1 When Joseph had been taken down to Egypt, Potiphar, Pharaoh’s chief officer, the commander of the royal guard and an Egyptian, purchased him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man and served in his Egyptian master’s household. 3 His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made everything he did successful.
6 So he handed over everything he had to Joseph and didn’t pay attention to anything except the food he ate.
Now Joseph was well-built and handsome.
7 Some time later, his master’s wife became attracted to Joseph and said, “Sleep with me.”
8 He refused and said to his master’s wife, “With me here, my master doesn’t pay attention to anything in his household; he’s put everything he has under my supervision. 9 No one is greater than I am in this household, and he hasn’t denied me anything except you, since you are his wife. How could I do this terrible thing and sin against God?” 10 Every single day she tried to convince him, but he wouldn’t agree to sleep with her or even to be with her.
11 One day when Joseph arrived at the house to do his work, none of the household’s men were there. 12 She grabbed his garment, saying, “Lie down with me.” But he left his garment in her hands and ran outside. 13 When she realized that he had left his garment in her hands and run outside, 14 she summoned the men of her house and said to them, “Look, my husband brought us a Hebrew to ridicule us. He came to me to lie down with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me raise my voice and scream, he left his garment with me and ran outside.” 16 She kept his garment with her until Joseph’s master came home, 17 and she told him the same thing: “The Hebrew slave whom you brought to us, to ridicule me, came to me; 18 but when I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment with me and ran outside.”
19 When Joseph’s master heard the thing that his wife told him, “This is what your servant did to me,” he was incensed. 20 Joseph’s master took him and threw him in jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were held.
Instead of nurturing depression and bitterness, Joseph showed such capable integrity that Potiphar, his Egyptian master, “put everything he had under Joseph’s supervision.” Yet Genesis didn’t say, “Joseph was amazing,” but “The LORD was with Joseph.” Alas, Joseph also greatly impressed Potiphar’s wife. He refused to betray his master’s trust and rebuffed her advances. Potiphar had no choice but to believe his wife (even if he didn’t believe her) and sent Joseph to prison.
Prayer: O God, free me from the desire for revenge on others. Instead, give me the moral courage to stand for what is right, especially on behalf of those who are powerless. Amen.
This passage reminds me of one of the previous churches I served as a children’s pastor. I read this story to a group of older elementary students for Sunday school. While reading, they started shouting, “no means no,” and “Why didn’t anyone step in to help?” These students were mad, and rightly so. Joseph set clear boundaries with Potiphar’s wife, but she walked all over them, resulting in a false accusation and unfair imprisonment. If my students could have their way, they would have jumped into the story and ensured everyone knew Joseph was innocent. The question that stuck with me that I didn’t have the answer to was, “Why didn’t anyone step in for Joseph?”
We know that Joseph was a hard worker, someone Potiphar trusted and entrusted with many things.
Yet the fact remains that Joseph was powerless to prove his innocence because of his status and ethnicity. I wanted to tell my students that this kind of thing doesn’t happen now, but I know that is not true. In our very own congregation, we know people who have been wrongfully accused and imprisoned.
While God is faithful and always with us, recalling the anger of my students and how quickly they wanted to help challenged me but also gave me hope. We are called to love God and our neighbor, especially those exploited and marginalized. These courageous students knew that Joseph needed a neighbor to step in when he was voiceless. Who is the person(s) in your life who needs you to be their voice? Who might need you to stand with them? I pray that God gives you courage like my former students to step out on behalf of those who are powerless.
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