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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Genesis 39

CHAP. XXXIX.

The history of Joseph is resumed. Potiphar makes Joseph overseer of his house. Potiphar's wife solicits him to a criminal correspondence, and, upon his repeated refusals, accuses him to her husband, by whom he is cast into prison. He recommends himself to the keeper of the prison.

Before Christ 1724.

Verse 1

Genesis 39:1, &c.— And Joseph, &c.] Moses here resumes the history of Joseph, who, he informs us, was so particularly favoured by the Lord, that his blessing attended the house of Potiphar for Jacob's sake. Potiphar, sensible of this, and charmed with the goodness and fidelity of Joseph, raised him to the first place in his family, made him, Gen 39:4 his overseer, his major domo, whom the Romans called atriensis, to whom all the other servants were to be obedient, and put all he had into his hands, Gen 39:6 committed to him the management of all his household affairs; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat; i.e.. secure in Joseph's fidelity, and relying on his care, he never scrutinized his affairs, but left them wholly to this honest and trusty young man. See Genesis 39:8.

Verse 6

Genesis 39:6. And Joseph, was, &c.— These words should properly begin the next verse. Joseph's mental accomplishments had scarcely recommended him to his master's favour, before his graces of person won the heart of his mistress. But he bravely repelled her temptations; and his answer, Genesis 39:8-9. deserves to be held in everlasting honour. See the reflections at the end of the chapter.

REFLECTIONS.—1st. Joseph is now the servant of Potiphar, and a diligent servant he is. He is not pining under the servitude to which he is reduced, but diligently industrious in his station, conforming his mind to his circumstances. Learn, It is a blessed symptom of a gracious state to be content and satisfied, when reduced low. Potiphar's house was a good school; while he learned to obey as a servant, he learned also to rule as a master. God was with him; and the evident blessing, which attended him, hastened that advancement which his industry and fidelity deserved. And now, from a purchased slave, he becomes lord of all; and, for Joseph's sake, all things prospered in the AEgyptian's house. Learn, 1. If God be with us, it is well, wherever we are. 2. His blessing it is which maketh rich; without it, we labour in vain, and spend our strength for nought. 3. A godly trusty servant is an inestimable treasure: they who are wise, will know how to value and prefer him.

2nd. Joseph is handsome, and that is his snare. Note; Beauty, though so highly valued, is oftentimes a dangerous gift, and brings us into many difficulties, which otherwise we might have avoided.

1. Potiphar's wife beheld the pleasing youth, and, hurried on by lawless passion, and lost to all shame and modesty, she with ceaseless importunity wearies him from day to day. Note; (1.) When a woman becomes abandoned, she is vile indeed; she forgets to blush, and stops at nothing to gratify her rage. (2.) They who would keep a guard over their heart, must make a covenant with their eyes.

2. We have Joseph's resolute chastity: a noble instance of true virtue, and highly worthy of imitation. Satan had tried the severity of affliction: Joseph supports it: but Satan fetches now a more fiery dart from his quiver; and how many have fallen thereby, who have withstood the bitterest crosses! A fiery furnace is less to be feared, than a beautiful abandoned woman. But what cannot Almighty Grace effect? Though in the prime of youth, living in plenty at his master's table, his mistress the tempter, from whose favour he had every thing to hope, and from whose displeasure every thing to fear; though alone, where no discovery could be feared, and even suspicion must be banished; though solicited, importuned, repeatedly, nay, with violence assaulted; he can resist, refuse, yea, suffer severe punishment, rather than wound his own conscience and his master's honour. It were base ingratitude for the favours he had received; it were unbecoming a son of Israel; it was a crime of aggravated guilt; and, above all, it was against God. Determined therefore, he turns a deaf ear to her entreaties: and when she seized his cloak, as one escaping for his life, he leaves his garment in her hand. Learn, (1.) Flight is the best preservative from violent temptations to such sins. (2.) It is better for us to hazard life, than wound our consciences. (3.) A deep sense of the evil of sin, is the great preservative against it.

Verse 14

Genesis 39:14. See, he hath brought, &c.— These words breathe the highest indignation: she does not vouchsafe to name her husband; she calls him HE, see HE hath brought, &c. nor will she name Joseph but by an appellation most contemptuous to the AEgyptians; a Hebrew, a wandering stranger; see ch. Genesis 43:32. And in Gen 43:17 she calls him the Hebrew servant. Artful and treacherous, she joins her husband in the common disgrace, to mock US, to disgrace himself as well as her, as every insult of that kind to a wife, is an insult to the husband. To mock or insult is often used in the Hebrew, and other languages, in that peculiar sense; as υβριζειν, εκπαιζειν , are in Greek; illudere, ludificari, et ludibrio babere, in Latin.

Verse 20

Genesis 39:20. Joseph's master, &c.— Hasty and credulous, Potiphar sent Joseph into the prisons where state-criminals were kept, where he was at first severely treated; ch. Genesis 40:15. his feet were hurt with fetters, the iron entered into his soul, Psa 105:18 and there he continued three years; yet the Almighty forsook him not; Psalms 105:21. The Lord was still with him, and, by his mysterious Providence, made his lowest disgrace the means of his greatest exaltation.

Verse 22

Genesis 39:22. And the keeper of the prison The underkeeper of the prison (ch. Genesis 40:4.) was as much struck with Joseph as Potiphar had been, and conferred upon him the same kind of trust. See Genesis 40:4-6.

REFLECTIONS.—What savage beast so cruel, as an enraged and slighted woman? While chaste love is constant and unchangeable, disappointed lust turns to the fiercest hatred. The servants are called; the affront loudly complained of; the garment laid up as a proof of the guilt; and his master has no sooner returned, than he is informed of the pretended violence and insolent assault on her honour. Note; 1. There is no human protection against a lying tongue. 2. The best of men have been accused of the most atrocious crimes. 3. There is such a readiness to believe evil, especially against the professors of religion, that the most improbable story gains easy credit. 4. It is the comfort of injured innocence, that the day is coming, when, if not before, God will effectually vindicate their cause.

Fired with resentment, the master hears; and blinded with passion, without examining probabilities, or hearing his plea, wreaks his vengeance on the innocent Joseph, now seized, bound in irons, thrust into a prison, to linger out a miserable life, to which death itself seemed preferable. Note; 1. The bitterest sufferings with a good conscience, are to be preferred to all the pleasures of sin. 2. The persecutors of God's people are usually deaf to their plea; but there is one who seeth and judgeth. Joseph is not forgotten even in prison. God is with him. The jailer, convinced probably of his innocence, and won by the amiableness of his temper, softened the rigour of his confinement, and, finding the blessing of God upon him, made him his chief helper, and committed the trust of all his affairs and the prisoners to him; and every thing prospered in his hands. Note; (1.) No prison can exclude the presence of a gracious God. How much happier now is Joseph in his irons, than with the most beautiful adulteress! (2.) Mysterious are the ways of God! Who would have thought the king's prison the nearest way to preferment about the king's person? Under every trial, rest in hope. 3. Thus Jesus was tempted, accused, condemned, bound!

Further reflections on Joseph's conduct.

We learn from this part of Joseph's history, especially from his answer to his mistress; 1st, That the fear of God, and a serious regard to his authority, is a most effectual preservative from all criminal indulgences. It was this, which restrained Joseph from complying with the loose solicitations of his mistress, and gave him a perfect superiority and command over his passions. A gracious sense of the injustice of the action, and how highly provoking it must be to God, if he were guilty of such vile perfidiousness against a man who had used him with so much confidence and generosity, kept under the impulses of sense and appetite, and quite baffled the force of this dangerous temptation. A due reverence of the presence of God will have the same effect on all mankind, upon all other occasions, and in every scene of life. If it be only occasional, it will, indeed, do no more than check our inclinations in some particular instances, and limit our excesses; but when it is become a fixed habitual principle, it will have an uniform, constant efficacy in preserving the passions regular, and the conversation honest; for no man was ever yet of so resolute and daring a temper, as to indulge himself in a dissolute course of life, under an immediate quick apprehension of the Divine displeasure: he cannot offend God at the same time that he feels an inward love and esteem towards him, and gratitude for his benefits; nor violate any law, while he has a strong conviction of the wisdom and goodness of the Power that enacted it. These things are as absolute contradictions, as that approbation and dislike, reverence and contempt, love and hatred, should be exercised towards the same object at once: so that our sinful pursuits must either extirpate the fear of God, or that will, of necessity, cure our vices.

That this excellent principle should have so powerful an influence against natural disposition, the bewitching allurements of pleasure, and the most enchanting prospect, of worldly advantage, will not seem strange to us, when we consider, that it strikes every passion, every spring of human actions, and includes in it all the most powerful motives, by which the conduct of mankind is determined.

If interest be the principal thing that sways us; that, surely, cannot be so certainly promoted, as by securing the favour of the infinite God, and avoiding his displeasure, which is the sorest of all evils. If we are governed by our fears; "He is the most formidable Being in the universe to a depraved mind, that has perverted its faculties, and rejected the drawings of Grace." If by hope; "He is the Supreme, and an Eternal Good." If by love; "He is the most amiable and perfect Excellence." If by gratitude; "He is the Cause of our existence, and the Author of all our happiness." Or do we regard fitness, rectitude, and beauty in actions, and would be thought not to be driven by the terrors of authority, but to choose virtue for its own sake, and for the intrinsic reasonableness of it; I would ask, "What can be more becoming, more agreeable to human nature in its original state of innocence or in its state of regeneration, to eternal reason, and the nature of things," than to esteem Supreme Perfection, to venerate unbounded Wisdom and Power, and to be fearful of offending the Greatest and most Excellent of all beings, the compassionate Father, the uncontrollable Disposer, and the impartial Judge of mankind? The fear of God, therefore, when it is a rooted principle in the heart, must restrain from the most intimate and highly-favoured excesses; and beget an invincible resolution, which no assaults can subdue or intimidate.

We are, 2nd, hence taught, the shamefulness and heinous guilt of ingratitude. This was the principal thing that Joseph urged against committing the crime to which he was so strongly excited; that his master had committed all he had to his care; there was none greater in the house than he, neither had he kept back any thing from him but his wife (whom all laws, divine and human, had guarded as the most sacred and inviolable part of his property). "How then," said he, "can I do this great wickedness, how can I be guilty of this base breach of trust, against common equity and the most endearing obligations of friendship, while I have any sense of ingenuousness towards my benefactor, or reverence of Almighty God!" As a man, such a conduct towards one of his own species was absolutely indefensible; but from a servant to his master, who had highly caressed and honoured him, and loaded him with signal favours, it was so utterly unnatural, that whoever attempted it must be extravagantly wicked, and sunk to the very lowest pitch of degeneracy. Ingratitude, added to adultery, would have rendered what is, in itself, one of the foulest stains to man's nature, infinitely more black and detestable; and have swelled the guilt of it to so vast a size, that it would scarcely have admitted any further aggravation. This agrees with the unanimous opinion of mankind in all ages. They have ever stigmatized ingratitude, as the utmost depravation and reproach of human nature. Other immoralities have been extenuated and speciously varnished over; but this has been constantly condemned,—without one professed advocate to plead its cause.

It is, 3rdly, one of the most remarkable parts of Joseph's history, that the lowest scene of his disgrace, the most melancholy, and, to human probability, desperate state of his affairs, was the means of his advancement to eminent dignity in Pharaoh's court, and to be the first minister in his kingdom. Whence we are led to reflect on the wisdom of Providence, in so framing the condition of human life, "that the events of things are unknown to us." Such a disposition, in a state liable to infinite vicissitudes, is followed with great advantages; whereas a clear foresight of the whole issue and result of things, and of every scene through which we were to pass, would be attended with innumerable inconveniences, and have consequences very fatal to religion, and to the peace of our minds. If a man, for instance, could certainly say in his flourishing circumstances, as David did, that he should never be moved, but enjoy an uninterrupted course of affluence and worldly honour, he would probably be elate with pride, and give larger scope to his luxury: while the uncertainty of the highest stations, and the variety of unforeseen events which may reverse his condition, checks the insolence of prosperity, and is a perpetual incentive to frugality, moderation, and other social virtues. On the other hand, were he sure that his miseries were remediless, and the difficulties in which he is involved insuperable, the gloomy prospect would quite dispirit him, enfeeble his resolution, indispose him for the duties of religion and a regular discharge of the common offices of life, and in many cases, it is probable, would impair the health and disorder the understanding, as it must, in all, be the most effectual bar to industry, arts, and ingenuity. But as the world is now governed, and we see only the past and present, but not the chain of events which are before us, the most afflicted may support themselves with the hope of better times to come; and this must be a considerable relief to their cares, and keep them from sinking under the weight of their sufferings, which would otherwise be grievous indeed, and intolerable. In such a situation, where so great a part of the scene is wrapt up in darkness, and what is concealed from us may be so often varied, our duty lies plain and obvious to every capacity; and the sum of it is, "that we take care that riches, ease, and plenty, do not make us luxurious and dissolute, or high-minded and arrogant; nor adversity, irresolute and desponding; but that we maintain through Divine Grace a constant equanimity and steadiness of temper, an unruffled patient spirit, and a humble calm resignation to Providence:" firmly believing, that, amidst the present seeming contradictions and strange revolutions which happen in human affairs, all is conducted with unerring wisdom, and by invariable rules of righteousness and goodness; and directing our views forward with delight and thankfulness, to the world of perfect peace and bliss unchangeable, in which there shall be no more sorrow, nor pain, nor death, but we shall be exalted to a higher rank of existence, and be made like unto the angels of GOD.*

* See Foster's Sermons, Vol. III.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 39". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/genesis-39.html. 1801-1803.