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Saturday, July 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 39

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 9


‘How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’

Genesis 39:9

We are accustomed to admire the mere act of resistance to temptation, by whomsoever and howsoever offered. But there is a vast difference between the ways in which temptation is resisted. Some, knowing the thing desired of them to be essentially wrong, have recourse to cowardly shifts and evasions. They are unable to comply; thus much they will answer; but for this inability they will render all sorts of secondary and insufficient reasons, and keep back the right one. How very different from this weak and ineffectual course is the refusal of one who fearlessly states at once the right and master reason why he should not yield to temptation; ‘How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?’ One of the lowest advantages of the brave and decided course is that such a person has the least trouble after all. His place is ascertained; his colours are shown. He is no waverer, and the crowd of busy mischief-makers cease from him and let him alone. The noble words of our text let us into the whole secret of endurance.

I. The answer of Joseph implies a sense of direct accountableness to God.—This sense of responsibility leads at once to a truer estimate of right and wrong. While we tarry on the level of the world’s maxims and habits, and try to decide our line of conduct, many a matter seems ambiguous and difficult to determine; but rise to the throne of God, and look down from thence, and all is clear. Oh for that second and better nature, sprung from the habit of seeing God in everything, which, when doubts, when questionings, when temptations arise, asks counsel at once of Him, runs into the strong tower of His name, and is safe.

II. This answer implies a sense of sin.—Sin is a word of which the world knows not the meaning. Men must know what God is, or they cannot know what sin is. When Joseph spoke of sinning against God, he used this term of a positive and definite God, who had manifested Himself, and with whom he was in covenant. To sin against Him, to break His positive command, was to reject and despise his covenant God; to tread under foot His promises and His mercies.

III. This reply shows that true courage and seasonable boldness which ever characterise the genuine soldier of heaven.—In every occupation of life, in all intercourse, in toil and in recreation, our Christian armour should be worn, and never be laid aside. The moment our allegiance is tested, the moment that the world requires what God forbids or forbids what God requires, we must stand to our arms, and admit no thought of a surrender.

Dean Alford.


(1) ‘Imprisoned for no cause on earth except for his innocency, Joseph becomes a type and pattern of all those who have trial of bonds, and endure them bravely and gently, according to the will of God. The victims of untoward circumstance, the captives of ill-health, those who must submit to be crippled and fettered for no fault of their own—the woman whose “life has crept so long on broken wing,” and the man who is tethered and hampered by sordid necessities—these are they who need to learn the secret of how this dreamer wore his chains. For though Joseph was a captive, with no prospect of release, yet he rose to become like a king in the prison, as he ministered to his fellow-prisoners.’

(2) ‘All wrong-doing is sin against God. It may be sin against self also, and sin against our fellows, but this it most assuredly is, sin against God. The faith which utters itself in these words was the source at once of the insight which enabled Joseph to perceive the true nature of the temptation, and of the strength in which he was able to overcome it. A man who has cultivated the habit of referring everything to God is not easily deceived by the appearance of things. He lives and walks in the light of truth. He is able to bring all things to the one test—is it or is it not pleasing to God? This is the one adequate motive of a true life.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 39". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/genesis-39.html. 1876.
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