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Success, Loyalty, and Betrayal

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Mar 26, 2000

Genesis 39:1-23

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Genesis 39:1-23
Success, Loyalty and Betrayal

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis 39. The last few weeks we have been doing our first studies in the final section of the book of Genesis in chapters 37 through 50 and the story of the life of Joseph. And we've said several times now that two things are important to understand about this section of the book. First of all the story of Joseph tells us how Israel wound up in Egypt, and secondly it explains to us how the promise of God in Genesis 12, verses 1 and 2 was fulfilled to make Abraham's family, a great family though it was, into a nation. And the story of Joseph goes a long way in explaining that. And in so doing, Moses tells us a number of things about this leading protagonist, Joseph. And though he is the leading human character of the story, we also said that above and beyond Joseph that the theme of God's sovereign providence runs throughout these passages. We've see that already in our study of Genesis 37. And we even saw it last week as we studied Genesis 38. That passage looks like a digression and it treats of things which are uncomfortable to speak of, especially when they are cherubic fourth graders sitting right in front of you. I want to tell you that I'm glad we weren't doing a multi-part series on Genesis 38. At any rate, even that passage highlights for us the providence of God. It's going to be used to contrast the character of Joseph as it was derived by grace in contrast to his brothers Reuben and Judah, he is a man of faithfulness and uprightness. But it's also going to continue to show God's purposes in His providence for Israel through Joseph.

So tonight we turn again to Joseph in his predicament in Egypt. We said last week that that digression of Moses was sort of like "meanwhile back at the ranch." Well, we're back to the ranch now. Joseph is on the train tracks, and Moses is taking us back to that predicament in Egypt. So let's turn to Genesis 39 and hear God's word:

Genesis 39:1-23

Our Lord we thank You for Your word and we pray that You would instruct our hearts by it tonight. As we think of Your providence, especially those providences which confuse us which seem to say You are against us or You have forgotten us, or You have no coherent purpose for us. Give us the grace to sit with Joseph and Job and Moses and all Your people and to wait patiently for the Lord, and to be confident that You will provide. And moreover that You are good, for we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

You know, it's not uncommon today for Christians to deny the doctrine of God's providence. You've probably been in conversations before with Bible-believing, Christ-loving Christians who really had a hard time swallowing the idea of God's providence. But we have lived to see the day in evangelical Christianity when this doctrine is even denied in radical ways. Many of you have perhaps not seen some of the books produced by the so-called Openness of God movement. Men like Clark Pinnock, and Richard Rice and John Sanders and Greg Boyd who have argued that not only does God not decree what is going to come to pass, but they have gone so far as to argue that God does not even know what is going to come to pass. They deny God's foreknowledge, and they stress that God, in fact, changes His mind. And they even appeal to Bible texts in order to establish that view. They’ll go to passages like Genesis, chapter 6, verse 6 and they’ll say you see that passage indicates that God changes His mind. And thus, they will use that kind of a passage to argue against God's foreordination, and God's foreknowledge of future events.

Now in that kind of a context, in a day and age where evangelicals will deny God's foreknowledge - and by the way, in one of the books of one of these men he even goes so far as to suggest to Christians that in our prayers we ought not to pray about things that are far in the future because God is not really very good at handling things like that. That we really need to pray about things that are much closer to our proximity because God is better at being able to influence things like that. I'm totally serious. This is coming from the pens of people who would say they believed in the authority of the Bible. - and in that kind of a context, it strikes me as interesting, and I hope it will strike you as interesting, too, that in the very first book of the Bible, God walks us step by step through the doctrine of providence. Over and over with each of the main characters of the first book of the Bible, God sets forth His providential control, His foreknowledge and His predestination of everything. He shows how it relates to our responsibility, and He shows how He uses even the evil purposes of men to further His good purposes, not only in redemption, but even in the individual lives of His people. It's almost like God establishing a barrier whereby we can't possibly go on and misinterpret the rest of the Bible, having studied Genesis where His foreordination, His providence and His foreknowledge is so clear.

Now we've already seen God's hand of providence guiding Joseph's life in and by the hatred of His brothers. And now in this passage we are going to see God's providence in Joseph's slavery, in his temptation and in his imprisonment. Let me suggest that we look at the passage in three parts. In verses 1 through 6 we see Joseph experiencing God's favor even though he is now a slave in a strange land. Then in verses 7 through 19 we see Joseph tempted, we see him resist that temptation, and then we see his master's wife bring a false accusation against him, which is going to plunge him into yet another downward spiral. And then finally in verses 20 through 23 we see Joseph experience God's favor and providence even in prison, in his wrongful imprisonment. Let's look at this passage then tonight.

I. God in His providence shows favor to Joseph even in his slavery.
In verses 1 through 3, we see Joseph experiencing God's favor in the strange circumstances. God in His providence shows favor to Joseph even in his slavery. Now Moses doesn't dwell on it in this passage, but we would do well at least to consider in passing the kind of spiritual and emotional state that Joseph was in. Imagine his separation from his family, his being sold into slavery, his being sent into a strange land.

Joseph had every reason to be disconsolate. Psalm 105 comments on this by the way, speaking specifically of his prison experience. But would you turn with me to Psalm 105, verse 17. "He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters; he himself was laid in irons until the time that his word came to pass. The word of the Lord tested him." There's a sermon or two there. But the emphasis being on the affliction that Joseph endured in Egypt. Moses, as we say, doesn't dwell on that. But I don't think it's illegitimate for us to imagine for a moment the state that he would have been in. Surely he was asking himself, 'Lord, what are You doing?' He had been a favored son and suddenly he's a slave. But the passage emphasizes, eight times Moses emphasizes that even though Joseph has been sold into slavery and even though Joseph has been tempted by his master's wife, and even though eventually Joseph will wind up in jail, that the Lord is with him. The Lord is favorable to him.

Now 'the Lord is with him' is not a reference to God's omnipresence, God being everywhere. That's not the comfort that's being brought to bear on Joseph. The comfort that is being brought to bear is God's covenantal presence or what we might call God's evangelical presence, His gospel presence, His favorable presence. That is, that God takes a special note of His people and draws near to them in time of need. Now, I've told you this story before, but it illustrates the point so bear with me. Many of you know that when Dr. R. C. Sproul used to teach at the RTS Jackson campus he would ask students to open up the classes with prayer. And then after their prayers, he would critique the theology of their prayers. And it made the students very nervous. And I've told you the story about the one young man who, after a number of weeks of this humiliation, stood up and when he was asked to pray, he said, "Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name." And dared Dr. Sproul to critique that particular prayer. At any rate, during one of the prayers, one of the young men said, "Lord, we want You to be with us today." And at the end of this prayer, Dr. Sproul said, "Well, young man, I want to ask you a question. Do you deny the omnipresence of God? Do you think that God is not present with us here today." And the young man was startled, and he didn't know what to say. Now the young man may not have known it, but what he was actually asking for was the covenantal or the gospel presence of God. He wanted God to be especially near him in that particular systematic theology class, and now you know for obvious reasons. But to pray that the Lord would be near us is not an inappropriate prayer, in fact, it's a biblical prayer, if we understand what we're asking for. We’re not denying that God is everywhere. We’re asking for God's special presence and favor. In fact it's precisely defined that way in this passage. Look at verse 2. "The Lord was with Joseph." Look at verse 3. "The Lord was with him, and the Lord caused all that he did to prosper." Then look down to verse 5. "The Lord's blessing was upon all that he owned." Look down to verse 21. "The Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him and gave him favor in his sight." And so when we see that phrase "the Lord was with him" it's emphasizing the Lord's prospering him, the Lord's favoring him, the Lord's blessing on him. The Lord's face was turned towards him in a favorable way. He had drawn near to him even in his hour of need. Five times in Joseph's slavery, this covenant presence of God, this gospel presence of God, this gospel favor of God is mentioned; once in verse 2, twice in verse 3, twice in verse 5.

Now, Moses is emphasizing the providence of God in the life of Joseph even while he is serving as a slave in a strange land. But he is also showing the universal providence of God here. Because, interestingly enough, do you know what Potiphar's name means in Egyptian? His name means "he whom Ra has given." And this passage shows that it is not Ra who gives. It is the Lord who gives.

And isn't it interesting that in this passage, Moses has even Potiphar, whose name means He whom Ra gives confessing that it is the Lord who gives blessing. Look again at verse 3. "Now his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper his hand." And then we go again to verse 5, "And it came about that from the time that he made him overseer in the house, and over all that he owned, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house on account of Joseph, and the Lord's blessing was upon all that he owned." Not Ra, but the Lord is the providential ruler of the world. And Moses is setting it for us right there in those opening words of Genesis, chapter 39. God, in His providence, shows favor to Joseph even in his labor. He's separated from his family. He's hated by his brothers. He's sold into a strange land. But even in that strange land, God is mitigating the disappointments, and He is prospering Joseph in His setting. If he's a slave, he's a successful man. If he's a slave, he's promoted to the highest position in the household. His trustworthiness is seen by all, and his success is such that it finds the attention of his master. And so God in his providence, shows favor to Joseph.

II. Joseph shows his commitment to God even in a tempting and dangerous situation.
And then in verses 7 through 19, we see this temptation that Joseph undergoes, and we see in that passage Joseph show his commitment to God, his loyalty to God, even in attempting in a dangerous situation. And this passage gives us the opportunity to contrast Joseph's conduct with the conduct of his brothers. Reuben in Genesis 35. Judah in Genesis 38. Joseph is propositioned in verse 7 by his master's wife. Verse 6 actually sets you up for that exchange. Moses makes the passing comment and you know that trouble is on the way. "Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance." I want parse that. It's crystal clear what Moses is saying. He not only had a great face, he had a great body to go with it. And immediately we are told that his master's wife propositions him.

And Joseph's response is classic in verses 8 and 9. He uses two arguments here that other people would probably use for an excuse to go ahead and engage in the affair. I want you to look at the arguments. First, in verse 8, he argues, look, my master trusts me so much that he doesn't supervise me. And, in fact, he has promoted me over the whole household. He's given me rapid promotion and he doesn't watch after me. There have been a lot of people who would say, well nobody's looking. The master's not here. He trusts me so much he's not in the house. That gives us the perfect opportunity. That's not Joseph's argumentation. It's the exact opposite. His freedom from supervision and promotion is his argument against doing this thing.

Secondly, look at verse 9. He goes on to say that there's only one thing that my master hasn't withheld from me. He realizes there is only one area that his master has held back from him. And that is his wife. Now, pause for a minute, my friends, and think about Genesis 3. When Satan pointed out to Adam and Eve there's only one area that he's held back from you. Isn't that unreasonable? Their immediate response was to want the one thing that God had not given them. But Joseph, when he reflects on the fact that there's only one thing that his master has not given him, he uses that as an argument against seeking after that thing.

What is Moses showing you? He's showing you the integrity, the faithfulness, the uprightness of Joseph. And, of course, Moses is showing you the very crucible in which those qualities are refined so that Joseph can be used for even greater things in God's design.

And then finally he gives his clincher argument. Look again at verse 9. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God? Two things there. First of all he calls what she asks him to do what it is. It is wickedness. It's evil, it's sin in the eyes of God.

And my friends, especially in that kind of temptation we know that that is not the natural way we look at it. We look at all the upsides, all the beautiful things about it, all the relational dimensions. And he immediately cuts to the chase, and he says this thing that you’re asking is wrong. It violates the categories of God's moral law. This kind of thing ought not to be done, and it is impure in the sight of God. And so he immediately calls it what it is, and then he says if I were to do this, again it's not a sin against my master as much as it is a sin against my God. We hear echoes of this when David came to his senses in Psalm 51 and said, "Against you and you only have I sinned." Joseph, however, shows us the way to resist temptation in bringing that thought forward from confession into the act of resisting temptation. And he reminds himself that this sin would be against God. And, therefore, it ought not to be done. Furthermore, we are told in verse 10, that Joseph had to endure these kinds of overtures day after day after day. If you ladies and gentlemen have ever been in an office setting where this type of stuff goes on, you know the wearing effect of this kind of behavior. And day after day Joseph endures these overtures. And finally, in a moment where she catches him alone, he has to flee. And again, I wonder if his actions of fleeing — and by the way, this is not the fleeing of a coward, this is the fleeing of a wise and righteous man. I wonder if his fleeing is in the mind of the apostle Paul in II Timothy, chapter 2, verse 22. Turn there. Paul will comment, indeed he will instruct Timothy, "Now flee from youthful lusts." Don't tarry around and try and dump them. Flee from them, run away from them. Flee from youthful lust. And so he flees and then his rejection of her turns to anger. That story has repeated itself a thousand times in the world. And that's why from the Greek tragedy Medea to Shakespeare we've heard phrases like, "Hell hath no further like a woman scorned, nor having a rage like love to hatred turned." And so suddenly this women who has desired him, when she is rebuffed yet again, now turns that lust to anger. And suddenly Joseph's return for all his trouble is to land in a difficult position with his master where all he could possibly expect was condemnation and execution. Surely Joseph must have been wondering what was going on. But Moses is giving us a glimpse here of the kind of man that God will use to build up His kingdom. A man of uprightness. And it is precisely these kinds of circumstances which refine a man of uprightness, because all Joseph can do in this circumstance, all that he can do because he's a slave and he has no control over his own destiny, all that he can do is be faithful. But that's all that God wants out of the men and women that he will use in His kingdom. That we would be found faithful. That is the quality of a steward. That's the quality of a disciple, that we would be faithful. But how do you learn faithfulness? Your learn faithfulness in circumstances just like this. When there's every reason, to skirt faithfulness you stay the course no matter what the consequences are. And so, Joseph shows his commitment to God even in this tempting and dangerous situation.

III. God in His providence shows favor to Joseph even in prison.
And then we come to verses 20 through 23. Here again Joseph experiences God's favor even in this wrongful imprisonment. God in His providence shows favor to Joseph even in prison. Joseph has gone from his father's favorite to hated brother, to slave, back up to successful servant, now to accused felon, and to imprisoned criminal.

But once again, in verse 21 Moses will assure us God was with him. Actually Moses doesn't say that. Eight times he says not, God was with him, but, the Lord was with him. The covenant God of Israel who calls Himself by name and reveals Himself to His people, He was with Him and He was for him. Eight times in this passage Moses will stress that.

And even in the punishment, God's hand is apparent. All that Joseph could have expected was execution for a crime like this. He's a Hebrew in Egypt. He's just been accused to attempting to assault his master's wife. All he could have expected was execution. And yet the Lord mitigates the punishment, and he places him not simply in a prison, but the term Moses uses, indicates a royal prison, a prison where prisoners of a specific type were kept.

And of course, God has him in that prison for a reason. Moses doesn't reveal that reason yet. It will be a while before that reason will become apparent. And so Moses gives us the opportunity to wonder with Joseph for a moment what is going on? And that's normally where we are when we are experiencing these kinds of providences. We have a sneaky suspicion that God is doing something. We may even be able to cling to the goodness of God, but it's very difficult to understand and our instinctive reaction is to say Lord, what are you doing? And yet in this very context, God is refining the character of Joseph. Listen to this incredible sentence by Derek Kidner. I wish I could write a sentence like this. He says, "Joseph's outstanding abilities and integrity, crowned with the touch of God, were constant at every level; as prisoner and as governor, he was simply the same man." God was teaching Joseph to be the same man in every circumstance so that one day he would be the kind of man who could resist the temptations inherent in the most powerful court in the world. But he had to learn it in the bowels of a royal Egyptian prison.

Now, I don't know where God has you in His providence right now. But God here shows you how He protects us from the full extent of the designs of the wicked and the wilds of the world, and how he causes us to be favored in the sight of the people for His purposes. All the while, He's crafting our character and character crafting is going on to be sure here in the life of David. The unfolding story makes it obvious that it's God who brought Joseph here for the task of preserving his people. And so God preserves Joseph so that he might be used to preserve His people. What is God preparing you for now? I think every believer needs to recognize that in God's providence, God has a purpose for you, God has a purpose for His people, and He has a purpose for Himself. All of God's plan will one day bring glory to Him, and so there is a real sense in which the way you respond in the context of God's dark providences is an opportunity for you to bring glory to God. When you, with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, say, "the Lord will deliver us, but even if He doesn't I will not bow down and worship this idol," you are bringing glory to God in a dark providence. But you’re also encouraging the people of God. And so in what God is doing in you and with you, His providences are designed to be an encouragement to the people of God so that as you stand firm, so the people of God are encouraged. And so every time a family in this congregation faces a crises, the fact that they bear up in faith proves to be a tremendous encouragement to the rest of us when we're called to bear up in the midst of some unspeakable tragedy.

And then of course God has a design in His providence to make you like His Son. You know, I don't think at all that the church fathers were wrong to see in Joseph a type of our Lord, because you can't help but see Israel in Egypt, the suffering servant in the life of Joseph reflected in the greater Joseph, the Lord Jesus Christ. And God is crafting Joseph so that he would be like His Son. And God is crafting you in His providence so that you would be like His Son. May God enable you to believe that and His goodness in the midst of your trials, for His glory and for your good. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, it's easy to talk about Your providence. And there are some circumstances and seasons of life where it's easy to believe Your providence. But when we're in the dungeon or in slavery, when we have been bereaved, when we have been surprised, when we have been flattened by what seems to us to be the capricious cruelty of a world that's completely out of control and makes no sense, in those times, Lord, it's the hardest thing in the world to believe in a sovereign and a good providence, but Lord You teach us that Your providence is both sovereign and good. And so by Your grace help us to believe that and to understand something of Your purposes in it, even if we don't see all those purposes until the glory to come. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

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