Joseph refused to violate his character. He refused to call sin a "romantic affair" or an "alternate lifestyle." And he wasn't awarded with a medal of honor for it . . . he was thrown in prison for it. How much are you willing to sacrifice in order to do the right thing?
“SAYING NO . . . WHEN OTHERS SAY YES”
(Genesis 38, 39)
We’re going to talk, tonight, about a subject that everyone faces sooner or later in life, and often sooner. It is no respector of persons. It comes to the wealthy, it knocks on the door of the poverty stricken. It makes itself available to the young and to the old, to the spiritually immature, to the spiritually mature. It is the subject of temptation. And no one better than Joseph gives us some principles on how to say, “No,” when everyone else is saying, “Yes,” than this store we discover in Genesis, chapter 39.
So, since it has been so fresh on our minds from just this morning, let’s dig right in. Genesis, chapter 39, and let’s begin with verse 1, “Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt;”. You remember that was the last phrase, basically, of verse 28, that last part of chapter 37, where Joseph’s brothers have sold him to the Midianites for a contemporary value of about fifty dollars. Each of the brothers got about $4.50 out of the sale. But it was fine with them as long as they were rid of this “dreamer” because they hated, they were incensed, as we studied this morning, with his dreams for one reason - they knew his dreams were going to come true. And they were not about to bow at his feet. And they were incensed that God had, in effect, chosen him rather than them.
It says that, “Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there.” I think it would help us, men and women, if we took a look at Egypt, for just a brief moment, because we’re talking about a far away country that we know little about. Historians tell us that Joseph went to Egypt during the 15th dynasty. There were 31 dynasties in all. This was the Hyksos or the 15th dynasty, which means that Egypt is a 1,000 year old power. They are the dominating force. They are the wealthiest nation in the known world. Egypt was astounding it’s contemporaries with their architecture as they had already built the pyramids of Giza. They were astounding everyone with their creativity because the sphinx had already been carved by the time Joseph arrives in Egypt. They were astounding architecturally, mathematically, and in medicine. They were the marvel.
I can’t help but imagine what it must have been like for Joseph, who was a wanderer, the son of a nomad, living his life in a tent, now being introduced to this magnificent civilization, this developed culture, as Egypt. When he was taken by Potiphar, the colorful words of one expositor, I think, would be helpful. F. B. Meyer, writes these words, “Potiphar was an Egyptian grandee, a member of a proud aristocracy, high in office and in court favor. Joseph would, no doubt, live in a splendid palace covered with hieroglyphs and filled with slaves. The young captive must have trembled as he passed up the pillared avenue through sphinx guarded gates into the recesses of that vast Egyptian palace where they spoke a language of which he could not understand a word and where all was so new and so strange.” While I can’t imagine it, I have certainly tried.
I think it would help us a little bit more to understand who Potiphar is. You probably know, the text says that he was, “the captain of the bodyguard.” What this means is that he was, perhaps, the most trusted man to Pharaoh. He was the individual responsible for his livelihood. And he was the captain, which meant that he had somehow reached the top of the heap. A very wealthy man. A man whom Pharaoh had entrusted with great wealth. Who had many slaves, undoubtedly, and this man had purchased Joseph. I can see Joseph trembling on the auction block and this man of rank and distinguishment comes to purchase him. The captain of the guard would have been something like the head of the CIA. He would have also been the man who probably represents the head of the KGB because this man was also, historians record, the chief executioner. This man was responsible to take care of the heinous criminals who would come into this civilized kingdom. So here was a man with incredible power, with authority, perhaps ranking up there among the very top, and Joseph is selected by him. And all in this you, I think, can see the hand of God.
If you are following along in your notes, let me lead you now to the temptation that he is facing. Let’s look at verse 2, “And the Lord was with Joseph”. You ought to underline that phrase in your text because it occurs seven times. It’s a theme that runs throughout this chapter. “The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man.” Did you get that? First, he was successful with God before the scriptures would record he was a successful man. “And he was in the house of his master”. Now this is a little confusing because we miss the chronology. “He became successful,” up until this point, Joseph was probably sleeping and quartering with all of the rest of the slaves. But he became successful, he distinguished himself as a slave of great promise. And so, Potiphar, according to the text, somewhere in there, moves him into his house.
Then what happens next, verse 3, “Now his master saw that the Lord was with him”. Interesting that the master “saw”, circle or underline that, because Joseph didn’t tell him that the Lord was with him. I don’t think he knocked on his door and said, “I want you to know that I am the servant of the living God.” No, he, in effect, lived such a distinguishing life that sooner or later Potiphar took note that this man was led by HIS God. And perhaps, in there somewhere, Joseph was able to explain to him what had happened. “And how the Lord caused all that he did” - last part of verse 3 - “to prosper in his hand. So” - verse 4 - “Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant”. Here again is another promotion. He moves out of the slave quarters into the home of Potiphar. And now among all the servants there in that home, he is now the personal slave, the personal attendant to Potiphar himself. That’s not all, Potiphar, “made him overseer”, or could be translated in the Septuagint, “steward”, “over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge.”
Now I have to stop here because the same thing happened when we studied the life of Daniel. You remember, as I said this morning, that Daniel and Joseph are the only two individuals that the Bible records nothing negative about their lives. Both of them similar in their lifestyles, taken from their homes and deposited in a very pagan, immoral society. And yet, they both lived such lives that God prospers them. But what I find fascinating is that both Joseph and Daniel had every reason in the world to chuck their jobs. They had every reason in the world to do all kinds of little sabotage, you know, to try to bring down this pagan kingdom. If I had been Joseph, I would probably be tunneling out. Creating some way to escape, maybe back home. But somewhere in all of this, Joseph resigned himself that this was God’s plan. And rather than be the slave that sluffed off, rather than being the servant that worked at getting out of work - you ever worked around someone like that? - Joseph was determined to be diligent.
As a result, his master took him and promoted him. And note verse 5, “And it came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house, and over all that he owned, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph”. We know, behind the scenes, that God’s responsible. “Thus the Lord’s blessing was upon all that” - Potiphar - “owned, in the house and in the field.” As soon as he gives him the promotion, his cattle reproduce more rapidly, the crops are bumper crops. “This is great,” he thinks. “So” - verse 6, Potiphar is no dummy, - “he left everything he owned in Joseph’s charge; and with him” - note this - “he did not concern himself with anything except the food which he ate.” In other words, Joseph is no menial slave. Joseph is responsible for every activity of this bustling palace. If anybody needed anything, Potiphar would say, “Go see Joseph.” If anybody needed time off, “Go see Joseph.” If anybody wanted a raise, “Go see Joseph.” If there was ever a skirmish, “Go see Joseph.” He handled all of the details of this wealthy, powerful, influential man.
Now the text is about to set us up. Look at the next phrase, “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.” That’s the biblical way of saying, “Joseph was handsome and well built.” He was handsome in form, that is, this man was good looking and well built. There’s nothing wrong with being good looking and well built, it’s just not fair. (laughter) But this was Joseph, this guy had it made! But the text inserts that so that we know and we begin to cringe because we think of what may happen next.
Now, let’s stop here for just a moment. If you have your notes, let me give you what one commentator has given that is very helpful. Three kinds of temptations that you and I face. You could categorize these. I doubt this is comprehensive but most of what we face in our daily lives comes from one of these three categories. The first is material, that is, a lust for things. And that can be a lust for something as small as a ring to something as large as a new home. It can be lust for something as shiny as, as one man said, a brand new car, or something as dusty as an old antique. But there is the flame that burns. It is a lust, it is a desire to have more things. And we all feel it. We all face it. The second kind of temptation would be what we could call personal temptation. And this is a lust for fame, for prestige, for honor, for position. And this kind of individual will make sure that he shakes the right hands, he’s seen with the right people. He does everything possible to somehow claw and scratch his way to the top of the heap because, “That’s where I want to be.” A lust for preeminence. We battle with that too, don’t we? To have our way! There is a third and that is the sensual temptation. That is gratification of physical desires. Lusting after someone else.
As I tried to apply this to Joseph, I found that it matched in all three counts. Joseph is a man who is facing, perhaps, the material temptation. Because, you remember what it was like back with the old people there tending the sheep. There wasn’t anything nice. There was rarely anything fancy. Why, it was just plain old living. Comfortable, yes, but affluent, no. And now he is taken from that and deposited in this wealthy, civilized world with all kinds of luxuries. Perhaps he faced the temptation of wanting, desiring to have what these Egyptians had. Personal, oh yes, I am sure that he was, perhaps, a bit heady at times when Potiphar calls him in and says, “Joseph, I want to promote you. You don’t live with the rest of the slaves, now you live in my home.” And then he gives him the elevated position of steward. And I can imagine Joseph looking in the mirror and saying, “You are really something! You’re coming up fast. Quite a guy!” He’s human.
And then the sensual, the gratification of physical desires, is about to knock at his door. Let’s see how he handles it. Verse 7, “And it came about after these events”. Pause just a moment. This has been now, 17 years. He will be, I believe, 32 years of age when this happens. No longer a teenager, he’s a grown man. Now after these things, after all of these promotions, “that his master’s wife” - doesn’t even give her name - “looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’” Now this attack makes me blush to even preach this text. She has no scruples. But you’ll notice at the end of her comment, there’s just a period. Now if you’ll note down at verse 12, you should have an exclamation point. And I think that’s significant because the first is something more like a suggestion. The latter one is an imperative, it’s a command. Well, the first time she approaches him, she probably, although the text doesn’t tell us, gave him probably the standard operation for the temptress, according to Solomon. I imagine that she buttered him up. It involved flattery, perhaps. She may have approached him and said, “Joseph, I have noticed you, you’re quite a young man. You have risen through the ranks. And on top of that, you’re very handsome. You’re quite a young man.” And then as history records, the Egyptian women were probably more liberated than any other nation at that time. She goes on to tell him what she really wants. She says, “Lie with me. But he refused.”
It gives us the nature of his refusal. Now, you’ll note that this time he stands and he talks with her, perhaps because she approaches him without that demanding that will come later. And so he basically gives her three reasons, and I love this, why he will not sin. The first, if you’re taking notes, he basically says, “I would break the trust of my master. I would violate or break the trust of my master.” Look, he says in verse 8, “he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Behold,’” - or look - “with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge.” That is, “He’s left everything up to me. He’s given me great responsibility. I can’t violate the trust of this man in my life.” He had professional integrity. That is incredibly rare. But he doesn’t stop there.
He says, “Not only would I violate my master’s trust, I would also violate my character.” Look at verse 9, I love this, “There is no one greater in this house than I”. Or he should say, or I think this could be translated, “There is no one with greater responsibility than I.” “And he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil” - you note that - “How then could I do this great evil”. One man wrote that he is about to lose his coat but he will keep his character. I like that. He would not violate his character and do this great - compromise?, fudge a little bit?, start a romantic affair?, an alternate lifestyle? No. While our society today gives all kinds of clever little phrases about things that go on, Joseph nails it down, he says, “this great evil is sin.” And he says, “I cannot violate my character. It is worth more to me than you.” And, by the way, that’s a good little grid, especially young people, as you are tempted with things. Perhaps it’s stealing something small, slipping it into your pocket, or cheating on a little exam. Growing up, my father would often say to me, “I hope that your character is worth more than that.” And that is helpful even now, because I ask myself the question, “Is my character worth less than stealing something small? Is my character worth less than a hundred dollars on my income tax? Is that all my character’s worth?” How expensive, what’s the price tag on your character?
He goes on to say, I think the third and the most powerful element in this refusal. He says, let’s begin with verse 9, “There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil, and” - number three - “sin against God?” In other words, “I would forfeit my fellowship with God.” “I would violate the trust of my master. I would violate the nature of my character. And I would violate or forfeit the fellowship with my God.” And I think it’s interesting that seven times you hear the phrase, “His GOD was with him,” - somehow, some way.” He lived with the sense that God was involved in his life. And I think that strikes at the very core of personal purity, saying, “No,” to temptation. That is, having a relationship with God that we fear, more than anything else, we would violate.
Plato used to tell a story to his students of a shepherd boy who discovered a ring out in the field. And when he’d slip that ring on, it would make him unknown or unrecognizable to anyone in his village. So he was given anonymity. And the shepherd, prior to this discovery, was a very moral young man, an upstanding, hard worker. But he began slipping that ring on and soon, Plato says, he became a terrible, wicked sinner.
With that thought in mind I’ve thought of Joseph, who has been given anonymity. Nobody knows him in Egypt. Nobody! If there is a perfect time to sin, it’s now. No one recognizes him. All of his family is back, way over there, somewhere. He doesn’t think he’ll ever go back. And listen, I can come up with some good reasons why I should do this. I’m young, single. God has, it seems, abandoned me. This is the lifestyle, this is accepted. And no one will know. And yet, even in the light of anonymity, Joseph says, “No.”
Well, you come to the last part of that verse and you kind of go, “Whew! Wow, man, glad that’s over with.” Next verse, “And it came about as she spoke to Joseph day after day”. Man, what a woman! “That he did not listen to her to lie beside her, or” - note this - “be with her.” He makes it clear now that, not only will he not say yes, but he’s going to try to steer clear of this woman, because every time he sees her, it’s another proposition. So he tries to stay away. He tries to steer clear. It doesn’t work very well because it says that she spoke to him every day. So, somewhere along the line, she corners him. You know, in terms of a woman who doesn’t know God, Joseph had every reason to be attractive to her. Handsome, young, moral, upright, hard working, Joseph was “a catch.” And it’s interesting, if you study Proverbs, chapters 6 and 7, who does the temptress or the tempter seek after? It is the - what? - the precious life. It’s people like you. It’s the one who is seeking to glorify God. It is the individual who is seeking to live an upright life. That’s the kind of person who is attractive to a needy and a lost world that has no moral bearing. You’re a very attractive person to the world system.
Finally, verse 11, she sets the stage, “Now it happened one day” - and I think she planned it, the little rascal - “that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside.” In other words, she’d gotten rid of all of the servants, no one was inside. “And she caught him by his garment,” - this time - “saying,” - exclamation point - “Lie with me!” It was a demand. And I’ve tried to understand why she felt she had the right to demand. And I think, if you go back into that culture, you have to remember, he’s still a slave. She feels like she owns him. “He belongs to my household.” And undoubtedly this woman was involved with other slaves. She felt like she had rights. And I imagine that Satan could whisper in his ear, “She DOES have rights! She owns you.” He may have been a slave but she didn’t own his soul. “And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside.” The Hebrew indicates literally, “to the street.” He left the garment in her hand and ran out into the street. I’ve often wondered what he did out there. He probably just stood there, waiting for who knows what would happen because of what she’ll do next. I like the King James here, “He fled, he got himself out.” It’s like, “Nobody else will get me out of here, so I’ll get myself out of here!” And he ran out into the street.
She’s not finished. “When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and had fled outside” - she begins, literally, to scream. Was, by the way, Joseph a coward here? Should he have stayed there and claimed a verse? (laughter) You know it’s interesting that this particular kind of temptation, we have in the New Testament a very clear command, and it’s to what - flee, run, take off, get out. And that’s what he did. Note what she does. Verse 14, “She called to the men of her household, and said to them, ‘See, he has brought in a Hebrew’” - this Jew, boy she’s bitter - “to us to make sport of us; he came in to me to lie with me, and I screamed. And it came about when he heard that I raised my voice and screamed, that he left his garment beside me and fled, and” - “he’s out there in the street.” “So she left his garment beside her until his master” - her husband - “came home. Then she spoke to him with these words, ‘The Hebrew slave, whom you brought to us, came in to me to make sport of me; and it happened as I raised my voice and screamed, that he left his garment beside me and fled outside.’ Now it came about when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, ‘This is what your slave did to me,’ that his anger burned.” You know what’s missing? Who was his anger burning against? Here is, let me conjecture with you for just a moment, that his anger is not at Joseph. Because he is the chief executioner, and if this young slave has attempted rape, he’s dead.
But you know what he does? He - “took him” - verse 20 - “and put him into jail,” - who’s jail? - “the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.” In other words, he puts him into the prison that he is responsible for. He puts him in with those in bonds that he oversees. He allows him to live. I think if we could pull back the pages of history and observe that occasion, that Potiphar was very angry with himself. I have no doubt that he knew his wife well. In fact, she indicates, in verse 14, her disrespect of him when she says, “See, he has brought in a Hebrew - slave. This husband of mine.” An indication that there were problems. I think he is very angry that he has allowed something that he knew better would happen and he’s also angry at her. But he allows him to live.
Note what happens, verse 21, “But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. And the chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the Lord was with him”. It’s like he gave him a key ring and he said, “Joseph, you look over everything and make sure everything is in order.” So God promotes him, even there. “And whatever” - the last part of verse 23 - “he did, the Lord made to prosper.”
What a story! Familiar and yet so applicable, in fact, let me give you two tonight. Let’s take an honest look at temptation. Any kind, whether it’s material, whether you are struggling with something you want to purchase, you want to have. Or personal, perhaps you feel God isn’t dealing you the right deck, and so you’re going to scrape your was to get just a notch higher. Perhaps it’s sensual, it is struggling with the gratification of physical desires. Let’s take an honest look. Let me give you two things. First of all, from this story we learned, temptation, once resisted, may not immediately disappear. That’s why I said an honest look because I don’t really like that. We’d like to think that if we resisted once, God goes, “Poof”, and it’s gone. “Whew”, took care of that one, I’ll never face that again in my life. No, it does not immediately disappear, in fact, with Joseph it was a reoccurring theme for perhaps 15 years.
Secondly, temptation successfully resisted, may not bring expected results. That’s obvious. I mean, right about now you want to say, “Okay, Lord, bless this guy!” Seventeen years of turning down this woman. Seventeen years of uprightness and character. NOW is the time to grease the skids. It’s now time to step into his role as prime minister. Not yet. In fact, as a result of successfully resisting temptation, Joseph is now thrown in prison. And I can imagine him, sitting there in a heap, saying, “Lord, thanks a lot!” You see, we’re built that way. We like to think that if we find a thousand dollars in a wallet and we return the wallet that they’re going to split it with us as a reward. You know, we’re going to get a thank you. I read recently of a young fellow who was riding in his paper route and he discovered a sack that had somehow fallen off or gotten lost, I have no idea how, but a Brink armored car. And in it was something like $60,000. And this guy returned it. What a guy! And they gave him $500. And the paper quoted him saying, “I wish I had kept it all.” And there is something in my heart that says, “Yea, I think I would have too.” I know what I would have done, I would have called them on the phone and said, “Look, I’ll return this if you” - you know - and then give them a figure. We would like to think that when we resist, God rewards us. It’s time for thanks. And Joseph feels the dampness of a prison cell surrounded by legitimate criminals.
One phrase makes it worth it all. He doesn’t know this right now, by the way, but you and I can read it. Look back at verse 21, “But the Lord was with Joseph”. He’ll discover it very soon. But look back at verse 2, “And the Lord was with Joseph”. That is, as a successful servant rising the ranks, being a steward and responsible for all that his master has, God was with him. And we say, “That’s obvious. God’s with him.” But, verse 21, God was with him in the prison cell. What character this individual had, and we have just scratched the surface, but I think only God can produce that character. This kind of character is a result of the supernatural. You and I can in no way resist the constant bombardment of temptation apart from that phrase, “The Lord was with him.” That is, the cultivation of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s found in a person, that is, the Lord. And I trust that, even tonight, you can say, “The Lord is with me. He is in control of my life. He is giving me the strength, when others say, ‘Yes,’ to say, ‘No.’”