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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 39

Trapp's Complete CommentaryTrapp's Commentary

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.

And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s. — See here a sweet providence, that Joseph should fall into such hands. Potiphar was provost-marshal, keeper of the king’s prisoners. And what could Joseph have wished better than this, that, since he must be a prisoner, he should be put into that prison, where he might, by interpreting the butler’s dream, come to so great preferment? Chrysostom, in his nineteenth Homily on the Ephesians, saith: We must not once doubt of the divine providence, though we presently perceive not the causes and reasons of many passages. And this he sweetly sets forth by apt similitudes drawn from the works of carpenters, painters, bees, ants, spiders, swallows, … Surely, as a man, by a chain made up of various links, some of gold, others of silver, some of brass, iron, or tin, may be drawn out of a pit: so the Lord by the concurrence of several subordinate things, which have no manner of dependence, or natural coincidency among themselves, hath oftentimes wrought and brought about the deliverance and exaltation of his children, that it might appear to be the work of his own hand. See M. Reynold on Psalm cx. 5.

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.

And the Lord was with Joseph, and he, … — "The Lord" also "is with you, while ye be with him": 2 Chronicles 15:2 and so long you may promise yourselves prosperity; that of Gaius, howsoever, - that your souls shall prosper; and for most part also, your outward estates. If it fall out otherwise, it is because God will have godliness admired for itself. If ungodly men prosper, it is that ease may slay them, Proverbs 1:32 and "that they may perish for ever." Psalms 37:20 Moritur Zacharias Papa, rebus pro Ecclesiae salute et Apostolicae sedis dignitate, non tam pie quam prospere gestis, saith Sigonius. This was little to his commendation, - that he was not so pious as he was prosperous.

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.

And his master saw. — Though he knew not God, yet he acknowledged that God was the giver of prosperity, and that piety pleaseth him. This ran into his senses, but wrought not kindly upon his heart.

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.

And Joseph found grace in his sight. — This also was of God, who fashioneth men’s opinions, and therefore Paul, though he went to carry alms (and such are commonly welcome), yet prays that his "service might be accepted of the saints." Romans 15:31

And he served him. — As his page or chamberlain; afterwards he became his steward. He that is faithful in a little shall be master of more.

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. — There is nothing lost by any love men show to the saints. "God is not unfaithful to forget" it, nor unmindful to reward it. Hebrews 6:10

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.

And he knew not aught he had, … — Some expound this of Joseph, that he took nothing for all his pains, but the food he ate; did not feather his own nest, as many in his place would have done; nor embezzle his master’s goods committed to his trust. But without doubt the other is the better sense: Potiphar took what was provided for him, and cared for no more. This is few men’s happiness; for usually the master is the greatest servant in the house.

And Joseph was a goodly person. — But nothing so goodly on the outside as on the inside. Pulchrior in luce cordis quam facie corporis. His brethren had stript him of his coat, but could not disrobe him of his graces. Still he retained his piety and fear of God, his integrity and faithfulness toward his master, his chastity and modesty toward his mistress, his spiritual prudence and watchfulness over himself. How stoutly did he resist the devil, despise the world, subdue the flesh! Many "archers shot at him, but his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made firm by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob." Genesis 49:23-24 Of bodily beauty, See Trapp on " Genesis 6:2 "

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.

After these things. — After he had been ten or eleven years in that house. So long he was safe: yet at length set upon. Learn we always to stand upon our guard; to do, as it is reported of the bird Onocrotalus, that she is so well practised to expect the hawk to grapple with her, that even, when she shutteth her eyes, she sleepeth with her beak exalted, as if she would contend with her adversary. The Divine Cosmographer, p. 94. A man is to expect, if he live out his days, to be urged to all sins, to the breach of every branch of the ten commandments, and to be put to it in respect of every article of our creed.

His master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph. — She looked and lusted. Non dicit Moses, "Vidit"; "Aspexit," … Hic fuit aspectus impudicus. - Pareus. See Trapp on " Genesis 34:2 "

And she said, Lie with me. — An impudent harlotry, that could so barely and basely solicit. Such a frontless propudium was that in the Proverbs 7:13 ; Proverbs 7:18 . Such were those insatiate empresses, Messalina, wife to Claudius; and Barbara, wife to Sigismund, emperor of Germany, faemina immensae libidinis et procacitatis inverecundae, quae saepius viros peteret quam peteretur. Vitam omnem censuit inanem, quae non coitu, luxu, ac libidine contereretur. Pareus, in Medul. Hist. Profanae , p. 786. Haec stultas vocabat virgines pro Christi nomine passas, quod voluptatum gaudia non gustassent. And such were those brazen faced courtezans that Franciscus Junius, that learned man, met with; and for their sakes abhorred the company of all women ever after, as himself recordeth in his own life.

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;

But he refused. — So would but a few have done of his years (he was now about twenty-seven), and that might have committed this sweet sin, as they wickedly call it, with so much security and secrecy, … The fear of God is both a virtue, and a keeper of other virtues. It is the bond of perfections, as Paul saith of charity. It is the ribbon or string that ties together all those precious pearls, the graces, as Peter saith of humility. εγκομβωσασθε . 1 Peter 5:5 It is, as Basil saith of the same grace, caeterarum virtutum θησαυροφυλακιον , the storehouse of other virtues; and, as Chrysostom, the mother, and root, and nurse, and foundation, and ligament of all good things in us. Mητηρ, και ριζα, και τραφος, και υπδθερις, και συνδερμδς των αγαθων . - Chrysost.

Behold, my master wotteth not, …Beneficium postulat officium. To argue from bounty to duty, is but right reason: but to argue, as most do, from God’s liberality to liberty in sin, is the devil’s logic. Joseph will not deal so basely with his master, though an Egyptian. To render good for evil is divine; good for good is human; evil for evil is brutish; but evil for good is devilish. "Should we again break thy commandments," saith holy Ezra, Ezra 9:14 after so many mercies and deliverances? There is so much unthankfulness and disingenuity in such an entertainment of mercy, that heaven and earth, he thinks, would be ashamed of it. Every blessing is a binder, and each new deliverance a new tie to obedience. The "goodness of God should lead us to repentance," saith Paul. Romans 2:4 And this Peter picks out of Paul’s Epistles, as one of the choicest sentences, and urged it upon those to whom he wrote. 2 Peter 3:15

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?

Neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee. — As the beams of the sun shining upon fire doth discourage the burning of that, so should the shining of God’s mercies or man’s favours on us quench and quell lust and licentiousness in us.

Because thou art his wife.In primitiva ecclesia Christiani animo animaque inter se miscebantur, et omnia, praeter uxores, indiscreta habebant, saith Tertullian. Community of wives is a monster in religion. Ensis, equus, mulier: caetera κοινα φιλων .

How then can I do this great wickedness? … — So he calls it; not a trick of youth, a light offence, a peccadillo; but "wickedness," and " great wickedhess." Abhorred be that religion of Rome that licenseth it; nothing better herein than that of the Turks, whose Koran tells us, that God did not give men lusts and appetites to be frustrated, but enjoyed; as made for the enjoyment of man, and not for his torment, wherein his Creator delights not. Blunt’s Voyage into the Levant, 82.

And sin against God. — Who makes the marriage covenant, and keepeth the bonds. Proverbs 2:17 Thus David, Psalms 51:4 "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned," … The trespass was against Uriah, but the transgression against God, who only can remove the guilt, remit the punishment. And here, though the iron entered into Joseph’s soul, sin could not; because it was fraught with: God’s fear. He had "set God at his right hand," with David, Psalms 16:8 and "therefore was not moved" by the importunate impudency of his wanton mistress. Satan knocked oft at that door, but there was none within to answer or open. He struck fire, but upon wet tinder. Joseph in Egypt, like a pearl in a puddle, keeps his virtue still, wherever he comes.

Verse 10

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.

And it came to pass, as she spake, … — A violent temptation valiantly withstood and vanquished; and that by the force of the fear of God, that powerful grace where it may bear sway. Alexander, Scipio, Pompey, tempted with the exquisiteness and variety of choicest beauties, forbare that villany; not for conscience’ sake, or fear of God, whom they knew not, but lest thereby they should stop the current of their victories, and obscure the glory of their remarkable valour. But what saith Cyprian? As it is the greatest pleasure to have overcome pleasure, so there is no such victory as that that is gotten over a man’s lusts. This none but a Joseph fearing God can do. For "the fear of the Lord is pure," saith David: Psalms 19:9 it "is to hate evil," not forbear it only, saith Solomon; and he instanceth in inward evils, as pride, arrogancy, …, so unchaste thoughts, lustful vipers, and hankerings after strange flesh. These the fear of God purgeth upon and represseth; not suffering a man to sin, though he could do it so closely and covertly that the world should be never the wiser. Lo, this is chastity: and it differs herein from continency, which is the best we can say for those heathens aforementioned. The continent person refrains the outward act of uncleanness, either for love of praise or fear of punishment, but not without grief; for inwardly he is scalded with boiling lust. Whereas the chaste man, like St Paul’s virgin, 1 Corinthians 7:34 is "holy both in body and in spirit"; and this with delight, out of fear of God and love of virtue. Now, if upon such a ground we can refuse proffered pleasures and preferments, resolving rather to lie in the dust with Joseph than to rise by wicked principles, the trial is as sound as if we had endured the tortures of the rack. Hebrews 11:35

As she spake to Joseph day by day. — Satan will not be said with a little, nor sit down by a light repulse. A man must give him a peremptory denial ( απαρνησασθω ) again and again, as our Saviour did; and yet the tempter departed not, but for a season. He is called Beelzebub, that is, the Master Fly, because he is impudent as a fly, and soon returns to the bait from which he was beaten. He will be egging us again and again to the same sin, and try every way to overturn us. Many times he tempts by extremes, as he did Mr John Knox, on his deathbed; first, to despair, by setting before him his sins; and, when foiled there, afterwards to presumption, and challenging of heaven as his due, for his many good works, and zeal in the Scottish Reformation. Mr Perkins. So he dealt here by Joseph. He first set upon him on the left hand, when he sold him for a slave; and when this prevailed not, he sets here a Delilah to tickle him on the right side, and to tie him with the green withes of youthful pleasures. Sed pari successu: but he lost his labour. Joseph was semper idem; famous for all the four cardinal virtues, if ever any were. See here in this one temptation, his fortitude; justice; temperance; and prudence, in that he shuns the occasion; for he would not only not lie with her, but not "be with her," saith the text: and that a man is indeed, that he is in a temptation; which is but a tap to give vent to corruption.

To lie by her, or to be with her. — "Keep thee far from an evil matter," saith Moses. Exodus 23:7 "Come not nigh the door of" the harlot’s "house," saith Solomon. Proverbs 5:8 "Flee fornication," saith Paul. 1 Corinthians 6:18 And "Flee youthful lusts." 2 Timothy 2:22 Not abstain from them only, but "flee" them, as ye would do a flying serpent. These are God’s commandments: and they are to be "kept as the sight of the eye." Proverbs 7:2 The Nazarite might not only not drink wine, but not taste a raisin or the husk of a grape. Numbers 6:3-4 The good Christian is taught to "abstain from all appearance of evil"; 1 Thessalonians 5:22 and to "hate the very garment that is spotted by the flesh." The devil counts a fit occasion half a conquest; for he knows that corrupt nature hath a πανσπερμια , a seed plot of all sin: which being drawn forth and watered by the breath of ill company, or some other occasion, is soon set awork, to the producing of death. Satan cheats us, when he persuades us that it is no conquest, except we beat away the temptation, yet keep the occasion by us. God will not remove the temptation till we remove the occasion. And in such case to pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," is to thrust our finger into the fire, and then pray it may not be burnt. A bird while aloft is safe; but she comes not near the snare without danger. Solomon thought himself wise enough to convert his wives, and not be corrupted by them. But "it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods," … 1 Kings 11:4 He that can shun or remove the occasion, of his own proper motion, as Joseph did, he is the man; this is grace; here is a victory.

Verse 11

And it came to pass about this time, that [Joseph] went into the house to do his business; and [there was] none of the men of the house there within.

To do his business. — To look up his bills of account, saith the Chaldee. Idleness is the devil’s opportunity, the hour of temptation. But let a man be never so busy about his lawful employments, he is to expect assaults. As he is not idle, so neither is Satan: but walks about, and spreads his snares for us in all places, and businesses; speaking a good word also in temptations that come from the flesh, which are therefore called "his messengers," 2 Corinthians 12:7 and by giving place to them, we "give place to the devil." Ephesians 4:27

And there was none of the men of the house there within. — Josephus saith that they were all gone forth to a feast; and she only left at home, as feigning herself sick. Sick she was, as likewise Amnon, with the lust of concupiscence, which the apostle calls παθος , a disease, 1 Thessalonians 4:5 such as those which the physicians say are corruptio totius substantiae; the body and soul are both tainted and rotted by it. Other diseases consume only the matter of the body, but this, the holiness and honour of the body. Quod sanitas in corpore, sanctitas in corde. - Bern. Other sicknesses sanctify us, but this profanes us, and lets the devil into our hearts. Behemoth lieth in the fens; Job 40:21 that is, the devil in sensual hearts; as Gul. Paris. applieth it. And when the waters of the sanctuary flowed, the miry places could not be healed. Ezekiel 47:11

Verse 12

And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.

And she caught him by his garment. — By wanton touches and dalliance, mental adultery is oft committed. He that "toucheth his neighbour’s wife, shall not be innocent," saith Solomon. Proverbs 6:29 This is the offensive "right hand," that must be "cut off." Matthew 5:30 The harlot "caught the silly simple, and kissed him; and with an impudent face said unto him; - " Proverbs 7:13 "till a dart struck through his liver": Proverbs 7:23 cogit amare iecur.

And he left his garment in her hand. — This second time is Joseph stript of his garment; before, in the violence of envy, now of lust; before, of necessity, now of choice; before, to deceive his father, now his master. Infamy and other misery he was sure to suffer, but that must not drive from duty. 2 Corinthians 6:8 The Church "comes from the wilderness," that is, through troubles and afflictions, "leaning on her beloved"; Song of Solomon 8:5 choosing rather to suffer than to sin. The good heart goes in a right line to God, and will not fetch a compass, but strikes through all troubles and hazards to get to him. It will not break the hedge of ally commandment, to avoid any piece of foul way. The primitive Christians chose rather to be thrown to lions without, than left to lusts within: Ad leonem mayis quam lenonem, saith Tertullian. I had rather go to hell pure from sin, saith Anselm, than to heaven polluted with that filth. Mallem purus a peccato et innocens gehennam intrare, … I will rather leap into a bonfire, saith another of the fathers, than wilfully commit wickedness against God. Potius in ardentem rogum insiluero quam ullum peccatum in Deum commisero. - Pintus, in Dan. Of the mouse of Armenia they write, that she will rather die than be defiled with any filth. Insomuch as if her hole be besmeared with dirt, she will rather choose to be taken than to be polluted. Such are, or ought to be, the servants of God; "unspotted of the world," James 1:27 "undefiled in the way." Psalms 119:1

Verse 13

And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth,

And it came to pass, … — Incontinency is a breeder. It never goes alone, as some say the asp doth not, but hath many vices; impudency, subtlety, treacherous cruelty, …, that come of it, and accompany it; crying out, and calling to one another, as they once did; "Now Moab to the spoil." 2 Kings 3:23

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:

See, he hath brought in an Hebrew. — So she calls him, by way of contempt; as they called our Saviour Nazarene, and his followers Galileans. The Arians called the true Christians Ambrosians Athanasians, Homousians, … Sir Humphrey Lynde. And at this day, the most honourable name of Christian is in Italy and at Rome a name of reproach; and usually abused, to signify a fool, or a dolt. W. Fulke, Rhem. Test. on Acts xi., sec. iv.

Verse 15

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.

And it came to pass, … — How many innocents, in all ages, have perished by false accusation! Here, this vermin accuseth her husband of foolishness, her servant of filthiness; which she first affirmeth, secondly confirmeth, by producing his garment, left in her hands. That "accuser of the brethren" Revelation 12:10 set her on; as he did the malicious heathens, to traduce and denigrate those pure primitive Christians (purer than snow, whiter than milk; ruddier than rubies; their polishing was of sapphire, Lamentations 4:7 ), as so many murderers, man-eaters, adulterers, church-robbers traitors, … Tertullian. Which last, Lipsius calls Unicum crimen eorum, qui crimine vacabant. So the Waldenses were spitefully accused of Manicheeism, and Catharism; and thereupon a Croisado [crusade] was published against them, as common enemies. Arch. Ussher., De Christ. Eccles. Success. et Statu. p. 236. So, a little afore the massacre of Paris, it was given out by the French Papists, that the Protestants in their conventicles plotted treason, acted villany, … Camden’s Elisab., fol. 163. And after the massacre, there was a coin stamped, in the fore-part whereof, together with the king’s picture, was this inscription; Virtus in rebelles: and on the other side, Pietas excitavit iustitiam. Those that kill a dog, make the world believe he was mad first: so the enemies of the Church ever first traduced her to the world, and then persecuted her; Qui son chien vult tuer, la rage luy met sus. - A French Proverb. first "pulled off her veil," and then "wounded her." Song of Solomon 5:7

Verse 16

And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home.

See Trapp on " Genesis 39:12 " See Trapp on " Genesis 39:15 "

Verse 17

And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:

And she spake unto him, … — Here "the adulteress hunteth for the precious life." Proverbs 6:26 Her lust, as Amnon’s, turneth into extreme hatred. This is just the custom of a courtezan: -

“Aut te ardenter amat, aut te capitaliter odit.”

- Mantuan.

Heathens tell us the like of their Hippolytus; that when Phaedra, his stepmother, could not win him to her will this way, she accused him to his father Theseus, as if he had attempted her chastity: whereupon he was forced to flee his country. Likewise of Bellerophon, a young prince, with whoso beauty Sthenobaea, queen of Argives, being taken, solicited him to lie with her; which when he refused, she accused him to her husband, that he would have ravished her. Ovid, Metam. This he believing, sent him with letters to Iobates, king of Lycia, to make him away; Iobates put him upon many desperate services, to have despatched him. But finding him a valiant and victorious man, he afterwards bestowed his daughter on him, with part of his kingdom. Which when Sthenobaea heard of, she hanged herself for woe. Homer, Iliad, lib. vi. So perhaps did this housewife in the text, when she saw Joseph so highly advanced by Pharaoh. The death, howsoever, was too good for her.

Verse 18

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

See Trapp on " Genesis 39:15 "

Verse 19

And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.

His wrath was kindled. — Heb., Exarsit nasus eius. Good cause he had, if all had been true that his wife told him. Proverbs 6:34-35 It is well known how the rape of Lucrece was punished upon the Tarquins. Valentinian, the Emperor, defiled the wife of his subject Maximus. Maximus afterwards slew Valentinian, succeeded him in the empire, ravished his wife, and forced her to marry him. She, to be revenged, sent for Gensericus, who seized upon all Italy, … Eudoxiam Valentiniani uxorem vi compressam, turpibus nuptiis sibi copulat. But Potiphar was too light of belief; and should have examined the matter ere he had condemned the man. Credulity is a note of folly. Proverbs 14:15

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.

And Joseph’s master took him. — It was a providence that he had not presently slain him upon that false accusation. The devil is first a liar, and then a murderer; John 8:44 but he is limited by God. Joseph is imprisoned in the round tower, where "they hurt his feet with fetters; the iron entered into his soul." Psalms 105:18 , marg. He, meanwhile, either pleads not, or is not heard. Doubtless he denied the fact; but durst not accuse the offender. His innocency might afterwards appear, and thereupon the chief keeper show him favour. Genesis 39:21 But his master should have been better advised. If he lived till Joseph was advanced, he had as good cause to fear his power, as ever Joseph’s brethren had. Cardinal Wolsey was first schoolmaster of Magdalen School in Oxford; after that, beneficed by Marquess Dorset, whose children he had there taught; where he had not long been, but one Sir James Paulet, upon some displeasure, set him by the heels: which affront was afterwards neither forgotten nor forgiven. For when the schoolmaster became Lord Chancellor of England, he sent for him; and after a sharp reproof, imprisoned him: Negotiations of Card. Wols., p. 2. a good precedent for men in authority which work their own wiles without wit; not to punish out of humour, … Discite iustitiam moniti, … Despise not any man’s lowness; we know not his destiny.

Verse 21

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

But the Lord was with Joseph. — A prison keeps not God from his; witness the apostles and martyrs, whose prisons, by God’s presence, became palaces; the fiery furnace, a gallery of pleasure; the stocks, a music school. Acts 16:25 Bradford, after he was put in prison, had better health than before; and found great favour with his keeper, who suffered him to go whither he would, upon his promise to return by such an hour to his prison again. Act. and Mon., fol. 1489, 1457.

Verse 22

And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that [were] in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer [of it].

And the keeper of the prison. — Here Joseph experimented that of St Peter. 1 Peter 2:20

Verse 23

The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing [that was] under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and [that] which he did, the LORD made [it] to prosper.

Looked not to anything.See Trapp on " Genesis 40:6 " See Trapp on " Psalms 1:3 "

Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Genesis 39". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jtc/genesis-39.html. 1865-1868.
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