MY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron
Our study of Joseph, the favored son of Jacob in the Old Testament contains insight as to what brings a person success. Often, success is thought of in terms of rank, fame or wealth, but here the scripture indicates the Lord’s presence made Joseph a successful man – the favorable outcome of a life lived well.
Joseph’s reactions to misfortune were quite different from those of his brothers. The brothers threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery, but God was with Joseph. To summarize George Livingston’s comments: The brothers exhibited jealousy, lust, and hatred, which led to murder, incest, plots, and deception. Joseph with his moral strength avoided bitterness, self-pity and despair. He overcame difficulties and temptations with courage and high moral values. In each instance, he demonstrated confidence in God, as well as kindness, wisdom, honesty and loyalty.
Joseph was a great-grandson of Abraham. It has become clearer throughout this study that we can all be Abraham’s children. Paul summarized in Galatians 3:26, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
Before the scripture detoured last week to Judah and Tamar, we’d left Joseph in Egypt, sold to Potiphar who was the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguards. “And the Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. … Now his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all that he did prosper in his hand. So, Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and put him in charge of all that he owned” (Genesis 39:2-4).
The next verse showed the extent to which Potiphar trusted his servant. “It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph” (Genesis 39:5). Potiphar’s kindness and goodwill elevated Joseph, while God’s favor rested on all connected with the man who served him faithfully. This success was also found when Jacob served his uncle Laban (Genesis 30:27-30).
In fact, Joseph oversaw everything except Potiphar’s food. Reasons might include that a foreigner like Joseph would be considered unclean to sit at table with a devout Egyptian. Or, there’s the fact that Potiphar provided security for Pharaoh, and a primary way to remove an unwanted leader was to poison him. Thus, having a foreign national handle food would have been dangerous. The irony is that Joseph would later be put in charge of the food supply for all that part of the world.
Just when it seemed all was going well in Potiphar’s household, a strong temptation was thrown at our main character. “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And it came about after these events that his master’s wife had her eyes on Joseph…” (Genesis 39:6,7). Daily she tried to seduce him.
He attempted reasoning with her. “‘There is no one greater in this house than I, and [Potiphar] has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?’” (Genesis 39:9). Besides resisting the sexual temptation, Joseph had already learned the principle that he served God in his earthly job. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord and not for people” (Colossians 3:23).
Finally, when Potiphar’s wife orchestrated a time when the two were alone together and grabbed him by his clothes, Joseph fled the household, leaving his garment behind. The wife screamed for help, and made up a story about the encounter (Genesis 39:13-18).
Unlike his older brother Judah in his actions toward Tamar, Joseph withstood the woman’s temptation and upheld community values; he sought a greater good, even in a foreign land, in a community to which he never really belonged. He could have justified that any indiscretion would be “just a personal matter”. But everything has an impact on the overall wellbeing of a community. Abraham was charged with building a family, a nation, a people, that would bless others, and Joseph played a large role in that.
Though as a slave he could have been instantly put to death by Potiphar, Joseph was thrown into prison. But even there a familiar theme emerged. “The Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the warden of the prison. And the warden of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. The warden of the prison did not supervise anything under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and, the Lord made whatever he did prosper” (Genesis 39:21-23).
We’ve just celebrated the season of Emmanuel, God with us. May we follow Joseph’s example, and learn to measure success differently, by how closely we live to the presence and precepts of God.