Attention!
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Genesis 39

Verses 1-6

GENESIS - CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

Verses 1-6:

Joseph arrived in Egypt with the Ishmaelites (see comments on Ge 37:36). He was bought as a slave by a man named Potiphar. This man was an important officer in Pharaoh’s court, serving as the commander of the royal executioners (or body-guard).

Some historians write that at this time. Egypt was not united under the rule of a native Egyptian king, but was ruled by one of the several dynasties of the Hyksos (Shepherd) kings. Others write that Joseph came to Egypt at the close of the twelfth dynasty, under the original Pharaohs. The former seems to be the more likely time, because of the favorable treatment which was shown to Joseph and later his family by the Pharaohs.

Joseph was faithful to his new master. He was honest, conscientious, and upright. He recognized and submitted to the authority over him, even though Potiphar was dedicated to the Egyptian God Ra, and did not recognize Jehovah as the true God. Joseph’s submission to his pagan master does not mean he accepted Potiphar’s god. He was also serving the heavenly Master, and always realized His presence. This is the Scriptural principle of Eph 6:5-8; Col 3:22-25. Because of this obedience to Scriptural principle, Jehovah blessed Joseph and prospered him in all he did (see Pr 16:17; Ps 1:1-3).

Joseph’s attitude expressed his faith in Jehovah. He was hated and betrayed by his own brothers, separated from his beloved father and home, and sold as a slave in pagan Egypt. From a human view, he had every reason to be depressed and to blame God for his terrible misfortune. Joseph was in these circumstances through no fault of his own. This meant that Jehovah had placed him in this position for His own purpose. Joseph accepted this, by faith, and continued to live and act in keeping with Jehovah’s righteous principles.

God honored His promise to Abraham, in Joseph’s situation.

God promised to bless those who would bless Abraham and his descendants (Ge 12:3; 18:18; 26:4; 28:14; Ga 3:8). He blessed the house of Potiphar, because of the faith and testimony of Joseph The text implies that Potiphar recognized the hand of Jehovah in Joseph’s life.

Because Joseph was obedient to Divine principles, God blessed him in all he did in his master’s service. Potiphar soon promoted Joseph from an ordinary domestic slave to the position of chief steward in charge of all he had. Because Joseph was faithful in the small things, God raised him up to be faithful in great things (Lu 16:10).

Joseph’s elevation as Potiphar’s chief administrative steward was not uncommon in Egyptian custom. Sculptures and paintings in tombs vividly picture the customs of the day. Scribes managed the property of wealthy noblemen. They were very methodical in their supervision over all operations of the estate, including farming, gardening, livestock husbandry, and fishing. They carefully registered every product, as a deterrent to the dishonesty of the laborers who in Egypt were historically notorious in this respect. Joseph’s previous experience in caring for his father’s livestock combined with his faithful and upright character to make him ideal for his job.

"Joseph was a goodly person, and well-favored" is literally "Joseph was beautiful in form and beautiful in appearance." He had inherited from his mother Rachel her striking beauty. This made him the more vulnerable to the trial which he faced, in the matter involving Potiphar’s wife.

Verses 7-20

Verses 7-20:

Verse 7: "After these things" indicates an undetermined time lapse. The Scriptures do not reveal how much time transpired between Potiphar’s purchase of Joseph, and the events of this text. Likely it was several years. Joseph was seventeen or eighteen years old when sold into Egypt (Ge 37:2, 36). He was thirty years of age when elevated to the position of prime minister (Ge 41:46). He was in prison for more than two years (Ge 41:13-23).

At the time of the events of his text, Joseph was likely in his early 20’s. His physical beauty and his attractive character, provided a strong source of temptation to his master’s wife. As he grew to manhood, he became more and more attractive to this sensual woman. This is no surprise to those familiar with the mores of Egyptian society of that time.

Potiphar’s wife began her pursuit of Joseph The language of the text indicates that she persisted in her efforts to seduce him, over a long period of time. He firmly resisted her advances. Human nature and the power of the sex drive likely provided a strong temptation to accept her offer. But Joseph had a two-fold incentive to resist: (1) his respect for the trust his master had committed to him; and more importantly, (2) his fear of Jehovah God.

Egyptian society would not have condemned Joseph had he yielded to the advances of Potiphar’s wife. This was a common practice of the day. Neither would society in general today condemn a man for accepting such an offer to sexual immorality. But society’s acceptance of illicit sexual relations does not make it right in God’s sight, or permissible to anyone.

One day Joseph went about his customary business in Potiphar’s house. At that particular time, no other man was in the house. Potiphar’s wife seized upon this opportunity to get what she wanted from Joseph She seized Joseph’s robe or mantle and blatantly ordered that he have sexual relations with her. Joseph reacted not at all like she expected. He slipped from his coat and fled from the house.

The violent passion of Potiphar’s wife turned into violent hatred.

One writer wrote, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." This was evident in Potiphar’s wife. She reported to the men of "her house," likely her own personal servants, that Joseph had tried to rape her, but that he fled when she cried out. When Potiphar came home, she repeated this story and offered as supporting evidence Joseph’s coat which he had left behind when he fled.

His wife’s story angered Potiphar. The text implies that his anger may not have all been directed against Joseph, however. There is reason to believe that Potiphar did not fully accept his wife’s tale. The punishment usually meted out to those guilty of the crime she charged against Joseph was far more severe than Joseph received. Potiphar consigned Joseph to the king’s prison. As the captain of Pharaoh’s body-guard he was also the superintendent of the prison.

Joseph’s reaction to his abrupt demotion and imprisonment may be seen in the words of Ps 105:17, 18. But even in this trial, Joseph remained true to Jehovah and steadfast in his integrity.

Verses 21-23

Verses 21-23:

Joseph’s experiences provide many examples of Divine Providence. This text shows that God was with him even in his unjust imprisonment. Jehovah blessed and prospered Joseph because of his integrity and faithfulness to Scripture-principles. Conditions in Pharaoh’s prison were far from ideal. But even there Jehovah was with His faithful servant.

Joseph soon rose to the position of chief administrative officer of the prison, under the warden himself. As in Potiphar’s house, Joseph soon became the official responsible for prison affairs, accountable to the prison keeper.

Joseph’s experiences were far from pleasant to the flesh. But he was learning valuable lessons that shaped his character. In prison he had the opportunity to see the stern justice meted to the guilty. He also saw the horrors of injustice, of those falsely imprisoned. This served to make him a compassionate officer when later elevated to the position of prime minister. All the circumstances of his life, from the hatred, by his brothers and their betrayal of him, the role of a slave, the false accusations of an immoral woman, to his unjust imprisonment, served as a furnace to burn out the dross of pride, self-will, anger, bitterness, and immorality and to form in him the character of Christ.

This reveals God’s purpose in life for His child, (see Ro 8:29; 1Pe 1:7). This is a powerful reminder to us today that we are not to give up when called upon to endure trials in life. We remember that Jesus endured hatred and injustice and persecution, even to being condemned to death unjustly. We become partakers of Christ’s sufferings, so that we may also become partakers of His glory, 1Pe 4:13. In partaking of His sufferings, we are entitled also to partake of His consolation, 2Co 1:6, 7.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 39". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/genesis-39.html. 1985.