Genesis 39:1−23

March 5th, 2019| Topic: aBeLOG, Genesis | 2

Genesis 39:1−23

Integrity in every situation enables one to be an agent of divine blessing.

Genesis 37:36 makes a seamless connection with 39:1; in 37:36, Joseph is sold (and Egypt is mentioned), and in 39:1, he is bought (and Egypt is mentioned again). In a little more than a decade, the kidnapped slave, Joseph, would rise to be the Prime Minister of all Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. Andh God’s word to make the descendants of Abraham a blessing to all nations (12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14) comes to pass. But it is not only in Joseph’s exaltation that Yahweh’s presence is felt; deity is almost tangible in this pericope, even in the depths of Joseph’s humiliation as a slave and a prisoner, as God blesses, prospers, makes successful, extends lovingkindness, and grants favor.

Genesis 39 commences the darkest period in Joseph’s life: he is kidnapped and sold into slavery, and he is falsely accused of rape and cast into prison where he languishes. Nevertheless, quite unexpectedly, this pericope opens and closes with affirmations of Yahweh’s presence and the prosperity with which he has blessed Joseph and all those around Joseph, particularly Potiphar and his household, and the jailer and his jail. Notice the structure of this text: divine presence and prospering accompanies Joseph wherever he goes (A and A’); the centerpiece is the purity of Joseph (B, C, B’)—the cause for that divine presence and prospering.

A   Joseph prospers in slavery (39:1–6a): Yahweh; superior’s trust/favor

B   Attempted seduction of Joseph (39:6b–7): “lie with me” (39:7)

C  Joseph’s integrity (39:8–12): “lie with me” (39:12)

B’  Accusation of Joseph (39:13–19): “lie with me” (39:14)

A’  Joseph prospers in slavery (39:20–23): Yahweh; superior’s trust/favor

Also remarkable is that, in all of the Joseph narrative sections that deal explicitly with Joseph, “Yahweh” occurs only in Gen 39. And strikingly, these instances of “Yahweh” are clustered in the narrative describing Joseph’s time in slavery (39:1–6 [×5]), and that detailing his life in prison (39:20–23 [×3]). God can use his people as agents of blessing even in their dark days, in their direst circumstances.

However, while “blessing” is explicitly noted in the slavery section (39:5, “blessing,” verb and noun), Yahweh’s blessing is not paralleled in the prison section. Instead, in this latter half of the pericope we have the notation of Yahweh’s “lovingkindness” (38:21) upon Joseph. Same thing! The numerous instances of “all” in both sections (39:3, 4, 5[×2], 6, 8, 22[×2], 23) indicate the magnitude and comprehensiveness of God’s blessing upon Joseph wherever he was.

The section in the middle details the temptation of Joseph and his successful eluding thereof (39:6b–19). From 39:10, the reader gets the impression that what is described in 39:7–10 was an ongoing attempt by Potiphar’s wife to seduce Joseph (“day after day”), no doubt an incredibly tense and pressure-filled situation for a 17-year-old male. One cannot underestimate the potential for upward mobility that such a sexual alliance could have meant for this slave. Surely some sexual favors granted to his master’s wife would propel him along to a better state in life. But Joseph, the paragon of virtue, is steadfast in his resistance. Wisely, Joseph did not listen to her (to lie with her) and even refused to be in her presence (39:10). Observe the irony: With God’s help, Joseph succeeds in all he is “doing” (39:3); but some things Joseph just refuses to “do” (39:9: “How then can I do …?”). Yes, divine sovereignty operates in the blessing of one’s life, but there are facets of human responsibility that need to be discharged in order to keep oneself in the blessing of God (see Jude 21, for instance). And so, rebuffing the woman’s advances, Joseph gets falsely accused of rape and is imprisoned.

The structuring of the pericope seems to be making a point by having the two blessing sections (in slavery, 39:1–6a; in prison, 39:20–23) bookend the middle section that glows with the brilliance of Joseph’s uprightness (39:6b–19). Obviously, in order to be an instrument of God for blessing others, one’s integrity must be guarded to the utmost, in submission to divine will, in sexual purity, and, indeed, in every facet of life.


  1. JK March 5, 2019 at 9:51 am

    Dear Sir,
    Wonderful words! May the Lord bless you and your ministry. I believe that if we have this thirst (“be holy because I am holy”), our God smiles and rejoices over us that we walk in His truth and He comes and helps us in our weaknesses.
    Keep shining for the Lord Jesus


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