Topical Scripture: Genesis 39
Families and relationships face brand-new challenges these days. This week’s Dallas Morning News reported that the ten-year project to decode the human genome, the operating manual for how human beings are constructed, will be completed next month and available to the world over the Internet. We will be able to cure diseases, but also to design offspring and change human nature.
The Internet is fast becoming the “Evernet”—anything with electricity is having chips embedded in it, from pagers to toasters to cars, and connected to networks. As a result, the new Mercedes 500 has more computing power than the 747-200.
And you will be able to surf the Web everywhere, but the Web will also be able to surf you, to know where you are and what you are consuming, what your family is doing, all the time.
Technology presents great challenges to our homes and relationships. But these are not the greatest problems we face. Our gravest problems have not changed since the Garden of Eden, because human nature does not change. Joseph’s relational problems were exactly our problems. Joseph’s relational solutions will still work for us today.
Let me show you what I mean.
The story of strong clay
Our metaphor for this series on relationships is taken from Jeremiah 18, where God is the Master Potter who molds the clay of our hearts and homes. From this analogy we discover that the clay the potter uses must be pure, or it will crack under pressure. It will collapse under the fire of the kiln or the weight of use. The integrity of the clay determines the strength of the vessel.
So it is with our souls and relationships.
When we last left Joseph, Rachel had just given him life and his name, “The Lord adds.” Joseph drops out of the Genesis narrative for the next six chapters, but resurfaces as a teenager in Genesis 37. Here we watch Jacob honor him above the other brothers, and Joseph brag about his dreams of future superiority. And you know the result.
This teenage boy with dreams of greatness becomes a slave in Egypt, sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharoah’s guard. These are Pharoah’s elite personal troops, and Potiphar is their leader. Alfred Edersheim, the Jewish historian, says that he was “chief of the executioners.”
But God is still with him, for he “gave him success in everything he did” (v. 3). Indeed, “The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field” (v. 5). God is redeeming Joseph’s suffering for his own glory.
Now the test comes. It came for Jesus; it came for Joseph; it comes to us all. Everything is going so well, but this is typically when the enemy strikes: “Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’” (v. 7). If this were a Hollywood movie or television show, we all know what would happen next.
But it’s not—it’s the story of a man of great moral courage and personal integrity. Listen to Joseph’s response: “No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife” (v. 9a). He will not sin against the master who has been so loyal to him.
And he will not sin against the Master who has so blessed him: “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (v. 9b). He continually defends his heart and his integrity: “Though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her” (v. 10).
Unfortunately, Joseph must pay for his integrity. Potiphar’s wife accuses him of attempting to seduce her, and he moves from Potiphar’s home to a prison cell. But all is not as it seems, as we’ll see in a moment.
Put your integrity first
Webster defines “integrity” as “the quality or state of being of sound, moral principle; uprightness, honesty, and sincerity.” This Joseph demonstrates in abundance. If he were preaching this sermon today, he would say to every one of us: put your integrity first. Why is it so important?
Integrity enables us to withstand temptation. Joseph’s character gave him the strength to withstand perhaps the greatest temptation a man can face. We’ll see how in a moment.
Integrity enables others to trust us.
According to Egyptian law (and Jewish legal statutes as well), Potiphar would have executed Joseph for this crime if he had believed his wife. Jail was never the result of such sin by a slave against his master, especially when that master is the chief of Pharoah’s executioners. Potiphar put
Joseph in jail because he knew he didn’t deserve to die, but he couldn’t have him in his house around his sinful wife.
His integrity saved his life, because Potiphar believed him. It enables others to believe us as well.
Most of all, integrity enables God to use us. Joseph’s character was the reason God could use him. The Holy Spirit can only use a vessel yielded to him in godly integrity.
Four times this chapter says, “The Lord was with him.” Why? Joseph didn’t earn or merit such blessing; he simply received it because the integrity of his heart could. A cracked pot cannot contain much water.
And so even at the end of the chapter, God is still blessing Joseph: “while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (Genesis 39:20-23).
The world condemned Joseph, but God celebrated him. And soon the world would know the truth, on that day when Joseph became Egypt’s Prime Minister and Potiphar’s boss, and his wife had to honor the slave she had condemned. All because of the hand of God on his life.
A potter can best use clay which possesses integrity. The same is true with God.
Guard your heart
So we must put integrity first. How do we do it? How do we guard our hearts from the “Potiphar’s wives” who surround us? First, refuse to be alone with someone who tempts you.
Look at verse 10: “He refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.” The latter made the former possible.
It was only when he was alone with her through no fault of his own that the situation becomes a crisis. If others had been in the house, she could never have made her accusations and cost him his position. Refuse to be alone with anyone who tempts you.
Second, never say “maybe.”
Proverbs 5 is a chapter-long warning against the adulterous woman (or man). It offers this excellent advice: “Keep to a path far from her; do not go near the door of her house” (v. 8). Stay away.
Paul agrees: “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Never say “maybe.”
Joseph kept this advice. The text is clear—he never considered her offer. He didn’t even stay and talk with her. He left immediately.
And notice how he left: “he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house” (v. 12). The “cloak” was actually his undergarment. He fled unclothed, at great dishonor and yet with his honor completely upheld. He refused to compromise with sin, whatever his courage might cost him.
The late United Nations leader, Dag Hammarskjold, said it well: “He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for weeds.”
Say no, now.
Third, fear the results of failure.
If Joseph had failed here, how different would the rest of Genesis be? The rest of Scripture? No Hebrew nation; no Messiah. The future of God’s plan to redeem all of humanity was at stake.
Count on it—if the enemy thinks this issue is worth tempting you over, it’s worth resisting. It’s graver than you know. Satan is a great economist. He always tempts us at that place which will cause the greatest devastation. That’s why government officials are tempted at the point of character and leadership, bankers at the point of financial integrity, and preachers at the point of morality. If you’re being tempted, know that the enemy is up to something disastrous. Every time.
We’ve said it so often: sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, cost you more than you wanted to pay, and keep you longer than you wanted to stay. Joseph knew it. Do you?
Last, trust the results of integrity. Joseph’s refusal of Potiphar’s wife cost him dearly, but God redeemed his integrity for an even greater purpose.
Notice the little phrase in v. 20: “Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined. This was a special jail, where Joseph would meet prisoners who knew the king.
What if Joseph had not gone to jail, and specifically this jail? He would never have met Pharoah’s cupbearer and baker, and interpreted their dreams. He would never have been known to Pharoah. He would never have become #2 in the nation, saved Egypt from starvation, and restored his family. He would simply have died the faithful slave of an army captain.
And we would never have heard of him.
When we pay the price of integrity, God redeems our character for a far greater purpose than we can know.
Now, who is “Potiphar’s wife” in your life? Is she a person? A job? Possessions? Goals? Anything which wants you to compromise your integrity is your enemy, and the enemy of your home, family, and ministry as well.
Seeking the help and leading of the Spirit for character and integrity is essential to a life well lived and blessed of God.
In 1948 crusade evangelism was just beginning to become a major movement in this country. Many such evangelists were active, and a number of them had already begun committing the sins and experiencing the failures we associate with this work.
So it was that a little-known evangelist asked the three members of his team to meet with him in his hotel room during a crusade in Modesto, California in November of 1948. The four resolved to handle their offerings with integrity and draw only a salary; to count the crowds based on the lowest numbers produced by objective sources; never to criticize local clergy or leaders.
And they determined most of all to maintain absolute moral integrity. They would never meet alone with a woman; they would never get on an elevator alone with a female; the evangelist would even send an associate into his hotel room first to be sure no women were present.
As I said, this evangelist was just one of many active in the country, and little-noticed. But the next year, I believe as a direct result of his integrity and character, his Los Angeles crusade catapulted him to international fame. You know his name, of course.
By the way, that evangelist has broken his rule never to be alone with a female only once, when Hilary Rodham Clinton and he met for lunch at a table in the middle of a Little Rock restaurant.
Could he or the Joseph he emulates speak to us today, they would have the same message: guard your heart. Whatever it costs to do it. Your integrity is your greatest possession. This is the warning, and the promise, of God.