Joseph's Worst Nightmare
(Genesis 39:1-21)
by Susan E. Todd

(Genesis 39:1) And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.

"And Joseph was brought down to Egypt". The first verse of this story sets the stage for the events that follow! If Joseph is a "type" (or representation) of Christ, and he is, and Egypt is a type of the world, and it is, then Mrs. Potiphar surely must be a type of the devil for her actions are very wicked indeed.

If you study the life of Joseph you will see that he was always close to God. And no matter where he was, be it in his father's home in Canaan, in Egypt as a slave or as a ruler, in the house of Potiphar or in the king's prison, God was with Joseph.

(Genesis 39:2-3) And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand.

(Genesis 39:20-21) And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison. But the LORD was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

The name Joseph means "add thou Jehovah." Joseph added God to his life and God added many things to Joseph's life.

When Pharaoh dreamt about the seven fat cattle (the years of plenty) and the seven lean cattle (the years of famine) and Joseph interpreted the dream for him and gave Pharaoh a plan of action on what to do this is what Pharaoh had to say about Joseph. (Genesis 41:38-39) And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath showed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art:

Here is a heathen ruler, the most powerful man in all the land, giving honor, not to Joseph but to his God, the God of the Jews.

Now it is important not to confuse this Pharaoh with the one that Moses dealt with. That one wasn't on the scene yet. The Pharaoh that gave Moses all the trouble came after this one. (Exodus 1:6-8) And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation. And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. Moses' Pharaoh was a type of the Anti-Christ. It is important not to mix up the two of them. The Pharaoh that Joseph ruled under was a man that Jacob blessed at the end of his life.

(Genesis 47:7-10) And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh: and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou? And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage. And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh.

There is no question that Pharaoh knew Joseph's wisdom and power and strength all came from God.

God blessed Joseph in his dealings with both Pharaoh and Potiphar and both men prospered because of it. (Genesis 39:5-6) And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field. And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.

God blessed Joseph and gave him the interpretation of the dreams of the butler, the baker and later the dreams of Pharaoh. (Genesis 40:8) And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you. (Genesis 41:32) And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.

So God was with Joseph when Mrs. Potiphar tried to make herself a stumblingblock in Joseph's life. Let's see what happened.

(Genesis 39:7) And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.


The wife of Potiphar comes on the scene and is gone in a flash yet great is the damage she leaves in her wake.

We have already seen that when Joseph was brought down to Egypt he was bought as a slave by Potiphar and put in charge of his household.

It wasn't long before Mrs. Potiphar took notice of Joseph and that's when his real trouble began. We know that Joseph was a young man, he was probably in his late teens at this time. (Genesis 37:1-2) And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.

He must have been an intelligent young man for he was very knowledgeable in business matters. He ran Potiphar's household and later was put in charge of the affairs of Egypt in preparation for the famine that Pharaoh dreamt about. If it wasn't for Joseph millions of people would have starved to death.

As a type of Christ Joseph was a physically handsome young man. The Bible says he was "a goodly person and well-favored" (Genesis 39:6b). Well-favored means handsome, well formed, beautiful, pleasing to the eye. (Noah Webster's First Edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828.)

But most of all he was a young man who loved and feared God.

The first thing Mrs. Potiphar does is tempt Joseph with her looks. The Bible says in Genesis 39:7a, "And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph;" I imagine that she tried to flirt with him, probably very subtly at first but then more openly as he refused to respond. Can't you just picture her batting those big painted Egyptian eyelashes at him and smiling very coyly in order to gain his attention. But Joseph ignored her.

When "plan A" didn't work she resorted to "plan B". She tried to seduce him with her words. She tried flattery. She told him how strong he was and talked about his big bulging muscles. She told him how smart he was and that he really should be the boss. In fact she probably told him that he could have Potiphar's job if he would just put himself in her hands. She told him she could secure his freedom if he pleased her. She told him how handsome he was and that he deserved the best in women, which was her.

But Joseph ignored her. "Plan C" coming up!

The second part of that verse says, (Genesis 39:7b) "and she said, Lie with me." No guess work involved here. She decided to come right out and tell him what she wanted him to do.

Remember the three things that the devil tempted Eve with in the garden? The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

They were the same three things that the devil tempted Christ with in the wilderness.

(Matthew 4:1-11) Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. (the lust of the flesh) But he answered and said, it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. (the pride of life) Jesus said unto him, it is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. (the lust of the eyes) Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

These are the same three things that the devil used Mrs. Potiphar to tempt Joseph with. And, make no mistake about it, these are the same three things that the devil will use to tempt you. The only defense you have against such an attack is the Word of God. Jesus said, "It is written." Where is it written? In God's Holy Word, the Bible.

Joseph used the same defense. The Bible says in Genesis 39:10, "And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.

Her seductive powers were very strong. So much so that Joseph did not even want to be near her. However, he was the slave and she was mistress of the house. If she wanted to she could summon him for some insignificant little task just to put him in her presence. He had no choice but to obey. I'm sure she did this quite often.

(Genesis 39:11-12) And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within. And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out."

Joseph didn't stop to think things through. He knew what Mrs. Potiphar wanted. She wanted Joseph. The fact that she "spake to Joseph day by day" meant that she was trying to wear him down. She knew it and he knew it. It would only be a matter of time before he would be tempted to give in.

So Joseph took the advice Paul gave to Timothy in the New Testament. (2 Timothy 2:22) Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

He fled. He fled so fast he left his garment behind. I don't know what garment this was. I believe that it was some kind of outer cloak. I don't think that he fled naked. If he had someone surely would have seen him and wondered about his actions. The Bible doesn't record how he was dressed or where he went when he fled.

I imagine with the power that came with her husband's position she was used to getting what she wanted. When Joseph wouldn't let her have her own way she decided to make his life miserable. So the beautiful, sexy, seductress turns into a cold, calculating, lying witch.

(Genesis 39:13-18) And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth, That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice: And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out. And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home. And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me: And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.

When Joseph unfortunately left his garment behind it gave Mrs. Potiphar an idea. She wasted no time in thinking up a plan of action. She gave the cry of a damsel in distress. "Help me, help me, oh, help poor innocent little ol' me." The first people she tells her remarkable "story" to is the men of the household. These were more than likely some of Potiphar's trusted advisors and not other slaves. I think that it is interesting to note that there is no record of any of these men doing anything.

The next person Mrs. Potiphar tells her incredible lie to is her husband. The Bible records his response in Genesis 39:19, "And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled." The Bible says his wrath was kindled. That means that he was furious. Let's look at his actions.

(Genesis 39:20) And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.

Now stop and think about this for a minute. Potiphar's servant, a young Hebrew slave boy, has just been accused of molesting his wife, an Egyptian married to one of the most powerful men in the land after Pharaoh, and what does he do? Have him killed! Well if you were in his place, wouldn't you? Of course you would. But what does Potiphar do? He has Joseph thrown in prison. And not just an ordinary prison but the king's prison. One of the better prisons. Why?

Well I believe that while Potiphar had to take some kind of action he chose the most lenient punishment for Joseph's "crime" that he could think of. You see this tells me that Potiphar did not exactly believe his wife's story. I'm sure that he either witnessed or heard rumors about her attempted seduction of Joseph. There may have been many "Joseph's" in Mrs. Potiphar's life. I believe that Potiphar knew and understood his wife quite well.

I don't think that Potiphar's wrath was kindled at Joseph as much as it was at his wife. She had caused a scandal in his household and he would have to punish Joseph for his wife's foolishness.

Mrs. Potiphar was a very wicked lady:

  • She was a married woman who lusted after a single young man.
  • She tempted Joseph with her looks, her words and her actions.
  • She wanted to cheat on her husband.
  • She lied about what happened when she was refused by Joseph.
  • She produced false evidence against an innocent victim.

Proverbs 6:16-19 could have been written about this woman. These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look (she tempted Joseph with her "good" looks), a lying tongue (she falsely accused him of molesting her), and hands that shed innocent blood (I've no doubt that Joseph was beaten while he was in prison), An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations (she lusted after Joseph), feet that be swift in running to mischief (after he spurned her she wasted no time in trying to destroy him), A false witness that speaketh lies (using the garment he left behind when he ran from her she produced false evidence against him), and he that soweth discord among brethren (she destroyed the relationship between her husband and Joseph).

Mrs. Potiphar's actions are the epitome of a woman scorned.

The Bible has a lot to say about this kind of woman and I will deal with her more, later in the chapter called the Strange Woman. But for now just remember this:

  • Scorned women are wicked and full of the devil.
  • Scorned women are deceitful and full of lies.
  • Scorned women are vindictive.
  • Scorned women will often make fools out of themselves.
  • Scorned women will stop at nothing to get even.
  • Scorned women destroy innocent lives.

Have you ever been scorned? Maybe not in a sexual way but what about concerning a job promotion? Have you ever been passed over for something that you thought you deserved? What about in school? Did someone else receive recognition for an achievement they didn't deserve? What about in the family? Were you ignored for some accomplishment you were proud of? How did you handle it? What did you do? Were your reactions pure? Or did you plot and plan and try to exact revenge? Did you rejoice if the other person suffered for your getting even? This is a real problem area for women. Women do not like to be scorned. Women like to take revenge. And no one can take revenge like a woman can or so she thinks. But there is someone who can do a much better job.

But the Bible says in Romans 12:19, "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."

Paul was quoting from the Old Testament law. (Deuteronomy 32:35) To me belongeth vengeance, and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.

In other words if you let God take care of the situation for you He will see that the offending party is properly punished. God knows the best way to punish someone for only He knows their hearts and their motives. He also knows their strengths and their weaknesses. He knows because He is God.

But God cannot work unless you completely back out of the situation and let Him have His way with that person.

(Matthew 5:38-48) Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Don't let the actions of someone else make you stumble in your Christian walk. Our hands are to be clean so we can receive the blessings of God.

(Proverbs 25:21-22) If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.

Have you noticed that when He talks about revenge God is always talking to you, the one offended, and not to the person who offended you.

(James 4:7-12) Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

God did that for a reason. He wants your hands to be clean. God cannot tolerate sin and seeking revenge is sinning. God cannot fellowship with you when your heart is full of bitterness and hatred. God cannot use for His service when your thoughts are consumed with getting even. God will not hear your prayers if your motives are not pure.

If you have been scorned for whatever reason, right or wrong, give over your wicked imaginations to the Lord and ask Him to forgive you of your wicked thoughts and actions. (2 Corinthians 10:5) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;