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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 39

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-23

Genesis 39:1. Potiphar. What a providence, that Joseph was bought by a man in whom Pharaoh had placed very much confidence. Captain of the guard. He seems to have been a military superintendent of the butchers, bakers, and every other class of servants in the king’s household.

Genesis 39:2. The Lord was with Joseph. The Targum reads, The Word of the Lord was Joseph’s helper; that is, the Messiah.

Genesis 39:7. It came to pass. In the eleventh year of Joseph’s servitude, when he was twenty-seven years of age, and well acquainted with the language and laws of Egypt.

Genesis 39:17. The Hebrew servant came in to mock me. The story of Hipponome, a beautiful youth, son of Glaucus, king of Epyrus or Corinth, found in pagan fable, seems to corroborate this part of the Mosaic history. Homer, bk. 6. Hipponome having killed his brother Beller, was surnamed Bellerophon; that is, murderer of Beller, fled to the court of Proëte, where the king received him with great hospitality. But the queen, Stenobœa or Antéè, falling passionately in love with him, assayed by all means to allure him to her desires; but unable to succeed, the tide of passion turned at length to hatred: she accused him to her husband, as having insulted her modesty. Proëte, unwilling to stain his asylum with blood, sent him with a sealed letter to his son-in-law, Jobates king of Lydia, containing proofs of his guilt, and commanding his execution. Jobates, however, having need of his services in his wars against the Solymonites, a warlike people of Asia, gave him a commission in his army. See Deuteronomy 33:16-17.

Genesis 39:20. Put him into the prison. That grace which softened Reuben’s heart to save his brother, now softened Potiphar’s to mitigate Joseph’s punishment. What has the man to fear who trusts in God? If God abase him for a moment, it is to exalt him for ever.

Genesis 39:22. The keeper. We find Joseph prosperous in his master’s house; we find him prosperous in prison; and by and by we find him steward of the whole kingdom. God never lost sight of the dreams he gave his servant: not only the sheaves and stars, but Egypt must bow down to the man whom God exalts.


When God is about to do some great and good thing for the church, he has but to draw the instruments from the treasury of his providence. He was now about to instruct the nations in righteousness, and to multiply the Hebrew family, that they might possess the promised land. With these wise and holy purposes he first humbled and then exalted Joseph. Let us therefore in a series of events keep our eyes on this most hopeful branch, and mark how it flourished and grew, being watered and defended by the special care of heaven.

He was a youth of early piety, and designated by his father to serve at the altar. How lovely it is for youth to be waiting in the church, for the future unfoldings of the divine pleasure. Being honoured as a prophet with early dreams, the hatred of all his brothers was excited. It was hatred that rose to the intention of murder; the murder of an unoffending brother, from whose youth, as yet, they could fear no supremacy. Oh the heart, the deceitful heart of man!

We see Joseph removed from being a son in his father’s house, to be a servant and a slave in the house of Potiphar. Well: let no man be depressed by reverses in life, while he has a God rich in resources. But oh slavery! that bitter word, and galling yoke! We see no remedy, but in the overspreading of the christian religion, which knows neither bond nor free in Christ Jesus, but a new creature. To ask the planter to emancipate his slave, is like asking the wolf to resign his prey.

Joseph, the best of sons and of brothers, became the best of servants in his new and humble situation, for God was with him in counsel and in divine support. The Lord blessed the master for the servant’s sake. What a model for others in the like situation. Such faithful domestics generally receive a reward in this world, and their fidelity is crowned with the approbation of the Lord.

But the faith and piety of Joseph, long inured to adversity, though supported with the hallowed hope, that the sheaves should bow with repentance at length, must next be tried from another quarter, and equally unsuspected. His mistress, utterly forgetful of consequences, spread her net for his feet from day to day. Unable to fly from his master’s house, his virtue recoiled at the atrocity of the crime against the best of masters, who had raised him to be steward of all his estate. He dreaded to sin against God by violating one of the first laws of society. While guilt would plead for secresy, he pleaded the divine omniscience, and the vengeance of his arm. He did more: in the crisis of temptation he fled from a woman, whose ebb of passion would ruin innocence to cover guilt. Oh how happy is the man who adheres to the morality of our Saviour, “If thy right hand cause thee to offend, cut it off, and cast it from thee.” Virtue does not dare to contemplate the character of this woman, except in the shades of horror. And if the consequences were so serious where one only was guilty, what must they eventually be when both become the victims; how will they meet each other beyond the shades of death!

Joseph was dragged to prison; his brilliant virtues covered with obloquy and a cloud. But his hands were clean, and he had the approbation of God, whose sunbeams are sure to shine out, how long soever the lowering cloud may obscure his cheering rays. What a time to exercise faith in a God unseen; to walk in darkness, and have no light! The good man who groans under oppression, who cries out of wrong, and is not heard, shall surely be heard in the issue. A worm shall feed on the guilty conscience, while the ever faithful God shall prepare a crown of righteousness for the man that endureth temptation.

But let the good man who groans like Joseph under a complication of wrongs, and is carried away with the impetuous torrent of adversity, repose on the providence of God. He shall be landed on a safe and peaceful shore. Let oppressed innocence, and reproached virtue, rest the issues on this rock, and wait in hope. God may have causes for his conduct which future years shall unfold. Soon or late he will deliver: and the lustre of righteousness shall be the greater after a cloud. A viper shall riot on the evil conscience, and the lying tongue in cries for mercy, or in cries of vengeance shall be constrained to speak the truth, and give glory both to God and man.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 39". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/genesis-39.html. 1835.
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