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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 39

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-6


Genesis 39:1. Pharaoh.] The name is derived from Phra, meaning the sun. Potiphar means belonging to the sun.

Genesis 39:2. The Lord.] Jehovah. This, the covenant name of God, is here, for the first time, introduced into Joseph’s history.—

Genesis 39:6. And he knew not aught he had, save the bread which he did eat.] Heb. Knew not anything with him. He did not insist upon a personal knowledge of his affairs, but left everything to Joseph. “But this committal of his affairs to Joseph did not extend to anything concerning his food, for that would have been an abomination.” (Genesis 43:32.) (Alford.)—



I. Its extraordinary nature. Here was a man who had everything against him. A youth of seventeen years of age, torn from his father, from home and country, and sold as a slave among idolators; what condition could be more hopeless and forlorn? And yet this youth is raised from his low and mean estate to the highest place in his master’s house, and has unlimited confidence reposed in him. He prospers to a wonderful extent, and causes all around him to prosper. (Genesis 39:2-3.) Cast off by his own brethren, he rises amongst strangers to dignity and honour.

II. Its basis and security. How are we to account for this young man rising thus in the face of every disadvantage?

1. By his own bearing and conduct. Surely Joseph must have been cheerful and resigned under his hard lot. He must have made himself agreeable to his master by his diligence in business, and by a brave and manly behaviour. He had nothing of the meanness of the slave about him. His great character shined through every outward disadvantage, and charmed and impressed all who came under its influence. He was a noble example of one who was completely resigned to the will of God in affliction. In the day of adversity he would consider, and be quiet in his confidence, bating no jot of heart or hope; but still bearing up and trusting the faithfulness of his God. Firm faith in the revelations made to him of his coming greatness sustained him in the midst of overwhelming adversities. There was nothing like fretfulness about this man; for a gloomy and peevish spirit would not have won the admiration of his master. Joseph rose to influence by the force of character.

2. By the favour of God. It was the grace of God that made his character what it was, and imparted to it an energy for good. That grace, in the form of favour and blessing, made Joseph prosperous. “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man.” The Covenant Jehovah was with him, his portion, his guide, his stay and support. He was like the tree planted by the rivers of water. “Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” (Psalms 1:1; Psalms 1:3.) He was robbed of all society but that of his God. He left behind him father and home, but he took God with him. He could be persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. Surely he could say in the spirit of the words of the Psalmist: “When my father and mother forsake me, then Jehovah will take me up.”

III. Its lessons.

1. That God’s blessings and grace are with His people everywhere, and under the severest trials. The grace of God was seen in the noble bearing of Joseph in adversity, and the blessing of God in that prosperity which he gained. No exile, no stroke of adversity can deprive God’s saints of their best comforts.

2. That God’s blessing and grace in His people are manifest to others. “His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord had made all that he did to prosper in his hand.” (Genesis 39:3.) The spiritual convictions of Joseph, which made his outward life what it was, were recognised by his master. He felt that he was in the presence of a goodness which was uncommon and superior, and which could only be traced to a Divine spring. Such is the power of a saintly character which compels the world to ascribe it to the grace of God. If a man love the Lord, the same is known of him. The saints of God though hid as to their deepest feelings, and the Divine source of their strength, cannot be hid as to the influence of their lives and the impressions of their character. They are public lights. They compel observation, like a city set upon a hill which cannot be hid. It is to Joseph’s credit that his goodness was manifest to all, for this implies that he did not hide his religion. It is probable that he took his stand at once as a worshipper of the true God. The Lord gave him the hearts of all. “Them that honour me I will honour.” (1 Samuel 2:30.)

3. That God blesses others for the sake of His people. His Kindness overflows to those who, by His providence, are brought into relations with them. The Egyptian’s house is blessed for Joseph’s sake. (Genesis 39:5.) God blesses those who bless His own people, according to the promise. (Genesis 12:3.) He makes His saints a blessing. Thus was Jacob made to Laban; Joseph to the house of Potiphar, and afterwards to all Egypt; Israel to the world. “Salvation is of the Jews.”

4. That God is still working out His designs, even when they seem to fail. The hope of the house of Israel centered upon Joseph; and now, to all human appearance, all was lost. But God, though hidden for awhile in the mysterious way of His providence, was working out His own purposes. His wisdom would yet be manifest. Had the House of Jacob remained in Canaan, they would, in all probability, have been dispersed among the people, have lost their unity and independence, and been wasted by numerous wars. In Egypt they would grow up into a great and united people, and receive the advantage of an important educational influence by being brought into contact with that seat of culture and worldly power. They would thus acquire the elements of political strength. Even the afflictions which were visited upon them worked for their good, by drawing them closer together and thus preserving their unity, and by awakening in them a longing after redemption. The destiny of the church has often seemed, to merely human eyes, to hang upon the frail thread of some threatened life; from such threads as Joseph in prison, Moses in the ark, David in the cave of Adullam. But the providence of God, like His mercy, is ever faithful, ever sure.


Genesis 39:1. Joseph brought down to Egypt and sold as a slave—a dark Providence. But consider his own interpretation of it when he reviews it in the time to come. “Be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither; for God,” etc. (Genesis 45:5; Genesis 45:7.) God orders all the ways of His people; and though they may seem to be forgotten, His eye is always upon them.

This was to Joseph “the day of his distress,” as Jacob called that sad day when he departed from his father’s house. Surely the archers may well be said to have sorely grieved him.

Genesis 39:2-3. The Covenant God victoriously carries forward His decrees through all the need, sufferings, and ignomony of His people.—(Lange.)

God’s presence can make up for any loss, and bless us in any place.
What a difference is there between the case of Joseph and that of Jonah! They were both in trouble, both absent from God’s people, and among the heathen; but the sufferings of the one were for righteousness sake, while those of the other were of his own procuring.—(Fuller.)

Prosperity is not always a sign of God’s special favour, yet His hand is always to be recognised in it by His people, when He sees it would be better for them than adversity, or when, by means of it, He proposes to make them blessings to others.—(Bush.)

Potiphar was constrained to acknowledge that Joseph was the object of Divine care and favour. Here is an example to Christians to recommend the Gospel by their fidelity and diligence, and to be faithful to God even when there are no religious friends about them to watch over them.

Genesis 39:4. Joseph’s promotion illustrates—

1. The principle, that he who is faithful over a few things shall be made ruler over many things.
2. The principle, that God honours those who honour Him.
3. That God was carrying out hereby His purpose of mercy towards the house of Jacob.

He that is mourned for in Canaan, as dead, prospers in Egypt under Potiphar; and of a slave, is made ruler. Thus God meant to prepare him for a greater charge; he must first rule Potiphar’s house, then Pharaoh’s kingdom.—(Bishop Hall.)

Genesis 39:5. Joseph reminds us of St. Paul (2 Corinthians 6:0), who through the persecutions of his brethren is forced to carry the light of God’s kingdom into the heathen world.

Pious stewards, and pious servants of every class, are a blessing to their masters, not only because they are faithful and manage their affairs with discretion, but because they draw down the special blessing of God upon the households to which they belong. Masters may learn what treatment is due to faithful servants; they ought to trust, to honour, and to love them. When men are precious in God’s sight they are honourable, whatever be their station in life.—(Bush.)

Genesis 39:6. 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.—(Trapp.)

Beauty of person and face is a quality which gains love, and ought to make the possessor of it thankful; but it easily proves a snare. It was Joseph’s comfort that he was beloved by his master, but it was his misfortune that he was too well beloved by his mistress.—(Bush).

Verses 7-12


Genesis 39:9. Sin against God.] Joseph uses the common name for God in addressing this Egyptian.—

Genesis 39:11. About this time.] Heb. At this day. The day on which the occurrence now related took place.



I. The strength of it. Joseph had been severely tried on the side of endurance of adversity, now he is tried by the more perilous temptation of sensuality. This was a most fierce temptation, when we consider—

1. His youth. Joseph was young and of beautiful form and countenance. In youth endowed with high health and vigour the sensual passions are violent and impetuous. The temptation to gratify them is strong.

2. The force of opportunity. Joseph’s beauty proved a snare to him. His master’s wife “cast her eyes” upon him. (Genesis 39:7.) He had not to seek to draw her into temptation. She solicited him.

3. The prospect of advancement which his compliance would secure. “He saw this pleasure would advance him: he knew what it was to be a minion of one of the greatest ladies in Egypt: yet resolves to contemn.”—(Bp. Hall.)

4. The repetition of the temptation. It was renewed day by day. (Genesis 39:10.) Many are able to withstand temptation in the first instance who yet fail to hold out to the end. Eve resisted the tempter at the first outset, but was overcome by the second. Samson refused at first to satisfy Delilah’s insidious questions, but was at last conquered by the tears and importunities of that fair woman. The assaults of temptation may prevail even over sturdy virtue by repeated blows.

II. His resistance of it. Mark the grounds upon which he refuses the base proposal. He says nothing about the wickedness of the tempter. He utters no word of reproach for her sensuality and faithlessness; but simply considers his own obligation—what he ought to do.

1. He pleads the law of honour. His master had reposed great trust in him, and he must not abuse that confidence. (Genesis 39:8-9.)

2. He pleads the law of chastity. “How then can I do this great wickedness?” It was a moral wrong in itself, an invasion of the rights of another, a crime against society.

3. He pleads the law of piety. It was “a sin against God,” a direct violation of His commandment. He recognises a supreme authority over human conduct. It would be trespass against heaven to break through God’s distinct prohibition. He must be faithful to God as well as to man.

III. His victory over it.

1. It was obtained by flight. (Genesis 39:12). He was firm in refusing, and yet he would not imperil his virtue by remaining in the neighbourhood of temptation. He would not expose his strength to too severe and to an unnecessary trial. Therefore he consulted his safety by taking to flight. Such flight is more honourable than the most heroic deeds. He who would avoid being vanquished by temptation must use his own prudence in taking the first way of escape. Divine aid is only for those who are willing to work in harmony with it.

2. It was obtained through loss. He retained a good conscience—the approval of God, but he lost his good name. His real character in the sight of God was preserved pure, but his reputation in the sight of men was gone. He would rather lie humbled in the dust, under the imputation of evil, than rise by sinful means. “How much had he rather leave his cloak than his virtue; and to suffer his mistress to spoil him of his liberty, rather than he should blemish her honour, or his master’s in her, or God’s in either of them?”—(Bp. Hall.)


Genesis 39:7. After these things. 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.—(Trapp.)

The times of our advance in the world may prove the times of our greatest temptation.

Circe may enchant us, the cockatrice slay us with her sight. “Let her not take thee with her eyelids,” saith Solomon (Proverbs 6:25); as larks, while they gaze in a glass, are taken in a day-net.—(Trapp.)

All the spite of his brethren was not so great a cross to him as the inordinate affection of his mistress.—(Bp. Hall.)

Genesis 39:8. Joseph, as an example of chastity, stands here in the brightest light when compared with the conduct of Judah in the previous chapter.—(Lange.)

He refused, though this wicked woman could easily have taken her revenge upon him for it.

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, but evil for good is devilish. 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.)—(Trapp.)

Verse 9. He considers his obligation as heightened by the generosity and kindness of his master, who withheld nothing else from him. Eve reasoned at first on this principle (Genesis 3:2.), and had she kept to it, she had been safe. When we are tempted to covet what God has forbidden, it were well to think of the many things which He has not forbidden, but freely given us.—(Fuller.)

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,” and “therefore he was not moved.” (Psalms 16:8.) 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.—(Trapp.)

It will not only be treachery to my master on earth, but daring wickedness against my Master in heaven. God is our Maker and our Judge; and if honour required Joseph to be faithful to his master, much more did religion, which is a far stronger principle, oblige him to be faithful to his God; if gratitude bound him not to sin against the former, how much more strong ought that feeling be towards God?—(Bush.)

The fear of God is the keeper of all other virtues.

Genesis 39:10. Joseph finds it necessary to shun her company. This showed—

1. His great sincerity: for if we throw ourselves in the way of temptation, or be not careful to shun it when occasions offer, in vain do we talk against sin.

2. Great wisdom: for though he had been kept hitherto, he was not sure that he should be so in future.

3. Great resolution and perseverance: for it is not every one who withstands a temptation in the first instance that holds out to the end. Job endured a series of trials and sinned not; yet afterwards spake things which he ought not.

4. Great grace. “Can a man go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?” No; if we voluntarily go into temptation, we shall assuredly be hurt, if not ruined by it; but when God by His providence leads us into it for the trial of our graces, we may hope to be preserved in it, and brought victorious out of it.—(Fuller.)

Genesis 39:11-12. We are reminded here of Solomon’s description of an impudent woman. (Proverbs 7:13-23).

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 any commandment, to avoid any piece of foul way.—(Trapp.)

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; for, behold the pledge of his fidelity, which he left in those wicked hands, is made an evidence against him, of that which he refused to do; therefore did he leave his cloak, because he would not do that of which he is accused and condemned, because he left it. What safety is there against great adversaries, when even arguments of innocence are used to convince of evil? Lust yielded unto is a pleasant madness, but is desperate madness when it is opposed; no hatred burns so furiously as that which arises from the quenched coals of love.—(Bp. Hall.)

Verses 13-18


Genesis 39:14. An Hebrew.] “A Hebrew is still the only national designation proper to Joseph. (Genesis 14:13.) Jacob’s descendants had not got beyond the family. The term Israelite was therefore not yet in use. The national name is designedly used as a term of reproach among the Egyptians.” (Genesis 43:32.) (Murphy.)—

Genesis 39:15. Left his garment with me.] “Not in her hand, which would have been suspicious.” (Murphy.)—

Genesis 39:20. The prison.] Heb. House of roundness, or round-house. Called a “dungeon.” (Genesis 41:14) A place where the king’s prisoners were bound. An added explanation.—



I. The boldness of it. With her consciousness of guilt, thus to set herself up as a model of immovable virtue, was a most daring boldness.

II. The malignity of it. The charge was preferred out of pure malignity. It was the vengeance of disappointed passion. She plots the destruction of a good man for no other reason but his incomparable virtues. No worse wickedness can be ascribed to the devil.

III. The art and cunning of it. She calls the servants and tells them her unblushing lie, so that they might be witnesses of the insult offered to her by this Hebrew. As the appearances were altogether against Joseph, they might consider themselves all but eye-witnesses of his guilt. She speaks to them in a contemptuous manner of her husband, throwing all the blame upon him; and she does not scruple even to impute the same to his face. “See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us.” “The Hebrew servant which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me.” (Genesis 39:14; Genesis 39:17). She says nothing concerning the injury done to her husband, but charges him with being the cause of this attack upon her virtue. This would excite his wrath and put him upon the vindication of his honour. He would be ready to excuse her words spoken under the inspiration of the noble rage of offended virtue. Yet a discerning mind might perceive here that her cunning really overshot its mark. The fact that she speaks so disrespectfully of her husband reveals the estrangement of her heart from him, and also a design to annoy him by holding him up to the contempt of his servants.

IV. The lessons of this history.

1. That impurity and falsehood are closely allied. The devil, as he is an unclean spirit, so he is also a liar. This is the first example of gross calumniation recorded in Scripture, and it comes from an adulterous woman.

2. That God’s saints should be patient under false accusations. All things concerning the righteous, even their persecutions, are under the control of God; and in the long run, He will vindicate their honour. He will bring forth their righteousness as the light, and their judgment as the noonday, though it may have been long hidden under the clouds of calumny. God may seem to bring His people down to the very grave, and yet He will surely bring them up. The 37th Psalm teaches us how we are to consider this affliction of Joseph.

3. That we should do the thing that is right in utter disregard of all evil consequences to ourselves. By maintaining his integrity and purity, Joseph exposed himself to the imputation of being regarded as a monster of iniquity. In the cause of righteousness he had literally to bear sin. But he heeded not consequences. He only thought of obligation. He bore the reputation of a sinner, but his record was on high, his judgment with his God. What we have to avoid is the sin itself; against the lie there may be found a remedy.


Genesis 39:13. The danger incurred by this was very obvious. Her resentment might improve it as the instrument of his destruction; or, if she endeavoured, for her own sake, to conceal it, an accident might probably discover it, and raise very dark suspicions against him. But convinced that sin was an infinitely worse evil than disgrace or death, he is determined to fly at all hazards.—(Bush.)

Genesis 39:14-18. The disappointed passion of Potiphar’s wife had settled down into malice. There are two kinds of love: that love which ever increases, and that which, usurping the name of love, contains within itself the germ of its own destruction.—(Robertson).

The demon of lust is soon converted into that of rage and revenge. (2 Samuel 13:15.)

Doubtless he denied the fact, but he dare not accuse the offender. There is not only the praise of patience, but of times of wisdom, even in unjust sufferings. He knew that God would find time to clear his innocence, and to regard his chaste faithfulness.—(Bp. Hall).

Verses 19-23


Genesis 39:22. Keeper of the prison.] An inferior officer who was charged with the actual discipline of the prison.



I. An example of the mysterious ways of Providence. The outward sufferings of Joseph were grievous. He was bound as well as imprisoned. They “hurt” his feet “with fetters.” (Psalms 105:18.) But his trouble went deeper than this. “The iron entered his soul.” Though conscious of innocence, yet in the eyes of men he suffered as one guilty. He had to bear shame, and reproach, and punishment on account of his integrity and uprightness. All this time his enemies flourished and triumphed over him. Such is the mystery of Providence in all ages. The prizes of the world seem mostly to fall to the lot of the selfish and the sinful. The just is often made a prey to the sons of violence, and condemned to obscurity and failure, while the ungodly are in great prosperity and are borne to the stars by flatteries and applause. This has been the puzzle of God’s people in all ages. When they have thought upon the dark ways of God’s dealings here it has been a pain and grief to their souls. To all outward appearance, it is not justice, but the blindest and most undiscriminating chance that rules the world.

II. An example of the strength of God’s consolations in the worst trials. Joseph had God’s consolations within him which enabled him to bear up, and hope on, and press forward, even though he could not see his way before him.

1. He had a present reward. “The Lord was with Joseph.” The promise made to Abraham was his. The Lord was in all places and in all circumstances his “exceeding great reward.” (Genesis 15:1.) He had the satisfaction of a good conscience, in the thought of duty nobly done. God was with him, and near him, his help and stay. What can be greater than this to a man who can fully realise it? It is true that Joseph was afterwards exalted to greatness and prosperity. But this was not his true reward, which was one altogether spiritual and unseen by the world. In a most sacred and exclusive sense, his reward was with the Most High. God does not pay His people in the coin and honours of this world.

2. His goodness was made manifest. That brought him a further reward in the sight of men, and led the way to his advancement and exaltation. The first effect was to give him influence over others. He rose in favour with the keeper of the prison. (Genesis 39:21.) “We observe here the real nature of human influence. It is not the influence of rank, but of character. Make all men equal in rank to-day, and to-morrow there will be found those who have acquired influence over the others. These prisoners were all in the same position, but very soon Joseph’s character gained him influence. Thus, by the influence of Paul, the jailer at Philippi was converted, Felix trembled before him, and Agrippa was almost persuaded to be a Christian. Let such a man be imprisoned, but he will soon have converted Cæsar’s household, for his influence is real.”—(Robertson.)


Genesis 39:19-20. A prison is a place of humiliation and shame. The inmates are the actual or suspected perpetrators of evil, whose name is a reproach, whom society casts out. But within these walls of guilt we find a guiltless man. The blameless Joseph is here immured. Without transgression, he is numbered with transgressors. Joseph in custody, reviled for iniquity which he knew not, foreshadows Jesus, who, without sin, is made sin for us. He for whom the heaven of heavens is no worthy throne, is clothed for us in prison garb, and tastes for us the prison shame. Hence the Spirit records, “He was taken from prison and from judgment.” But Jesus was arrested by the justice of God. But wherefore? He lived the Holy Man Jesus. He died the Holy Sufferer. How then could justice touch Him with a jailor’s grasp? Because, though no shade of sin was in Him, mountains of sin were upon Him. God transfers the sins of the sinful to His sinless Son. Wondrous is the word, but true as wondrous, “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquities of us all.” [Archdeacon Law: “Christ is All.”]

Genesis 39:21-23. No sooner is Joseph a prisoner, than a guardian of the prisoners. Trust and honour accompany him wheresoever he is: in his father’s house, in Potiphar’s, in the jail, in the court; still he hath both favour and rule. So long as God is with him, he cannot but shine in spite of men. The walls of that dungeon cannot hide his virtues, the irons cannot hold them. Pharaoh’s officers are sent to witness his graces, which he may not come forth to shew.—(Bp. Hall.)

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.)—(Trapp.)

Observe the religious tone of this account. We read nothing of Joseph’s intellectual superiority, but that “the Lord was with him.” The reason of his influence was the God within him. Just so far as a man is Christlike will he have influence.—(Robertson.)

In Joseph’s condition, nothing is to be seen but death, the loss of his fair fame, and of all his virtues. Now comes Christ with his eyes of grace, and throws light into the grave. “Joseph is to become a Lord, though he had seemingly entered into the prison of hell.”—(Luther). Joseph’s way is now for a time in the darkness, but this is the very way through which God often leads his people.—(Lange.)

Joseph had much yet to do in this world. He was to become “the shepherd and the stone of Israel.” He was to be lord of Pharaoh’s house, according to the dreams which came to him from heaven; he was to become the father of two powerful tribes in Israel. He could not perish while the promises he had received were yet unaccomplished. All the powers of darkness combined would find themselves unable to put one of God’s servants to death whilst any part of his work remained unperformed. What can man do against God? Not only the righteous and the wise, and their works, but the unrighteous, the unwise, and the worst of their works, are in the hands of God.—(Bush.)

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 39". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/genesis-39.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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