logo Living Water Christian Fellowship logo
Home Recent Sermon Multimedia Sermons News & Events Our Vision Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

"Joseph's Harassment & Integrity"

July 13, 2014 Genesis 39(1-6,12-23)


Harassment and abuse are serious crimes, deeply impacting a victim physically and in their soul, making them feel ashamed, worthless, conflicted, confused as to their own involvement. Abuse is particularly devilish when it's perpetrated upon minors by those in authority whom such children OUGHT to be able to look to for protection and support.

Unfortunately, we don't have to look too far back in the news to find examples of abuse of minors by those who were responsible for them. In Nova Scotia this past week, a tentative settlement was reached in the case of about 150 former residents of the government-run Home for Colored Children. Over a 50-year period leading up to 1990, these former orphanage residents allege they were sexually, physically, and psychologically abused by staff. The province has set aside $29 million for the settlement. Tony Smith, founder of an advocacy group, said he was very pleased with Premier Stephen McNeil - "He's the only premier that had listened."

Meanwhile, in Rome...On Monday Pope Francis held a mass with adult victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy. In his homily the Pope said the Church should "weep and make reparation" for crimes that had taken on the dimensions of a sacrilegious cult. "So much time hidden," he said, "camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone realized that Jesus was looking." The pope vowed he would not tolerate abuse by clerics. Addressing 6 victims of abuse, 2 each from Ireland, Britain, and Germany, he said, "Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness." A Reuters article reports: "The Vatican says 3,420 credible accusations of sexual abuse by priests had been referred to the Vatican in the past 10 years and 824 clerics defrocked. The Church in the United States has paid $2.5 billion in compensation to victims." Yes, it is a problem! Some of you know people who have been victimized by clergy. Or you are aware of the recent verdict convicting Gabe DelBianco, the former Windsor-area priest who afterward resided in the Auburn area.

In today's Bible passage, we encounter a young man who faces harassment and abuse by his boss, someone who should have been responsible for his welfare. But with God's help Joseph overcomes his shabby treatment, maintains his integrity, and ends up positioned to be even more helpful to others.


Genesis 39 begins, "Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt." We could leave off the last 2 words and make it, "Joseph had been TAKEN DOWN..." You may recall from last week that Joseph, Jacob's 2nd youngest of 12 sons, had been the favourite son of his father and given a richly ornamented robe, likely indicating his father's intention to make him 'head of the clan'. God had blessed Joseph with a couple of dreams hinting that one day he would rule over the others in his family. But this was not well received by the others: they viewed Joseph as a proud tattle-tale and a threat. So Joseph was indeed "taken down", cruelly treated by the older 10 brothers - sold into slavery to Ishmaelite human traffickers in a caravan en route to Egypt. It was questionable whether he'd even survive.

But God had a plan for Joseph's life - a plan for Abraham's descendants spanning over 600 years, an incredible design that would multiply that one family into millions and deliver them from slavery in Egypt, into the Promised Land. Joseph would play a crucial role, preserving their lives (and the lives of many nations) in Egypt. So God had to first get Joseph from Canaan to Egypt and then elevate him to a position of great authority.

V1 Joseph was bought from the slave-traders by Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard. In Potiphar's household, Joseph began to give evidence of the Lord's blessing in a remarkable way that would become a pattern for him over and over again. There are 5 blessings here we'll see repeated at the end of the chapter.

PRESENCE - v2 "The Lord was WITH Joseph"; v3 "His master saw that the Lord was WITH him..." What's one of Jesus' most precious promises, given right after the Great Commission in Matthew 28(20)? "And surely I am WITH YOU always, to the very end of the age." Or as He said in John 14(20,23), "On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you...If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." One of the most reassuring, comforting truths in Christianity, no matter what we're going through, is Christ's promise to be WITH us. So, the Lord was "with" Joseph.

FAVOUR: v4 "Joseph found FAVOUR in [Potiphar's] eyes and became his attendant." Because he found favour, his master elevated his status, made him his personal right-hand man. When God is pleased with us, we experience His favour. Joseph's father Jacob had earlier experienced this when his dreaded brother Esau, whom he'd cheated out of the blessing, welcomed him back to Canaan without holding a grudge. Genesis 33:10 Jacob had said to Esau, "If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me.For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favourably." God grants favour.

Next, RESPONSIBILITY: v4 Potiphar "put him in charge of his household", v5 "From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned..." Potiphar, as one of Pharaoh's officials, would be in the higher class. Life Application Bible notes, "Ancient Egypt was a land of great contrasts.People were either rich beyond measure or poverty stricken...Rich families like Potiphar's had elaborate homes 2 or 3 stories tall with beautiful gardens and balconies. They enjoyed live entertainment at home as they chose delicious fruit from expensive bowls. They surrounded themselves with alabaster vases, paintings, beautiful rugs, and hand-carved chairs. Dinner was served on golden tableware, and the rooms were lighted with gold lampstands." There, Joseph - you're in charge of all that!

STEWARDSHIP: similar to the above, but there's a nuance here of having to care for and manage what belongs to someone else. V4 "Potiphar put him in charge of his household, AND he entrusted to his care everything he owned." There's an element of trust, accountability, having to answer for and yield back to the one who entrusted it all in the first place. As sons and daughters of Adam we inherit such stewardship: Genesis 2:15 "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." After the resurrection, Jesus commissioned Simon Peter with the words, "Take care of My sheep." (Jn 21:16) The Good Shepherd entrusts to us degrees of caring for His creation, His people.

Fifth, SUCCESS: (If I were a wealth-and-health preacher, this is the one I would harp on, but I'm not!) V3 "the Lord gave him success in everything he did..." Note success here does not translate into OWNERSHIP, but weight of responsibility. As Joseph acknowledges in v9, "No one is greater in this house than I am." Yet none of the goods actually belonged to him. But others could sense Joseph's success in that God was blessing him: v5b "...the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field."

Note Joseph's response to this increasing responsibility: he doesn't let it go to his head, but remains humble, a trusted servant. He gets on with the job, not bitter that it all belongs to the master rather than himself. And not only is Joseph blessed, he becomes the means of blessing for Potiphar and his household as well.


But this happy scene was not to last. Sin was about to disrupt the young Hebrew's promising start. Not HIS sin, but somebody else's. Now, how is THAT "fair"? Yet God turns it to good.

Have you ever quite innocently been "framed"? A recent article titled Was That Auto Accident Really an Accident? describes four different types of vehicle "scams" by criminals that trap unwitting drivers in tight spots. A "swoop and squat" generally involves an innocent victim and two criminals, each of whom drive separate vehicles. Criminal #1 positions his vehicle in front of the victim's car. Criminal #2 cuts in front of Criminal #1 so that the latter slams on his brakes. Criminal #1's sudden stop causes the victim to rear-end him. Criminal #2 then drives away. The victim is typically held liable for the accident because he or she "caused" the rear-end collision.

In the "Side Swipe", a criminal side swipes the victim's vehicle while he or she is making a left turn. Or there's the "Panic Stop": a single-vehicle version of the "swoop and squat", the criminal suddenly slams on the brakes and the victim rear-ends them. Later, the "injured" occupants of the trigger car file claims against the victim and collect payments from the victim's insurer. Or there's the "Drive Down": Suppose you're trying to merge into a line of traffic. Another driver waves at you, signalling that he's letting you in. When you move forward, however, the "friendly" driver crashes into your vehicle. When police arrive, the other driver says that you misinterpreted his gestures - some lying into the bargain. POW! You've just been the victim of a "drive down."

When a friend shared this article on social media, I commented: "So much of normal living is based on 'good faith'...Unfortunately that can set us up to become victims of schemers." Well - that's just what happened to Joseph!

Joseph's problem was that he was just too good-looking (I can relate!)...V6 "Now Joseph was well-built and handsome." Think "hunk". Now the wild card in this equation is Potiphar's wife, let's call her "Mrs P". Nothing wrong with HER eyesight: V7 she "took notice of Joseph and said, 'Come to bed with me!'" How's that for enticing - a rich, powerful, (likely beautiful and coiffed) gal attempts to seduce you? And not just once - when Joseph resisted the first time, v10 notes, "she spoke to Joseph day after day": she wasn't about to take "no" for an answer.

Many men might 'go for it' - "Nobody's looking, I'll get away with it! Who's to know?" But that wasn't Joseph's attitude. He begins by expressing gratitude for all that's been given to him. Vv8-9 "With me in charge...my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care.No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you..." Self-control involves accepting one's limits, being content with what you have; part of that's an appreciation of how much you've been blessed already. Focus on what God has given you, not what you DON'T have.

Integrity (as modeled so well by Joseph) also involves RESPECT: nobody else is around during this exchange, but Joseph brings his master into it, out of respect for his boss. He also respects their marriage: the master "has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife." Respect for marriage - for the monumental significance of what a couple is actually pledging to each other, exclusive rights of physical intimacy to be reserved for each other alone - respect for marriage vows is glue fundamental to the cloth of society. Don't forget Joseph is speaking long before the Ten Commandments were given!

Integrity has ETHICS - Joseph asks rhetorically, "How then could I do such a wicked thing...?" "What's wrong with you, Mrs.P., that you just don't get it - you're blind to what an awful suggestion you're making?"

And, ultimately, integrity is based on FAITH - this is where secular approaches to morality fall short; what's to make anything 'wicked' if 'it feels good' and we're just 'giving outlet to our natural impulses'? But what's Joseph's worldview? "How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" One's final accountability to God has to be at the root of how one approaches the most tantalizing as well as the most terrorizing moments in life. After all, Joseph & Mrs.P.weren't TRULY alone, were they? Hebrews 4:13 "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight; Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." Oswald Chambers observed: "My worth to God in public is what I am in private."

Joseph acted in good faith; but, like the vehicle-crash scam artists, one person with evil intent was determined to take advantage of him. Joseph refused her advances and even avoided being with her, but one day no other servants were indoors. She repeated her invitation, this time catching him by his cloak (v12). Harassment; now abuse - using one's authority to coerce. Being grabby. Remember, she is his 'boss' in a way, and you're supposed to please your boss, aren't you? But Joseph left his cloak behind and ran. He anticipated 1Cor 6:18 "Flee from sexual immorality!" and 2Tim 2:22 "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." Sometimes when sin comes pounding on the door, you don't stand and argue with it - Satan's been outdebating mortals for millennia - you've just got to turn and run.

Mrs.P.finds herself in a bit of a spot. Perhaps her pride is hurt and being rejected. She realizes she's going to get at Joseph one way or the other. She FRAMES him! She fabricates a story about Jesus coming to sleep with her, her screaming, him running, and leaving his cloak behind. Bend your story to fit the evidence. Note how she also manages to implicate her husband: v14 "This Hebrew has been brought to us (by who? By Potiphar) to make sport of us!" Again, in v17, she has the brazenness to accuse her husband to his face, "That Hebrew slave YOU BROUGHT US came to me to make sport of me."

Note the cluster of sin infecting Mrs.P: Lust leads her to Latch on, then after, there are Lies, and Lambasting - blaming others, both Joseph and her husband. Joseph's integrity serves as a foil for this sinfulness: when there's beauty, he responds not with lust but with self-control and contentment. Regarding authority - where she gets all grabby and latches on, Joseph recognizes how much has been entrusted to him, it's not his; he honours his master, and leaves rather than seizing the pleasure that could have been had so easily. While Mrs.P lies, Joseph is open about the truth. And regarding responsibility - while she tries to pin the blame on others, Joseph all along kept accepting more and more responsibility to the point where, as v6 notes, Potiphar "did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate." The two characters of Joseph and Mrs.P form quite a contrast!


One would hope Potiphar, being one of Pharaoh's officials and a captain of the guard, would have known Joseph well enough that he would have seen through his wife's lies. It doesn't seem that way - Scripture says in v19 that when she told him her made-up story, "he burned with anger." Maybe he realized it was a no-win situation: as long as Joseph maintained his integrity, Mrs.P would give her husband no peace - she wanted Joseph gone! V20 "Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined."

I sometimes picture a scene, about 10 or 15 years later, when Potiphar and his buddy, now retired, are sitting in the café with their lattes watching the news on the telly. His buddy turns to him and says, "Isn't that new governor of Egypt great? Planned those granaries so we could store up grain during the years of plenty, and now his foresight is keeping us alive through these years of drought, and even other nations are coming to us begging for food just to stay alive?" And Potiphar muses half under his breath, "Yeah, that guy used to work for me once..." Buddy leans back and exclaims, "No way! You've got to be kidding! An honest managerial genius like that! What happened? Why'd you ever get rid of somebody with ability like that?" Potiphar says, "Wife said he tried to sleep with her." Buddy responds - "Well, DID he? Did you ever ask him what HIS side of the story was?" Potiphar turns slightly sheepish and does a face-palm: "Doh!"

Meanwhile, back in prison - Joseph has been taken down AGAIN, but with God's blessing upon him, he's not down for long. God has gifted Joseph with the knack of being a born manager. And those around him are smart enough to realize things go a lot better and their own lives are made much easier if they just let Joseph be in charge!

The pattern of God's blessing upon this person from verses 2-4 is repeated. V21 "The Lord was WITH HIM; He showed [Joseph] kindness and granted him FAVOUR in the eyes of the prison warden." V22 "So the warden put Joseph IN CHARGE of all those held in the prison, and he was MADE RESPONSIBLE for all that was done there...The Lord was WITH JOSEPH and gave him SUCCESS in whatever he did."

Unmistakable hallmarks of God's blessing: PRESENCE - the Lord was with him; FAVOUR; RESPONSIBILITY; STEWARDSHIP - being put in charge; SUCCESS. Maybe Joseph didn't get the dame, but neither did God finger him with blame, nor did his integrity cause him shame. Little did he know it, but he had passed the test and was now one step closer to fame - being boosted into power at Pharaoh's palace. God was publicly superintending the career path of one who honoured Him in private, harassment and abuse notwithstanding! Let's pray.