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Joseph in Potiphar's House (Genesis 39)

Joseph was sold again by the Arabian traders to an officer of the Egyptian pharaoh. God surely had a hand in Joseph being sold to Potiphar, "in order that in the house of one so closely connected with the court, he might receive that previous training which was necessary for the high office he was destined to fill, and in the school of adversity learn the lessons of practical wisdom that were to be of greatest utility and importance in his future career" (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown Commentary, note on verse 1).

Although Joseph prospered in Potiphar's house, this was not God's ultimate purpose for Joseph in his human life—God had a greater design for him. To reach that intent, Joseph had to be thrown into prison, creating the environment where God would later exalt Joseph to the right hand of Pharaoh. This illustrates something very important for us to remember: Sometimes Christians must endure hardship and trial to reach God's final outcome. Keep in mind that God has created us for an awesome purpose. While Joseph would eventually be taken from prison and given a position in Egypt equivalent to what we would call the nation's prime minister, we will eventually be taken from this physical, limiting existence and, along with Joseph, will be made co-rulers with God over the entire vast universe! So if it takes suffering and tribulation to help us attain that purpose, God will allow us to be subjected to it. Yet, although things may look quite bleak at times, God will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5). So we can be patient in times of trial, trusting God and continuing to serve and obey him, knowing that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28) and that He will not allow us to be tried beyond what we are able to endure (1 Corinthians 10:13).

We can learn many lessons from Joseph's example. Take some time to look up the following scriptures and notice their relation to this trying period of Joseph's life: Proverbs 22:29; 10:4; 12:24; Matthew 25:21; 1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Peter 3:17; Romans 5:3-4; 8:35-39.

One important lesson is that obeying God in all circumstances ultimately works out for the best. Joseph knew that adultery was sin and refused—even though it may have cost him his life—for He trusted in God to bless those who obey Him. (And even if Joseph had lost his physical life, God would have blessed him in eternity.)

Incidentally, this particular episode brings up something else we should notice. Joseph's response to Potiphar's wife's seduction provides us with important information that has sometimes gone overlooked. Joseph asks, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9). Many today believe that the Ten Commandments were not in place before the time of Moses. Yet not only do we see Joseph's virtue in his response, but we also find proof that God's law was known at the time. According to Romans 5:13, "Sin is not imputed when there is no law." Yet Joseph clearly calls adultery sin, thereby showing that God's law was in force prior to its codification around 250 years later at Mount Sinai.

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