************ Sermon on Genesis 39 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 10, 2014
"The Lord was with Joseph"
The story of Genesis is the story of the seed of the woman used by God to defeat Satan (Gen 3:15). Up to this point in time, we would be hard pressed to say anything good about Jacob's sons; so far we have seen the sins of murder, robbery, hatred, arrogance, self-glorification, slavery, deceit, unbiblical marriage, adultery, a holier than thou attitude ... Wow, what a list. Yet, in Christ, these men – along with all other believers – make up the seed of the woman (Rom 16:20). So, it should not surprise us that we see the Lord's presence and favor among them.
But, remember, what counts is not human qualification. What counts is not human righteousness. What counts is not human effort. What counts is not human custom or standards. What counts is God's blessing and God's providence and God's choosing. That is the only thing that counts for the sons of Jacob and for you and me as well. It all depends on God's blessing and God's providence, and has nothing to do with how good or how holy or how righteous I may be.
I Temptation Comes to Joseph
A Joseph, as you know, was sold into Egypt as a slave. In Egypt he was purchased by Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard. In Potiphar's house Joseph was very successful in his work. He was responsible, diligent, and intelligent in doing his assignments. He was a man his master could depend on. Even though he was a slave he took pride in his work and strived to do his very best. Whatever he did, he worked at it with all his heart, as though he was working for the Lord and not for men (Col 3:23). The result was that the Lord blessed all that Joseph did and caused it to prosper. Scripture tells us the Lord blessed Potiphar's house for Joseph's sake (Gen 39:5).
Potiphar was impressed with this Hebrew slave of his. He was sufficiently impressed with Joseph that he made him his personal attendant (Gen 39:4). This is a position of great honor and indicates a close, personal relationship between the two men. Later in Scripture, the same Hebrew word is used for Joshua's relationship to Moses (Ex 24:13). Joseph is so beloved and trustworthy that Potiphar put him in charge of his household. Joseph was in charge of the other servants. He supervised the purchase of food and other provisions. He supervised the bookkeepers and paid the taxes. Joseph was so trustworthy that he was in charge of all of Potiphar's financial matters so the captain had only one concern in life – the menu for his meals.
Verse 2 attributes Joseph's success to the Lord's presence with him, but we must not think he is a passive player. Our English language doesn't make this as plain as does the original Hebrew, but it is clear that Joseph worked hard to achieve his position. So, Joseph brought much blessing to Potiphar not only because the Lord was with him, but also because he was faithful and trustworthy. So great is Joseph's success that even his pagan master can see the blessing on his life (Gen 39:3). Similarly, by the power of the Spirit our hard work should be a blessing to others so we make our corner of the world a better place.
B Our passage also notes for us that Joseph was "well-built and handsome." To use today's language, Joseph was a "hunk" and could be a candidate for the TV shows "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." His good looks were probably inherited from his mother because the Bible tells us she was beautiful and lovely (Gen 29:17).
Joseph had the combination of good looks and an important position. This could have been a deadly combination for him – even as it has been for thousands of people around the world.
C What happens next should be seen as God's way of training and preparing Joseph for life under Pharaoh. Likewise, the Lord also prepares us spiritually. One way our Father equips us for life and ministry in His church and Kingdom is by allowing temptations into our lives. When we suffer under and resist these temptations God establishes us all the more firmly in the truth (1 Pet 5:6-11).
Joseph's moment of testing came by way of Potiphar's wife. Like lots of rich, bored, beautiful women Potiphar's wife craved excitement. And, she thought she found her excitement in Joseph.
One day she came up to Joseph and said to him, "Come to bed with me." This first approach must have been flattering for Joseph. Here he was only a slave yet his master's wife wanted to sleep with him. The offer must have been tempting to Joseph – as it would have been to any young man. Yet Joseph refused her request.
Potiphar's wife was a persistent woman. She didn't take Joseph's refusal as the final word on the subject. Maybe she thought Joseph was playing "hard to get." So verse 10 tells us that she pestered Joseph "day after day." Even then Joseph "refused to go to bed with her or even be with her."
Being rich and beautiful and married to an important man in the Kingdom, Potiphar's wife was not used to hearing "no" for an answer. Finally, out of desperation, she ambushed Joseph one day. The two of them were alone in the house. She caught a hold of him and said, "Come to bed with me" (Gen 39:12). "But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house" (Gen 39:12). Joseph would rather leave a valued piece of clothing behind then commit sin.
In Joseph's position, most men would have fallen. Joseph did not. How come?
II Joseph Recognized Sin
A If Joseph was alive today he would be viewed as something of an oddball. Perhaps even some people here are thinking Joseph was foolish to turn down such an opportunity. For in today's world adultery is entertainment and lust is openly advertised. According to today's standards Joseph would have to be regarded as old-fashioned.
I've told you before about my discussions with the father of a teenaged girl. He said, "I told my daughter she could not get married until they had lived together for at least a year." Do you hear what this father was saying? He was telling his daughter, his precious daughter, to have sex before marriage. Christians, like Joseph, do not engage in pre-marital or extra-marital sex. But the world mocks this. Big movie stars have laughed about the "True Love Waits" campaign in which Christian teens pledge to remain virgins until they are married. I hope this is the pledge of everyone of our youth and adults singles too.
B I repeat, the world looks at Joseph, and at people like Joseph, as oddballs. But then the world cannot possibly understand Joseph or anyone like Joseph. The reason? Because the world does not know Joseph's God.
Anyone who is a committed Christian knows there is nothing strange about Joseph. Anyone who is a committed Christian knows exactly what is at stake when adultery or lying or cheating or stealing comes knocking and beckoning at the front door. Joseph put it this way: "How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" (Gen 39:9). Joseph was not a man to mince his words. He called a spade a spade. He rightly called the woman's offer "a wicked thing." And he rightly asks, "How could I ... sin against God?"
Joseph hit the nail on the head here. To sleep with Potiphar's wife is to sin against God. Joseph could have said that this would be sin against Potiphar who entrusted everything he owns to Joseph's care. But Joseph knew something deeper and more important was at stake. Joseph could not commit adultery because he knew that this was first of all sin against God. Potiphar's wife could not understand this, however, because she did not know God. And, the people of the world smile and laugh at Joseph because they don't know Joseph's God.
"How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" This tells us something about Joseph's priorities in life. This tells us Joseph knew and loved God. His relationship with God was very important to him.
C I wonder, my brothers and sisters, how we measure up to Joseph here? If we know no one is watching or that we won't get caught, how many of us would do things we shouldn't do? Like Joseph, do we find it unthinkable to sin against God?
All sin, congregation, is first of all sin against God. All sin breaks the relationship between God and man. When Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil she sinned against God. When King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed her husband Uriah he sinned against God. When we lie on our income tax form we sin against God. When we cheat on our marriage partner we sin against God. When we abuse alcohol or stay away from worship services or gossip we sin against God. We sin against God in all of these acts and we fracture our relationship with Him.
D Joseph knew that adultery was a sin against Potiphar and, more importantly, a sin against God. So do you know what he did? He fled from temptation. He literally turned and ran. When she ambushed him, he ran away. After she first approached him "he refused ... to even be with her." Joseph fled from temptation. Joseph kept away from temptation.
Young people, young adults, as you leave home or as you go out, be like Joseph. Flee, run away, from temptation. When you see a temptation coming, turn your back on it and run. Like Jesus, say, "Away from me, Satan" (Mt 4:10). Of course this is something all of us should do – not just the youth.
Like Joseph, we should do this because only one thing matters to us: our relationship to God.
Flee, congregation, when you face temptation and sin. Flee, like Joseph. For to fall is to sin against God. And, says the Bible, the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). So flee when temptation comes knocking. When your team-mates want to go drinking after basketball or soccer or football, say "no" and have nothing to do with this. When an x-rated movie comes on TV turn it off or switch the channel. When the guy you are dating suggests you go into forbidden territory just to prove you love him, flee. When something sinful is suggested to you, get up and leave. Be like Joseph and avoid evil as well as temptation.
III God Was With Joseph
A How come Joseph had the power to resist and flee the temptation that many others would have fallen for? What was the secret of his power?
The reason Joseph could prevail is clear if we note what Scripture says. Four times throughout our passage we read, "The Lord was with him" (Gen 39: 2,3,21,23). The Lord was with Joseph in grace, Spirit, and kindness. "The Lord was with him." This one little phrase is of immense importance.
This means God remembered His covenant and His covenant promises. This means God was steadfast and loyal to Joseph. This means God was faithful.
Now, think of what this says to Moses' audience – the children of Israel. Like Joseph, they also found themselves as slaves in Egypt. Like Joseph, they were treated harshly and unjustly. Like Joseph, their only hope was the Lord and His strength. The message of our story: if God remembered His covenant with Joseph then He also will remember His covenant with the children of Israel. Similarly, in Christ, He remembers the promises that are ours about the seed of the woman. No wonder Paul can say that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom 8:35-39).
B The Lord was with Joseph. The Lord remembered His covenant mercies and promises. The result? Joseph managed to resist a very tempting situation. Joseph did not resist because of some inborn goodness. He didn't resist because he was such a saint. He didn't resist because he was better than anyone else. Joseph resisted because God's power and God's grace was at work within him. Joseph stood firm in the face of this unbelievable temptation because the Lord was with him. The presence of God became precious to Joseph as he experienced the suffering and loneliness of Egypt. The will of God meant so much to Joseph because God meant so much to him.
C The secret to fighting sin and temptation is to keep our eyes on God. The closer we come to God, the more success we can have in fighting sin and temptation. Do you want to destroy the power of evil and temptation in your life? Then keep your eyes on God: read the Bible, meditate upon its truths, pray, attend worship, and actively do God's will. Sinful appetites can't survive in such a climate.
However, it is not enough to have high standards. It is not enough to flee from sin and temptation. It is not even enough to read the Bible and pray. Parents and children must also meet Christ Who died for them to set them free. They must have a living relationship with Christ Who lives forevermore. They must have Christ's Holy Spirit within them. It is only when we reach this point, congregation, that we – like Joseph – can resist sin and temptation.
IV The Cost of Obedience
A Now, God promises to bless those who obey Him and resist sin and temptation (Deut 28:1-14; Mt 5:10). Yet, Joseph's life reveals that the reward is not always immediate. In fact, faithfulness often brings persecution. So, the woman who tempted Joseph also blamed Joseph with outright lies. Potiphar's wife shows us how sinners attempt to deal with sin – never confess, never accept blame, point the finger at someone else.
So, I am not going to say it is easy to be obedient. The man of the world laughs not only because Joseph is so old-fashioned but also because obedience is the start of his troubles. Joseph's obedience was costly.
Obedience today can be just as costly. Your friends may shun you. Your boyfriend or girlfriend may drop you. Your co-workers may laugh at you. The public media may mock you. Look at what happens to any public figure today who dares to oppose abortion rights, homosexual practice, or gay marriage – loss of job or position, ridicule, newspaper editorials filled with condemnation, and so on. Obedience is costly.
B Joseph, in his obedience, was a forerunner to the Christ. It has often been pointed out that there is a parallel between the careers of Joseph and Jesus. Both left their father's house, both ended up in Egypt, both lived obediently through a state of humiliation, both were exalted to the throne after their time of obedient suffering had ended, and both saved the lives of their people.
Obedience for Jesus, as with Joseph, was costly. Obedience for Jesus meant the cross and the grave. Jesus call us to take up our cross and to follow Him. In other words, we too may have to suffer for being obedient. But that is better than the alternative: suffering for obedience is better than sinning against God and breaking our relationship with Him!
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