Genesis chapter 39

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

6So he left Joseph in charge of everything that he owned; and with him there he did not concern himself with anything except the food which he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7And it came about after these events that his master’s wife had her eyes on Joseph, and she said, 'Sleep with me.' 8But he refused and said to his master’s wife, 'Look, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put me in charge of all that he owns. 9There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?' 10Though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her. 11Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the people of the household was there inside. 12So she grabbed him by his garment, saying, 'Sleep with me!' But he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside. 13When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, 14she called to the men of her household and said to them, 'See, he has brought in a Hebrew to us to make fun of us; he came in to me to sleep with me, and I screamed. 15When he heard that I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled and went outside.' 16So she left his garment beside her until his master came home. 17Then she spoke to him with these words: 'The Hebrew slave, whom you brought to us, came in to me to make fun of me; 18but when I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled outside.'
Christian Standard Bible

New Living Translation

King James Version

What does Genesis chapter 39 mean?

Genesis returns from describing the scandalous family history of Judah in chapter 38. Here, Scripture resumes a focus on Joseph, sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:26–28). Joseph is purchased by a powerful Egyptian official, the captain of the guard. Though Joseph is no longer in the land of promise or with his family, the Lord is still with him. Joseph has not been abandoned.

Potiphar, Joseph's master, soon sees that Joseph is successful in all he does. Not only is the Hebrew slave a hard worker and man of integrity, but he is also blessed by his Hebrew God. Before long, Potiphar installs Joseph as the head of his entire household. As a result, everything Joseph is responsible for thrives. Potiphar's household apparently grows in wealth and wellbeing, and Joseph's God is given the credit. This is about the best outcome Joseph could have hoped for as a slave in Egypt (Genesis 39:1–6).

A complication arises, however. Like his mother Rachel, Joseph is blessed with exceptional good looks: he is extremely attractive. Soon, Potiphar's wife notices him and decides she will seduce him. Or, rather, she will try. One day she commands him, "lie with me." Perhaps she made a regular practice of sleeping with her husband's slaves (Genesis 39:7).

Joseph knows he is in a terrible position. Given any other command, he would be compelled to obey his master's wife. Yet he knows that sleeping with her would be a clear betrayal of the extraordinary trust Potiphar has put in Joseph. Joseph refuses his master's wife, carefully explaining that he cannot betray Potiphar. More importantly, he will not sin against his God (Genesis 39:8–10).

Potiphar's wife will not take no for an answer. She continues to attempt to seduce and coerce Joseph into bed with her. He continues to refuse. One day, when no other men are in the household, she grabs him by the cloak and demands once more that he sleep with her. Whether this is a trap, or coincidence, the moment is extremely compromising. Instead of arguing, Joseph twists out of his cloak and escapes outside to safety. It's the only way he can avoid both the temptation and the appearance of immorality. He literally runs away rather than be accused of something improper (Genesis 39:11–12).

Left holding Joseph's cloak, Potiphar's wife is furious. Her lust is converted into rage, and a quest for revenge. She calls to the other male servants for assistance and tells them Joseph attempted to rape her, running away when she screamed. The lie fits. They likely saw Joseph running from the house without his cloak. Her clever lies play on the other servant's resentment of Joseph's success, as well as his race (Genesis 39:13–15).

Potiphar, as his wife hoped, is enraged by her story. In his anger, he has Joseph thrown into the jail for the king's prisoners. This reaction is strangely subdued; Potiphar likely had the right to kill Joseph outright, and the charge is extremely serious. It's possible that Joseph's reputation for honesty, and a potentially unfaithful history in Potiphar's wife, softened his reaction just enough to keep from having Joseph killed (Genesis 39:16–20).

It's not fair, of course. Joseph has been falsely accused. It would be natural to expect him to think he had lost God's blessing. However, Scripture is quick to assure us that the Lord was still with Joseph. Even more, God showed Joseph His steadfast love. Though Joseph languished in an Egyptian prison for a crime he didn't commit, he had not been abandoned. As evidence of this fact, God causes the king's jailer to be impressed with Joseph's work ethic, integrity, and success. Soon, Joseph is given charge of nearly all the duties in the prison, much as he had been in Potiphar's house. Because of the Lord's blessing, everything Joseph does continues to succeed (Genesis 39:21–24).

Soon, this combination of divine blessing, work ethic, and success will bring Joseph to the attention of Pharaoh, himself (Genesis 40:9–14).
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