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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 39

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.

Potiphar ... captain of the guard. This name, Potiphar, signifies one 'devoted to the sun,' the local deity of On or Heliopolis-a circumstance which fixes the place of his residence in the Delta, the district of Egypt bordering on Canaan.

Officer - literally, prince of Pharaoh; i:e., in the service of the government.

Captain of the guard. The import of the original term has been variously interpreted; some considering it means 'chief cook,' others, 'chief respecter of plantations;' but that which seems best founded is 'chief of the executioners,' 'head of the police,' the same as the captain of the watch, the zabut of modern Egypt (Wilkinson). See the note at Genesis 37:36.

Bought him ... of the Ishmaelites. The Ishmaelites and Midianites, both descendants of Abraham, lived in the same country, and had so close and constant relationship that, as merchants, they were indifferently known by the one name or the other (see the note at Genesis 37:25; Genesis 37:28; Genesis 37:36). The age appearance, and intelligence of the Hebrew slave would soon make him picked up in the market. But the unseen, unfelt influence of the great Disposer drew the attention of Potiphar toward him, in order that in the house of one so closely connected with the court he might receive that previous training which was necessary for the high office he was destined to fill, and in the school of adversity learn the lessons of practical wisdom that were to be of greatest utility and importance in his future career. Thus it is, that when God has any important work to be done, He always prepares fitting agents to accomplish it.

Verse 2

And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.

He was in the house of his master. Those slaves who had been war-captives were generally sent to labour in the field, and subjected to hard treatment under the 'stick' of taskmasters. But those who were bought with money were employed in domestic purposes, were kindly treated, and enjoyed as much liberty as the same class does in modern Egypt.

Verse 3

And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand.

His master saw that the Lord was with him. Though changed in condition, Joseph was not changed in spirit; though stripped of the gaudy coat that had adorned his person, he had not lost the moral graces that distinguished his character; though separated from his father on earth, he still lived in communion with his Father in heaven; though, in the house of an idolater, he continued a worshipper of the true God.

Verse 4

And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 5

And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field.

The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house ... It might be-it probably was-that a special a miraculous blessing The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house ... It might be-it probably was-that a special, a miraculous blessing was poured out on a youth who so faithfully and zealously served God amid all the disadvantages of his place. But it may be useful to remark that such a blessing usually follows in the ordinary course of things; and the most worldly, unprincipled masters always admire and respect religion in a servant when they see that profession supported by conscientious principle and a consistent life.

Made him overseer in his house. We do not know in what capacity Joseph entered into the service of Potiphar; but the observant eye of his master soon discovered his superior qualities, and made him his chief, his confidential servant. The advancement of domestic slaves is not uncommon, and it is considered a great disgrace not to raise one who has been a year or two in the family. This is a special and characteristic feature of Egyptian life. Among the sculptured scenes which represent the internal economy of a grandee's house in ancient Egypt, conspicuous is the figure of the steward or overseer of the slaves. There was a steward for overlooking the work in the house, and another for superintending the labour of the fields (Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egypt,' 2:, p. 403, 404). But this extraordinary advancement of Joseph was the doing of the Lord, though on the part of Potiphar it was the consequence of observing the astonishing prosperity that attended him in all that he did.

Verse 6

And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 7

And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

His master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph. Egyptian women were not kept in the same secluded manner as females are in most Oriental countries now. They were treated in a manner more worthy of a civilized people-in fact, enjoyed as much freedom both at home and abroad as ladies do in Britain. Hence, Potiphar's wife had constant opportunity of meeting Joseph. But the ancient women of Egypt were very loose in their morals. Intrigues and intemperance were vices very prevalent among the sex, as the monuments too plainly attest.

Wilkinson, 'Herodotus,' b. 2:, ch. 3; 'Cambridge Essays,' 1858, pp. 234, 235, give instances of the general dissoluteness of the women, and their unfaithfulness to the nuptial bond. Potiphar's wife was probably not worse than many of the same rank; and her infamous advances made to Joseph arose from her superiority of station. She verified the quaint though striking solecism of the poet:

`A shameless woman is the worst of men.'

Verse 8

But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 9

There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

How then can I do this great wickedness? This remonstrance, when all inferior arguments had failed, embodied the true principles of moral purity-a principle always sufficient where it exists, and alone sufficient.

Verses 10-13

And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 14

That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:

That she called unto the men. Disappointed and affronted, she vowed revenge, and accused Joseph, first to the servants of the house, and on his return to her lord.

An Hebrew ... to mock us - an affected and blind aspersion of her husband for keeping in his house an Hebrew, the very abomination of Egyptians.

Verses 15-19

And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 20

And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.

Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, [ bªbeeyt (H1004) hacohar (H5470), house of the round tower, a fortified prison; Septuagint, eis to ochurooma, the fortress] - usually attached to the dwelling of such an officer as Potiphar. It was partly a subterranean dungeon (Genesis 41:14), though the brick-built walls rose considerably above the surface of the ground, and were surmounted by a vaulted roof, somewhat in the form of an inverted bowl. Into such a dungeon Potiphar, in the first ebullition of rage, threw Joseph, and ordered him to be subjected further to as great harshness of treatment (Psalms 105:18) as he dared; because the power of masters over their slaves was very properly restrained by law, and the murder of a slave was a capital crime.

The prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound. Though prisons seem to have been an inseparable appendage of the palaces, this was not a common jail-it was the receptacle of state criminals; and, therefore, it may be presumed that more than ordinary strictness and vigilance were exercised over the prisoners. In general, however, the Egyptian, like other Oriental prisons, were used solely for the purposes of detention. Accused persons were cast into these until the charges against them could be investigated; and though the jailer was responsible for the appearance of all placed under his custody, yet, provided they were produced when called, he was never interrogated as to the way in which he had kept them.

Verses 21-23

But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

The Lord ... gave him favour ... It is highly probable, from the situation of this prison (Genesis 40:3), that "the keeper" might have been previously acquainted with Joseph, and have had access to know his innocence of the crime laid to his charge, and with all the high integrity of his character. Delitzsch, in attempting to account for the lightness of the punishment, considering the severity of the Egyptian law as to adultery, which was punished with one thousand blows, and rape on a free woman with a greater number says, 'It is possible that Potiphar was not fully convinced of his wife's chastity, and therefore did not place unlimited credence in what she said.' That may partly account for his showing so much kindness and confidence to his prisoner. But there was a higher influence at work; because "the Lord was with Joseph, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper."

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 39". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/genesis-39.html. 1871-8.
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