Potiphar was the chief executioner and the head of the military force employed by the court as the royal body guard. He was an Egyptian grandee, a member of the proud aristocracy, high in office and court favor.
Joseph could almost feel an affinity with him, but he lived in a splendid palace covered with hieroglyphics and filled with slaves.
Joseph, used to the tenderness of his simple and beloved home, almost trembled as he passed up the pillared avenue through the sphinx guarded gates, and into the recesses of that great Egyptian palace where everything, even the language, was strange and new.
Then he remembered his God, Yahweh, was with him and peace descended. He looked at the mysterious wings carved in the porticoes of so many of the buildings and thought of the everlasting wings of his Father-God’s care under which his soul was nestled. Yahweh was on his throne and all was well. Joseph’s muscles had hardened on the long way to Egypt and his chin had acquired a square look. He was still little more than a boy, but was fast taking on the look of a man.
Joseph had always been reliable, industrious, prompt, diligent, and obedient; always doing everything he did as unto the Lord. As a consequence, whatever his hand found to do, he did with all his might.
At first they gave him tasks so menial they made him feel sick at himself that he should have sunk so low. Then he would remember he was the servant of the Most-High God, Yahweh, and that made him most conscientious and careful no matter how low the task.
When the master wasn’t looking the other slaves relaxed but Joseph wasn’t working for any earthly master. His Master was always present, so Joseph was always serving. It wasn’t from fear of the lash that Joseph worked; it was in anticipation of the smile from his Lord that he did his duties. And he carried out his responsibilities so well the other slaves, like his brothers, pointed to him in envy.
Every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor; it is the gift of Yahweh, so the Almighty made all that Joseph did prosper; even blessing Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake, extending even to his fields.
And Joseph, though he had lost his noble wrap, never lost his nobility. It stayed with him in his bearing and in his character. He didn’t give in to useless regrets and unavailing tears; but, rather strengthened his hands and his feeble knees and made straight paths for his feet so his lame soul might not be dislocated, but healed. He was careful to pursue peace with all men, and holiness before his God; setting himself to live by the grace of God and not allowing any root of bitterness to spring up and cause trouble. Therefore, each succeeding day brought him closer to Yahweh. In Yahweh, Joseph was free, so he could do everything he did, vigorously, as unto the Lord.
Joseph sought Yahweh’s will in every situation and the way he did the most trifling things was based on the loftiest principles in the same way that a drop of dew on a rose petal is determined by the same physical laws Yahweh used to control the molding of the universe.
Joseph trod the floor of his captivity with the same love and reverence as he would have walked the golden streets of the City that was the goal of his sojourn. The City his great-grandfather had been pursuing all the days of his life.
Since everything Joseph handled went well, success followed him like a shadow and touched everything he did as though he had a magic hand. He was Potiphar’s favorite slave and it wasn’t long before he made Joseph the overseer of his residence and put all that he owned under the capable hands of Joseph. So, again, Joseph had the position of trust and authority in the household where he lived.
Joseph was no longer a boy. He had matured in body and mind with a strength and fineness which made others look twice at him. He was tall and well-built with grace in every movement, walking with a grave assurance that caught everyone’s attention. His features were strong and well chiseled; and he had an “other world” look about him that intrigued those around him but his royal bearing kept them from getting too close.
The fact that he was a prosperous man – a man of position and authority – made him even more intriguing. And Potiphar’s wife was captivated – and stimulated.
But Joseph had his armor on. It wasn’t easy to get through the whole armor of God. She cast her hungry eyes on Joseph and saw that his midriff was gird with truth, the breast-plate of righteousness was in place and he stood solidly in the preparation of the gospel of peace. And before everything he held the shield of faith around him like a guardhouse. The salvation of his God sat on him like a crown and he used the Word of God for a defense.
But this liberated Egyptian woman was even more enthralled by his lack of availability. She had always had any man she wanted and it gave her quite a thrill to think of the conquest this Hebrew slave would be. She was a resourceful lady and didn’t mind doing anything it took to get what she wanted. She was confident she would soon tear down the standards of this strange, but alluring, man and bend him to her will.
Therefore, she draped herself – or rather, she had her slaves dress her – in the most flimsy, enticing garment in her vast wardrobe. She painted her eyes to make them as exotic as eyes can be made to look by a skilled craftsman. Then she had her lips painted into a fine pout of fire. She had a delicately crafted necklace laid against her palpitating chest and long twinkling earrings hung from her lobes. She had subtle shadows painted her appealing eyes and more jewels hung on her arms and fingers. Then she arranged herself on a lounge and waited.
The lounge was situated in a place where Joseph would have to come close enough for her to touch him as he passed on his daily rounds.
He didn’t seem even to notice as he passed, but she was prepared for that. She reached out her long bare arm and pulled him toward her. She made her voice lilt into pathos and said, “I’m so lonely, Joseph. Come sit by me and keep me company.”
Joseph bowed. “You will have to excuse me, my lady. I have duties to perform.”
But the “lady” didn’t let him go. She jerked him down to the lounge beside her said, languidly, “Oh you are a darling! You’re perfectly stunning when you’re so brave and businesslike.” Then enthusiastically, “But I’m going to drag you out of your shell and help you have some good times that will make you forget your old duties.” She pulled him to her and began to kiss him.
Her lips had scarcely touched his when he jerked free and stood far enough from her so that she would have had to leave the lounge to reach him.
He lifted his chin and said firmly, “Listen to me! My master has put me in charge of everything he owns. But you are his wife. He has not given you to me. Surely, when you think about it, you will not expect me to behave so wickedly. And, above all else, I will not sin against my God.”
Then he turned and walked away.
But Potiphar’s wife was not so easily defeated. She said, “If I want him, I can have him. And I want him!”
She would say, “Don’t be so imbalanced, Joseph. You have a right to have your happiness too. And I need you,” or “I thought I loved my husband when I married him, but he is so cruel. Oh, Joseph, I need to be comforted. Come, I’ll show you how.” Or, with drooping black lashes, “You’ve always been a kind person, Joseph, and I need someone I can really trust. Will you help me?”
Something protective would flare up in Joseph’s breast. He was needed here to shelter this poor woman; and, as he looked at the beautiful painted face, he would remember her purpose and go on being polite with gentle dignity as far out of her reach as he could get.
Then one morning, when the house was empty of everyone but those two, she searched for him till she found him in a small back room. She was seething! He was her husband’s slave, so that made him her property too. How dare he refuse to give her what she wanted!
“Well,” she said haughtily, “so this is where you have been hiding? Have you hidden yourself here all night while I writhed in my bed alone needing you there to comfort me? How dare you?”
“Oh, good morning,” Joseph said, trying to summon a smile. “No, I haven’t been here long. I have some things that need my attention quickly, if you will excuse me.”
He tried to work his way past her, through the door, but she wasn’t going to let him go again. She grabbed his garment and ripped it from his body but before she could get a tight hold on him, he jerked free, pushed past her and ran from the house.
Holding the wrap close and trembling with anger she ran to the courtyard and called all the men of the house to her. The tears of anger streaming down her face were mistaken by the men for tears of pain. The rage that shook her voice was thought to be fear.
“See what’s happened,” she said. “Your master brought a Hebrew among us and he thinks he’s better than we are.” Her voice shook with sobs. “He tried to rape me, but when I screamed, he went away and left his garment.”
She repeated the story later to her husband, but first she made sure to have just the right makeup and clothes to help her carry off her story well and she lowered and raised her eyelashes with just the right amount of tears and delicate shudders for the desired effect.
Joseph knew he was in trouble. He had tried to do the right thing and had done the only thing he could do, but he had to leave his clothing with Potiphar’s wife and that had started the gossip that was spreading through the house and fields like wildfire.
He had meant to do his work so he would stand well with his master’s wife, but he had crossed her and made her his foe, ruining his chance for the future. But wait! His hope was in Yahweh and in the end it would be found better to have done right and wait for his God to bless and vindicate him.
Joseph was shaken and weak from months of fighting and subduing a whole range of emotions besides keeping his master’s wife at bay. This latest scene had almost undone him. Well, he had kept his naturel tendencies, appetites, and desires under control and now he would just trust Yahweh to take his shattered, shaken body and give it renewed strength somehow. No matter what happened now, the awful persistent temptation was a thing of the past.
He carefully examined his behavior for wrong-doing on his part.
He had reasoned with her and told of his master’s kindness and trust; the confidence he did not dare betray. He tried to make her see her own responsibility as his master’s wife. He had even appealed to her conscience of what a great evil it would be to sin against his God in such a way. He had taken care to avoid her company as much as possible, and when it had all come to the immoral culmination, what could he have done but flee? He could not, would not acquiesce to sin. No, he would be more than conqueror through the G0d who loved him and promised to bless him even while he was still a seed in Abraham, his great-grandfather.