Description / Transcription
We come this morning to Genesis chapter 39 as we con with our series we’ve been in for some time now, and Lord willing we will make our way through the end of Genesis by the time we get to a summer break. Genesis chapter 39. I’ll be reading all 23 verses.
“Now 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, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.”
“Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.”
“But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. 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.” Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.””
“As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 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. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.”
Dominus vobiscum et cum spiritu tuo. That’s your Latin test for this morning. You can ask your children and they can help you maybe. That Latin is the beginning of the preface to the communion prayer in the traditional liturgy in the Western church. It’s found in the Catholic church, Anglican, Lutheran, and many Presbyterian forms of worship. Dominus vobiscum means “the Lord be with you,” et cum spiritu tuo means “and with thy spirit,” or in newer translations, “and also with you.” The Lord be with you and also with you.
Whether those words sound familiar to you or you’ve never been in a church with those words, or you’ve never been in church at all, they hit upon something simple yet profound. That’s a reason that in many churches they have been said for almost 2000 years. As trite as it may seem, there are few things more profound and more wonderful and more amazing that you could say to someone than simply, “The Lord be with you.”
The big idea in this passage, in Genesis 39, and I hope you have your Bibles open so you can follow along, the big idea in this passage is easy to find. Maybe you noticed it already – the Lord was with Joseph.
That big theme bookends the story. It’s there at the beginning, and in the middle we have the story of the temptation from Potiphar’s wife, and then it’s there again at the end.
So look at verse 2 – The Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man.
Verse 3 – His master saw that the Lord was with him and the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.
That’s at the beginning. Then at the end of the story, verse 21 – 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 then the end of verse 23 – The Lord was with him and whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.
So it’s pretty clear what the big idea is in this passage. It is not about how any dream will do. I was, after the sermon two weeks ago, been still humming around or singing a few bars to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and my wife said, “You’re not singing that again this week?” No, I’m not, but it’s still in my head. I’m not going to have a new song, the Calypso song, and just, you know, greatest hits throughout the rest of the series.
But this story is obviously not about any dream will do, or you are what you feel. The chapter is about God’s purpose to show favor to Joseph as the recipient of His promises and the purveyor of His blessings. The recipient of His promises and the purveyor, or the channel, of His blessings.
This story is in direct fulfillment to all that God had promised to Abraham way back in Genesis chapter 12. Of course, it’s not the fullness of everything that God has promised, but it is in direct fulfillment. Genesis 12:3 – God told Abram I will bless those who bless you and through you all the nations, or all the families of the earth, shall be blessed.
We’re seeing this play out in real time in chapter 39. Look at verse 5 – from the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake.
It couldn’t be any clearer. That’s an explicit fulfillment of the promise to Abraham in Genesis chapter 12. Yes, through you, Joseph, descendant of Abraham, the nations of the earth, here the Egyptians, are being blessed.
Verse 6 – he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything.
That was true with Potiphar and then later it’s true with the keeper of the prison, in verse 23 – the keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge because the Lord was with him.
So Joseph is the means of great blessing to the household of Potiphar and then to this keeper of the prison and all that he is in charge of. Joseph is so faithful, he’s so good at what he does, that these men in authority say, “I don’t even need to worry about anything. I got a little more vacay time. I’m going to have, I can read my books and watch some Netflix because Joseph is doing such a good job here, I don’t even have to think about it.”
This is part of what’s been happening in the larger narrative of Genesis. Over and over we see God blessing His people and we see God blessing those who come in close contact with His people, blessing those who bless them, cursing those who curse them.
Now that’s good. It also means that we need to be careful lest we turn this incident about Joseph and we expect that this is indubitability going to be true of all of us. I could see how some preacher might take this in a direction to say, “Ah, you are going to have success in whatever you do, and if you just believe God and His promises, you’re going to have success in life and you’re going to climb ladders and everything’s going to go well for you.” That would not be a fair implication – God gave Joseph success in everything, so surely He will give me success in everything.
Nevertheless, let’s not be too quick to distance ourselves and say, “Well, that was nice. Must have been helpful for Joseph.” There are a number of observations we can make as we reflect on this big theme. Remember the big theme – the Lord was with Joseph. The Lord was with him.
We can reflect on what does this mean, this theme, the Lord is with you. What does this mean for us?
Let’s look at four ways, four observations, from this theme in this passage and then apply to our lives. Four reflections this morning.
Number 1. This theme, the Lord is with you, should make us grateful when looking at our successes and humble when looking at the successes of others. It should make us grateful when we see our own successes, humble when looking at the successes of others.
So think about your successes, whether you feel like you’ve had lots of them in life or you’re still looking for a few more. Think about Joseph. It’s true. He was faithful. The success that God gave him didn’t come through joseph just sitting around doing nothing. He was gifted. He was hardworking. It seems that he had a knack for administration, for order, for managing people and processes.
So often we think about those who maybe have very public gifts of speaking or music or other things, but here we have someone who behind the scenes was absolutely amazing in making sure that everything ran smoothly and efficiently, and ultimately that success was from the Lord. Yes, Joseph had abilities that he used, but it could not be clearer. We saw at the beginning and at the end, the main point is not, “Wow, Joseph was gifted.” The main point is God was with him and gave him success.
How do you look at the successes in your life? What you have, what you’ve accomplished. You may think about yourself and you have degrees. Do you have good kids? Do you have a lovely home? Do you have a nice job? Do you have wonderful friends? Do people largely respect you? Look up to you? Do you have wealth? Do you have career satisfaction and a good job that’s going somewhere?
Whatever sort of success that you have, do you look at that as “I did it, I worked hard,” or “My, oh, my, God has been so kind to me”?
There’s that passage in Deuteronomy chapter 8 that’s speaking to God’s people before they enter the Promised Land, but it’s saying what they need to remember when they get into the Promised Land. Because the Lord says to His people, “Look, you’re going to get into the Promised Land someday and you’re going to look around and you’re going to have fabulous vineyards and you’re going to have an abundant harvest and you’re going to have homes and you’re going to have cities, and you’re going to be tempted to think, ‘I did it. I did it my way. My hands put this together.'”
Remember where they are. They’re wandering around in the wilderness, punished for their sins for 40 years, but they’re on the cusp of entering into the Promised Land and the reason they’ll get the Promised Land is because God is going to knock down the walls of Jericho, God is going to scatter their enemies, God is going to by miraculous work of His hand give them this land.
And He says, “Years later, when you’re enjoying the harvests, and your kids and grandkids are around and you’re home, you’re going to be tempted to forget Me and forget what I did for you.”
And that word to Israel is a word of warning that God needs to give us as every generation, especially we who have thousands and thousands upon times more wealth and prosperity than they could ever dream of in ancient Israel. The temptation to think that the reason everybody else doesn’t have it is because they just didn’t work as hard, they weren’t as good, they weren’t as smart, they didn’t play by all the rules, this is what I’ve earned. Of course, proverbs talk a lot about saving and thrift and honesty and working hard and the dangers if you don’t.
But let us be grateful for our successes because ultimately they have come from the Lord’s hand. I wonder if you really believe that, if I really believe that.
It also means that we should be humble when we look at the successes of others. I actually think that this is the harder part of the equation. It’s hard enough to look at all we have, but, you know, on a good day we can say, “Oh, wow, God, you have been so gracious. Why should I have these kids or grandkids and loved ones around me and I should have this home, and You’ve been so kind to me.” Maybe we can do that. Harder is when we don’t have as much as we would like, or think we deserve, and it seems like everybody else on Instagram is living their best life now. How is that happening?
I remember earlier in ministry, and I say “earlier” not that my heart’s probably ever rid of these things but I hope I’ve grown in some ways, but earlier in ministry in particular I remember looking in frustration. Of course I wouldn’t say it out loud, but it was there in my heart and the Lord knew, some frustration, some dismay, to look at other churches that seemed to be just growing by leaps and bounds. In my mind they seemed sort of fluffy.
I remember touring, seeing one of these churches that had a reputation for just growing and exploding and lots of people were talking about it and going to it. I was just, I don’t know, talking to the pastor or something, walking through the church, and they’re showing me their sweet children’s ministry section and it had like X-boxes in every room. I’m not even kidding. I just thought, “And this is the church that’s growing?” and look at the other ones and I had this little thought in my heart – God, if I get to heaven and I found out it really was the fog machine [laughter]. It really was turning the amp up to 11. That was the secret. Ahhh, this is going to be frustrating.
Because it was one thing to deal with no, or very slow growth in my own church, another one to think, “Well, they’re not, their worship isn’t very thoughtful. Their sermons aren’t very profound. But they’re growing.”
Since then I’ve had many occasions to see other pastors who don’t have some of the opportunities I’ve had, and I think, “That brother is a better pastor than me. That brother deserves more than what I’ve received.”
You know what can be more difficult than the hate of our enemies? The success of our friends. It’s hard to see our friends, who seem to be having everything going right for them.
What would the brother… This is part of what got Joseph in trouble. The brothers were jealous of him. If they could see him now, it’d be, “Oh, Joseph again. Always with Joseph, everything always works out for Joseph.”
Well, the Lord was with him. Sometimes you don’t have an explanation beyond that. I don’t know why the Lord just chose to be with him. The Lord chose to give him success. The Lord chose to bless that family. The Lord chose to bless that church. The Lord chose to bless that, prosper that business, or that ministry. The Lord has His ways and His reasons and we don’t always know why.
He was with Joseph and He gave him success. So be grateful for whatever successes you have, humble for the ones that you don’t.
Here’s the second observation, reflection, as we think on this theme. This theme, “God is with you,” does not mean our circumstances will automatically or immediately change just because He is with us.
For someone that is so blessed by God apparently, Joseph has not had a lot of things go right for him. He ends this chapter in bondage once again because someone has lied about him once again. This is supposed to be the one who has God with him? He’s in prison.
In fact, there are a number of striking parallels between chapter 37 and chapter 39 that scream to us the same thing is happening again to Joseph. Think about it. In both chapters, 37 and 39, Joseph is the favorite of the head of the household. He’s Jacob’s favorite, he’s Potiphar’s favorite. In both chapters, Jacob [sic] is then given a privileged position. Jacob says, “I want you to go check on your brothers.” Potiphar says, “I want you to go, you’re going to check on, you’re going to watch over all the other slaves.” In both chapters, Joseph has his outer garment stripped away and that article of clothing becomes the lie that seals his fate. Chapter 37, the robe of many colors stripped away, dipped in blood, they go home, they say, “Sorry, dad, he’s been torn by wild beasts.” Here it’s his outer garment, his cloak, taken from him by Potiphar’s wife and then when the husband comes home, “Ah ha,” she brings it out, here it is, and again it’s the article of clothing, the deceit that seals his fate.
In both chapters he ends up in bondage because he was loyal and obedient to his master. He was loyal to his father Jacob, he did what he told him to do. He went out at a distance of some 50 or 60 miles and found his brothers, and because of his loyalty to his master, he ends up sold to Ishmaelite traders. Here, because of his great loyalty to Potiphar, faithful in all his house, faithful not to sleep with his wife, he ends up again in bondage. And in both chapters, it is in the pit that he is condemned and it is in the pit that he finds his deliverance.
In fact, we’ll see in the chapters ahead, same word for “pit” earlier and “prison,” same Hebrew word. Chapter 37, his condemnation, he ends up in this cistern, in this pit, but it’s from that pit that he will be sold off and he will be delivered. Here in chapter 39 he ends up in a different pit, a prison, his condemnation, and yet from this pit again he will find his deliverance.
Despite the promise of blessing, and the reassurance of God’s presence, at this moment in Joseph’s life it’s déjà vu all over again. Didn’t this just happen? Loyal to my master, faithful, privileged, work hard, betrayed, lied about, end up in a pit. Same thing. Just because the Lord was with him did not mean his circumstances in that moment were everything he wanted them to be.
And so it is with us. Just because you can say, “The Lord is with me, the Lord be with you,” it’s not a magic wand to change all of your circumstances. You may still be in the pit. You may still be in the prison. It doesn’t change everything immediately.
Here’s the third theme, and remember there’s four, and we’re going to spend the most time on this one. So this theme, “The Lord be with you,” here’s the third reflection. This theme does not mean we will not face temptation. So we’ve seen it doesn’t mean your circumstance is going to automatically, immediately change. Here we see it doesn’t mean you won’t face very profound temptation.
This is the bulk of the chapter, so we need to spend some time here. Notice that Joseph’s blessings are the occasion for the temptation. There’s a profound lesson for us here. It is usually in the great gifts and the blessings you have been given that you will find yourself tempted.
What do I mean? Well, one of the blessings for Joseph, one of the ways he had succeeded, is that Potiphar trusted him with everything in his house. So trusting, in fact, that apparently Potiphar could go off on army excursions or trips or some other part of the kingdom and leave behind his wife for great stretches of time. So trusting was he of joseph, apparently not even thinking what it might at times for his wife to be home alone with this Hebrew slave. It was a measure of his success that led to the temptation. And it was this blessing that Joseph has, second half of verse 6, “Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.”
We’ve seen this before. Apparently this is a very good looking family. Sarah was a woman beautiful in appearance, Genesis 12:11. Rebekah was attractive in appearance, Genesis 26:7. Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance, Genesis 29:17. There it was said about those three women, sorry Abraham, sorry Isaac, sorry Jacob, but here it is said about Joseph.
Same word. It’s translated “handsome” just because we use that with men usually rather than beautiful, but it’s the same Hebrew here. He was beautiful, he was handsome in form and appearance.
And there’s a parallel. Do you remember it? With Sarah and Rebekah, because of their great beauty, a foreign official saw the women and their beauty and took them. It’s why Abraham and Isaac lied and said that they’re a sister. But, because of God’s grace, the foreign official was prevented from committing adultery with them. God intervened and rescued them. So their beauty was a danger.
Well, here we see the same thing. Not a foreign official with the wife, but the wife of a foreign official with the man, sees that Joseph is beautiful in form and appearance and so she tries to take him. But this time it’s not the Lord intervening to rescue, but it’s Joseph’s moral courage that prevents the adultery from happening. As Potiphar’s wife tries in vain, day after day, to seduce him.
Now we must be careful here. We wouldn’t want to draw the conclusion from this passage that all women, or most women, are just looking to present themselves and seduce men any more than we would want to make the opposite assumption about men to women. We wouldn’t want to poison male/female interaction such that you can’t have real brotherly, sisterly love in the body of Christ because you’re just thinking that every interaction is some Potiphar’s wife. No, they’re not Potiphar’s wife very likely, and guys, you’re likely not as good-looking as Joseph either. So we don’t want to make this the template for male/female interactions.
At the same time, the passage does remind us it is possible for women to be the sexual aggressors. It is possible for women to lie about what transpired between them and another man. This temptation that Joseph faces is pervasive, you see verse 10 – she spoke to Joseph day after day. And isn’t this interesting? You see this at the end of verse 10 – Would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
Now maybe that’s just a parallelism, a redundancy, but I think those are two different things. To be with her, to have sexual relations with her, or to lie beside her. It may be that at times she’s saying, “Just come, just sit on the couch here with me for a moment. That’s all I’m asking, Joseph. Just come. I just want you to, you know, just lie down next to me. Just talk to me, would you? We’ve talked. We’ve known each other for years, haven’t we? Would you just come and sit down next to me?”
That’s how temptation often works. It’s not the whole thing all at once, it’s just turn on that channel, just ignore the rating for a moment, just look a little bit longer, just linger with your glance, just come here, just sit down, would you just lie next to me? Am I so bad? Do you hate me so much you wouldn’t just lie next to me? I just want to talk to you, Joseph. Day after day. But Joseph resisted.
And look at verses 8 and 9. We see Joseph resisted the temptation for two reasons. One, because he says this would be a sin against my master. That’s the point in verse 8 into verse 9. He says, “Look, my master, your husband, he trusts me. He’s entrusted me with everything. He’s given me free rein over his whole house and he has given me everything except you.”
She’s like the forbidden woman of Proverbs 7, and he is showing himself to be the wise man of Proverbs 6. There in Proverbs 6 we read that the man who commits adultery lacks sense. He destroys himself. He gets wounds and dishonor. He arouses jealousy and makes the spouse of the offending party furious, and so they seek revenge. See, Proverbs is very good at giving us basic wisdom. Even if this wasn’t a sin against God, and it is, we’ll see that in a moment, even if it weren’t, it’s going to ruin your life. It’s going to destroy your reputation, your honor. It’s foolish. You’re going to enrage the other person.
Now praise be to God, through Jesus there’s forgiveness for these sins, and they can be washed clean, and yet some of you would know from having been sinned against in this way, that even when there’s forgiveness, these, the ripple effects of this linger. Sometimes to glory. Ask David and his household when he sinned with Bathsheba. Yes, God absolutely forgave David, and yet his family had to deal with the fallout from this.
So one of the reasons Joseph says, “No, I am not going to commit this offense against my master, I’m not going to be a fool. It’s a sin against my master,” that’s the first reason. And then the second reason, he says, “It would be a sin against God.” Into verse 9 – How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?
We’re a long ways before the 10 commandments come, and yet you see people knew this. In fact, you see it all throughout the book of Genesis. Even these foreign kings. They took Sarah or Rebekah because they thought that, “Oh, this is the man’s sister.” Then when they found out it was the man’s wife, even these pagan kings had a sense of, “Well, that’s not right.” See, the law of God, the moral law, you might call the natural law, written on the hearts of men, adultery is a sin against a spouse and it’s a sin against almighty God. And Joseph realizes that.
Now think about how Joseph could have rationalized this sin. There’s a lot of ways you and I facing a temptation like this might want to rationalize it. Joseph could have felt sorry for himself – Well, think about all that I’ve been through in life. Isn’t that when you’re liable? I know, that’s a point of greater temptation for me when I’m having a pity party. Feel like someone was mean to me or I’m just tired and I’m just feeling sorry for… And you start to think I deserve a little something.
He could have convinced himself, this is, I’ve been a slave, I was sold into slavery at 17, however old he is here he may think this is my only chance to ever know a woman. Might as well take it.
He may have rationalized to himself, well, her husband is a bad man. After all, he has me in bondage. And he’s ignoring his wife. Why is that she can pester Joseph day after day, doesn’t have a very attentive husband. If this was a typical movie, everything in the movie would be playing on your heartstrings to make you feel like the forbidden love is better and purer and truer than to be committed in a loveless marriage. That’s what the movies do to us. They get you to say, “Well, but, that’s not a good marriage, and he’s not a very good guy. But this, this is true, romantic, pure, higher, how could they not fulfill that?” He could have rationalized.
He could have thought to himself, “Well, what will happen if I don’t do it? And think of all the people depending on me.” Potiphar had entrusted the whole household, everything. He may, Joseph could have thought to himself, “Well, it’s not right, but just weigh the pros and cons. If I don’t do this, and then she does something bad to me, then I can’t take care of my master’s house. And it won’t be good for…I mean, he would, he might want me to do this. And think about all the other slaves that I oversee. They like me and I’ve given them a better life, and I’m a good master to them, and everything’s been successful in my master’s house. There’s a lot of people. I’ve got to provide for these people. A lot of folks are depending upon me. Surely a little compromise would be justified.” Maybe he was tempted to simply rationalize what in fact happened that she could ruin his life.
There was, between Potiphar’s wife and Joseph, what we might call in our day a power differential. She had authority over him. She had the ability to make his life miserable. And even with that power differential, nevertheless Joseph acknowledges to do this thing would be a great sin.
Now let me add a very important qualification here. We’re not talking about being physically overpowered. We’re not talking about an adult with a child, and adult with a youth. Many people who experience that sort of sexual assault or sexual abuse struggle mightily and feel as if they’re guilty of some sin, that the stain is upon them. We certainly don’t want that feeling.
That’s not the case here. Even though Joseph was in a position subservient, lower to Potiphar’s wife, he was an adult. He was not overcome with her physical power, though she tried to grab him. No, he knew that even though she may be manipulative, even though there was a power differential, even though she could do things to make his life miserable, if he had slept with her, it would have been a great wickedness.
Now the sin would have been greater on her part perhaps, because she had this power over him, because she was badgering him, she was manipulating him, and that’s important to keep in mind. It doesn’t mean the sins are always equal. But if he had slept with her, he recognizes clearly whatever that authority structure, it would have been sin.
Not long ago I read something online from a man, church leader, who at first had confessed some years prior to the sin of adultery. But now he was looking back upon that sin and he wasn’t so sure it was sin anymore. He had concluded that he was only a victim, because, as he told the story, the woman had put pressure on him when they were away from home or traveling on some business, and she had threatened him with consequences for his career and his reputation, and she would like about him whether he did it or not. She threatened him and had some sort of power over him, and so he went along with her. He wasn’t physically forced into something against his will, but he came later to look and say, “Well, my will was so manipulated and so coerced by her threatenings and badgerings that I really had no choice, and I was only a victim.”
That is a mistake. And it’s a mistake because of what Joseph tells us right here, that had he committed this sin with her it would have been just that, a sin.
Think of how powerful the temptation was at that moment when she grabbed his garment. Now I don’t know, he’s got some sort of loin cloth, something, but he’s half-naked, next to naked, almost naked. Everything in him must have just told him at that point, “Well, now my choices are to run out of here looking like I already did this, she’s grabbed me, she’s grabbed ahold of my cloak, and now I’m here and I’m, just get this over with.”
But at least for Joseph, he still had the power to run. Notice, he doesn’t toy around with fire. He doesn’t get close to the flame. He flatly says “no” over and over, and here now he physically runs away.
There are peculiar temptations that come to us in the Christian life. Some come to us peculiarly when we’re facing adversity, and some specifically when we’re facing prosperity. And Joseph had both kinds of temptations at the same time.
There are some temptations you face in the midst of adversity. You have a sense of desperation, pity, discouragement. You just want to feel good. You want an escape. You want a release. You just say, “I deserve this.” That’s a peculiar temptation in the midst of adversity.
There are also peculiar temptations in the midst of prosperity, because with success can come a sense of entitlement, a sense that you can do anything you want and everything turns up roses, and you can get away with it, and you probably deserve it. And with success, people are drawn to you. People may be drawn to you because you are beautiful in form and appearance, or you have power, or you have something that they want, or you have charisma, or you have success, or accolades, and people are drawn to that and there’s peculiar temptations that come.
Well, Joseph is facing both at the same time. On the one hand, he’s certainly in the midst of adversity. He’s a slave and he could rationalize to himself, “I’m just a slave, and I’m never going to have another opportunity, and what does it really matter in my life?” He could have rationalized because of his adversity, or because of his prosperity – “I am pretty good at what I do and my master has put me in charge of everything, and I don’t earn this little tryst?”
But Joseph passed the test. And of course we’re meant to see chapter 39 in contrast to chapter 38. Judah’s wife dies, so he’s at a moment of greater sexual temptation without a spouse, and he’s traveling down the road for the sheep shearing and there’s Tamar, and Tamar wants an heir, so she dresses up like a prostitute and so he has a sexual need he wants fulfilled, here’s a woman he thinks is a prostitute. But the temptation is so much less for Judah, and yet he succumbs because he’s the one who goes to Tamar and says, “Come lie with me.” He initiates with the temptation and he sinned.
Joseph, day after day, she is saying to him, “Come lie with me” and yet he withstands the test. The Lord was with him. It is not a coincidence that in the book of Genesis, the only person described as being filled with the Spirit of God is Joseph, Genesis 41:38. We cannot be sure of success in every undertaking, but we can be sure that the Lord will not continue to grant us success if we persist in our sins.
Now it may be that for a time you still look to have many world, the worldly veneer of success, but ultimately, and most deeply, you will not have success if you persist in sin. Part of this story, remember Moses is writing this down, part of this story is to help the Israelites reflect upon their own temptations in Egypt. Joseph is the first here to have these temptations to compromise in Egypt. His whole family, for centuries, will have temptations to compromise in Egypt.
There’s this refrain that happens in the Kings and the Chronicles as we look at the various kings of Israel and Judah, and it goes like this – The kings were marvelously helped until they became strong.
It was at the point of Joseph’s strengths, the trust his master had put in him, his beauty, it was at those points that he was tempted. No doubt some of you this morning, at work, in a relationship you shouldn’t have, online, some financial dealing, you are in a spot of tremendous temptation. And it’s true, sometimes there are gray areas. There are ethical decisions that are hard to make.
But let’s be honest – sometimes the temptations look to be gray because we want them to. They’re black and white and we put on gray spectacles and lo and behold, well, everything seems so gray, so confusing. Some of you need to step back, get clarity, do the right thing, and trust God with the outcome. You’re making it too complicated. You’re thinking, “Well, what’s going to happen here? And then this could happen at my job and then this thing might happen, then, well, I gotta provide for my family and I… ” All the things that Joseph could have rationalized. You know the right thing to do and you need to do it and trust God with the outcome.
It’s very easy for us to think, “Well, if I don’t just budge a little, if I don’t go along with little bit, what will happen to my job, my family, all the good I’m doing elsewhere?” So consider, brothers and sisters, is the simple, godly thing to do right in front of you? If it is, then do it. And if the wrong thing is right in front of you, then don’t do it. The Lord will stick close to those who walk close with Him. The Lord will stick close to those who walk close to with Him. Count on it.
One commentator puts it this way – One cannot willfully sin against God and continue to enjoy His presence and blessing.
Now we go through dark nights of the soul for all sorts of reasons, so your emotional life is not always an accurate indicator of what’s happening spiritually, but it is at least something to consider. One cannot willfully sin against God and continue to enjoy His presence and blessing. It’s at least something to consider. If it has been a long time since you have enjoyed the Lord’s presence, is there some area of compromise, of continuing giving in to temptation, in your life preventing you from truly enjoying and knowing that the Lord is with you?
Then here’s the final point, briefly. This theme, “The Lord be with you,” reminds us that God is with us even when no one else is. See, this theme is not just to show us why Joseph was successful, but to show us that in all of his predicaments he was never truly alone. Oh, he probably felt alone when he was in the cistern. Probably felt alone on the back of some wagon or camel, Ishmaelite traders, heading off to God knows where. He probably felt alone, certainly being put now into prison. He’s going to be felt alone when his fellow prisoners forget about him. So many occasions he could have thought, “I am all alone in the world,” and yet this chapter reminds us he wasn’t. The Lord was with him, the Lord was with him, the Lord was with him.
The narrator is telling us what Joseph himself may have struggled to believe. You can add up the word “LORD” in this passage, the one with small uppercase letters, that’s the translation for “Yahweh” or “Jehovah,” the LORD. It occurs 7 times, not a coincidence, 7 times in this chapter. It’s used only one other time in the whole Joseph narrative. There is a focus here on the presence of the LORD. Verse 21 says His steadfast love was with him. That wonderful Hebrew word, his “hased.”
When you pray for someone, and you rattle off quick prayers as we’re all wont to do, and you say, “The Lord be with them,” on the one hand that can be a thoughtless prayer. I’ve been critical of it before. It can be very empty, very trite, “be with them, be with them, be with them, [sound effect],” but it doesn’t have to be empty and trite, because isn’t it, if you put everything together, isn’t this what we need most? When you’re praying for someone, your spouse, your friends, your pastors, your kids – God, be with us so we do not despair. Be with us so we do not sin. Be with us so we do not give up.
And of course, the One who comes, the Son of the Father, whose name is Immanuel, means “God with us.” He’s the One who draws near. He’s the One who sticks closer than a brother. He’s the One who can sympathize with us in our weaknesses. He’s the One who not only hears you when you pray, He’s at the right hand of God pleading for you. He will help you when morning dawns. His mercies are new every morning, not just a promise, but a person to be with you. Not just any person, but the Lord Jesus Christ, a human being like you, and yet not just like us. God, man. He will be with you in whatever pit, whatever prison, in whatever temptation.
So let’s try this one more time. The Lord be with you. [congregation response, “And also with you.”]
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, it is our simple and earnest prayer that You would be with us. We know that You will draw near to us as we draw near to You, and so we ask for the person and the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with us. In His name we pray. Amen.