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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann

Genesis 39

Verses 1-6

Joseph Finds Favor with Potiphar

v. 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 Ishmaelites, which had brought him down thither. The statement of Genesis 37:36 is here repeated, since the story of Joseph is now resumed. He was sold as a slave to Potiphar, the chief officer of Pharaoh's bodyguard, and incidentally the chief executioner.

v. 2. And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. Joseph, in his duties as one of the house-slaves of Potiphar, was faithful, and therefore enjoyed the favor and the assistance of the Lord: signal good fortune attended all his work.

v. 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. It did not take long for Potiphar to notice that the rapid increase in his prosperity was to be ascribed to Joseph and to the blessing of the Lord upon the latter's faithfulness. Good fortune attended everything to which Joseph turned his hand.

v. 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. Naturally, the fact of his increasing prosperity caused Potiphar to look with favor upon his new slave, who was always willing and faithful in his service, and so the master entrusted to him the oversight over his entire establishment, which probably included the management of an extensive estate.

v. 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. Not only did Joseph show splendid executive ability, but it is emphatically stated that the blessing of God attended his work, and that Potiphar was blessed by the Lord on account of Joseph. Many a city and country has been blessed by God because of the believers, whose very presence served as a salt and whose prayers kept up the communication with the heavenly Father.

v. 6. a. And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and he knew not aught he had, save the bread which he did eat. So absolute was Potiphar's confidence in Joseph that he placed into his hands his entire business and did not concern himself with any part of its management. He was only interested in, and concerned about, his food, about his meals. This was not mere Oriental indolence, but also a good share of Oriental wisdom, for the more he left Joseph to his own devices, the better off he was, the wealthier he became.

Verses 7-12

Joseph Flees from Temptation

v. 6. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favored. He was a handsome young man, and well proportioned, well built.

v. 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. With lustful persuasions, continued for some time, she tried to lead him to commit fornication.

v. 8. But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master wotteth (knoweth) not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

v. 9. there is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife; how, then, can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? Joseph gave three reasons why he was obliged to be disobedient to his master's wife: It would have been a disgraceful abuse of the confidence placed in him by his master; it would have been an outrage upon Potiphar's rights as a husband; it-would have been adultery, a great crime in the sight of God. It is the thought of God, the fear of the Lord, the consciousness that nothing is hidden from His knowledge, that aids in fighting temptations of every kind.

v. 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. He resolutely turned his face from the temptation, he arranged his work so that he was never alone with her, all of which meant a continual battle with his own flesh and blood.

v. 11. And it came to pass about this time that Joseph went in to the house to do his business, a day came when he came to the house to attend to his work; and there was none of the men of the house there within. It was probably by her arrangement that all the servants were absent at that time.

v. 12. And she caught him by his garment, she took a firm hold of his outer garment, saying, Lie with me; she wanted to take by force what she could not obtain by her lustful suggestions. And he left the garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out. He preferred flight with the loss of his dress and of his good name to the loss of his chastity. So far as youthful lusts are concerned, there is only one way of dealing with them properly, namely, by fleeing from them, by fleeing fornication and every form of uncleanness. For it is here that no person dare to put too much confidence in himself.

Verses 13-23

Joseph Accused and Imprisoned

v. 13. And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth,

v. 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. The lust of Potiphar's wife was changed to hatred. Since she did not succeed in having her will, she determined to have her revenge. Although her attack on Joseph had taken place in a part of the house which was open to all, and not in the intimacy of her own room, yet the fact that she had Joseph's outer garment in her hand must serve as an accusation against him. For with well-simulated scorn she refers to her husband as having brought in this Hebrew, this outcast of a nomadic nation, for the purpose of exercising wanton mockery, not only against her, but against the virtue of all the women in the house. She accuses Joseph of behaving himself in a manner which would indeed have been legitimate in the case of a husband toward his wife, Genesis 26:8, but which was nothing more than a pretended seduction in her case. He came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice;

v. 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. She told her lie so skillfully that she even took care to state that Joseph had left his garment "at her side" instead of "in her hand," for the latter expression might have betrayed her.

v. 16. And she laid up his garment by her until his lord came home.

v. 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;

v. 18. and it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out. She could simulate outraged, innocent womanhood all the more easily since she knew that a slave could not testify for himself. In her boldness she almost reproaches Potiphar with having purposely endangered her chastity.

v. 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. Whether he suspected the true state of affairs to some extent or not, there was only one course open to the angry husband.

v. 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. The innocent young man was confined in the state prison, where the prisoners of the king, the criminals against the state, were kept. Thus many an innocent Christian has been obliged to suffer wrongfully, to be suspected and accused of crimes of various kind. In spite of all that, however, the believers place their trust in the mercy of God.

v. 21. But the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. The hearts of men are in the hands of the Lord, and He can guide them like rivers of water. It was the mercy of the Lord which secured for Joseph the favor of the jailer, himself an officer under Potiphar.

v. 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. Although Joseph himself was a, prisoner, the jailer's trust in him was so great that he gave him charge of all the prisoners and of all the work which the prisoners had to perform.

v. 23. The keeper of the prison looked not to anything that was under his hand, with regard to all things which were expected of him he placed implicit confidence in Joseph; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper. With a clear conscience and the Lord's favor on their side, the believers are able to endure not only false accusations, but even worse tribulations, the loss of liberty and of life.

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Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Genesis 39". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/genesis-39.html. 1921-23.