I’ve been reading and writing lately about the life of Joseph, the 11th son born to Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. He truly lived an extraordinary life, filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows, and at times his journey must have been down right scary. In an earlier post, we zoomed in on the time in his life when his older brothers sold him to the Ishmaelite merchant traders headed to Egypt, and the favor Joseph found with both the Ishmaelites and with Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.
Potiphar was so impressed with Joseph that he quickly put Joseph in charge of his entire house, essentially becoming the Chief Operating Officer of Potiphar’s affairs. As the second most powerful man in all of Egypt, his affairs were probably much more extensive than the average person, and Joseph did such a great job, the text says that Potiphar “had no concern about anything but the food he ate.” There is no greater commendation than to put one’s boss’ mind at ease because of his/her high level of competence. However, leadership doesn’t come without its consequences, both positive and negative, as increased responsibility often brings more issues.
One consequence of Joseph’s leadership in Potiphar’s house was the interactions he would have with Potiphar’s entire household, including Potiphar’s wife, while Potiphar was away doing Pharaoh’s business. Not only does the text testify that Joseph was a competent employee and that God was with him making him successful in all he did, it also says he was handsome in form and appearance. It is quite conceivable that Potiphar’s wife became attracted to Joseph while her husband was away, both for how he carried himself and for his looks, and she acted on her attraction by inviting Joseph to be with her.
But Joseph was grounded in his relationship with the God of his fathers, and he knew it would be wrong to give in to her requests. What’s interesting is that Joseph uses a parallel argument to rebuke her requests. He says in verses 9-10 of chapter 39, “He (Potiphar) is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Joseph equated sinning against his master as sinning against God, and he would not do it.
In the climactic moment of this story, Potiphar’s wife comes on strong one day when she is alone with Joseph in the house, and Joseph runs out of the house to escape the situation, knowing he had done the right thing. However, Joseph would soon be imprisoned for that moment, as Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of coming on to her. With no witnesses available and only Joseph’s jacket he had left behind as her only evidence, Potiphar chose to side with his wife and put Joseph in jail, where he would spend several years with no hope of being released.
Now why would God allow this to happen to Joseph? First, Joseph is treated unfairly by his brothers and sold into slavery. Then, God allows Joseph to be falsely accused and imprisoned for years without due process. I wish I had the answer, but the text does not give the reason God allowed Joseph to experience these injustices, just as there are times in our lives in which we don’t receive any answers. However, what we do know is how Joseph responded to these unfortunate circumstances in his life, and there are several lessons we can take from his story.
- Sometimes in this life, we are wronged due to other people’s sin, and we suffer for it. Joseph knew this more than anyone. He was sold into slavery because of his brothers’ jealousy. He was imprisoned because of the lies of Potiphar’s wife. Later in life, he was forgotten by a prisoner whom he helped receive a pardon. Sometimes, there is no rhyme or reason to explain why we suffer at the hands of others, except that we live in a fallen world among sinful people who make bad decisions. But we do know that trials and tribulations in this life produce perseverance, which makes us mature and complete and brings us pure joy (James 1:2-4). We also know that every ounce of suffering we experience in this life in the course of obedience is producing a weight of glory we will receive when we depart from this life and enter eternity with Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:17)
- Our attitude does not have to be dictated by our circumstances. In every instance in Joseph’s life, when he was dealt a bad hand, he never complained or sought retribution. Instead, he continued to be a positive person, winning the favor of whomever he was around. The text tells us that once Joseph was imprisoned, he received the favor of the keeper of the prison, and he put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners. Read that again. The prison guard put Joseph in charge of other prisoners. A prisoner in charge of the other prisoners. Think about it; how incredible does a person have to be in order to receive a promotion while in prison? Joseph could have sulked about his circumstances, and would have been justified in the eyes of most people. Instead, he kept a positive attitude and turned some sour lemons into the best lemonade ever made.
- Living a godly life starts with knowing God. Joseph knew the God of his fathers, and he did not want to sin against Him. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:16-18 that those who are followers of Jesus have two natures at war with one another: the flesh and the Spirit. The flesh represents our broken, sinful human nature, and the Spirit represents the life-giving, knowledge and wisdom of God living within us. Every moment of every day, we have a choice to live by one of these two natures. It is a daily, even momentary, choice we must make in order to either walk in the Spirit or walk in the flesh, and the closer we are to God through reading & studying our Bible, through praying and through time with others who are reading/studying/praying, the more likely we are to walk in the Spirit and produce righteousness in our lives. It is a choice, a priority, we make, and the Bible is clear that we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7).
So be encouraged by the life of Joseph, by his attitude and his perseverance in the face of hardships. Jesus promises that those who follow Him will experience trouble in this life – it’s a guarantee – granted to us by the Father (Philippians 1:29); therefore, let’s prepare our hearts and minds now so that in our times of hardship, we will respond the way Joseph did and be an example for those watching us.