What does Genesis 39 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
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).
Verse Context:
Genesis 39:1–18 describes Joseph's rise and fall as the slave of Potiphar, the captain of the guard in Egypt. He arrives in this situation after being sold by his own brothers (Genesis 37:26–28). The Lord continues to be with Joseph and to bless him. Potiphar promotes Joseph to the head manager of his household, even giving credit to the Joseph's God for all the success that follows. Potiphar's wife is also impressed with Joseph, but in a less honorable way. She persistently tempts him to sleep with her. When Joseph refuses, she unfairly frames the young Hebrew slave for attempted rape.
Genesis 39:19–23 describes Joseph's arrival in the Egyptian prison reserved for the king's prisoners. Joseph's once-trusting master has him jailed after the master's wife falsely accuses Joseph of attempted rape. Despite the unfair imprisonment, God has not abandoned Joseph. That Joseph isn't immediately executed speaks well of both his reputation and the Lord's protection. Even in prison, Joseph is blessed: the king's jailer favors Joseph and quickly puts him in charge of nearly all of duties in the jail. Joseph continues to succeed in every circumstance he faces, under God's provision.
Chapter Summary:
Joseph's arrival as a slave in Egypt is not the end of his story. The Lord continues to be with him and to bless him. Joseph rises to become the right-hand man of his master, Potiphar, the captain of the guard. Eventually, he is betrayed by a false accusation of rape by his master's scorned wife. Even then, Joseph finds the Lord is still with him, still blessing him, even in prison. Soon Joseph oversees every aspect of the prison, serving once again under God's faithful blessing.
Chapter Context:
In chapter 37, Joseph narrowly escaped being murdered by his own brothers (Genesis 37:18–20), only to be sold as a slave (Genesis 37:26–28). Chapter 39 picks up his story after taking a detour into the scandalous life of Judah. Though a slave in Egypt, Joseph thrives under the Lord's blessing. He rises to the top position in his master's household, only to be jailed on a false accusation of attempted rape. Still, Joseph continues to be blessed by God, again rising to become the jailer's most trusted servant. Joseph's reputation and ability to interpret dreams will factor into his rise within the government of Egypt.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
Accessed 4/17/2024 8:37:50 PM
© Copyright 2002-2024 Got Questions Ministries. All rights reserved.
Text from ESV, NIV, NASB, CSB, NLT, KJV © Copyright respective owners, used by permission.