Wednesday, August 10, 2022


Genesis chapter 39 verses 11 - 21 records the conflict that arose between Potiphar's wife and Potiphar's slave, Joseph. The passage reads this way;

Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside. She caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside. 

When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought in a Hebrew to us to make sport of us; he came in to me to lie with me, and I screamed. When he heard that I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled and went outside.”

 So she left his garment beside her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him with these words, “The Hebrew slave, whom you brought to us, came in to me to make sport of me; and as I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled outside.”

Now when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, “This is what your slave did to me,” his anger burned.  

So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail. But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer.

Potiphar's wife desired Joseph and entreated him to have a relationship with her  but he remained steadfast in his conviction that he would not violate his master's trust and refused even to the point of escaping her grasp by leaving his garment behind.

She, angered by his rebuffs, decided to falsely accuse Joseph of attacking her and used his garment that he had left in her hand as evidence of his attack.

She held on to her evidence until Joseph's master came home and she told him the story of Joseph's  attack against her.

Potiphar's anger burned and he took Joseph and put him in prison where the king's prisoners were confined and while he was in jail, the Lord gave him favour with the chief jailer.

At first pass, the story says that Potiphar's wife falsely accused Joseph of assaulting her and when Potiphar came home, he heard the accusation, burned with anger and threw Joseph in the maximum security prison to pay for the crime against his wife.

On the second pass, the story changes and a different narrative emerges from the text.

Potiphar, we must remember, was a powerful man in Egypt. He was the captain of Pharaoh's personal security team. This position put him in close contact with other officials involved in Pharaoh's personal and official service.

To be in this position of responsibility for the protection of Pharaoh's safety, Potiphar must have been skilled at gathering intelligence and also able to read body language and interprete the behaviour patterns in people. 

With these details about Potiphar in mind,  the narrative becomes more complex.

Potiphar returned home and his wife confronted him carrying evidence of Joseph's attack against her and she  practically accused her husband of bringing in a Hebrew slave to make sport of her.

The text then says that Potiphar's anger burned but it does not say against whom his anger was burning.

The text then says that Potiphar took Joseph and put him in prison where the king's prisoners are kept.  While in jail, the story continues with Joseph quickly gaining the same level  of  responsibility in prison that he had while working  for Potiphar.

This is interesting because it appears that Potiphar had deliberately placed Joseph in a prison at Pharaoh's palace where he had strong connections with the officials there. It also appears that Potiphar had commended Joseph to the chief jailer because Joseph was given authority to act as an administrator in the jail to assist with the orderly running of prison affairs.

So piecing together this new narrative, we get this.

Potiphar arrived home and was confronted by his wife's story of an assault against her by his slave, Joseph. 

Potiphar, reading the situation, quickly realised that the accusation was false. 

His wife said that Joseph had come to assault her and that she screamed and he left his garment behind and ran outside.

This implies that she must have waited until his garment was completely off before she began to scream in order for him to have left it behind. It seems a little askew to have an attacker completely disrobe before calling for help.

He also noticed that his wife was clinging  to Joseph's garment as evidence against him while Potiphar knew that if she had truly been assaulted, she would have eschewed contact with her attacker's clothing.

However, to preserve his prestige, Potiphar could not be seen to be taking the side of his slave against his own wife so he was compelled to 'imprison' his slave.

He took Joseph to a prison ran by his friend the chief jailer and asked him to keep Joseph there and advised him that he would find him useful in the administration of the prison.

This way, Potiphar could rightly announce to his wife and the chattering classes that his wife's attacker was in the super-max security prison but at the same time, Joseph could be favored and be in an environment where he could exercise his administrative talents.

That prison ultimately became the launching pad for Joseph's meteoric rise into the position of administrator over the whole country of Egypt answering only to Pharaoh himself.

The Lord can truly give His people favour with men.


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