Bible Reference: Genesis Chapter 39
Heart of the Story: Joseph was Potiphar’s slave. When Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of sexually molesting her, Potiphar punished Joseph but with imprisonment rather than death.
Back Story: Joseph was the son of Jacob and Rachel. He was Jacob’s favorite son. His brothers were jealous of Jacob’s obvious preference for Joseph. They sold Joseph to a caravan of traders who were on their way to Egypt. Potiphar was a wealthy Egyptian and possibly the commander of pharaoh’s body guard. In Egypt, he bought Joseph as a slave. Over time Potiphar entrusted Joseph to care for everyone and everything in his household. The only person Potiphar didn’t give Joseph control over was Potiphar’s wife. Potiphar’s wife was attractive, but self-centered. At one time, she and Potiphar may have had a positive marriage relationship. Over time their relationship stagnated at best and devolved into both having affairs at worst.
Story Line: Joseph was well built and handsome. During his duties as chief steward in Potiphar’s house, he came into contact with Potiphar’s wife. Potiphar’s wife lusted for Joseph and brazenly tried to seduce him. Repeatedly, Joseph told her “No.” Joseph didn’t want to betray Potiphar or sin against God. Consider the power that Potiphar’s wife possessed. She was beautiful. She was the wife of an estate owner whose husband had the ear of pharaoh. Despite her personal and positional power, Potiphar’s wife couldn’t seduce a slave. She became angry at Joseph and determined to get revenge on him. How could a lowly slave turn her down?
One day Potiphar’s wife caught Joseph alone, grasped his cloak, and told him to come to bed with her. Joseph ran from her, leaving his cloak in her hands. Potiphar’s wife told her husband that Joseph attacked her. In response, Potiphar had Joseph placed in prison.
Pondering Relationships: When Potiphar heard his wife’s story he was furious; however, the Bible doesn’t say who Potiphar was furious at. Was it his wife or was it Joseph? I believe that Potiphar was angry at his wife, not Joseph.
True, Potiphar put Joseph in prison; however, Potiphar could have easily had Joseph killed. A slave who attack a high ranking Egyptian woman deserved death. As the chief of Pharaoh’s body guard, Potiphar possessed sufficient power that killing one Israelite slave, even an innocent one, would have caused no push back in Egyptian society.
Potiphar had a long-term relationship with his wife. He knew her every weakness, i.e., beauty, self-centeredness, vindictiveness. Potiphar had a shorter relationship with Joseph; yet, he saw how honorably Joseph full-filled his duties. Potiphar didn’t believe his wife was innocent. Perhaps, he believed little, if any, of her story. His own pride and the need to show support for his Egyptian wife required Potiphar to take action against Joseph. That action was to put Joseph in an Egyptian prison, rather than to kill him.
Reflection: Do you think that Potiphar believed his wife or Joseph?
Copyright: August 4, 2017: Carolyn A. Roth
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