Lectionary Calendar
Monday, May 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 39

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-6

Genesis 39:1-6

And Joseph was brought down to Egypt

The prosperity of Joseph in the house of his first master


ITS EXTRAORDINARY NATURE. Cast off by his own brethren, he rises amongst strangers to dignity and honour.


1. His own bearing and conduct.

2. The favour of God.


1. That God’s blessings and grace are with His people everywhere, and under the severest trials.

2. That God’s blessing and grace are manifest to Others (Genesis 39:3).

3. That God blesses others for the sake of His people (Genesis 39:5).

4. That God is still working out His designs, even when they seem to fail. (T. H. Leale.)

Lessons from Joseph in captivity

1. We have all our captivities at some time or other in our experience. The essence of Joseph’s trial here was that he was taken whither he had no wish to go, and was prevented from going back again to the home in which his father was sitting mourning for his loss. But is not interference with our comfort or our liberty still the bitter element in all our afflictions? Take bodily illness, for example, and when you get at the root of the discomfort of it, you find it in the union of these two things: you are where you do not want to be--where you would never have thought of putting yourself--and you are held there, whether you will or not, by a Power that is stronger than your own. No external force constrains you, no fetters are on your limbs, yet you are held where you are against your own liking, and you do not relish the situation--you are a captive. But the same thing comes out in almost every sort of trial. You are, let me suppose, in business perplexity. But that is not of your own choosing; if you could have managed it, you would have been in quite different circumstances. Yet, in spite of you, things have gone against you. Men whom you had implicitly trusted, and whom you would have had no more thought of doubting than you would think now of doubting your mother’s love, have proved deceitful; or the course of trade has gone against you, and you are brought to a stand. You have been carried away perhaps by brothers, perhaps by Ishmaelites--for the race is not yet extinct--from the Canaan of comfort to the Egypt captivity, and you are now in helpless perplexity. It may be standing, not like Joseph, in the slave-pen, but in the market place of labour, and condemned to do nothing, because “no man hath hired” you. Ah! there are many, too many always, in a largo city like this who are in just such circumstances. What then? Let them learn from Joseph here that the first thing to do in a captivity is to acquiesce in it as the will of God concerning them.

2. But then, in the second place, we must learn from Joseph to make the best of our remaining opportunities in our captivity. If he was to be a slave, Joseph was determined he would be the best of slaves, and what he was required to do he would do with his might and with his heart. This is a most important consideration, and it may, perhaps, help to explain why similar trials have had such different results in different persons. One has been bemoaning that it is not with him as it used to be, while the other has discovered that some talents have been still left him, and he has set to work with these. One has been saying, “If I had only the resources which I once possessed I could do something; but now they have gone, I am helpless.” But the other has been soliloquizing thus: “If I can do nothing else I can at least do this, little as it is; and if I put it into the hand of Christ, He can make it great”; and so we account for the unhappiness and uselessness of the one, and for the happiness and usefulness of the other. Nor will it do to say that this difference is a mere thing of temperament. It is a thing of character. The one acts in faith, recognizing God’s hand in his affliction, the other acts in unbelief, seeing nothing but his own calamity, and that only increases his affliction. So we come to this: keep fast hold of God’s hand in your captivity, and do your best in that which is open to you. That will ultimately bring you out of it; but if you lose that you will lose everything. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Joseph a slave






Trying days

Notice some of the points brought out in this trying portion of Joseph’s history.

1. The fact of having parted with the restraints and wholesome influences of home.

2. Joseph’s new position also placed him among strangers.

3. Joseph’s lot was also that of inexperience surrounded with the numerous and glaring temptations of a great city.

4. How Joseph’s new lot subjected his religious principles to the test. (J. Leyburn, D. D.)

The trustworthy servant



JOSEPH’S SOURCE OF HELP AND GLADNESS. The Lord was with him. CONCLUSION:--What shall we learn from this part of Joseph’s history? That amidst darkness--of sorrow (Joseph exiled); of trial (Joseph tempted); of injustice (Joseph imprisoned)--there always arises light for the faithful and pure of heart. Let us ask God to make us from our earliest years, and in all circumstances, honest, diligent, pure-minded, patient; and let us never lose hold of our trust in God’s help. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)

A kingly slave

Scene, Memphis. Splendid architecture, chased in mimic forms of nature, amid feathery palms waving in the breeze. A red quivering heat, like a baker’s oven, enswathing field and city. On the horizon gigantic pyramids of stone. Nearer to the eye calm, sleepy sphinxes, guarding the entry to palace and to temple. On the margin of the city an open market, with piles of fruit; bales of merchandise; slaves, for the most part, black as ebony; noisy hucksters; groaning camels. Among the Nubian slaves a fair Syrian youth attracts attention; realizes a high price, and passes into the hands of a pompous potentate. To the careless traffickers Joseph was simply a question of gain or loss--more money or less--an item of evanescent interest. But to Joseph it was a question of joy or ruin--a matter of life or death. An awful reversal this from the sunny atmosphere of home I Had God seen all this wrong-doing of men, and had He allowed it so far to succeed? Could it be that God was on the side of righteousness?


1. Outward circumstance is a trivial thing. “An officer of Pharaoh bought him of the Ishmaelites.” It is a frightful degradation to be reduced to a chattel; yet it is only external degradation. But the man need not be degraded. Slavery may give scope for the play of noble principles. Integrity, faithfulness, goodness, piety, love, are untouched, are free to develop.

2. Man’s judgment is often in opposition to God’s.

3. In the darkest night true piety shines the more brightly. Doubtless, Joseph was “cast down,” yet was he “not in despair.” Instead of repining, he kept a brave heart. Here in Potiphar’s mansion is one doing God’s will as angels do it in heaven. There is a noble seraph within this apparent slave.

RELIGION BRINGS MEN INTO PARTNERSHIP WITH GOD. “The Lord was with him: the Lord made all that he did to prosper.”

1. A good man is a mystery to onlookers. There is something about him which the world cannot understand. He is patient when others fume and fret. He is buoyant when others are submerged. An unseen Anchor hold his barque, let the storm howl as it may.

2. This superior factor in life is conspicuous. “His master saw that the Lord was with him.” Such diligence, honesty, thoughtfulness, promptitude, were unusual, unconventional, superhuman. Some men have a trick of concealing their religion. Joseph allowed his light naturally to shine out.

3. God is an active Partner in honest work. The source of Joseph’s prosperity is revealed: “The Lord made it to prosper.” A merchant in feeble health once accounted for his successful conduct of a gigantic business by saying that God was his acting Partner. This is the fellowship of the Spirit. A true Christian is man plus God.

RELIGION MAKES A MAN A MEDIUM OF BLESSING TO OTHERS. “The Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake.” Potiphar is not even named: Joseph is everything.

1. A good man is the channel of good to others. Here is God’s law of mediation. A man prospers in business through the prayers of a pious servant. A father is raised up from a bed of fever for the sake of a child. A husband is saved from moral wreck by the faith and love of a wife. The God-fearing are the salt of the earth. For Joseph’s sake, the fields of Potiphar are fruitful.

2. Real prosperity embraces all the interests of mankind. “The blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house and in the field.” The beneficent effect of religion is commensurate with man. It blesses domestic life, agriculture, commerce, politics, literature. It enhances all human joy; it soothes all human sorrow. It kindles a lamp in the darkness of the grave. It fills the heart with an immortal hope. (J. Dickerson Davies, M. A.)

Joseph in Egypt

Joseph, whose studied silence has unrivalled eloquence, is now in Egypt. New scenes are before him. In the far distant stretches the beauteous valley of the Nile, its fertility unsurpassed. Pyramids, hoary with years, strange mementoes of buried generations, tower towards the transparent firmament. A brief journey has brought him from a region scarcely more than semi-barbarous to one far advanced in civilization. The skilled agriculturist is in the field, the ingenious mechanic at his daily toil. The children have those rare evidences of refined state of society, toys, with which to while away the joyous hours. The judge in his court is administering statutes which even modern society might advantageously re-enact. The priest in the temple is endeavouring to propitiate the gods, and secure blessings for their erring children on earth. A written language, the laborious work of many generations, and which had passed from hieroglyphics to phonetics, meets his eye on cunningly prepared papyrus leaves. A settled religious faith, a complicated system of government, a language bearing evidence of growth through many centuries, a vast empire consolidated upon the wrecks of pre-existing nationalities, great material prosperity accompanied with the knowledge of the physical sciences, of history, of metaphysics, and even of theology; a degree of progress in the fine arts which, though different, still rivals that of the present day--these, as well as their institutions, their laws, and their brilliant achievements, unmistakably testify to the immense antiquity of the empire under whose overshadowing influence Joseph is to pass his days of servitude. Nor is he a solitary bondman among a nation of freemen, but one of a vast number of slaves--slaves from Nubia, from Ethiopia, from Asia, from many surrounding nations, all of which had witnessed, and many of which had submitted to the conquering valour of Egypt’s powerful emperors. (J. S. Van Dyke.)


1. Histories of the wicked and righteous are set together by God’s Spirit to abase sin and heighten grace in the Church. So of Judah and Joseph.

2. Providence determining to bring any to greatness, leads them usually first into a low estate. Joseph dreams of dignities, but first meets with slavery.

3. Men-selling, though it be great sin in man, yet is it permitted and ordered by God.

4. God’s choicest ones may be bought and sold by the hands of strangers and enemies.

5. Providence orders the slavery of His own to such men, by whom more fitly they may be preferred.

6. Egypt may be the house of bondage to God’s servants in order to greater freedom (Genesis 39:1). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Piety in unfavourable places

Joseph’s religion overcame all obstacles because there was real life in it. The other day I slackened my step opposite a garden to notice the crocuses raising their slender heads amid the heavy gravel on the walk. The tender plants, having real life, forced their way through the hard earth and conquered the very stones. So the heavenly plant of Joseph’s piety displayed all its beauty and gave out its sweet odours in the wicked palaces of Potiphar and Pharaoh.

Joseph carried down to Egypt


1. It was not by his own choice. This is intimated by the emphatic expression “ he was brought down.” It appears that his brethren became envious of him; and they so indulged this bad feeling of the heart Genesis 37:18-20). In saying that it is similar to the case of some persons, I do not mean that the same treatment is experienced by them, though unhappily this is the case with many who are torn from their native shores and sold into captivity and bondage against their will; but what I mean is, that their position in life is often fixed for a time without any power on their part to shape their own course. They are governed by the force of circumstances, and find themselves fixed in situations, not because they have chosen it so to be, but because things have tended to that particular position in which they find themselves placed--without their own choice, and without their own control. On the other hand, there is a dissimilarity between the case of Joseph and some others. Time, circumstances, means, are all such that they can, apparently, make their own election, and direct their own pursuits.

2. It was with the prospect of servitude before him. The Midianites bought him to sell him as a slave. That Joseph’s being a servant, distinguished as he was by only being removed two descents from Abraham, and honoured as he was also--as we shall afterwards find--by God himself, has sanctified, as it were, the employment of servitude and made it honourable. It can never be a disgrace to us to be employed as he was, especially if we pursue our calling in the way that he pursued his. And how was that? perhaps some may ask. We answer that he pursued it faithfully. While he served his master he was faithful to the confidence reposed in him. He was an honest man, and this conduct led to his services being viewed by his master with acceptance. But we mark another trait in the character of Joseph; he was attentive to his duties. But there was a principle in Joseph’s conduct that we must not omit to notice--he feared God. In this was the secret of his prosperity. But in further contemplating the circumstances under which Joseph went down to Egypt, we observe that--

3. He was brought down thither really, though not apparently at the time, by God. This Joseph himself acknowledged to his brethren in an interview with them some few years afterwards (Genesis 46:7-8). Was it God, then, who excited in Joseph’s brethren that feeling of envy which existed in their breasts--the feeling which led them first to resolve on his murder, and then to agree to report to his father that some evil beast had slain him? No; it was not God who was the author of this conduct. The whole of it was sinful; and God is not the author of sin.


1. To acknowledge God in all our ways.

2. To confide in God under all circumstances. We can scarcely conceive, humanly speaking, of any circumstances being more dark and mysterious than those in which Joseph was placed. “It was good for me that I was afflicted.” And, eventually, our light afflictions, which are but for a moment, shall work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of 2 Corinthians 4:17). On this point, then, I will conclude in the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 1:10), “Who is among you thatfeareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.”

3. To repress every bad feeling of the heart.

4. That the providence of God attends those that love Him. But God does not lead all His children to degrees of honour and usefulness equal to those of Joseph. Among His people there are those who may be compared to vessels of gold, and of silver, of wood, and of earth; some to honour and some to dishonour” (2 Timothy 2:20). (W. Blackley, B. A.)

Joseph in Potiphar’s house

The name Potiphar frequently occurs on the monuments of Egypt (written either Pet-Pa-Ra, or Pet-P-Ra), and means: “Dedicated to Ra,” or the sun. According to some writers, “at the time that Joseph was sold into Egypt, the country was not united under the rule of a single native line, but governed by several dynasties, of which the fifteenth dynasty of Shepherd-kings was the predominant one, the rest being tributary to it.” At any rate, he would be carried into that part of Egypt which was always most connected with Palestine. Potiphar’s office at the court of Pharaoh was that of “chief of the executioners,” most probably (as it is rendered in our Authorized Version) captain of the king’s body-guard. In the house of Potiphar it went with Joseph as formerly in his own home. For it is not in the power of circumstances, prosperous or adverse, to alter our characters. He that is faithful in little shall also be faithful in much; and from him who knoweth not how to employ what is committed to his charge, shall be taken even that he hath. Joseph was faithful, honest, upright, and conscientious, because in his earthly, he served a heavenly Master, whose presence he always realized. Accordingly “Jehovah was with him,” and “Jehovah made all that he did to prosper in his hand.” His master was not long in observing this. From an ordinary domestic slave he promoted him to be “overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.” The confidence was not misplaced. Jehovah’s blessing henceforth rested upon Potiphar’s substance, and he “left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not aught that he had, save the bread which he did eat.” The sculptures and paintings of the ancient Egyptian tombs bring vividly before us the daily life and duties of Joseph. “The property of great men is shown to have been managed by scribes, who exercised a most methodical and minute supervision over all the operations of agriculture, gardening, the keeping of live stock, and fishing. Every product was carefully registered, to check the dishonesty of the labourers, who in Egypt have always been famous in this respect. Probably in no country was farming ever more systematic. Joseph’s previous knowledge of tending flocks, and perhaps of husbandry, and his truthful character, exactly fitted him for the post of overseer. How long he filled it we are not told.” (Dr. Edersheim.)

And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man

The secret of prosperity

There are many ways in which the Lord is with a man. Not always by visible symbol; seldom by an external badge which we can see and read. God is with a man in the suggestion of thought; in the animation of high, noble, heavenly feeling; in the direction of his steps; in the direction of his speech, enabling him to give the right look, the right answer at the right time under the right circumstances; giving him the schooling which he could never pay for, training him by methods and processes unknown in human schools, and not to be understood except by those who have passed under them. “If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God.” Ideas are the gifts of God, as well as wheat fields and vineyards and other fruits of the earth. Suggestions in business, delivering thoughts in the time of extremity, silence when it is better than speech, speech when it will do more than silence. “These also come forth from the Lord of Hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.” The Lord was with Joseph and yet Joseph was under Potiphar. These are the contradictions and anomalies of life which ill-taught souls can never understand, and which become to them mysteries which torment their spirits and which distract their love. Undoubtedly this is an anomalous state of life: Joseph brought down to Egypt by his purchasers--Joseph sold into the house of Potiphar--bought and sold and exchanged like an article of merchandise. Yet, he was a prosperous man! Understand that there are difficulties which cannot impair prosperity, and that there is a prosperity which dominates over all external circumstances and vindicates its claim to be considered a Divine gift. Looking at this case through and through, one would say, it is hardly correct to assert that Joseph was a prosperous man, when he was to all intents and purposes in bondage, when he was the property of another, when not one hour of his time belonged to himself, when he was cut off from his father and from his brethren. Yet, it is distinctly stated that, notwithstanding these things, the Lord was with him and he was a prosperous man. There must be a lesson for some of us here. When men live in their circumstances they never can be prosperous. When a man has to go out into his wheat-field to know whether there is going to be a good crop before ha can really enjoy himself--that man does not know what true joy is. When a man has to read out of a bank-book before he dare take one draught out of the goblet of happiness--that man’s thirst for joy will never be slaked. Man cannot live in wheat-fields and bank-books and the things of the present world. If he cannot live within himself, in the very sanctuary and temple of God, then he is at the sport of every change of circumstance--one shake of the telegraph wire may unsettle him, and the cloudy day may obscure his hopes and darken what little soul he has left. If Joseph had lived in his external circumstances he might have spent his days in tears and his nights in hopelessness; but living a religious life, living with God, walking with God, identifying his very soul’s life with God, then the dust had no sovereignty over him, external circumstances were under his feet. This is the solution of many of our difficulties. Given a man’s relation to God, and you have the key of his whole life. (J. Parker, D. D.)

A miniature portrait of Joseph

Scripture frequently sums up a man’s life in a single sentence. Here is the biography of Joseph sketched by inspiration: “God was with him,” so Stephen testified in his famous speech recorded in Acts 7:9. Observe, however, that the portraits of Scripture give us not only the outer, but the inner life of the man. Man looketh at the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh upon the heart; and so the Scriptural descriptions of men are not of their visible life alone, but of their spiritual life. Here we have Joseph as God saw him, the real Joseph. Externally it did not always appear that God was with him, for he did not always seem to be a prosperous man; but when you come to look into the inmost soul of this servant of God, you see his true likeness--he lived in communion with the Most High, and God blessed him: “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man.” This striking likeness of Joseph strongly reminds us of our Master and Lord, that greater Joseph, who is Lord over all the world for the sake of Israel. Peter, in his sermon to the household of Cornelius, said of our Lord that He “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him.” Exactly what had been said of Joseph. It is wonderful that the same words should describe both Jesus and Joseph, the perfect Saviour and the imperfect patriarch. This having the Lord with us is the inheritance of all the saints; for what is the apostolic benediction in the Epistles but a desire that the triune God may be with us? To the Church in Rome Paul saith, “Now the God of peace be with you all.” To the Church in Corinth he writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” To the Thessalonians he saith, “The Lord be with you all.” Did not our glorious Lord say, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world”?

First, we will run over Joseph’s life, and note THE FACT “The Lord was with Joseph.”

1. God was gracious to Joseph as a child. Happy are those who have Christ with them in the morning, for they shall walk with Him all day, and sweetly rest with Him at eventide.

2. “The Lord was with Joseph” when Joseph was at home, and He did not desert him when he was sent away from his dear father and his beloved home and was sold for a slave. I think I see him in the slave market exposed for sale. We have heard with what trembling anxiety the slave peers into the faces of those who are about to buy. Will he get a good master? Will one purchase him who will treat him like a man, or one who will use him worse than a brute? “ The Lord was with Joseph” as he stood there to be sold, and he fell into good hands. When he was taken away to his master’s house, and the various duties of his service were allotted to him, the Lord was with Joseph. The house of the Egyptian had never been so pure, so honest, so honoured before. Beneath Joseph’s charge it was secretly the temple of his devotions, and manifestly the abode of comfort and confidence. That Hebrew slave had a glory of character about him, which all perceived, and especially his master, for we read: “His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand. And Joseph found grace in his sight.”

3. Then came a crisis in his history, the time of testing. We see Joseph tried by a temptation in which, alas, so many perish. He was attacked in a point at which youth is peculiarly vulnerable. His comely person made him the object of unholy solicitations from one upon whose goodwill his comfort greatly depended, and had it not been that the Lord was with him he must have fallen. Slavery itself was a small calamity compared with that which would have happened to young Joseph had he been enslaved by wicked passions. Happily the Lord was with him, and enabled him to overcome the tempter with the question, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” He fled. That flight was the truest display of courage. It is the only way of victory in sins of the flesh. The apostle says, “Flee youthful lusts which war against the soul.” When Telemachus was in the isle of Calypso, his mentor cried, “Fly, Telemachus, fly; there remains no hope of a victory but by flight.” Wisely Joseph left his garment and fled, for God was with him.

4. The scene shifts again, and he who bad been first a favoured child at home, and then a slave, and then a tempted one, now becomes a prisoner. The prisons of Egypt were, doubtless, as horrible as all such places were in the olden times, and here is Joseph in the noisome dungeon. He evidently felt his imprisonment very much, for we are told in the Psalms that “the iron entered into his soul.” He felt it a cruel thing to be under such a slander, and to suffer for his innocence. A young man so pure, so chaste, must have felt it to be sharper than a whip of scorpions to be accused as he was; yet as he sat down in the gloom of his cell, the Lord was with him. The degradation of a prison had not deprived him of his Divine Companion. Blessed be the name of the Lord, He does not forsake His people when they are in disgrace: nay, He is more pleasant with them when they are falsely accused than at any other time, and He cheers them in their low estate. God was with him, and very soon the kindly manners, the gentleness, the activity, the truthfulness, the industry of Joseph had won upon the keeper of the prison, so that Joseph rose again to the top, and was the overseer of the prison. Like a cork, which you may push down, but it is sure to come up again, so was Joseph: he must swim, he could not drown, the Lord was with him. The Lord’s presence made him a king and a priest wherever he went, and men tacitly owned his influence. In the little kingdom of the prison Joseph reigned, for “ God was with him.”

5. Joseph was made ruler over all Egypt, and God was with him. Well did the king say, “Can we find such a man as this is in whom the Spirit of God is?” His policy in storing up corn in the plenteous years succeeded admirably, for God was evidently working by him to preserve the human race from extinction by famine.

6. God was with him in bringing down his father and the family into Egypt, and locating them in Goshen, and with him till he himself came to die, when he “took an oath of the children of Israel, saying God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.” The Lord was with him, and kept him faithful to the covenant, and the covenanted race, even to the close of a long life of one hundred and ten years.

We shall next review THE EVIDENCE OF THE FACT that God was with him.

1. The first evidence of it is this: he was always under the influence of the Divine presence, and lived in the enjoyment of it.

2. The next evidence is this: God was certainly with Joseph because he was pure in heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”; no other can do so. What fellowship hath light with darkness, or what concord hath Christ with Belial? The intense purity of Joseph was a proof that the thrice holy God was ever with him. He will keep the feet of His saints. When they are tempted He will deliver them from evil, for His presence sheds an atmosphere of holiness around the heart in which He dwells.

3. The next evidence in Joseph’s case was the diligence with which he exercised himself wherever he was. God was with Joseph, and therefore the man of God hardly cared as to the outward circumstances of his position, but began at once to work that which is good.

4. But notice again, God was with Joseph, and that made him tender and sympathetic. Some men who are prompt enough in business are rough, coarse, hard; but not so Joseph. His tenderness distinguishes him; he is full of loving consideration. He loved with all his soul, and so will every man who has God with him, for “God is love.” If you do not love, God is net with you. If you go through the world, selfish and morose, bitter, suspicious, bigoted, hard, the devil is with you, God is not; for where God is He expands the spirit, He causes us to love all mankind with the love of benevolence, and He makes us take a sweet complacency in the chosen brotherhood of Israel, so that we specially delight to do good to all those of the household of faith.

5. Another mark of God’s presence with Joseph is his great wisdom. He did everything as it ought to be done. You can scarcely alter anything in Joseph’s life to improve it, and I think if I admire his wisdom in one thing more than another it is in his wonderful silence. It is easy to talk, comparatively easy to talk well, but to be quiet is the difficulty.

6. “God was with him,” and this is the last evidence I give of it, that he was kept faithful to the covenant, faithful to Israel and to Israel’s God right through. Joseph stuck to his people and to their God: though he must live in Egypt, he will not be an Egyptian; he will not even leave his dead body to lie in an Egyptian pyramid. The Egyptians built a costly tomb for Joseph: it stands to this day, but his body is not there. “I charge you,” says he, “take my bones with you; for I do not belong to Egypt, my place is in the land of promise.” “He gave commandment concerning his bones.” Let others do as they will; as for me, my lot is cast with those who follow the Lord fully. Yes, my Lord, where Thou dwellest I will dwell; Thy people shall be my people, and Thy God my God, and may my children be Thy children to the last generation. If the Lord is with you that is what you will say, but if He is not with you, and you prosper in” the world, and increase in riches, you will turn your back on Christ and His people, and we shall have to say as Paul did, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.”

Thirdly, let us observe, THE RESULT OF GOD’S BEING WITH JOSEPH. The result was that “he was a prosperous man”; but notice that, although the Lord was with Joseph, it did not screen him from hatred. “The Lord was with him,” but his brethren hated him. Ay, and if the Lord loves a man, the world will spite him. Furthermore, “The Lord was with Joseph,” bat it did not screen him from temptation of the worst kind: it did not prevent his mistress casting her wicked eyes upon him. The best of men may be tempted to the worst of crimes. The presence of God did not screen him from slander: the base woman accused him of outrageous wickedness, and God permitted Potiphar to believe her. Nay, the Divine presence did not screen him from pain: he sat in prison wearing fetters till the iron entered into his soul, and yet “ the Lord was with him.” That presence did not save him from disappointment. He said to the butler, “Think of me when it is well with thee”; but the butler altogether forgot him. Everything may seem to go against you, and yet God may be with you. The Lord does not promise you that you shall have what looks like prosperity, but you shall have what is real prosperity in the better sense. Now, what did God’s being with Joseph do for him?

1. First, it saved him from gross sin. He flees, he shuts his ears: he flees and conquers, for God is with him.

2. God was with him, and the next result was it enabled him to act grandly. Wherever he is he does the right thing, does it splendidly.

3. In such a manner did God help Joseph that he was enabled to fulfil a glorious destiny, for if Noah be the world’s second father, what shall we say of Joseph, but that he was its foster nurse? The human race had died of famine if Joseph’s foresight had not laid by in store the produce of the seven plenteous years, for there was a famine over all lands.

4. Also it gave him a very happy life, for taking the life of Joseph all through it is an enviable one. Nobody would think of putting him down among the miserable. If we had to make a selection of unhappy men, we certainly should not think of Joseph. No, it was a great life and a happy life; and such will yours be if God be with you.

5. And, to finish, God gave Joseph and his family a double portion in Israel, which never happened to any other of the twelve sons of Jacob. Those who begin early with God, and stand fast to the end, and hold to God both in trouble and prosperity, shall see their children brought to the Lord, and in their children they shall possess the double, yea, the Lord shall render unto them double for all they may lose in honour for His name’s sake. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


In a long sunshine of outward prosperity, the dust of our inward corruptions is apt to fly about and lift itself up. Sanctified affliction, like seasonable rain, lays the dust and softens the soul. (H. G. Salter.)

Prosperity and security

Prosperity is not to be deemed the greatest security. The lofty unbending cedar is more exposed to the injurious blast than the lowly shrub. The little pinnace rides safely along the shore, while the gallant ship advancing is wrecked. Those sheep which have the most wool are generally the soonest fleeced. Poverty is its own defence against robbery. A fawning world is worse than a frowning world. Who would shake those trees upon which there is no fruit? (T. Secker.)

The prosperity of Joseph

This cannot mean that Joseph was entirely happy, or that he had everything he wanted. It means that he prayed to God, and knew that God heard his prayers; it means that he felt that God was good to him and was helping him gain the favour of his master; it means that he was certain that by and by he would be delivered in some way; it means that he was able to bear his troubles and to make the best of them; it means that he was getting along well. Read the text again. It doesn’t say, the Lord was with Joseph because he was a prosperous man; but, the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man.

1. It was because of Joseph’s simplicity. By this I do not mean that he was foolish. I mean that he was just what he seemed to be, and seemed to be just what he was. He didn’t deceive folks. He had no small, mean ways. Perhaps you may say that he would have escaped the trouble that was coming if he had not had this simplicity; but he did not need to escape it; it was far better that it should come. It is best to do right, no matter what comes. Joseph’s trouble did not hurt him, it did him good; and all the trouble that will ever come to you from doing right will be a blessing to you.

2. God was with Joseph, and he was prosperous, because of his obedience. When Jacob’s sons had been away from home some time, their father began to be anxious. I can’t make you understand the full meaning of this word anxious; but when you are men and women and have children of your own, you will know without being told. Well, Jacob was anxious about his sons; he was afraid something had happened to them, and wanted to hear from them. In those days, and in that part of the world, there was no mail, and people usually travelled from place to place in large companies called caravans. This is the way they travelled then, and the way they travel now. But there was no caravan going where his sons were, and so Jacob wanted some person to go alone, and there was no one who was so trustworthy and so fearless, who would go and come so quickly, and do his errand so well, as Joseph. So his father said to him: “Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? Come and I will send thee unto them.” And Joseph answered promptly: “Here am I”; which means, I am ready to go; send me. And his father sent him. Now Joseph’s obedience is shown here, not merely in his saying, “Here am I,” nor in his starting off at once, but in his going, and going until he found them. Many boys and girls say, “I will go,” and some actually start, but that is all they do. They find a difficulty and come back, saying, “I can’t”; or they are drawn away by bad company; or for some other reason they give it up. But see how Joseph did. When he came to Shechem, where his brothers had been, they were not there, but while he was searching for them he came across a man who told him they had gone to Dothan, fourteen miles farther. Many a lad of seventeen hearing this would have gone back, for Joseph was nearly ninety miles from home, alone, and in a dangerous country. But this was not Joseph’s way. His father had sent him to find his brothers, and he was determined to do it, no matter if it did take him fourteen miles farther than he thought they were, and more than a hundred miles from the tents of Jacob in Hebron. This is obedience that is obedience, to do what you are told to, to face dangers, to overcome difficulties. I want these children to do what they are told to, whatever it costs. It cost Joseph his liberty and almost his life, but it was the foundation of all his future greatness; it was worth more than liberty or life; it was worth ten thousand times more than the coat of many colours, or his father’s favouritism, or the throne of Egypt. Obedience taught Joseph how to command, and no one knows how to command who has not learned first how to obey.

3. God was with Joseph, and he was prosperous because of his moral courage. I suppose you know the meaning of courage. It is bravery, fearlessness. A boy who leaps overboard to save a drowning companion is courageous; so is a man who rushes into a burning building to save persons from being burned. This is courage. But what is moral courage? It is that which makes one do right when people will blame him, or laugh at him, or try to injure him for doing so. It is easier for many to be knocked down than to be laughed at or blamed. I don’t know that Joseph ever struck a blow in his life; and we do know that when his brothers sold him he cried very hard, and begged them not to do it; for afterwards they said one to another: “We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us and we would not hear.” But his moral courage was shown by the way he behaved in adversity. He dared to do right wherever he was. No matter how wicked those about him were, he would not do a wrong thing. Nor is this all; he gave his reasons. He said, “How, then, can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And then he kept away from temptation. But Joseph showed moral courage in still another way. When he was accused falsely and punished, he did not try to save himself by exposing his accuser. He said to himself: “I will suffer rather than ruin the reputation of this woman; may be she will repent”; and what was still better, he chose to go to prison rather than remain in temptation.

4. And another reason for Joseph’s prosperity was his patience. To be patient is to bear quietly any evil, such as pain, toil, affliction. Joseph’s affliction lasted about thirteen years. All this time he was a slave, and part of it--two years certainly--he was a prisoner. This was a long time, but he made it seem shorter by always trying to deserve something better.

5. Another reason for Joseph’s prosperity was his spirit of forgiveness. It is said of the North American Indians that they never forget an injury and never forget a kindness; this may be well for a heathen savage, but it will not do for a Christian child. Christ said, forgive your enemies.

6. Once more, God was with Joseph and he was prosperous because of his trust in God. Joseph trusted in God when he was a boy, when he went away from home, and when he was sold to the Ishmaelites, when he was in the prison, and when he was on the throne. It was this that sustained him in his trials, that kept him in temptation, and that made him a wise and virtuous ruler. (E. N. Pomeroy.)

Prosperous days

When may we speak of a man as “prosperous”? As a general rule, I suppose, when he carries out his plans to a successful issue; when his business is established on a sound basis, and is in a flourishing condition; when his investments are wisely made, and largely profitable. If, with all this, he enjoys good health and lives in the midst of domestic affection and comfort, then his lot is doubly fortunate. When life is attended by these circumstances, he may be said to be “a prosperous man.”

PROSPERITY IS A LEGITIMATE OBJECT OF PURSUIT. Our great care should be to pursue it lawfully--to use none but upright and honourable means for its attainment.

The counsels given by wise and practical men as to THE BEST MEANS OF SECURING LEGITIMATE SUCCESS are manifold--all agreeing in the main. One writer says, “If you wish success in life, make perseverance your bosom friend, experience your wise counsellor, caution your elder brother, and hope your guardian angel.” Another likens prosperity to a ladder having six steps--faith, industry, perseverance, temperance, probity, independence. This, I think, is a ladder by which you are sure to rise, and to rise safely.

PROSPERITY HAS ITS DUTIES. Wealth always brings with itself responsibilities. Divine learning is needed for this stewardship. One of the first duties of a prosperous man is hearty gratitude to God. This will show itself in works of benevolence and religion, and cheerful consecration to God.

PROSPERITY HAS ITS ANXIETIES. Care disfigures its face. One of the most successful men of this century, when surrounded by immense wealth and supposed to be enjoying it, wrote to a friend: “I live like a galley-slave, constantly occupied, and often pass the night without sleeping. I am wrapt in a labyrinth of affairs, and worn out with care.”

PROSPERITY HAS ITS DANGERS. It may prove a great blessing to a man, or a great curse. Many have been ruined by success. Valerian, the Roman Emperor, before he was raised to the throne, was temperate, wise, and virtuous; but after his investment with the purple he completely changed, and was notorious for meanness, imprudence, and general incapacity. (W. Walters.)

Prosperity and right principle

That in the working out of right principles there is a natural tendency to promote prosperity, and ensure success. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Tokens of God’s love

Prosperity is not always a sign of God’s special favour, yet prosperity undoubtedly comes from God, and is a fruit of God’s love to His own people, when He sees that prosperity is better for them than adversity. But how did God show that He was present with Joseph, by making him to prosper? Was not Joseph’s prosperity more properly his master’s than his own, when all the business which he transacted was his master’s, and the profit redounded to him? It is true, that Joseph’s prosperity was, to outward appearance, his master’s advantage rather than his own. But as “the little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked,” so the benefit which Joseph derived from Gem’s kindness to him was far greater than his master’s. He saw the love of God mitigating and sweetening his sorrows, and recommending him to his master’s favorer, that he might spend even the days of his banishment and humiliation with comfort. The more clearly we can discern the love of God in any prosperous incidents, the more pleasure we can take in them. A temporary relief in bondage with the love of God, is worth more than all the prosperity which ungodly men can enjoy. (G. Lawson, D. D.)


1. The greatness of God disdains not to be with the lowness of His servants. God and Joseph are together.

2. God’s special presence of grace is vouchsafed to such as are more especially humbled.

3. God’s gracious presence maketh souls prosperous, wherever they be.

4. Gracious souls, though in bondage, will abide faithful unto Egyptian masters.

5. Providence in exercising saints usually proportions employment to endowment. Joseph for the house (Genesis 39:2).

6. God maketh sinful masters to see that He is present graciously with their servants.

7. Gracious servants make house, and all affairs prosper unto ungracious masters.

8. God maketh wicked men to see that they prosper by reason of His servants (Genesis 39:3). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Joseph’s good fortune

Our common expression, “He’s a lucky fellow,” is hardly a phrase that we expect to find in Scripture. But it does occur, in Wycliffe’s version, in this very thirty-ninth chapter of Genesis. The second verse, as rendered by the earliest of Bible translators, runs thus: “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a luekie felowe.” Both the words “lucky” and “fellow” lost dignity between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, and King James’ translators wrote instead “a prosperous man.” But it is useful to refer to the older and more colloquial form, to emphasize what is really a most important though little recognized truth, namely, that a “lucky fellow” is not he that is rich, not he that makes a good stroke of business, not he that wins a coveted post, but he of whom we can truly say, “The Lord is with him.” For see who it is that the Bible calls a “lucky fellow.” Would any of us call Joseph “lucky”? Yes, says a sharp boy, I should; for in one day he became the greatest man in Egypt next to the king. The teacher who gets such an answer as this will himself be lucky! There is nothing like a half-wrong answer to emphasize the right one. The rejoinder will be--Very well, but look and see when it is that Joseph is called a “lucky fellow.” The phrase is not used of him when he becomes virtual ruler of Egypt, but long before that. It is just when he begins his life as a slave in a strange land. And the narrative is going on to tell of his encountering sore temptation, false accusation, unjust condemnation, and the horrors of an Egyptian prison. It is at the beginning of all this that he is called a “lucky fellow.” Why? Because the Lord was with him. (E. Stock.)

The Lord blessed the Egyptians house for Joseph’s sake

Joseph brings prosperity to his master’s house

Some individuals there are who carry blessings with them everywhere. Like richly-scented flowers they fill the habitations into which they enter with delicious perfume, or, like clouds surcharged with rain, they let down benefits on every hand. Thus this Hebrew captive brings with him into Egypt, and into the house of Potiphar, the captain of the guard, a cornu copiae--“a horn of plenty,” and for his sake the Egyptian’s stores are multiplied to an extent he had not previously known. And cases similar to this are also often seen. Pious servants and pious slaves have frequently been blessings to their master’s house. Even in instances where the slave has been treated cruelly, his prayers, offered up in secret for his owner’s weal, have been answered in a manner the most remarkable, and his efforts to promote that owner’s interests have been crowned with very considerable success. Generally, however, it is only when the master acts towards his servant or towards his slave with justice that the blessing of heaven descends upon his house. It was from the time that Potiphar raised Joseph from the position of a slave to one of comparative dignity and honour that the Lord blessed him. (Thornley Smith.)

One man blessed for the sake of another

One man blessed for the sake of another. Here is a great law--here is a special lesson for many. A man looks at his property, and reasons that he must be good, and approved of God, otherwise he never could have so many blessings in his possession. It never enters the man’s mind that he has every one of these blessings for the sake of another man. The master blessed because he has a good servant! Would to God I could speak thunder-claps and speak lightning to many thousands in our city and throughout our land to-day upon this very matter I Here is a man, for example, who never enters a place of worship. No, no--not he. His wife is a member of the church, and if ever she is fiveminutes late in on Sunday, his mighty lordship foams and fumes, and is not going to be put upon in this way, and have his household arrangements upset by these canting, fanatical, religious people. What shall I call him? The wretch, the almost-devil, owes every penny he has to his dishonoured praying wife. If that woman--the only angel in God’s universe that cares for his soul--were to cease praying for him, God might rain fire and brimstone upon him and his dwelling-place. He does not know it. No! He is shrewd, cunning, wide-awake, has his eyes open, knows when the iron is hot and when to strike it, and he is such a wonderful genius in business. A maniac--not knowing that it is his praying wife that saves him from ruin, meanwhile from hell I Here is another man who thinks it manly to blaspheme, swear, and use profane language upon every opportunity, and to ridicule religion and religious people. He knows that it is all wrong. He has revelations from the nasty little god that he worships that everybody in the world is all wrong but himself. And that man prospers! His fields are verdant in spring-time, his crops are rich and golden in autumn. If you speak a word to him about religion he laughs at you, and intimates, in a not very roundabout manner, that you are a fool. And he owes all he has to a little invalid girl, who believes in God and prays to Him, and connects the house with heaven! God blesses one man for the sake of another. The husband is blessed because of the godliness of the wife. The parent is honoured because of the Christianity of the child. The strong man has prospered in his way because of the poor weak creature in his house who is mighty in soul towards God and truth. Yet these are the elements and the facts which are so often overlooked when men take stock and tell what they are worth. Ten men keep that brimstone-and-fire shower back. The righteous are the salt of the earth. The true, loving and God-fearing are the light of the world. But for them would God be patient with the world? What would it be, with His great power, to crush your little world, to pulverize and throw it away on the flying winds and forget it? It is Paul that saves the vessel on the stormy Adriatic. It is Joseph that blesses the house of Potiphar. It is the ten praying men that save the Sodoms of the earth from the lightning showers of judgment. And this is God’s plan all through. There is one man for whose sake all other men are blessed. This is the principle of mediation which runs through all the Divine government of man. “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

A lesson to servants and masters

Joseph, like his father Jacob, is an example of contentment, industry, and fidelity, to servants. It is true, servants cannot command success, and God does not bind himself by an absolute promise to grant success to the best-conducted affairs. But it is undoubtedly the duty of servants to take the most likely means to promote the prosperity of their masters, and to seek the Divine blessing upon those affairs that are committed to them. By such behaviour, they are likely to prove blessings to their masters, and to attain that favour and confidence which they take pains to deserve. But if they should be ungratefully treated by their masters according to the flesh, they have a master in heaven who will by no means suffer them to want their due reward. Masters may likewise learn from this passage, what treatment is due to faithful servants. They ought to trust, to honour, and to love them. Potiphar was a stranger to the family of Israel, and yet he loved Joseph for his fidelity, and honoured him as the instrument of God’s providential blessings to himself. Christian masters have far stronger motives to honour Christian servants, whom they know to be not only servants, but above servants, brethren partakers of the same heavenly blessings and dignities with themselves. (G. Lawson, D. D.)


1. God’s favour to His servants maketh them to be favoured by men.

2. Grace in the eyes of men and rulers justly gotten, is a blessing desirable here below.

3. A gracious Joseph may be an Egyptian’s favourite.

4. Favour with men of place usually draws favourites nearer to themselves.

5. Gradual is the preferment which Providence ordereth to His saints from men.

6. Grace, prudence, and fidelity win hearts of great men to trust strangers rather than their own.

7. Providence ordereth lowest slavery the way to greatest oversight in greatest charges (Genesis 39:4).

8. The time of doing good and lifting up saints, is the time of good to them that do it.

9. Jehovah himself rewardeth the good done unto His servants.

10. All outward blessings in the house and in the field are the blessings of God.

11. The gracious ones of God are the means of procuring blessing to all where they dwell.

12. Those rulers best provide for families, and states, who commit affairs to faithful ones (Genesis 39:5).

13. Faithfulness in servants worketh confidence in their rulers.

14. It is the rare commendation of gracious servants, that the hearts of masters may be secure in them. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Verses 9-12

Genesis 39:9-12

How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?


Joseph’s resistance

We are accustomed to admire the mere act of resistance to temptation, by whomsoever and howsoever offered. But there is a vast difference between the ways in which temptation is resisted. Some, knowing the thing desired of them to be essentially wrong, have recourse to cowardly shifts and evasions. They are unable to comply; thus much they will answer; but for this inability they will render all sorts of secondary and insufficient reasons, and keep back the right one. How very different from this weak and ineffectual course is the refusal of one who fearlessly states at once the right and master reason why he should not yield to temptation: “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” One of the lowest advantages of the brave and decided course is that such a person has the least trouble after all. His place is ascertained; his colours are shown. He is no waverer, and the crowd of busy mischief-makers cease from him and let him alone. The noble words of our text let us into the whole secret of endurance.

The answer of Joseph implies A SENSE OF DIRECT ACCOUNTABLENESS TO GOD. This sense of responsibility leads at once to a truer estimate of right and wrong. While we tarry on the level of the world’s maxims and habits, and try to decide our line of conduct, many a matter seems ambiguous and difficult to determine; but rise to the throne of God, and look down from thence, and all is clear. Oh for that second and better nature, sprung from the habit of seeing God in everything, which, when doubts, when questionings, when temptations arise, asks counsel at once of Him, runs into the strong tower of His name, and is safe.

This answer implies A SENSE OF SIN. Sin is a word of which the world knows not the meaning. Men must know what God is, or they cannot know what sin is. When Joseph spoke of sinning against God, he used this term of a positive and definite God, who had manifested Himself, and with whom he was in covenant. To sin against Him, to break His positive command, was to reject and despise his covenant God; to tread under foot His promises and His mercies.

This reply shows that TRUE COURAGE AND SEASONABLE BOLDNESS which ever characterize the genuine soldier of heaven. In every occupation of life, in all intercourse, in toil and in recreation, our Christian armour should be worn, and never be laid aside. The moment our allegiance is tested, the moment that the world requires what God forbids or forbids what God requires, we must stand to our arms, and admit no thought of a surrender. (Dean Alford.)

The temptation of Joseph


1. His youth.

2. The force of opportunity.

3. The prospect of advancement which his compliance would secure.

4. The repetition of the temptation (Genesis 39:10).


1. He pleads the law of honour.

2. He pleads the law of chastity.

3. He pleads the law of piety.


1. Obtained by flight.

2. Obtained through loss. (T. H. Leale.)

Tempted but triumphant


1. It came on Joseph when he was dwelling among a nation of idolaters, away from the restraints of home and the influence of his father and grandfather, by which he had been accustomed to be regulated. If, therefore, his piety had been a mere conventional thing, he would certainly have yielded, as many others in like circumstances have done. Which of us has not known cases of youths who at home were reputable and well behaved, but who, when they have gone to another city or another land, where they were entirely unknown to those by whom they were surrounded, have run riot in iniquity, and excused themselves by quoting the debasing proverb that “when we are in Rome we must do as they do at Rome”? But Joseph was not a youth of that sort. His piety was not a matter of longitude and latitude. He believed in God, and sought to serve Him in all places and in all cases; and he did in Egypt precisely as he would have done, in like circumstances, in Canaan.

2. Again, this temptation which came upon him thus, when he was away from all external support, took him in two points of his nature at one and the same time. It appealed to appetite; and if Paul thought it needful to say to Timothy, who was a young man of rather ascetic habits, devoted to the ministry of the gospel, and surrounded by all wholesome influences, “flee also youthful lusts,” we may well believe that Joseph was not insensible to its force in that particular. But that was not its most seductive aspect, as I believe, to him. For the entering into this intrigue meant also for him the putting of Potiphar ultimately out of the way, and his own elevation, in an easy and speedy fashion, to his master’s place. That must be clear to all acquainted with Eastern life.

Nor can we help remarking on THE GROUNDS WHEREON HE BASED HIS CONDUCT, for they show as really his fidelity to man as his loyalty to God. He could not be guilty of treachery against Potiphar, or of sin against God.

His own pleasure or elevation would be too dearly purchased by ingratitude to one who had placed such unlimited confidence in him, and no gratification could to him be lasting which dishonoured God.


1. When we have unusual blessing we may look for severe temptation.

2. When temptation takes us, we must resist it with a strong and decided No, and carefully take ourselves out of its range. It is dangerous to drive restive horses near the edge of a precipice; it is dangerous to bring gunpowder near the fire; it is dangerous to come near an adder’s fang; and it is equally so with these fallen natures of ours to approach temptation. Therefore “avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it and pass away.” But the merely negative attitude will, after all, be weak, and so I stay here a moment longer to add that the best means of saying “no” to sin is to say “yes” with the whole heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. If you wish to dispel the darkness you will bring in a light; if you desire to kill weeds most effectively you will sow the ground with wholesome grass; and in like manner, if you would keep evil out of your hearts you must get the Lord Jesus Christ into them.

3. We should not be surprised to find that our adherence to the right is followed at first by great hardship. But when we find ourselves in such circumstances, what is to be done? Nothing, but wait God’s time and persevere in our integrity. We must not judge God for what we see of His providence on a small scale. We must take wide views of it, and when we do that we shall find that in the long run He brings forth men’s righteousness as the light and their judgment as the noonday, so that the evil-doer is punished and the virtuous man rewarded. (William M. Taylor, D. D.)

Joseph’s temptation

Joseph DID WELL when he incurred his master’s displeasure, and lost his honourable and responsible situation.

Joseph’s resistance of the temptation by which he was tried, is wonderfully instructive. HE REFUSED. He does not appear either to have parleyed with temptation, or conferred a moment with flesh and blood.

Observe further, it was not one single temptation which Joseph had to withstand. It is said of his tempter, SHE SPOKE UNTO HIM DAY BY DAY. But it was all in vain. That principle is eminently strong which can resist repeated and continual solicitation to transgress. As the constant dropping wears away the hard stone; so the firmest resolution is sometimes worn out before never-ending temptation. But almost in every instance, where this has been the case, there has been either undue self-confidence, or a want of due circumspection and watchfulness.

Look, in the next place, at THE TEMPORAL CONSEQUENCES TO JOSEPH OF HIS UPRIGHT DEALING. His wicked tempter became his false accuser.

Look now, for a moment, at Joseph in prison. We are not told of any attempt that he made to justify himself, or to clear his character of the hark stain which so falsely had been cast upon it. HE COMMITTED HIMSELF TO HIM THAT JUDGETH RIGHTEOUSLY. (C. Overton.)

Joseph’s great victory

The nobleness of Joseph stands out to any one who has purity enough and heart-honesty enough to study the picture. Why not speak to Potiphar, as he had spoken to Jacob, when the sons of the bond-women tempted him? Because the man with whom God was, was a man of high honour and charity. Joseph would not rob the poor, passionate heathen woman of the last chance of regaining her own self-respect.

1. There are such monsters in society still. The origin of impurity is, indeed, much more frequently with men, but there are women who deliberately seek to compass the ruin of youths by assailing them with subtle and flattering temptations. Solomon’s picture of “the strange woman “ is still true to fact. All classes of society have still their Cleopatras.

2. It is God’s Book that tells of Potiphar’s wife. Read the first seven chapters of Proverbs at a sitting, and seek out the words, not few, of the holy Saviour touching this thing. Those who are too nice to read such pages are apt to be very nasty within; there is no impurity in the exposure of sin, but there may be plenty of impurity with the affectation of avoiding the mention of it.

3. God’s greatest servants are, like Joseph those who have preserved their purity. (A. M. Symington, D. D.)


1. Times of advance in the world may prove times of most dangerous assaults of temptation to saints.

2. God’s blessings at home and abroad prove occasions of sin unto naughty hearts.

3. Unclean hearts have their times to set their eyes on wicked works.

4. Treacherous lust may turn a wife from a husband to a servant.

5. Unclean hearts and eyes will easily make unclean tongues. (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Grace kept to work refuseth with disdain the strongest temptations to uncleanness.

2. Gracious hearts are ready to return saving instruction for unclean suggestion to the tempter.

3. It is rational as well as Christian to all unclean tempters to consider reason.

4. Confidence anti-trust of lords in their servants should make them more faithful, and unwilling to injure them (Genesis 39:8).

5. Power delegated to largest bounds should be improved to the greatest good of superiors.

6. Power despotical may be delegated to others, but marital, or husband power to none.

7. Conjugal covenant maketh the power of man and wife reciprocal.

8. Breach of marriage covenant by adultery is most grievous wickedness.

9. Treacherous adultery carrieth a special malignity against God, and is observed by Him.

10. True religion towards God makes men fear to sin, and provoke the eyes of His glory (Genesis 39:9). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. The times of men’s exercise about their honest employments may prove their seasons of temptation to them.

2. Absence of witnesses and such as may hinder lust is a fair opportunity for it.

3. Providence ordereth both these together sometimes, to try His own, and discry wicked hearts (Genesis 39:11).

4. Lustful hearts upon such occasions grow impudent to tempt by word and deed.

5. Whorish lust catcheth garments, holds bodies, and ensnares souls with its temptations.

6. Gracious souls rather loose their garments, then endanger their graces.

7. Grace flieth from temptation, when it cannot cease it and make it still.

8. Grace chooseth to be out of doors with innocency rather than in the house with sin (Genesis 39:12). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Joseph: the victory of conscience and faith over impulse and opportunity


1. He was young.

2. He was away from home. Young men, you may escape the eye of an earthly parent, but you cannot escape the eye of God (Psalms 139:7-12).

3. Joseph might have pleaded that the consequences of his sin would be favour and advancement, while the consequences of his resistance would be, in all likelihood, irretrievable disgrace.

CONSIDER THE WAY IN WHICH JOSEPH, INSTEAD OF YIELDING TO THE PRESSURE OF THESE CIRCUMSTANCES, MET AND OVERCAME THE TEMPTATION WHICH ASSAILED HIM. Did not allow his youth, or distance from home, or possible consequences, to blind him to the true nature of the proposal which was made to him. Did not beat about the bush and endeavour to sophisticate himself into the belief that wrong was right. Did not try to mitigate the evil by talking about sin, as if it were merely a folly, or a pardonable indiscretion. How then did he fortify himself against the enticement to evil?

1. By calling things by their right names. He had not learned to say that bitter was sweet, or darkness light. He had not so lived as to bedim or distort his spiritual vision. And so he blurted out the truth at once, and called the act to which he was invited, “This great wickedness.” There is no more mischievous maxim than that which finds expression in the saying of Burke: “Vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness.” It is when “Satan is transformed into an angel of light,” that his power is most deadly. He who has learned to call the sin to which he is tempted “This great wickedness,” has already won half the battle.

2. By remembering that all wrong-doing is sin against God. It may be sin against self also, and sin against our fellows, but this it most assuredly is--sin against God. The faith which utters itself in these words was the source at once of the insight which enabled Joseph to perceive the true nature of the temptation, and of the strength in which he was able to overcome it. A man who has cultivated the habit of referring everything to God is not easily deceived by the appearance of things. He lives and walks in the light of truth. He is able to bring all things to the one test--is it or is it not pleasing to God? This, the one adequate motive of a true life. (J. R. Bailey.)

Sin avoided by considerations of God

The meaning, the force of this language lies almost entirely in the word, God. And O how many reasons, why we should not sin against Him, are wrapped up in this one word?

1. God, you may understand the good man as saying, is a Being of perfect, of infinite excellence. His works as well as His word, assure me that He is so.

2. God is my Creator. He is the former of my body, the Father of my spirit. As such He is my nearest relative. How then can I sin against Him?

3. God is my Preserver and Benefactor. He has watched over me and preserved me every moment since my existence commenced. He has shielded me from ten thousand evils and dangers. He has preserved me, while multitudes of my coevals have perished. He is preserving me at this moment.

4. God is my rightful Sovereign. As my Creator and Proprietor, He has the best of all possible titles to control me.

5. God is the providential, as well as moral Governor of the universe, and the sole Dispenser of all blessings, natural and spiritual. As such I am constantly dependent on Him for everything which I need. I am in His hands; as He has given, so He can take away, all that I possess.

6. God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. As such He so loved our ruined race, that He gave His only begotten Son to die for its salvation. He gave Him to die for me, for my relatives, for my fellow-creatures. He has done and suffered more for us than any earthly friend would or could have done. Now if I consent to sin, I shall crucify afresh this Saviour; I shall dishonour and offend and grieve the Father who gave Him to die for me. And how can I do this? How can I requite Him evil for good? (E. Payson, D. D.)

The fight for social purity

Nothing thrills like a battle. Each man is a born fighter. The necessity of struggle is laid upon us, and therefore, our sympathies are rarely stretched to further tension than by the sight of contests, which are the types and prophecies of our own. Even the names of old fields of carnage and strife are still electric. Joseph’s fight for social purity is one of the best known of “the decisive battles of the world.” The grand out-leap of defiant refusal to do wrong of this young warrior has seized and held the imagination of mankind for ages. The sudden and complete moral recoil of this gallant knight of purity from the defiling touch of the depraved adulteress, who has been dogging his steps and laying her sensual bait day by day, has passed into the imperishable stores of the world’s moral force.

“How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” At once we recognise the presence of the Holy God in this scene. He is its light and glory, its power and victory. God the Holy fills the entire field of vision, and Joseph is strengthened with might in the inner man by an all-pervading awe of Him. His heart throbs with a vehement solicitude not to offend God, not to violate His will, or in the slightest particular displease Him. That is the fire that burns with such scorching heat in these words. That is the flame that leaps up in his heart in cleansing force. That is the source of the mighty passion by which in a moment, and at one throw, he flings far behind him the corrupting bait of the temptress. It is not hatred of the woman, though that might have been excused. It is not anxiety for his own reputation first and foremost, though that is not without its influence. It is not even solicitude, before all things, to maintain his integrity in his trust as the steward of Potiphar, though that too operates with great and decisive energy; but it is the recognition of God. He cannot sin against Him. There is the impassable barrier! That Sacred Presence for ever block the way! This Authority ruling in and for righteousness utterly shuts out all possibility of yielding, and impels the tempted man, at lightning speed, from the neighbourhood of danger. Whatever, then, may be our final judgment as to the place of “the fear of God,” i.e., of the reverent dread of disobeying His word, in a pure, noble, and consecrated life, it cannot be denied that one main element in Joseph’s conquering power. It is not the whole of it, by any means; but it is one facet of the many-sided life; one source from whence he obtains his irresistible might; one auxiliary to his steadfast purity. Fellow soldiers, I cannot feel that fear of doing wrong, and dread of not doing all we ought, are obsolete as working forces in life! I know too much of the subtlety of evil, of the difficulty of working on the higher ranges of Christian service from motives absolutely pure and untainted by self-seeking and vanity, the ease with which the spirit slides into doubt and despair of God, and forgets the fulness of His promises and presence, of the possibilities of secret sins; and I have seen too much of those who “profess and call themselves Christians,” not to welcome with all my soul the Divine caution, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall,” by a shot from an unseen foe, by mistaking a traitor for an angel of light, by opening the gates of Mansoul to some of the King’s enemies, or by collapse of power through long and wearisome watchings with an ill-fed and ill-nourished spirit. Sublime men are only made by sublime motives; and of motives, “Love is lord of all.” “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God” is the first and great commandment, and the second comes a long way after it; but it does come, it must come, for love and fear are the positive and negative poles of the same electric bar, and are both forces convertible into aids to holiness. Love rules the home, and its sunshine is the life of all who dwell therein; but fear of marring the domestic peace, spoiling the domestic purity, or poisoning the domestic joy, is a temper that pervades and chastens, hallows and enlarges the household life. Our soldiers fight for the love of country; but how unspeakably they are goaded forward in the severity of battle by the dread of losing their country’s flag I In the finest types of married life, it is not till years of perfect communion and character-assimilating love have made husband and wife a complete unity, and blent soul with soul, and will with will, that all fear is gone--if indeed it ever is. Certainly, in the earlier stages it is a spur to that continual and anxious attention to aid, and not to hinder, in developing the one life, which finally becomes the gracious habit and beautiful form of the domestic ministry. “Wherefore,” we Christians, “having received a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have the grace of thankfulness, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” “Following after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord: looking carefully lest there be any man that falleth short of the grace of God.” It is not, then, too late in the world’s history to fall back on the element of fear of doing wickedness and sinning against God, as an available power in the recoil from evil. Too late! Assuredly not!

Notice, again, this passage gives evidence of a large access of energy to Joseph’s conscience from his PERFECT IDENTIFICATION OF GOD WITH HIS OWN PERSONAL PURITY. “By faith,” i.e., by an act of the moral imagination, he places himself instantly in the realized presence of God, and the temptation becomes appallingly hideous to him, simply because it is a solicitation to sin against his God. It is also “a great wickedness” against his kind and confiding master, a grave and irreparable wrong to himself, an unpardonable blow to the guilty woman, a crime against society; but it is first and foremost a sin against God. “How then,” he reasons, his soul melted into one stream of fiery logic, “how then, can I do it?” Impossible! Come what may of resistance--expulsion, imprisonment, death--all must be faced and borne rather than yield. God and Purity are one. I cannot detach myself from Him; I dare not, I will not”; and in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the battle is over, the victory won; and having taken fast hold of purity, and not let her go, she gives the light and cheer of the Divine presence in the prison, at length opens the dungeon gates, advances him to honour, and finally places this brave soldier of purity on the throne of national usefulness. Surely we may add a verse to the eleventh of Hebrews, and say, “By faith Joseph, when he was tempted in the house of his master, resisted, not fearing the consequences of his act, for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”

Joseph differed from Jacob in that he had no Bethel visions, and from Abraham in that hearing the Divine voice, but he had the DIVINE FACTS OF LIFE AND IN THEM BE READ THE IDEAS AND WILL OF GOD. The oldest of all Bibles, the Bible of human experience was opened before him, and he read, marked, learnt, and inwardly digested its contents, and found it profitable for correction, for discipline, for reproof, and for instruction in righteousness, furnishing him with some real aid, for his good works. It is a bad use of the written Bible which blinds us to the teaching of home, hides us from the heavenly meanings of marriage, and closes against us the libraries of national movement and history. Our Scripture, brief as it is, has this peerless excellence, that it sets all our institutions, the Church, State, City, hamlet, marriage, and family life all in God. They are Divine; based on a Divine plan, intended to achieve Divine results. Every man’s life is sacred, for there is a Divine idea to be fulfilled in it--the idea of purity, and self-control, of sweetness and strength, of character and service.

Underlying marriage there is a thought of God, and in all the offices of mutual love, in the reasons for forbearance and patience, in the occasions of suffering and sympathy, this life-union is tending to inspire self-suppression, develop tender affection, nourish purity, and put ease and grace into our human life. Joseph, accordingly, read in his office of steward, God’s prohibition of purity, saying, “How then; seeing the place I fill, the duty I am bound to discharge, and the confidence reposed in me, how then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God!(J. Clifford D. D.)

How is sin the most formidable evil?

THAT TEMPTATIONS TO SIN, HOW ALLURING SOEVER OR TERRIFYING, ARE TO BE REJECTED WITH ABHORRENCE. There will be convincing proof of this by considering two things:

1. That sin, considered in itself, is the greatest evil. This will be evident by considering the general nature of it, as directly opposite to God the Supreme Good. The definition of sin expresses its essential evil: it is “the transgression of the” Divine “law” (1 John 3:4); and consequently opposes the rights of God’s throne, and obscures the glory of His attributes that are exercised in the moral government of the world.

2. Sin, relatively to us, is the most pernicious and destructive evil. If we compare it with temporal evils, it preponderates all that men are liable to in the present world. Diseases in our bodies, disasters in our estates, disgrace in our reputation, are, in just esteem, far less evil than the evil of sin; for that corrupts and destroys our more excellent and immortal part: the vile body is of no account in comparison of the precious soul. Therefore the apostle enforces his exhortation: “Dearly beloved” brethren, “I beseech you, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). The issue of this war is infinitely more woeful than of the most cruel against our bodies and goods, our liberties and lives: for our estates and freedom, if lost may be recovered; if the present life be lost for the cause of God, it shall be restored in greater lustre and perfection, but if the soul be lost, it is lost for ever.

This being a point of great usefulness, that I may be more instructive, I will consider the evils that are consequential to sin under these two heads:--

1. The evils that proceed immediately by emanation from it. And though some of them are not resented with feeling apprehensions by sinners, yet they are of a fearful nature. Sin has deprived man of the purity, nobility, and peace of his innocent state.

2. I will consider the evils consequent to sin as the penal effects of the sentence against sin, of Divine justice that decrees it, and Divine power that inflicts it. And in these the sinner is often an active instrument of his own misery.

(1). The fall of the angels is the first and most terrible punishment of sin.

(2) Consider the penal effects of sin with respect to man. They are comprehended in the sentence of death, the first and second death threatened to deter Adam from transgressing the law.


1. This discovers how perverse and depraved the minds and wills of men are, to choose sin rather than affliction, and break the Divine law for the obtaining of temporal things.

2. From hence we may be instructed of the wonderful patience of God, who bears with a world of sinners, that are obnoxious His justice, and under His power every day.

3. The consideration of the evil of sin, so great in itself, and pernicious to us, heightens our obligations to the Divine mercy, in “saving us from our sins,” and an everlasting hell, the just punishment of them.

4. The consideration of the evil of sin, in itself and to us, should excite us with a holy circumspection to keep ourselves from being defiled with 2:5. The consideration of the evil of sin is a powerful motive to our solemn and speedy repentance. (W. Bates, D. D.)

Under temptation

HERE IS A GOOD MAN SEVERELY TEMPTED. Temptation suits itself to every age, to every state of mind, to every temperament.

1. There is temptation to intellectual unbelief.

2. There is temptation to flattery.

3. There is the temptation to sensual lust. In every young man there is a sharp conflict between conscience and the animal nature. The enchantress was decked in her best. Scarcely concealed among the roses was the foul serpent.


1. The source of goodness is inexhaustible. The right principle and goodness Joseph had came from God, and God can give more. The Divine supply has never failed, just as the harvest-fields of earth have never given out.

2. A sense of God’s presence unmasks sin. Sin always wears some disguise, Naked sin is so ugly and repulsive that it would never succeed without gay and plausible masking. God’s presence is light, and shines through all disguise.

3. A sense of God’s presence makes us valiant. It had been Joseph’s habit to take God with him in every walk of life. This made him calm, contented, patient, strong. Our only safety is in God.

WE SEE A GOOD MAN BARELY MALIGNED. The spirit of wickedness has great vitality. Like Briareus, the fabled monster of the deep, it has fifty heads and a hundred arms. Foiled in one diabolical scheme, it instantly attempts another. The passion of this gay woman was as changeful as it was base. In a moment it passes into the blackest hatred, and plots the ruin of Joseph by lying and by slander. Men would wag their heads and say, “Ah, there’s something in it.” He has a thousand adversaries. Only conscience and God and friendly angels are left: his good name has passed under eclipse.


1. Silence is dignified. Self-defence is always more or less weakness. Let men learn not to be over hasty in their judgments. Appearances often deceive; silence is hoarded strength.

2. The effect of our conduct on others ought always to be considered. Had Joseph published abroad this woman’s guilt, it may have involved her in sudden death. If she had any heart left, the silence and endurance of Joseph must have touched it.

3. Self-sacrifice is a rare virtue.


Joseph’s remonstrance

The first attack upon him is repelled with a modest but severe remonstrance, exactly suited to his situation. Let us examine it minutely. There are four things in it worthy of admiration.

1. He is silent with respect to the wickedness of the tempter, tie might have reproached her for the indelicacy, the infidelity, and the baseness of her proposal; but he confines himself to what respected his own obligation, and what would be his own sin. In the hour of temptation it is enough for us to look to ourselves. It is remarkable that all our Lord’s answers to the tempter, as recorded in the fourth chapter of Matthew, are in this way. He could have accused him of insolence, and outrage; but He barely refuses to follow his counsels, because thus and thus it was written.

2. He considers his obligation as rising in proportion to his high station: “There is none greater in this house than I.” Some young men would have drawn a contrary conclusion from the same premises, and on this ground have thought themselves entitled to take the greater liberties; but this is the true use to be made of power, and riches, and every kind of trust.

3. He considers it 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.

4. He rises from created to uncreated authority: It would not only be treachery to my master, but “wickedness, great wickedness, and sin against God.” In the hour of temptation it is of infinite importance what view we take of the evil to which we are tempted. If we suffer our thoughts to dwell on its agreeableness, as Eve did concerning the forbidden fruit, its sinfulness will insensibly diminish in our sight, a number of excuses will present themselves, and we shall inevitably be carried away by it; but if we keep our eye steadfastly on the holy will of God, and the strong obligations we are under to Him, that which would otherwise appear a little thing, will be accounted what it is, a great wickedness, and we shall revolt at the idea of sinning against Him. This is the armour of God wherewith we shall stand in the evil day. (A. Fuller.)

Joseph’s temptation

That the temptation was in any degree to the sensual side of his nature there is no evidence whatever. For all that the narrative says, Potiphar’s wife may not have been attractive in person. She may have been; and as she used persistently, “day by day,” every art and wile by which she could lure Joseph to her mind, in some of his moods and under such circumstances as she would study to arrange he may have felt even this element of the temptation. But it is too little observed, and especially by young men who have most need to observe it, that in such temptations it is not only what is sensual that needs to be guarded against, but also too much deeper-lying tendencies--the craving for loving recognition, and the desire to respond to the feminine love for admiration and devotion. The latter tendency may not seem dangerous, but I am sure that if an analysis could be made of the broken hearts and shame-crushed lives around us, it would be found that a large proportion of misery is due to a kind of uncontrolled and mistaken chivalry. Men of masculine make are prone to show their regard for women. This regard, when genuine and manly, will show itself in purity of sympathy and respectful attention. But when this regard is debased by a desire to please and ingratiate oneself, men are precipitated into the unseemly expression of a spurious manhood. The other craving--the craving for love--acts also in a somewhat latent way. It is this craving which drives men to seek to satisfy themselves with the expressions of love, as if thus they could secure love itself. They do not distinguish between the two; they do not recognise that what they most deeply desire is love, rather than the expression of it; and they awake to find that precisely in so far as they have accepted the expression without the sentiment, in so far have they put love itself beyond their reach. This temptation was, in Joseph’s case, aggravated by his being in a foreign country, unrestrained by the expectations of his own family, or by the eye of those he loved. He had, however, that which restrained him, and made the sin seem to him an impossible wickedness, the thought of which he could not, for a moment, entertain. To disregard the rights of his master seemed to Joseph a great wickedness and sin against God. The treachery of the sin strikes him; his native discernment of the true rights of every party in the case cannot, for a moment, be hoodwinked. He is not a man who can, even in the excitement of temptation, overlook the consequences his sin may have on others. Not unsteadied by the flattering solicitations of one so much above him in rank, nor sullied by the contagion of her vehement passion; neither afraid to incur the resentment of one who so regarded him, nor kindled to any impure desire by contact with her blazing lust; neither scrupling thoroughly to disappoint her in himself, nor to make her feel her own great guilt, he flung from him the strong inducements that seemed to net him round and entangle him as his garment did, and tore himself, shocked and grieved, from the beseeching hand of his temptress. (M. Dods, D. D.)

Joseph’s arguments against sin

Joseph abhorred such impiety, and with most good and godly arguments repelleth the temptation.

1. The first drawn from ingratitude and unfaithfulness. As if he should have said, being trusted as I am, and preferred in my master’s house as I am, it were the greatest unfaithfulness, and the foulest ingratitude that might be, in this sort to requite my master’s favours, and so great favours towards me. Therefore I may not do it; for I abhor to be unfaithful where I am trusted, or unthankful where I am regarded and done for. Here then is a servant of servants, if we think of our days, here is a jewel more worth than gold, and a pearl of price for a man’s house; faithful and thankful, what wish we more.

2. His second argument is drawn from the marriage knot that ought to hold till death doth part. A married woman must have a married mind, that as her body by orderly course is appropriated unto one, so her mind must be also to the same, and to none other.

3. His third argument is drawn from the nature of the sin, it is a great wickedness to touch another man’s wife; and as all wickedness should be abhorred. So great wickedness greatly abhorred.

4. His last argument is drawn from the love of God. Thus should I sin, saith he, against God, which how may I do? As if he should have said, I love God who hath ever loved me, and my love admitteth no such requital. Many and many are the sweet mercies that I have found at His hand, if I should tell all, and how then should I sin against Him? (Bp. Babington.)

Love and trust protecting against temptation

You all know what affection for and trust in a person have done in common life to produce prompt decision and persistent action. Every scholar remembers the instance of that true wife, Penelope, who for long years turned away suitors for her hand, and was ultimately rewarded by the return of Ulysses, who had manifested a constancy and affection that were equal to her own. Now, if in domestic life such effects are produced by these two principles, love and trust--which are not so much two as one working in two different ways--may we not believe that by the grace of the Holy Spirit, personal attachment to the Lord Jesus Christ and implicit trust in Him, will give us quickness of sight to see what He would have us to do, and firmness of purpose to do that with our might. Nothing is so clear-sighted as love. It is on the alert at the approach of the slightest danger; and if only we take care to continue in the love of Christ, that will keep us right, for it will reveal the tempter to us even under his most cunning disguise, and give us courage and firmness to withstand him. Nay, more, let us but have the love of Christ strong within us, and we shall not think that there is anything like a sacrifice or a hardship in saying “ no “ to sin, for we shall have no hankering after that which He disapproves. Our refusal to sin will be, then, only the outworking of our satisfaction with Him; the consequence of our delight in Him, and not the result of any outward compulsion. Here, young man, is the key to the whole position; fill the heart with Christ and when the tempter comes he will find it so preoccupied that there is no room in it for him and his seduction. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The true motive for well-doing

Not for what we can make by it, or for what it is worth, but for what it is, and for its relationship to God, let us do the right, and we may rest assured, however it may be now, that in the end we shall be on the winning side. We may have to go through a prison to the final issue, or we may need to step up to it from a cross, but we shall be on the winning side, for character is success--not position, not prosperity, not reputation--but character, and it is made and hardened and tempered in the fire of trial. Leave the reputation and success, then, to look after themselves, and be not disconcerted if they should both be for a time under a cloud; but look well to the character, for that is the main thing, and the life that secures that for Christ is always worth living. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The position and morals of Egyptian women

In the East females live in separate apartments, but the monuments prove that in Egypt they mingled freely in society, and were under no peculiar restraint. Egyptian parties are frequently depicted in the temples, and “in some instances,” says Wilkinson, “we find both men and women sitting together, both strangers as well as members of the same family--a privilege not conceded to females among the Greeks, except with their relations.” Nor do the monuments speak favourably of the morals of the Egyptian women. “That they were not restricted,” says the same writer, “in the use of wine, and in the enjoyment of other luxuries, is evident from the frescoes which represent their feasts; and the painters, in illustrating this fact, have sometimes sacrificed their gallantry to a love of caricature. Some call their servants to support them as they sit, others with difficulty prevent themselves from falling on those behind them; a basin is brought too late by a reluctant servant, and the faded flower which is ready to drop from their heated hands, is intended to be characteristic of their own sensations. (Thornley Smith.)

Temptation resisted

She saw Joseph, she loved him, and said unto him, lie with me. Her eyes ensnared her heart, and she lost her modesty, as well as every other virtue. She must have been lost to all sense of shame, when she so barefacedly tempted Joseph to violate her chastity. Joseph was now in a dangerous situation. Few young men would have resisted the strong temptation which he was enabled to encounter. How easily did his brother Judah, in a more advanced period of life, fall before a temptation, which, in the comparison, was very small. We may say of Joseph, that there were few like him in all the earth. Sin spread out before him its strongest attractions-pleasure and profit. It drew up the most formidable terrors in battle-array, but none of all these things moved Joseph. He held fast his integrity, and would not let it go, for his heart was mightily fortified by the fear of God, and he was powerfully supported by that grace” which is able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before the presence of the Divine glory with exceeding joy.” (G. Lawson, D. D)

Joseph, the model realizer of God’s presence

In the first place, when Joseph realized God’s presence he found in it COMPLY IN HIS LONELINESS. One of the best and holiest men that ever lived was Henry Martyn, the English missionary to Persia. In carrying on his work there, he had many long and lonely journeys to take. But how sweetly he realized God’s presence, as giving him company in his loneliness, is seen in these beautiful lines, which were found after his death, written on one of the blank leaves of the Bible that he carried with him wherever he went.

“In desert woods, with Thee, my God,

Where human footsteps never trod,
How happy could I be!
Thou, my repose from care, my light
Amid the darkness of the night--

In solitude my company.”

And how many of God’s dear children have realized His presence in just the same way! Here are some illustrations of this. This incident was told by one of our chaplains in the late war. “I went into a tent connected with the general hospital one day,” says he. “There, on one of the beds, lay a beautiful drummer-boy, about sixteen years of age, burning up with fever.
‘Where is your home, my young friend?’ I asked. ‘In Massachusetts, sir,’ was his reply. ‘And do you not feel very lonely here, so far away from your father and mother, and all your friends, and so sick as you are?’ I never can forget,” says the chaplain, “the sweet smile that lighted up his deep blue eyes, and played over his fevered lips, as he said, in answer to my question, ‘Oh, no, sir. How can I feel lonely when Jesus is with me?’” That dear boy was realizing God’s presence in just the way of which we are speaking; and he found company in it. There was an old Christian gentleman, who had been for many years a successful merchant. He was once very well off, and had been surrounded by a happy family. But he had failed in business, and was left very poor. His wife and children had all died. In poverty and loneliness he had to spend the closing years of his life. A Christian friend, who used to call and see him occasionally, was talking with him one day, and said, “Well, I hope Jesus visits you sometimes.” “Visits me sometimes?” said the old man, “why, He lives with me at all times!” And so, in realizing the presence of that blessed Saviour, he found company in his loneliness. And if we follow the model which Joseph sets before us, it will bring this blessing to us; and we shall find company in our loneliness.

In the second place, as he realized God’s presence, Joseph found--COMFORT IN TROUBLE. And we shall find the same, just so far as we follow the model he has left us. Few persons have had such great troubles to bear as Joseph had. And yet he bore them bravely and cheerfully. And the secret of it was, he felt that God was present with him all the time, and he found comfort in this thought. This gave Joseph comfort when nothing else could have done so. And if we follow the model which he left us, and learn to realize God’s presence, as he did, we shall find comfort under all our troubles, in the feeling that He is with us. Let us look at some examples of the way in which this comfort is found. A city missionary in London used often to visit a poor old widow. She lived in a garret alone by herself. All she had to live on was half-a-crown a week, allowed her from some charity. This was only a little over half a dollar of our money, and was barely enough to keep her alive. The missionary used to notice, standing on her windowsill, an old broken tea-pot, in which a strawberry-plant was growing. He felt interested in watching it, and seeing how it grew. One day he said to the old woman: “I am glad to see how nicely your plant is growing. You’ll soon have some berries ripening on it.” “I don’t care about the fruit,” she said. “It’s not that which leads me to watch over this little plant. But I am too poor to keep any living creature with me. And I love to have this little plant in my room. I know it can only live and grow by the power of God. And as I look at it, from day to day, and see it growing, it makes me feel that God is here with me, and I find great comfort in that thought.”

In the third place, Joseph found STRENGTH FOR DUTY in realizing God’s presence. And if we follow the model he has set us we shall find the same. A brave sailor boy:--He was a cabin-boy on board an English man-of-war. He “had a pious mother, and was trying to be a Christian; and the story shows how the sense he had of God’s presence strengthened him for duty under very trying circumstances, and made him eminently useful to his shipmates and to his country. The sailors called this boy “Cloudy.” The incident, to which I refer, took place in the midst of a terrible naval battle between the English and the Dutch. The flagship of the English fleet was commanded by the brave Admiral Narborough. His vessel had got separated somehow from the rest of his fleet, and was drawn in the thickest of the fight. Two of its masts had just been shot away, and had fallen with a fearful crash upon the deck. The Admiral saw that all would soon be lost unless he could bring up the rest of the ships to help him. He summoned a lot of his men upon the quarter-deck. He could not send a boat, but he asked if any of them would volunteer to swim through the fight, and take an order for the rest of the fleet to come at once to his help. A dozen men offered to go; and little Cloudy made the same offer. The Admiral smiled, when he looked at him, and said: “Why, Cloudy, what can you do?” “I can swim, sir, as well as any of them. You can’t spare these men from the guns, sir. It won’t make much matter if I am killed. But I’m sure that God will take care of me. Please, sir, let me go.” “Go, my brave lad,” said the Admiral, “and may God bless you!” He thanked the Admiral, and running to the side of the ship, sprang over into the sea, and struck out bravely towards the ships, which he was to order up. The men cheered him, and then went back to their guns. The fight went on; but the Dutch were getting the best of it. The Admiral was feeling very sadly. He did not see how he could hold out much longer. He said to himself--“I have never hauled down the flag of old England yet. I’d rather die than do it now. But how can I help it?” Just then he heard a firing to the right. Looking through the clouds of smoke that surrounded him, he saw that the brave boy had got through his long and dangerous swim. He had delivered the order entrusted to him; and the expected ships were coming, crowding down upon the enemy. This turned the tide of battle. The Dutch were soon beaten, and the flag of old England was not hauled down that day. In the evening the Admiral called his men on deck to thank them for their brave conduct. And then, turning to Cloudy, who was also present, he said: “And I want especially to thank you, my brave lad, for your noble conduct. We owe this victory to you. I hope to live to see you have a flagship of your own, some day.” And it turned out just so. That cabin-boy went on realizing God’s presence; and this gave him strength for duty, till he was knighted by the king, and known in the English navy as--Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovel. And if we follow the model that Joseph has left us, we shall find that realizing the presence of God will be sure to give us strength for duty.

And then, when Joseph realized the presence of God, he found that it gave him--VICTORY OVER TEMPTATION. And if we follow the model he has left us, we shall find that it will do the same for us. The thought of God’s eye:--Emma Gray was a Sunday-school girl, who was trying to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and to make herself useful. As she was going to school one day, during the week, she passed a little boy, whose hand was thrust through the railings of a gentleman’s front garden, trying to steal some flowers. “Oh, my little boy,” said Emma kindly, “do you think it’s right to take those flowers without asking leave?” “I only want two or three,” said the boy, “and nobody sees me.” “You are mistaken there, my boy. God is looking at you from yonder blue sky. He says we must not take what does not belong to us without leave. And if you do it He will see it, and it will grieve Him.” “Then, if He’s looking at me I won’t do it,” said the little fellow. And so, as he thought of God’s eye, or realized God’s presence, it gave him the victory over the temptation to steal those flowers. Spoiling his trade:--A mission Sunday-school was started in a very wicked part of London. A good many boys in that neighbourhood got their living by stealing. Some of these boys were persuaded to go to this school. One boy, who was a great thief, went there. After he had been going for some time, one of his companions asked him how he liked the school. “I don’t like it at all,” said he. “Why not?” asked his friend. “Because, you see, they are all the time talking about God seeing you, and the like o’ that; and it just makes a fellow feel afeard. It takes all the pluck out o’ me, I know. Many a time now, when I see a good chance to get a hankercher, or a nice purse of money, just as I’m going to take it, I think of that great Eye looking at me. And then I’m afeard and have to stop. So, you see, it’s spoiling my trade. And I’ll either have to give up going to school, or else have to learn another trade and try and get my living in some other way.” Here we see the true effect which must always follow from realizing God’s presence. We cannot go on doing what we know to be wrong when we feel that God is looking at us. (R. Newton, D. D.)

Safeguards against temptation

An old writer observes that it is “the sublimity of wisdom to do those things living which are to be desired and chosen by dying persons.” St. Bernard expresses the same thought, but in a different form, saying, “Let every man in the first address of his actions, consider whether, if he were now to die, he might safely and prudently do such an act, and whether he would not be infinitely troubled should death surprise him in the present disposition; and then let him proceed accordingly.” This advice, if taken, would no doubt insure resistance to temptation, for no man, unless he were enslaved to folly, would commit a sin in the face of approaching death. But a surer help to victory over the tempter than the thought of death, is the recollection, “Thou God seest me!” and the question of the spirited-minded Joseph, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”

Verses 13-18

Genesis 39:13-18

See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us

The false charge against Joseph



THE MALIGNITY OF IT. The vengeance of disappointed passion.



1. That impurity and falsehood are closely allied.

2. That God’s saints should be patient under false accusations.

3. That we should do the thing that is right in utter disregard of all evil consequences to ourselves. (T. H. Leale.)


1. Disappointments of lust occasion it to rage, and turn it into madness.

2. Innocency’s flight from sin may occasion its misery.

3. Sight of lust defeated by chastity stirs up the wicked to accuse the righteous (Genesis 39:13). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

The delicate and problematical character of circumstantial proof

There are not a few cases, in which it is the only description of evidence which can at all be had; and sometimes it is of such a nature as to carry as full conviction to the mind as the most direct and satisfactory testimony. This was not, indeed, the case in the instance before us: for it would not be difficult to institute widely different processes of hypothetical argument on the simple fact of the mantle having been left in her possession. There are cases, however, in which it is almost irresistibly conclusive. And yet true it is that there have been instances in which sentence has been passed on the ground of circumstantial evidence such has, at the time, appeared clear beyond controversy, and has carried the fullest conviction to counsel, and jury, and judge--in which, notwithstanding, the innocence of the party condemned has subsequently been brought unexpectedly and strangely to light. All that can be said, therefore, is that while it is a species of proof which it is impossible to discard, and which it would be the height of absurdity to speak of discarding, yet it is one which ought to be investigated with the utmost caution and minuteness, and all delay possible afforded for subjecting it to the test of time--so long as there seems any likelihood of new circumstances coming to light, or of any conscience which fear may be holding in its bonds, and by this means sealing the lips, relenting and disclosing. And wherever there is room for the slightest doubt, the benefit of it should be given to the accused. (R. Wardlaw, D. D)


Verses 19-23

Genesis 39:19-23

But the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison

Joseph in prison

A superior man will manifest his superiority in any situation.

In slavery, in prison, in exile, his worth will be disclosed and acknowledged. Joseph was a remarkable example of this. Though a prisoner in name, he soon was the actual warden. I invite attention to some of the lessons taught us by the experience and demeanour of Joseph in prison. Consider--

(1) What it is that gives one special power over men. Not great natural gifts merely, or original superiority of mind. Many people who possess these are without much influence. Neither is it the gifts of rank or fortune. Joseph had neither of these to commend him to favour. The Scriptures point to the true cause of his ascendency: “The Lord was with Joseph, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison”; and the latter committed to him the prisoners, “because the Lord was with him, and that which he did the Lord made it to prosper.” Since he was a good man, and obviously enjoyed God’s favour, he had influence and power over men. Right is mightier than wrong. As one clear, sweet voice singing in tune will bring a whole multitude of discordant voices into harmony with it, because it is right and they are wrong, and concord is superior to discord, so one godly man will prevail over many wicked. Men are always impressed by manifestations of a good conscience. They are persuaded that one who has a conscience void of offence toward God, is more likely to have one void of offence toward men also. His fidelity to his religious convictions wins their confidence. They will honour him, even though he vexes them by his scruples. Nicholas Biddle, we have been told, once had for a private secretary a Christian young man, whom he wished to keep at work on the Sabbath. The secretary objected to working on the Lord’s Day. “I shall discharge you,” said his employer, “if you do not conform to my wishes.” The secretary was poor, and had, moreover, a widowed mother dependent upon him; but rather than violate his conscience by doing what he considered wrong, he gave up his place. A day or two after, Mr. Biddle was in the company of some gentlemen who proposed to start a new bank, and the question was, where should they find a suitable man to be its cashier? “I know of one,” said Mr. Biddle; and he recommended to them his late secretary, saying, “He had too much conscience for my work, but none too much for the more responsible office you have.” And through his recommendation the place was given to him. In no way can parents do so well for their children, or so certainly insure for them positions of power and influence, as by an early religious training.

(2) Joseph’s demeanour in prison teaches the duty of patient accommodation to the situation in which God has seemed to place us. Evidently he tried to make the best of his prison life. He does not yield to despair and refuse to see any hope of good. He is cheerful and helpful to all about him, displaying there, in that uncongenial place, the same serenity of mind and the same religious faith as elsewhere. He rested in the Lord, and waited patiently for the manifestation of His will, never fretting over the peculiar hardship of his case, nor complaining because he was the innocent victim of the wicked devices of another. He believed that God would take care of him, and deliver him out of all his troubles. Though he could not see, what we see, that his prison was only a necessary way-station in his path to the lordship of Egypt, yet he knew that God was there, and that where God was it was safe for him to be, and not ill. His faith sustained him.

(3) Joseph’s life in prison teaches that there is good work to be done everywhere. Joseph discovered new capabilities of service in that dismal office. He shed upon it a humane and softer light. He reformed old abuses and introduced new improvements. He did noble work there, work animated by pity and mercy; such work as we impute to angels in their ministries of compassion among the suffering and wretched. It was work, too, which blessed his soul in the doing of it, and which paved the way to that future greatness to which he was advancing. The same thing may be true of the worst situation in which a man may be placed. He can, if he will, ennoble it by good work; make it bright by deeds of love and mercy; make it a field of great usefulness to others, and tributary to his own subsequent advancement.

(4) Joseph’s life in prison illustrates how all things work together for good to them that love God. “I have done nothing,” he said, “that they should put me into the dungeon.” It seemed a hard case. He was there through the slanderous spite of a bad woman. Falsehood and wickedness seemed to have triumphed over truth and innocence. But it was only that the person in whom they were represented might be the more exalted. Joseph’s case reveals how God can make everything bend to His purpose. (A. H.Currier.)

Joseph in prison



1. He had a present reward (Genesis 39:21).

2. His goodness was made manifest. (T. H. Leale.)

Joseph’s conduct in the dungeon

THE TENDERNESS OF HIS SYMPATHY (Genesis 39:6-7). Suffering is absolutely necessary to capacitate us for sympathy.

THE PROFESSION OF HIS INNOCENCE. Of which notice the calmness and simplicity.

THE INTEGRITY OF HIS TRUTHFULNESS. Having undertaken the office of interpreter, he fulfilled it faithfully. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Joseph in prison; or, an epitome of heaven’s rule over the world


1. Joseph was the subject of cruel envy.

2. Joseph was the subject of the vilest calumny.


1. The approbation of his own conscience.

2. The respect of his circle.

3. The special presence of his God.


1. The evil passions of men.

2. The apparent accidents of life.

3. The mental visions of men.

4. The system of material nature.


1. The shortness of our trials compared with our destiny.

2. The unimportance of worldly condition compared with our moral character.

3. Greatness, however depressed and obscured, must rise one day through all obstructions to its rightful sovereignty. (Homilist.)

Life in a dungeon

THE PRISON. Literally, “the round-house.” Probably at first Joseph was confined in a dark and dismal subterranean “inner-prison,” where Psalms 105:18) he was put in irons. A gloomy condition! But this seemingly overwhelming misfortune is but one of the links by which a mysterious but all-wise Providence is to conduct him into ultimately far higher honours and far more important trusts.

JOSEPH’S IMPRISONMENT IS WHOLLY WITHOUT CAUSE. He was really suffering for his adherence to the right. He received the reward, which many have done since, of reproach, slander, and every injury, where the highest respect and honour were justly due. Instead of the admiration and lasting gratitude of his master, he was thrust into the prison, and his feet made fast in irons. But in this unwelcome and undeserved experience Joseph was but joining that illustrious company, swelled by subsequent ages to a mighty multitude, who have been made to suffer for well doing, many of whom have had to seal their testimony with their blood. The purest of all was “numbered with the transgressors.”

How JOSEPH DEPORTED HIMSELF IN PRISON. True to his beautiful antecedents, even in this black midnight he was still his noble self.


1. Let me commend to your prayerful study the beautiful bearing and admirable spirit manifested by this young hero in this trying era in his extraordinary history.

2. Learn from this subject to be faithful under all circumstances, and to endeavour so to deport yourselves as to show forth a blameless and praiseworthy life. (J. Leyburn, D. D.)

Joseph in prison

A strange place, we might say, for a saint of God to be in! And yet a place in which the saints of God have often been found; for the world hath frequently misjudged them, deeming ill of whom it should have thought well, and instead of loving them for the example of purity and goodness which they have afforded, has made them the victims of its suspicion and hate. Thus it has come to pass that the excellent of the earth, the men worthy of thrones and palaces, have been ofttimes thrust into dark and noisome dungeons. State records have their stories of illustrious prisoners; and so also have the annals of the Church--and harrowing ones indeed they are. Samson, Micaiah, Jeremiah, John Baptist, Peter, Paul and Silas. And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of others who, in apostolic and post-apostolic times, were “in prisons oft,” and would joyfully have been there oftener, for the blessedness that they realized there from the presence of Him who can make of a prison a palace, and change dungeon darkness into heavenly light. We will now, therefore, return to Joseph, to whose imprisonment our text relates--“And he was there in the prison.”

WHY WAS HE THERE? What crime had he committed? Against whom had he offended? How had he sinned, that he should be found in such a place as this? Listen to the answer, for it is a rare answer. There is not one prisoner of a thousand respecting whom it could be truly given. He had not sinned at all! He had wronged no one l He was guiltless of any crime whatever! Then why was he there? I will give you the answer in a positive form. He was there because he chose to suffer rather than to sin--he preferred shame, and privation, and sorrow, to guilt. He would rather be an inmate of a prison--aye, for life--with a clear conscience, than the dweller in a mansion with an accusing one. Such is the answer to the question, Why was Joseph where we now find him? And it suggests a practical remark of very considerable importance and use, namely, that the highest integrity will not protect a man always from misjudgment and oppression. The very reality of goodness is the pledge that it will be tried, and these sufferings, attendant often--I might say uniformly--on a course of spiritual integrity, are just God’s way of trying it. Bear this in mind, dear friends, and you will not then be overwhelmed if, like Joseph, your fidelity to conscience and to God should bring you into circumstances of deepest humiliation and pain.

How DID IT FARE WITH HIM THERE? And this is a question which admits, as you will see, of a twofold answer--a sad and a pleasing one. At first it seems to have gone ill enough with this young servant of God “there in the prison.” He was made to suffer all the rigours of an Eastern dungeon. We learn from the one-hundred-and-fifth Psalm, that the simple record in Genesis does not tell us all that he underwent; for it is said there that his “feet were hurt with fetters,” that “he was laid in iron.” Indeed, it was a most trying lot, and must have been hard to bear, despite the consciousness of innocence to console and sustain the mind. And yet there was a necessity for it; a necessity, I mean, in connection with the wonderful drama which Joseph’s history was designed to form. Without all this trial and suffering, so undeserved, so apparently mysterious, there would have been wanting what gives the chief interest to the final development, and makes the whole so beautiful a lesson of trust in Providence, and patient waiting for the unfolding of God’s ways. And I would say, my brethren, there may be a corresponding necessity in your case for those circumstances in your lot which are most baffling and painful. It is not sent to you out of mere capriciousness on the part of your Heavenly Father; but because it is essential to the working out of His purposes of mercy in relation to you. Just as it was not only part of God’s plan that Joseph should be unjustly imprisoned, but also that his sufferings in prison should take, at first, a character of special severity; so everything in the circumstances of His people is equally the result of design, pointing to a future, hidden from them now, but hereafter to unfold itself, and to display to their astonished view wonders of Divine wisdom and faithfulness in the very events of their history which they had deemed the most painful and obscure. But I said that the question as to how it fared with Joseph in prison admits of a twofold answer. What I have just spoken to may be called the sad part of the answer. Let us now look at the more pleasing aspect of it. The severity was probably only temporary. At all events, we soon find the young man enjoying a degree of liberty and consideration that mark a wondrous change in his condition. But there is something more than this. That which the spiritual mind fastens upon here with most eagerness and delight is the statement about God’s regard to the suffering prisoner. This it is specially that forms the pleasing part of the answer, as to how it fared with Joseph in prison. Mark what is said at the end of the chapter--“But the Lord was with Joseph,” etc. You see that the one idea here is the presence of God with His servant; the favour of God, the prospering blessing of God. The mind of the sacred writer seems to have been full of that. It was in his estimation the grand thing, the salient point in the story--all. Joseph found his prison-life eventually not only not sad, but happy, because God was with him. Joseph won consideration and favour from his gaoler because God was with him. Joseph succeeded so well in every business matter entrusted to him because God was with him. Friendless and alone he could not be in that case. Inwardly cast down for long he could not be in that case. Now, the practical truth I wish to press upon you all here is the supreme value to be attached to the presence and favour of God. (C. M. Merry.)

Joseph in prison


1. God is no respecter of places. Men speak with bated breath of prison-houses.

2. A sample of God’s faithfulness. Potiphar, from very unworthy reasons, had withheld his favour from Joseph. Very likely many in the mansion had secretly rejoiced in Joseph’s fall. “He keepeth covenant for ever.”


1. God’s best gifts are spiritual. There was no miraculous vindication of Joseph. Yet, though unseen, God was there, with hands full of blessing.

Did Joseph retain his hold on God, and often speak to Him in prayer? God nourished that faith. Did Joseph cherish a peaceful assurance, that God would over-rule this disaster for good? Then God was dwelling in him.

2. God gave him mercy, This hardship led Jacob to faithful self-examination.

3. God lightened his burden. The effect of God’s presence was twofold, viz., inward and outward. The real worth of Joseph was patent to the governor of the gaol. It was soon felt by warders and prisoners alike that Joseph was an injured man.

4. God made him useful. In that grim gaol his life was not doomed to inglorious idleness. So in the prison Joseph did his very best; nobly exercised his talents; lived as a king: and prepared himself to be ruler of Egypt. There were lessons to be learnt here which he could not learn elsewhere; a good school this.


1. There was prosperity. That is, there was order, peacefulness, good discipline.

2. Knowledge was gained. Joseph learnt how little mischief bad men and bad women can do to a good man.

3. It was a stepping-stone to sovereignty. Very likely the advantage in the formation of Joseph’s character was immense. Excrescences were pruned away. Good principles were better rooted. A generous forgetfulness of self was fostered. He was daily growing into a nobler and purer man. (J. Dickerson Davies, M. A.)

Joseph in prison


1. By manifestation of personal friendship.

(1) “With him,” to comfort him in his peculiarly trying position, his character being falsely accused.

(2) “With him,” to impart strength and skill for the proper discharge of duty.

2. By giving him favour in the eyes of others.

(1) By God’s interposition, he becomes the warden’s favourite.

(2) Unbounded trust is, through God’s grace, placed in one whose character has been assailed.

(3) It is God’s prerogative to dispose the hearts of men toward His children (Proverbs 21:1).


1. The tyranny of ancient monarchs.

2. The activity of the mind.

(1) While the body sleeps, the mind continues wakeful and full of thought.

(2) This mental activity during sleep, which we call dreams, God has frequently used in all ages for providential purposes.


1. A dream from God, like a speech in an unknown tongue, cannot be understood until interpreted by one who knows the language.

2. If a dream is designed to reveal a Divine purpose, that purpose must be distinctly explained by special communication by God.

3. The folly of assuming intelligence enough to interpret dreams without special revelation from God.


1. The advantages of true piety in the practical affairs of life.

2. A lesson for resignation under most trying circumstances. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

Joseph in prison

If we take our whole impression of his prison-life from the Book of Genesis, our impression cannot be either accurate or complete. For, though the inspired narrative tells us that Joseph was bound; though it records his earnest entreaty that the cup-bearer, when he was released, would do his utmost to deliver him; though it represents him as speaking with a certain bitterness of having done nothing to deserve that he should be “thrust into this hole”; though, therefore, it implies that Joseph was the victim of a gross injustice, and had a keen sense of the injustice done to him, it nevertheless leaves the impression on our minds that, for a prisoner, his condition was a singularly happy one; that he enjoyed an altogether exceptional freedom, and rose to no small measure of official place and dignity. But, as we learn from a supplementary Scripture, Joseph was by no means of our mind, nor were his circumstances altogether so happy as we have supposed them to be. In Psalms 105:17-19, we read: “He sent a man before them: Joseph was sold for a slave. They tormented his feet with fetters; his soul came into iron, until the time when his word came; the word of the Lord cleared him.” The light shed by these words shines into the dark Egyptian dungeon, and enables us to see the prisoner and his condition more distinctly. Honoured and trusted as he was, he was nevertheless “tormented with fetters.” He was a prisoner, although a favoured prisoner, and thought more of his captivity than of the favour which softened its rigours. Through long bitter months he bends sad questioning eyes on a heaven no longer flushed wit-h rosy dawns of hope, but dark with the hues of doubt and despair. Yet, as we know, the road to the throne lay through that “hole”; and but for the hateful fetters which tormented him, he would never have worn the signet from Pharaoh’s hand, nor the golden chain which Pharaoh flung round his neck. The night in which he sat ushered in a long and brilliant day.

Now, the prison experience of Joseph is by no means an exceptional experience. Its value for us lies mainly in the fact that it helps us to understand the common lot of man. It would seem to be a law of the Divine government that in proportion as men are great in capacities for service, they should have their capacities developed by bitter and long-sustained afflictions. We can be patient and hopeful when once we are assured that all our defeats and disappointments, our failures and reverses and broken illusions, are parts of the discipline by which God is training us for the work we long to do, and are qualifying us to enjoy the freedom we crave. If only our character is being moulded and hardened, and its capacities brought out by suffering, then it is not unjust of God to inflict suffering upon us. If we can become perfect only through suffering, shall we not thank Him for the suffering which perfects us? If only as we learn to rule in the prison of deterred opportunities and defeated hopes, we can become fit to rule over the “many cities” of the heavenly kingdom, shall we shrink from the prison which leads to the throne? If the iron must enter our souls that we may be strong amid the flatteries and the adversities of fortune, shall even the fetters which torment us be unwelcome to us? (S. Cox, D. D.)

Free though bound

Though his body is in fetters, Joseph’s pure spirit is still free. The one, man may load with irons; the other, God alone can bind in the prisonhouse of torture. With integrity preserved, the prison may be a palace. With God’s favour there may be happiness in a dungeon; without it, wretchedness in a royal court. There may be spiritual liberty while shackles are chafing the weary limbs, there may be the bondage of sin while no visible chains are eating into the quivering flesh. In point of fact, Potiphar’s wife was the slave--the slave of sin; Joseph the freeman, the emancipated of the Lord. “He is a freeman whom the truth makes free, all besides are slaves.” Many, alas! though their limbs are unshackled, are yet bound captives, to human appearance hopelessly fettered by iniquity. Who is there so lost to honour that he would not prefer Joseph’s situation to that of his assailant? purity to impurity? God’s favour in a prison, to God’s displeasure in the decorated halls of wordly grandeur? (J. S. Van Dyke.)

True prosperity

Now, do let us all be thoroughly instructed from this, what it is that constitutes true prosperity. It is said of the soldiers of a certain king, in ancient times, that they lost a great battle by mistaking the shadows for the ,persons of their enemies. They discharged their arrows at the empty resemblance, instead of the living and moving ranks of men. How many make a similar mistake with regard to prosperity I They mistake the shadow for the substance; and thus they take a wrong aim. All their energies and all their efforts are directed to something short of the mark. Outward distinctions and outward blessings, considered in themselves, form only the shadow of prosperity. It does not consist in greatness, or grandeur, or riches, or plenty, or ease. These are all sometimes possessed by the wicked; and sometimes they are possessed by those, who, instead of being prosperous, have actually to groan through the very disquietude of their heart. True prosperity is something different to this, and independent of this. It can flourish without such things as these, and make us happy either with or without them. It consists in what Joseph had--the favour, and presence, and blessing of Almighty God, our heavenly Father. This can make us happy in every place, and in every state. (C. Overton.)

Uses of adversity

It is good for man suffer the adversity of this earthly life, for it brings him back to the sacred retirement of the heart, where only he finds he is an exile from his native home, and ought not to place his trust in any worldly enjoyment. It is good for him also to meet with contradiction and reproach, and to be evil thought of and evil spoken of, even when his intentions are upright and his actions blameless, for this keeps him humble and is a powerful antidote to the poison of vain glory; and then chiefly it is that we have recourse to the witness within us, which is God, when we are outwardly despised, and held in no degree of esteem and favour among men. Our dependence upon God ought to be so entire and absolute that we should never think it necessary, in any kind of distress, to have recourse to human consolation. (De Imitatione Christi.)

Providences of God

We are tried by our disappointments, we are tried by our successes. God heaps mercies upon men, and then takes them all away. He blesses, enriches, and establishes men, and then shuts them up, impoverishes, and subverts them. The whole train of the dealings of God with them in respect of the providential ordering of their affairs is either to break the hold of this earth upon the human soul, through its senses and passions, or else to inspire its religious faculties to take hold upon God and eternity. This is the secret of the whole round of unspeakable and so-called mysterious providences of God towards men; unspeakable and mysterious because God is acting in one way and they are acting in another. (H. W.Beecher.)

A prisoner kindly treated

It is said that when John Bunyan was in Bedford jail, some of his persecutors in London heard that he was often out of the prison; they sent an officer to talk with the gaoler on the subject, and in order to discover the fact he was to get there in the middle of the night. Bunyan was at home with his family, but so restless that he could not sleep; he therefore acquainted his wife that, though the goaler had given him liberty to stay till the morning, yet, from his uneasiness, he must immediately return. He did so, and the gaoler blamed him for coming at such an unseasonable hour. Early in the morning the messenger came, and interrogating the gaoler, said “Are all the prisoners safe?” “Yes.” “Is John Bunyan safe?” “Yes.” “Let me see him.” He was called, and appeared, and all was well. After the messenger was gone, the goaler, addressing Mr. Bunyan, said, “Well, you may go in and out again just when you think proper, for you know when to return better than I can tell you.”

When God commands the life all goes well

“In the course of my inspection of the lines that morning, while passing along Culp’s Hill, I found the men hard at work entrenching, and in such fine spirits as at once to attract attention. One of them finally dropped his work, and approaching me, inquired if the reports first received were true. On asking what he referred to, he replied that twice word had been passed along the line that General McKeller had been assigned to the command of the army, and the second time it was added that he was on the way to the field, and might soon be expected. He continued, ‘The boys are all jubilant over it, for they know that if he takes command, everything will go right.’” (One Thousand New Illustrations.)

Equanimity of character

The equanimity which a few persons preserve through the diversities of prosperous and adverse life reminds me of certain aquatic plants which spread their tops on the surface of the water, and with wonderful elasticity keep the surface still if the water swells, or if it falls. (J. Foster.)

God with His people in trouble

Think not that the presence of God with His people is limited to palaces or to churches. It has been often manifestly seen that He was with them in prisons, in caves or dens, on gibbets, in fiery furnaces. Ask not, why He does not snatch away His people from such dreary places, if He is present with them? Why should you think yourself wiser than God? You know why Christ, though He was the Son of God, did not come down from the cross, that His enemies might believe in Him. The sufferings of Christ were necessary for our salvation. The sufferings of the saints are necessary for their own salvation, though in another sense. (G. Lawson, D. D.)

Integrity repaid by confidence

Joseph, diligent and trusty, finds friends even in the prison. Integrity invariably secures confidence. The conscientious, the honest, and the truthful commonly find those with whom they deal willing to exhibit the same qualities. On the other hand, the deceitful and the unprincipled are extremely liable to be paid in their own coin. Indeed, so strong is the disposition to judge others by ourselves, that we are tolerably safe in concluding that those who charge the world with want of sympathy are not themselves extremely sympathetic; that those who pronounce mankind unprincipled will bear watching. Since the world is a kind of mirror, we are quite apt to see in others only a reflection of ourselves. Since its polished hardness approaches flintiness, our treatment of the world is liable to be turned back upon ourselves--the force of the rebound as well as its nature being determined by our own conduct. If we love our fellow-men, they will love us; if we hate them, they will hate us; if we aid them, they will aid us; abuse them, and abuse returns, sometimes steeped in the poison of malice. Hence it commonly happens that he who can control himself can usually determine the treatment he is to receive from others. Joseph’s kindness secured a return of kindness even from the Egyptian jailer; his integrity was repaid in confidence. He who has the love which our Saviour recommends possesses the means of securing kindness from most persons, and respect from all (J. S. Van Dyke.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 39". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/genesis-39.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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