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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 39

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

Verses 1-23

Joseph, Servant of Potiphar

Genesis 39:1-23


There is a chapter that is thrown in between the story of Joseph sold to the Ishmaelites, and Joseph bought by Potiphar and made a servant in Egypt. That chapter is the thirty-eighth. It seems to break the continuity of the message concerning Joseph, and yet it is vitally placed just where it is.

From a prophetical viewpoint the story of Judah and his marriage to Shuah seems to us to set forth the story of Israel during the period lying between the Crucifixion and the Second Coming of Christ.

Let us note some of these things.

1. Judah married Shuah. The meaning of the word "Shuah" is prosperity. Shuah was a Canaanite. Her name seems to stand for trading, and merchandising. Putting the two names together, the thought is prosperity through trading.

We do not know that the Holy Spirit meant to signify what these words suggest. We do know, however, that the Children of Israel turned from their earliest occupation of shepherdizing and became, more and more, traffickers in the commerce of the world, following in the footsteps of Lot more than in the footsteps of Abraham.

The Jew today stands before us as the personification of business genius. He is a trader and a trafficker, and, nationally, the Jew of today holds much of the wealth of the world in his hands.

2. Judah called his first son by the name of Er, his second son, Onan; his third son, Shelah. Mr. Pink says; "The 'Numerical Bible' suggests as the meaning of their names: 'Er' enmity; 'Onan' iniquity; 'Shelah' sprout. Deeply significant, too, are these names. 'Enmity' against Christ is what has marked the Jews all through the centuries of this Christian era. 'Iniquity' surely fits this avaricious people, the average merchant of whom is noted for dishonesty, lying and cheating. While 'sprout' well describes the feeble life of this nation, so marvelously preserved by God through innumerable trials and persecutions. The chapter terminates with the sordid story of Tamar, the closing portions of which obviously foreshadowing the end-time conditions of the Jews. In the time of her travail 'twins were in her womb' (Genesis 38:27 ). So in the tribulation period there shall be two companies in Israel. The first, appropriately named 'Pharez,' which means 'breach,' speaking of the majority of the nation who will break completely with God and receive and worship the antichrist. The second 'Zerah,' that had the 'scarlet thread' upon his hand (Genesis 38:30 ), pointing to the godly remnant who will be saved, as was Rahab of old by the 'scarlet cord.'"


The typology of the story of Joseph is wonderful. The Holy Spirit seems to carry us back to a discussion of Christ's earth life and then, to lead us up again to the message of His crucifixion. That is, in chapter thirty-seven we had Joseph sold for twenty pieces of silver, and the Cross was in full view. Then the story of Judah came in chapter thirty-eight. Now in chapter thirty-nine, we go back to Christ among men as a servant, and, once more, we steadily approach the final Calvary pronouncement.

1. The contrast between Joseph, the son living with, his father, and, Joseph, the servant of Potiphar is very striking. As long as Joseph was with Jacob, he was recognized and honored. He was loved and protected. That his home life was happy we dare not doubt. To Jacob he was indeed the son of his love.

In Egypt all was changed. He who had dreams of sovereignty and power was now a servant to Potiphar, a slave through the treachery and malignity of his brethren.

Thus did Jesus Christ pass from the home of love and light, where He was revered and worshiped by angelic hosts as God, the Son, into the mongrel life of a servant, maligned by His brethren.

2. The willingness with which Joseph yielded himself to his new surroundings. When Joseph was first sold by his brethren to the Ishmaelites and when now he was sold by the Ishmaelites to Potiphar he offered no resistance. So far as the record goes, he quietly accepted his lot and went his way trusting in God to deliver him.

When Jesus Christ was rejected of men, He also resisted not evil, but allowed Himself to be taken. He yielded Himself into the hands of His enemies, suffering them to do with Him whatsoever they would.

May God grant unto us the same spirit as was manifested by Joseph and by Joseph's Lord. If we are smitten on one cheek, may we quietly turn the other also, remembering that Christ, when He was buffeted, buffeted not again.


The fact that Joseph was a servant by no means stole from him the favor and blessing of the Lord. The truth was that Joseph was blessed from above in all that he did.

1. The Lord Jesus while on earth, a servant, was prospered by the Father. Wherever Christ went, and whatsoever Christ did, God was with Him. Christ in His earthbound servitude knew no break in His fellowship and favor with the Father.

The enmity of Joseph's brethren did not hold back the favors of the Most High, neither did the enmity of Christ's brethren hold back God's manifestation of grace.

On one occasion, the Jews cried out, "Let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him," but God did have Him. There was never a moment that the Father failed to prosper the Son. Only once did He hide His face and that was when Christ was upon the Cross during the hours of His anguish as He was made sin for us.

2. The Lord Jesus was prospered by the fellowship of about five hundred brethren. We all realize that tremendous crowds followed Him in His early ministry, but these sooner or later forsook Him and fled. There were at least five hundred who stood the test of the dark days of the crucifixion. It was to these that the Lord Jesus appeared after His resurrection.

3. The Father will prosper all those who put their faith in Him and follow Him fully. Of the blessed man of Psalm one it is written, "Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." This was true primarily of Christ. It is true secondarily of the saints whose delight is in the Law of the Lord, and who walk in His will and way.

Every true believer lives under the smile of God. The Lord touches the work of His hand and blesses it.

The beatitudes of the sermon on the mount are still vitally true in every one who fulfills their conditions.


1. Potiphar made Joseph the overseer over his house. He put all that he had into his hand. He knew not the details of his business affairs save the bread which he did eat. This was a very remarkable condition. A young man, some seventeen or eighteen years of age, so quickly grown in favor and in power, even when so many obstacles confronted him.

2. The Lord Jesus was made mighty by the Father. He was given authority and power over all things the sick, the lame, the halt, and the blind were healed. The dead were brought back to life, even the elements were wholly under the control and authority of the Son of God.

The blessing of the Father was upon the Son, and all who came under His shadow received good at His hand. He lived for others. He sought their welfare.

3. The Father turned everything over into the hands of the Son. The words of the Father were spoken by the Son; the will of the Father was wrought by the Son; the work of the Father was done by the Son. When at last the Lord was ready to go back to the Father, He said, "I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do."

We need to put ourselves under the same Divine Headship, being true to our trust, obedient to every command, fulfilling every desire of God. We are called into partnership with the Father and with His Son. We are the representatives of a Heavenly court. We too, are sent forth empowered of the Father. God has turned all of His house over into our hands, saying, "Occupy till I come." May we be found faithful in our house, even as Joseph and Joseph's Lord were faithful in theirs.


The sixth verse reads: "And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured." He was good not only in his deeds, but he was of goodly appearance. He was the kind of man which attracted men to him. There are some who are right and righteous, but who are not goodly. They carry their righteousness with a bad flavor. They are austere and unduly strict. Their righteousness is more like a garment which is worn than like a fountain which sends forth sweet water.

Joseph was kindly disposed. He was gentle, patient, longsuffering, and kind.

Jesus Christ was a goodly Person and well-favored. Not only was He sinless, but He was everything that was good. Even the little children were drawn to Him. He was the kind who took the little ones in His arms and blessed them. There is a wonderful description of our Lord which describes Him as carrying the lambs in His bosom and gently leading those who are with young.

The Lord always had a helping hand, a kindly look, a sympathetic word, for those who needed Him.

This goodliness of Joseph which was so marked in Jesus our Lord should be the predominant characteristic of every child of God. The fruit of the Spirit is love and gentleness and goodness and meekness, Christian people who are not well-favored are more likely to be a bane than a blessing. There is more in a kind look and a Christlike word than there is in much of the pomp and the glory of pharisaical religious hypocrisy. We live in deeds far more than in words, and in the tone of the word sometimes far more than in the sense of the word.


Read: "How then can I do this great wickedness * * he hearkened not" (Genesis 39:9-10 ).

1. He who has friends will have enemies. The fact that a man is goodly in person and well-favored in life does not mean that he will be free from the tempter's snare. Such an one as Joseph is the very one whom Satan would seek to harass and, if possible, to overcome.

Thus it was that the wife of Joseph's master laid deep plots to bring him under her power. She used every subterfuge known to her class.

Joseph, however, stood true, a victor at every turn. He sard: to this woman, "There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back anything from me * * how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?"

It may be all right for some men to do some things, but it would not be right for a saint. God has given unto us all things under our power. We are representatives of a Heavenly court and we dare not do anything that will defame our Lord, and harm His Holy Name.

2. Jesus Christ had His enemies. Satan and all of his hordes were set against the Son of God to do Him harm. They left no stone unturned, no word unsaid, that would drag the Master down from His glory.

The first great temptation was that in the wilderness when every appeal was made to Jesus Christ that had been made to Adam. Jesus Christ, however, stood impervious to each onslaught and drove the devil back into the lair of his defeat.

Following the temptation and on through his whole three years of ministry, Satan and Satan-energized men besought to entangle the Master in His speech. They tried to get some proof against Him as to His loyalty to Caesar. They sought to incriminate Him with an undue familiarity with sinners, going so far as to call Him a wine-bibber and a glutton. In all of this, however, the Lord Jesus Christ proved Himself the Son of God without sin.


1. Even the true and the faithful oftentimes suffer unjustly. When Potiphar's wife saw that she had no power against Joseph to lead him into sin, then she falsely accused him. First of all she accused him to the servants of her household, and afterwards unto her husband who was Joseph's master.

Our Lord knew that it would be impossible to live unharassed by the enemy. Therefore, He through Paul said, "As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."

When we are maligned and viciously lied against we need not to avenge ourselves. Joseph offered no proof of his innocency to his master. He did not seek to vindicate his course. He simply accepted what came and went to prison.

We have discovered that when anyone makes a big howl about some accusation made against him, that more than likely he is guilty. The innocent do not try to defend themselves upon their righteous course. They trust in God.

2. The Lord Jesus Christ was falsely accused. The Scribes and Pharisees suborned witnesses to testify against the Lord Jesus Christ. They even paid them money for their dirty work.

When Christ stood before Pilate, Pilate realized that there were no just charges against his prisoner. All he saw was a great mob gone mad with envy. He, as Governor, went so far as to wash his hands before the people saving, "I find no fault in Him."

We are quite sure that Joseph's master, when he gave orders to put Joseph in prison, believed fully in Joseph's innocency; we are absolutely sure that when Pilate turned Jesus over to be crucified, he knew that Jesus was innocent of every charge and was in no sense worthy either of bonds or of death.



Speaking of Joseph as a servant brings to mind the following from the pen of Charles H. Spurgeon:

"'A servant must have something in hand, he must have his pay from quarter to quarter, or from week to week. He is not expecting to receive his master's possessions, and, therefore, seeks a present wage; but an heir waiteth till the estate falls in to him, and looks not lor present gains.' Thus may we discern between the mere hireling and the true-born child: the one deserts the Lord's service when it does not pay down on the nail; the other never expects reward till glory shall crown his labors. It is a sad thing for any sort of people when Jesus can say of them, 'Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward.' They cannot expect to be paid twice, and as their account is discharged in full, what have they to look for?

"Blessed shall we be if we are enabled to imitate the example of the Lord Jesus, who served the Father in the spirit of Sonship. Love made Him rise above all idea of present recompense: He waited the Father's time, and He still waits for His complete reward till the hour of His Second Advent shall arrive.

"'A servant,' according to Job, 'earnestly desireth the shadow' of evening, when his task will be ended; 'and the hireling looketh for the reward of his work': this is nothing more than natural, for they have no interest in the work beyond their pay. But the heir loveth his father, and worketh and waiteth patiently, for the father saith to him. 'All that I have is thine.' In serving the cause of God we are really serving ourselves, for we are partakers in this great cause, even as the interest of sons is one with that of their father. Can we not. therefore, 'both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord'?"

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Genesis 39". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/genesis-39.html.
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