The chapter is an epic short story, full of literary brilliance, with a dynamic beginning, middle, and end.
Brought Down To Egypt
Egyptian history is convoluted, academics agree on almost nothing, which is understandable since its history and dynasties mark much of the beginning of human affairs. It’s uncertain which Egyptian dynasty was in power during the rise of Joseph.
What is believed, a certain powerful house known as the “Hyksos” became the ruling dynasty during the days of Joseph.
Three times (v.1,2,5) Potiphar is referred to as an Egyptian, presenting one possible clue in favor of the Hyksos dynasty because the Hyksos were not Egyptian but Semitic and Asian. The latest research claims they came to power as an immigrant revolt. In the coming chapters, a great famine will come over the land, the one in Joseph’s day is most severe, but not the first. Egypt was consistently lush because its salt to freshwater delta made life enjoyable. As a result, Egypt became a nation of immigrants.
This is likely the reason Joseph’s kin found great acceptance inside Egypt, and why Exodus goes to great lengths to state a new Pharoah (dynasty) arose which knew not Joseph and as a result was hostile to his people, possibly because they didn’t believe immigrants were true Egyptians.
Scripture presents Potiphar as a good man. He was a true Egyptian, and if he was treated as we know history, then Potiphar was a gelding of a man. Kings had many reasons for making their executive staff geldings, and focus was one of them. His job was 24/7, and with no children, he needed household staff, so Potiphar bought Joseph. Working for the King meant Potiphar likely didn’t have to purchase Joseph off the auction block but negotiated his price directly with the Ishmaelites.
At least seven times some form of the Lord was with Joseph is referenced. Early in the story Potiphar enjoys the by-product of Joseph’s direct connection to God and takes note of the fact. Joseph was handsome in form and appearance, which is the exact description of Rachel, his mother (Genesis 29:17).
Jewish tradition calls Joseph, Yosef ha-Tzaddik – Joseph the Righteous because he saved Egypt and didn’t give in to Potiphar’s wife.
Potiphar as a gelding had a wife, which brings up many questions as to the kind of marriage he had, perhaps an open marriage, or maybe they just had an understanding. His wife is a sexual predator, and though scripture doesn’t record it, this was not her first trespass.
Joseph refused her blunt request of lie with me and chose to reason with her but to no avail. Because of me, my master has no concern, the text says. Joseph knew the pain, agony, and suffering of betrayal. Flashing before his mind was how far he had come in such a short time, and never forgot how his brothers threw him into a pit nor was he ungrateful for God’s protection. So Joseph pushes against her lust with, because of me he has no concern about anything.
Most insightful is Joseph’s theology and worldview. The words you are his wife grow out of his attachment to biblical doctrine. How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God reflects his truth and experience. Joseph’s father never wanted to marry Leah, he was tricked into the affair, and God’s sovereignty did not remove the pain of sin. Unlike most, Joseph could see with clarity the road to hell she was asking him to take, and he refused to step into Satan’s trap.
The text says she spoke to Joseph in this manner day after day, which is sexual harassment at its finest.
Eventually, Potiphar’s wife physically grabs his garment in such a way that the only way Joseph could leave was to allow the garment to be torn off him.
She mocks Joseph by calling him a Hebrew, but in reality, she is mocking her husband.
I cried out was the ancient way a woman could claim the sexual advance was not consensual. A similar ethic is found in the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 22:23). She is lying about the circumstance and unable to even call her husband by name.
Potiphar had the authority to request a death sentence but chose to spare his life. It’s all but certain he knew his wife was lying, knew Joseph to be a solid citizen, and somehow needed to save face. The word steadfast love is also translated as mercy, and God’s power was evident as the prison warden ultimately put Joseph in charge of the prison. The prison was a house-type structure, with Joseph staying strong in the Lord as he went from his father’s house to Potiphar’s, and now to the house of prisoners.
But God’s hand caused him to succeed.