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Jan 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 19, 2014 – Genesis 39

The Question of Character

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. Genesis 39:1-2 

(If you are not familiar with the story, please read the entire chapter)

Intro: The chapter begins and ends with parallel statements

  • the Lord was with Joseph
  • whatever he did the LORD made to prosper
  • Joseph found favor in the sight of his master and jailer
  • Joseph was over all of Potiphar’s “house” and the jail “house”

Between these textual bookends, the center of the chapter reports the attempted seduction

The point of this episode is to highlight Joseph’s sterling character

In this regard, his story bears a strong resemblance to other stories in the Hebrew Scriptures
– especially Esther and Daniel, where we find:

  1. A Hebrew in exile and alone
  2. Faces great risk and personal sacrifice
  3. Up against fierce antagonists
  4. The quality of each of these characters is outstanding
  5. Each one finds “favor” with their (Gentile) supervisor
  6. Each one rises in prominence and holds an office close to the ruler or king
  7. Each one uses their position to promote the welfare of their people

– the lesson of these stories taught Israel how good God’s man or woman behaves in exile
• therefore, Joseph’s character, like Esther’s and Daniel’s, is a crucial element in story

Joseph rides the emotional roller coaster

We are on the emotional roller coaster whenever our circumstances carry us up and down
– sometimes to precarious heights, followed by a rapid plunge into uncertainty

Some of us find that hardship intensifies our temptations
– for others, it is success that intensifies or creates new temptations

. . . Give me neither poverty nor riches;
Feed me with the food that is my portion,
That I be not full and deny You and say,
“Who is the LORD?”
Or that I not be in want and steal,
And profane the name of my God. (Pro. 30:8-9)

– would Joseph’s skills and competence been discovered and put to use to achieve such remarkable results if he had not been thrown into these situations?

A favorite tool of Old Testament storytellers: word repetition

Here, the repetition of specific words reveals patterns
– as we’ve seen already, words at the end match the beginning
• another key word all through the chapter is “hand,” which is used metaphorically and literally
– the pattern of repeated words reveals underlying forces at work in various events

Three times the word “eyes” appears (“in the sight of” is literally “in the eyes of”)
– each time, it is in reference to the three main Egyptian characters
• when you think of Egyptian reliefs or paintings, what stands out?
○ certainly the exaggerated eyes of the characters portrayed
○ in the eyes of these Egyptians, there was favor, desire, favor

In Potiphar’s eyes, Joseph found favor
In the eyes of Potiphar’s wife, Joseph was desired (literally, she “lifted her eyes) to Joseph
In the eyes of the jailer, God gave Joseph favor

What do we learn when all the word repetitions have been discovered and compared?
– the overriding force in all events is Yahweh
• he carries on his work regardless of what happens to Joseph or where he lands

A brief overview of Joseph’s character

  1. Joseph maintained his integrity — he never forgot who he was
    – if you don’t know who you are, you can be easily influenced
    – in the movie “Moonstruck,” Rose’s husband has been cheating on her. Dining in a restaurant alone, she meets an attractive and warm-hearted man. After swapping stories, he walks her home. He wants her to invite him in, and it would seem she would be justified in doing so. But she declines, saying, “I can’t invite you in because I am married and because I know who I am.”
    • integrity is knowing who we are–everywhere and at all times
    • knowing who we are creates boundaries for us that are easy to recognize
  2. Joseph did not give up hope
  3. Joseph did not stop doing what he did well
    – in prison he did not just sit on his bunk playing the harmonica and singing the blues
  4. Joseph worked for the good of others
    – the direct benefits of his work did not go to him
    • he did not get rich working for Potiphar
    • his excellent behavior in prison did not win him freedom (or “early release”)
    ○ some employees refuse to make their boss look good
    ○ as a result, they perform below their capabilities
    – ultimately, it was Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and then his own family that Joseph saved
    • the good he did for others became his good

My point is not for us to learn his secrets and imitate them
– this is not about Joseph’s Seven Highly Effective Habits
• we’re meant to admire him
• but we’re also supposed to see how God supported him
– what dissolves our fears? our anxieties?
• awareness of God’s presence

What can we do?
– accept the circumstances we cannot control as from God
• then notice how God is with us
– God is shaping us – like the potter with clay or the sculptor with stone
• the concussion of God’s hammer and chisel are not as terrible, or difficult, nor does it bring as much suffering if we are confident that:

God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Ro. 8:28)

Conc: Wisdom for the journey

Choose people like Joseph for your closest friends

He who walks with wise men will be wise,
But the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Pro. 13:20)

Spend time with people who make you mindful of God
– whose perspective, attitude, and quality of life
• inspires you to devote more time and energy to God
• inspires you to greater faith, creativity, and hope
– whose conversations turn your attention back to Gd

Make a friend with someone who is further along than you
– who can explain things and instruct you
– one of my friends, Bill Landreth, has helped me numerous times to move my prayer to the next level
• I’m very grateful for the illustrations, examples, and exercises he’s taken me through
• I wouldn’t be where I am today without them

Walk with people who walk with Jesus
– the dynamic of iron sharpening iron will do wonders for your character

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