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The Suffering of Joseph

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Genesis 39

Bad things happen to godly people. However, we recognize that God is still at work in our lives even as we suffer. Like Joseph, we can’t always see the end results when our lives are in turmoil, but we can trust that God is preparing us in some unique ways to serve Him.


Can you remember a time when your life was thrown into absolute chaos? It doesn’t matter if it was unavoidable circumstances or other people that caused it, or if it was your own doing. 


You probably found it a fearful time—maybe a lonely time. I wish God’s children had some kind of promise that painful experiences won’t last very long, but God hasn’t promised that. What He has promised is His presence with us through those experiences.


Joseph’s experiences in Genesis 39 are going to show us that suffering is not wasted in the design God has for our lives.


Verses 1-2 set the stage:

Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man. 

Down in verse 4 we read this:

Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and [Potiphar] made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 

Then note verse 6:

He left all that he had in Joseph's charge … he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.

In other words, the only thing Potiphar had to make a decision about was whether he was going to eat shrimp for dinner or grilled chicken out on the patio. 


Six different times in this opening paragraph we read that God was with Joseph. My friend, it would be easy for Joseph to think God had forgotten all about him. Satan is always ready to convince you that God doesn’t care and He’s probably not even aware of what you’re going through.


Nothing could be further from the truth. God is aware of where you are right now.


In this narrative, there’s somebody else who’s been watching Joseph’s every move—and unfortunately, it’s Potiphar’s wife. 


We’re given a description of Joseph in verse 6, which tells us “Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.” This could be paraphrased to read that Joseph was good-looking and well built, or muscular. Now there’s nothing wrong with a guy being well built and good-looking—it’s not fair, but it’s not wrong. And let me tell you, Joseph was quite a catch. 


The Bible tells us in verse 7 that Potiphar’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she came right out and said to him one day, “Lie with me.” But Joseph refused.


Later, down in verse 12, she says it again: “Lie with me.” Here it’s actually an imperative verb, a command. In verse 7 it starts out as an invitation. But in verse 12, it’s an ultimatum.


My friend, you might be under the impression that resisting temptation means it will go away. You know, maybe if you don’t answer the door, the knocking will stop. No, it won’t. In fact, it just might try to kick down the door. That is what’s happening to Joseph. 


After repeated advances from this woman, Joseph continued to resist. He stood firmly on what he said when she first sought to entice him in verse 9:


“[My master hasn’t] kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his 

wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”


Remember, Joseph has been sold into slavery in Egypt. His family’s not around; he doesn’t have to worry about his testimony or his reputation. So why not?


Plato used to tell a story to his students of a shepherd boy who discovered a ring out in the field. Whenever he slipped that ring on, it made him unrecognizable to anyone in his village. Prior to this discovery, he was a fine, upright young man, but he became a wicked man. 


Joseph is virtually anonymous—he’s unrecognizable. Nobody in Egypt knows him. If there’s an easy time to sin, it’s now. He’s single, handsome, successful, and it looks like his God has abandoned him. No one will ever know.


But did you notice what he told her? He said, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” He hasn’t lost sight of the fact that even if no one in Egypt knows who he is, God knows. Even if this woman doesn’t think it would be sinning against her, he knows he would be sinning against God.


I think it’s interesting that when it comes to temptations of the flesh, the Bible tells you to flee—to run. Don’t stand there and negotiate. Run for your life.


And that’s what Joseph does here. I like the way the old King James translates verse 12: “And he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.” He got himself out of there! Joseph might have lost his cloak, but he’s going to keep his character.


The problem is, Potiphar’s wife is going to use Joseph’s cloak as evidence that he tried to rape her. So, she starts screaming out for help, and when the men of the household come rushing in, she says to them: 


“He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” (verses 14-15)


She tells the same lie to Potiphar in verse 17. In fact, she places the blame on Potiphar. Notice: “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me.”


In other words, “It’s all your fault!” I think if you looked behind closed doors at this marriage, you would find a lot of conflict and resentment. We’re told that Potiphar became angry, but we’re not told that his anger was toward Joseph(verse 19).


Keep in mind that Potiphar was captain of Pharaoh’s guard, which meant he was the chief executioner. And if he really believed Joseph had tried to molest his wife, Joseph’s head wouldn’t have been attached to his body past suppertime.


The fact that Potiphar places Joseph in prison, sparing his life, makes me believe he knew all along that his wife was unfaithful and dishonest. But that doesn’t help Joseph much, does it? 


Beloved, resisting temptation won’t mean your life will get easier; in fact, it might get harder. You might lose your job because you won’t compromise your convictions. You might lose a relationship because you won’t engage in sin. You might lose a contract because you won’t promise something you can’t produce.


But you’re honoring God and trusting God with your future, even when He seems absent. I’m sure Joseph spent many nights in prison crying, “Lord, do you even know what I’m going through right now?”


But just look at verses 21-22:


But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. 


The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success. Success didn’t mean that he got out of jail. No, he’s still in jail, but God is at work.


God allowed Joseph the opportunity to learn how to manage Potiphar’s household, and now He’s going to let Joseph learn how to manage a prison. God is preparing Joseph to one day manage the nation of Egypt.


Joseph is suffering, but his suffering is not wasted. It’s woven into God’s plan for his life.


And so it is for all of us. How comforting it is to know that God is present and at work in our lives, even in the midst of our suffering. 

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