but one day at a time, hence are often unable to understand what possible benefit could be derived from the trials of today.

VERSES 21-23  “But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
“And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it.
“The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper.”

Joseph was unjustly put into prison, but the Lord was with him. The Lord is with his people for their good, giving them strength to endure every hardship which his wisdom permits to come upon them, delivering them from trial when the needed lessons have been learned.

God does not deal with all of his people in the same way. He was with Jesus and blessed him during his trial and crucifixion, yet permitted him to die the cruel death of the cross. This was because the Divine purpose for Jesus was that he should be the Redeemer of the world. God could have prevented Joseph from being imprisoned. Indeed, he could have intervened and prevented him from being sold into Egypt, but he did not. God blessed Joseph in these experiences because he was working out a larger purpose through him.

The Marginal Translation of verse 21 states that God showed kindness to Joseph so he found favor in the sight of the prison keeper. Without this favor the life of a prisoner was not pleasant. We can surmise that when Joseph was made an overseer in the jail, his fellow prisoners were treated with much more consideration than before because of his understanding nature. Joseph’s inherent goodness would cause him to be gentle and understanding even with prisoners, especially when they were his companions in trouble.

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