Joseph in Genesis 39 in his dealings with Potiphar’s wife provides men with an excellent example of what it means to walk with integrity and purity before the Lord. The Lord’s presence with Joseph enables him to find favor first with Potiphar and the keeper of the prison. While Joseph’s refusal to lie with Potiphar’s wife results in his being wrongly imprisoned, his personal integrity is not compromised.
Explanation of Genesis 39:6-23
Genesis 39:6-23 records the scene between Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Genesis 39:6 says that Joseph was handsome in form and appearance which gives the reason Potiphar’s wife was interested in him. Joseph’s refusal to lie meaning sexually with her contrasts sharply with the behavior of Reuben and Judah (35:22: 38:15-18). His integrity does not permit him to betray his master by committing adultery.
Joseph rightly recognizes that to give in to Potiphar’s wife not only would be an offense against ihs master, who has trusted him with everything he owns, but would equally be an offense against God. Joseph exercises authority without seeing this as an opportunity to betray or exploit others. Joseph consistently rejects the advances of Potiphar’s wife. One day Potiphar’s wife in the course of Joseph’s normal work catches him by his garment and Joseph flees leaves his garment in her hand.
While Potiphar is still absent, Genesis 39:13-15 explains that his wife convinces the men of her household to side with her. She uses three elements to bring her case against Joseph. First she places some of the blame on her husband for he was responsible for Joseph’s presence in the household. Secondly by emphasizing Joseph’s non-Egyptian origin, she exploits a long-standing racial tension that existed between native Egyptians and foreigners from Canaan. Finally she portrays Joseph’s action as being directed against the entire household and not simply her.
Potiphar’s wife uses Joseph’s garment as evidence Genesis 39:16 says. Potiphar’s wife tells her husband with significant variations what she has already told the men of the household. Once again she focuses on the non-Egyptian background of Joseph, her husband’s poor judgment in bringing him into the household and Joseph’s exploitation of her. The swiftness with which the narrator reports the imprisonment mirrors what happened in reality. As a slave, Joseph had no legal rights. While the reader is not immediately conscious of the significance of Joseph being imprisoned where the king’s prisoners were confirmed (V.20) this will prove significant for future developments. Even in prison Joseph prospers (v.23).
Integrity and Purity
Joseph refused to sin against the trust given him, the woman’s husband, and God Himself. Joseph’s integrity was intact. He was faithful in all relationships, which meant he could resist being unfaithful in this instance. This story is not just about sexual fidelity Joseph’s life was a web of moral accountability. He saw his moral life as a unified, integrated whole. His overall faithfulness had helped him reject this massive temptation. Little sins pave the way to big sins. Joseph was on no such path. It was the power of this quality of his life as a whole that enabled him to resist the woman’s advances.
The great deterrent to falling to this sexual siege was Joseph’s awareness that God was with him—not because of the narrator’s voice over but because this is what God has repeatedly promised Joseph’s forefathers and had been his personal awareness all of his life. The great deterrent to Joseph’s sinning was the awareness that God sees all and that a sin that no one knows about, committed behind lock doors in a dark room, is actually done in the presence of a holy God. Joseph believed this and this personal realization and his conviction on this truth provided a strongest deterrent to sin for him. King David invoked it after the horror of his own sin ravaged soul: Psalm 51:3-4a, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”
Joseph continued to resist Potiphar’s advances but she was not giving up.Genesis 39:10, “And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.” Her dialogue plumbed every angle, but he paid her no heed. The Mrs. Potiphar’s of today are at once material, phantasmal, and ubiquitous- in airbrushed photos, celluloid, videos, and luminous TV screens. Those who are wise refuse to lie beside her or to be with her (v.10).
We learn from Joseph that temptation to sin is everywhere. The story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife teaches us that to walk as men and women of integrity, we must take seriously the fact that the presence of the Lord goes with us wherever they go. Integrity and purity are in the details of life. The gospel has been given for such a reason—to guard believers against sin and temptation so that men might be men of integrity. The Lord provides a way of escape out of every temptation but the men must walk through the way of escape by running into the arms of safety in Christ.
In order to fight against sin and temptation men must daily appropriate who they are in Christ by taking every thought captive to the obedience of the Word of God. Men must preach the Gospel to themselves not just in the midst of temptation but before temptation even begins. It would also be helpful for men to close Christian brothers they can call to pray with them and encourage them in the Lord. While accountability and living in community in a local Church are important- the best way to fight against sin and temptation is to grow in the grace of God by growing in depth of understanding and insight of the Gospel and its implications on one’s life. By growing in the grace of God men will be able to fight against sin and temptation through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and be a man of integrity and purity.