As we conclude, we must first see the warning here. Potiphar and his wife have a horrible marriage. They are pagans and do not worship the one true God and so we should not expect a biblical marriage, and yet, we should pity them. Unfortunately, too many marriages between Christians look like this too. There is distrust, and pointing fingers, and bad-mouthing behind the spouse’s back. There is a lack of guarding the heart against temptation which leads to thoughts and desires of adultery. A biblical, God-honoring marriage takes work. We need to realize that the marriage relationship is a front on which spiritual warfare takes place. The flesh, the world, and the devil all want your marriage to fail. A good marriage is a target for the enemy. A weak marriage will be devoured by the roaring lion. Second, consider our brother Joseph and his obedience to the Lord. I have talked to several of you about the character of Joseph. Oftentimes, Joseph is depicted as an arrogant, self-centered young man strutting around in his coat of many colors. But if we just read the text, we don’t see that at all. He is obedient to his father. Joseph works hard as a slave. He is a model prisoner. He gives credit to God for his ability to interpret dreams. He pleads with his case that he has done nothing wrong. Joseph is not perfect but he is a godly man, obedient to the commands of God. As Psalm 128 says, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.” The excellent wife of Proverbs 31 is a God-fearing woman whose works praise her in the gates. Joseph feared God more than Potiphar and his wayward wife. He feared God more than the keeper of the prison. The Lord was with him and whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. God had a plan for Joseph that was established before time began. The same is for you. Your part is to obey him. Fear him. Follow him. The Lord will be with you.
This last section can be summed up by the words in verse 21, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor.” Love and grace are what God gave Joseph. This is displayed through Potiphar and the keeper of the prison. a. Grace and favor with Potiphar. Potiphar is clearly embarrassed and angered by the accusation of his wife. He takes Joseph in puts him in the walled prison where the prisoners of the king were kept. But, that’s it? In Psalm 105:18 “it says that his feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron.” He will spend a couple of years in prison, but according to Egyptian law, he could have given him 1000 blows. If found guilty he could have received worse. Many suggest that Potiphar did not fully believe his wife and her purity and that is his reason for leniency. But we know the ultimate reason, the love, and favor of God. b. Grace and favor with the jailer. Because of God’s love and favor not only does Joseph excel as a servant but also as a prisoner. He is so trusted by the jailer that if anything was done in the prison it was done by Joseph. The keeper of the prison trusted Joseph so much that he basically transferred his job to him, without pay of course, but Joseph had the responsibility.
a. Desire turns to hatred. Potiphar’s wife is a perfect example of how the sinful desires of the heart work. When it is tempted it will stop at nothing to get it. But if it can’t get it, then it will turn and seek to destroy the very thing the heart desired. Seeing Joseph fleeing from her, and his garment in her hand, her mind turns from desire to hatred and she immediately calls the other servants into the room and falsely accuses Joseph of trying to take advantage of her. We need to listen to Jeremiah here. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Potiphar’s wife is an example of why the Disney philosophy of “just follow your heart,” is so dangerous. b. You did this. Before we move on, we need to see one more thing. Why was Potiphar’s wife so quickly taken by Joseph? Because she already despised her husband. You can see it in what she says. “He brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us.” “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us.” She blames everything upon her husband. It’s not her fault and it’s not Joseph’s fault. It’s Potiphar’s fault, of course. She sounds like Adam, “It was the woman who you gave to me.” This is a warning to the married couples to guard your relationships. Don’t allow bitterness to grow between you or you might regret it.
a. Temptation invites temptation. We come to the second part of verse 6 where we are told that Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. So all around, he is just a good-looking guy. And after some time Potiphar’s wife “cast her eyes on Joseph and said, ‘lie with me.’” What was her first problem? She cast her eyes on Joseph. She allowed herself to be tempted by the handsomeness of Joseph. She did not do as Job did who said that he made a covenant with his eyes not to gaze upon a woman. She was not only tempted to sin but she embraced that sin. In verse 10 we are told that she would do this day after day. Her temptation led her to invite Joseph into the temptation. Often this is how sin works and why bad company corrupts good morals. The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about a woman like this. Proverbs 5:3-6, “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end, she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it.” Day after day Potiphar’s wife tried to capture Joseph with her eyelashes as Proverbs 6:25 says. b. Wickedness and sin against God. It is in this temptation that we find the godliness of Joseph. When tempted by Potiphar’s wife, he rebukes her. He argues that her husband has put him in charge of everything in the household, in fact, they are equals. The only thing that Potiphar kept for himself was his wife. Then Joseph asks a question. We might expect him to say, “How could I do this great wickedness and sin against Potiphar since he has done all this for me?” But he doesn’t. He says, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” That is good theology. In that question, he acknowledges that God is the cause of his blessing, and to commit adultery would be a sin against God himself. As David would say, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil.” To sin with Potiphar’s wife would be a direct assault against God. Joseph is not fearing man, he is fearing God. “With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him,” (Proverbs 7:21) until one day all the other men on the house were outside working and Joseph came inside to work. Potiphar’s wife, who is not the least bit dissuaded by Joseph’s rebukes tries to force herself upon him and grabs his garment. Joseph fights against her, slips out of his garment, and makes a run for it. According to Solomon, Joseph has made wisdom his sister and insight his intimate friend.
a. The Lord blessed Joseph. As we learned from the end of chapter 37, Moses reminds us that Joseph was taken by the Ishmaelite traders down to Egypt and was sold to the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard whose name was Potiphar. Moses writes that the Lord was with him and the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. Moses uses the name of God here to impress upon us that the God of covenants was the one behind all of this. As we read through this story, we are being continually pointed to God’s promises that he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. None of the events, the successes, and the trials are brought about solely by Joseph’s actions. Because the Lord was with Joseph, he became a successful man. God’s blessing was on Joseph and so Joseph was placed in Potiphar’s house to work and not out in the field. Joseph was a good servant and after some time Potiphar took notice. This reminds me of what Paul said in Colossians 3:22-24, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” I think this would be a fair description of Joseph. Due to his faithful service and the blessing of God, Joseph was promoted. Instead of being a common house slave, Potiphar made him in charge of all that he had. He became the overseer or steward of the house. In ancient Egyptian monuments, the overseers were depicted recording the expenditures and labor of the house. (Ellicott) Joseph went from favorite of his father to chattel, to the overseer of one of the important households in Egypt. b. The Lord blessed Potiphar. We again return to a common theme as God blesses the unbeliever because of the believer. We saw it with Lot and Jacob and now we have it again in Joseph. Verse 5 says that the “Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake.” God will cause the wicked to gain status and prosperity for the good of his children. The wealth was not an end in itself but only a means to a greater purpose. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all received wealth as a blessing from God, but the blessing of wealth was to be used for God’s purposes. When Potiphar elevates Joseph, he finds that he is blessed in his house and his fields. Wisely, Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of everything except the food that he ate which is probably due to the Egyptian belief that eating with the Hebrews was an abomination. (We find this in Genesis 43:32). We should also remember what God told Abraham, that he was to be a blessing to the nations. God is blessing the nations through Joseph.
In chapter 38 of Genesis, we read the story of Judah and Tamar. In the story, we learned about how God used the sinfulness of all the people in the story to bring about new life. Though God put to death Er, and Onan, he brought life from Tamar with the birth of Perez and Zerah. They become important because Jacob says to Judah that from him would come the kings that God had promised to him. Judah’s line had to continue because God had spoken. We have seen over and over again that God is a covenant-making God. He made a promise to Adam and Eve that one of Eve’s children would crush the head of the serpent. God, through subsequent covenants, developed the idea of this chosen one, this anointed one, that would reverse the curse that Adam and Eve had brought upon the universe. We have also seen over and over again that people have both intentionally and unintentionally put the covenant in jeopardy of being broken. Some were well-intentioned but used sinful means. Some were just flat-out sinning and were only thinking of themselves and would have caused the end of the line of promise. Now Joseph and his two sons would not be the line through which the Messiah would come. But, it would be through Joseph that God would bring safely Jacob and his offspring to Egypt, to begin the time of sojourning as God had promised to Abraham. God had given two dreams to Joseph to confirm that he would be a ruler over his family. Instead of waiting to see how God would bring that about, Joseph’s brothers attempted to stop the dreams and, ultimately, God from bringing this about. First, they plotted murder, then they decided to leave him for dead, and finally, they sold Joseph to a group of Ishmaelite traders. They thought that they had accomplished their goal to stop the dreams from being fulfilled. But this was God’s plan. And what he had covenanted with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph must happen. No one and no sin could stop this. As we look at the chapter today, we find this familiar theme. God has his chosen people upon whom he puts his grace and blessing and that strikes jealousy and hatred amongst others. But God will use their jealousy and hatred and shame them by using it as a means to a greater blessing. In verses 1 through the first part of verse 6, we read of how Joseph went from a slave to a master. In the second half of 6 through verse 12, we find Joseph overcoming temptation. Because of Joseph’s faithfulness, he is falsely accused in verses 13-18. At the end of the chapter, Joseph finds God’s favor under persecution.
If you look at the genealogy of Jesus Christ found in Matthew’s gospel you will find this, “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron…” Notice both Perez and Zerah are mentioned but it is Perez who is in the physical line of the Messiah. Perez is the second born and yet God graced him with the honor of being the one through whom the promised seed would pass. Perez, a product of lies, deception, and fornication would stand for all time in the line of Christ. It is the grace of God. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
a. The sin of Judah and Tamar. After the death of his two sons, Judah’s wife dies. After a period of mourning, he decided to hang out with his friend Hirah and the both of them decided to go to Timnah where his flock was to shear his sheep. This is a warning here to us because bad company and times of sorrow can often cloud our judgment. Many people have done things they wouldn’t normally do in times like these. By this time, Shelah was a young man and should have been married to Tamar but Judah did not arrange the marriage, which might have been Judah’s plan all along. Tamar hears that her father-in-law is going to Timnah and she devises a plan to force him to give her children. She pretends to be a prostitute and gets Judah to give her his signet, cord, and staff, all very personal and identifiable things to Judah, in pledge for the payment of a young goat from his flock. Judah agrees to the arrangement and sins with Tamar and she conceives. b. Judah’s fear of laughter. Judah and Hirah go to Timnah, to Judah’s flocks and he sends Hirah back to Enaim with the young goat for the payment. When Hirah gets there, Tamar is long gone. He asks about where the cult prostitute was and the men of the city say that they don’t have one in their city. So Hirah goes back to Judah and reports what happened. Judah says, “Let her keep the things as her own, or we shall be laughed at. You see, I sent this young goat, and you did not find her.” Judah is saying that he does not want to pursue this any further. They attempted to make the agreed payment, but she wasn’t there so the matter is done. Besides that, he mentions being laughed at. Why is he afraid of laughter? (Remember the different forms of laughter we have seen throughout Genesis. Here is another.) Judah is afraid of being a laughingstock. He does not want the laughter of shame and the despising of the people. Judah does not want the shame of the people. He is not repenting of his sin but just doesn’t want to be caught in it. Wanting to avoid shame is not the same a repentance. God wrote shame into the human conscience to lead to repentance but they are not the same.
a. She is more righteous. Three months pass and it is discovered that Tamar is pregnant. Since she is not married to Shelah it is assumed by the people, and rightfully so that she was immoral and has committed prostitution. The people sent word to Judah and he says that they should bring her out to burn her. There is some debate whether he is calling for her execution or branding. Often when we harbor sins in our hearts, we come down harder on those that commit the same sins. But Tamar does not remain silent. She brings out Judah’s ring, cord, and staff and says that “by the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” With this, what Judah has feared has happened. His shameful act has been put on public display. This is the real test of the heart of the person. We have seen a lot of public figures have their sins exposed and they deny and then when the proof is offered they resign to avoid further shame. This is not what Judah does. He identifies the items as his and then he says, “She is more righteous than I since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” Judah confesses his sin and recognizes that it was his sin that drove Tamar to her sinful actions. He could not throw the first stone at her (or burn her as he says) because he would condemn himself. How do we know that he repents? “And he did not know her again.” He turned from this sin. He did not pretend as if nothing was wrong. He confessed and he turned away. Is there a mustard seed of faith in the cruel heart of Judah after all? b. Twins again. The time comes for Tamar to give birth and she has an unusual birth like Rebekah. She has twins. And like Jacob and Esau, Perez and Zerah struggle in the womb. As Tamar is giving birth Zerah puts his hand out and the midwife places a scarlet thread on his hand which marked him as the firstborn. But then Perez pushes his way past his brother and his birthed first which is how he got his name “Breach”. Why is the birth of Perez and Zerah important? It shows the graciousness of God. We know from Jacob’s blessings at the end of the book that the kings that were promised to Jacob would come from Judah and his offspring. Reuben sinned with his father’s concubine and therefore lost his place in the family. But why Judah? Why was he chosen? That is the question that we all ask ourselves, isn’t it? We did God choose me and not my neighbor? Why did he choose me and not my other family members? Why me? The answer we are given is the free grace of God. His grace and his choice are not bound by his creation but in his sovereignty that lies above and beyond this universe. God took counsel with no one when it came to salvation. Salvation belongs to God and God alone. Judah was chosen, not because of who he was but because of God’s eternal purposes to praise of his glory alone.
a. Judah walks away. This story begins as many of these stories do by saying that Judah left his brothers, Jacob’s household, and made friends with an Adullamite named Hirah. This is an important point in the story. This is where his sin begins. Remember, that since the beginning, there was a separation between Seth and Cain, between Shem, Ham, and Japheth, between Abraham, Haran, and Lot, between Abraham and the Canaanites. There was a God-created separation between Ishmael and Isaac and between Jacob and Esau. What Judah does by leaving his family and going to stay with Hirah puts the promise of God to Adam and Eve in jeopardy again. Judah has chosen not to remain separate but to lock arms with the world. Let us not be tempted in thinking that this was just for the patriarchs. God reminded the Israelites in Leviticus 20:24, “I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples.” Jesus would speak of being in the world and not of the world. Paul after him goes back to the Old Testament to say that Christians are, “to go out of their midst, and be separate from them.” Therefore, Judah has violated this command and desire of God. b. Judah marries a Canaanite. Judah, now being friends with the Canaanites allows his affections to be drawn to a Canaanite woman. You can see the downward spiral beginning. Judah goes against the command of God and the tradition of the three generations of men before him and marries outside the family and the faith. He has unequally yoked himself which only leads to walking in circles. He should have nothing in common with this woman, and perhaps he had little, but she was attractive to him and that is what drove his choice of wife. c. Judah’s sons. We are told in verses 3-5 that his wife had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Moses mentions the place name Chezib here. Judah was at and Shelah was probably born at Chezib. Chezib means false or deception and so we can see the wordplay here as we read the story. Judah and Shelah will act according to the name of this place. They are literally and figuratively in Chezib. Well, some time passes, and Judah took a wife for Er named Tamar. We are not told what Er does but he is notoriously wicked and God puts him to death for his sin. There are some sins, as John says, that lead to death. Er dies without having any heirs and so Judah commands Onan, his younger brother, to marry his sister-in-law and to have children for his brother. This duty, as Jacob calls it, would later be written into the Mosaic law in Deuteronomy 25:5. “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go into her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” Onan obeys his father and marries Tamar. But he does not like the idea of having children for his brother and therefore he uses birth control methods to prevent Tamar from having a child. What Onan did was wicked in the sight of the Lord and so God put Onan to death. Judah then goes to Tamar and tells her to live as a widow in her father’s house until Shelah gets older and then they would be married. Jacob told her this because he was afraid that Shelah would die like his brothers. This is an interesting thought because Judah’s sons died because of their wickedness. It was not Tamar’s fault. So delaying the marriage would not spare Shelah but Judah came to that conclusion and therefore acted accordingly. Tamar, in obedience to her father-in-law, goes back to her father’s house.