Twenty Three Years Earlier
When the young Hebrew slave was brought into Egypt and bought by Potiphar it caused a lot of talk. Hebrews didn’t come into the slave markets of Egypt. The regions of the upper Nile and central Africa were constantly being drained to meet the insatiable demand for slaves, but a lighter complexioned man in bondage was a rare sight indeed and created quite a stir.
Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Phera, priest of On, had never seen a Hebrew before and made it her business to accompany her father whenever he had affairs to conduct with Potiphar. She liked to watch the Hebrew as he went about his duties looking like a young god, as though the simplest task was a matter of great importance.
Potiphar’s wife noticed and frowned. One day she came and stood by Asenath and put her arm around her. “You like him, don’t you little girl?” she said sweetly, “but you’re too young for him and he’s my property. If I ever hear that you have touched him or let him touch you, you’ll be very sorry. Is that clear, my little dear?” She dug her long nails into Asenath’s tender shoulder and twisted them.
Asenath almost cried out loud at the pain but she stopped herself just in time and turned to look at her hostesses’ face. There was a sweet smile on her lips, but her eyes were cruel slits of smoldering fire.
“Oh please try to defy me,” she said softly. “I would enjoy so much showing you how very serious I am.” The smile never left her face.
Asenath cringed and swallowed the lump in her throat. “I won’t touch him,” she said. “I believe you.”
The nasty woman’s fingernails dug into Asenath’s arm this time. “Or let him touch you?” she purred.
“I won’t let him touch me,” Asenath whimpered. “I promise.”
Asenath never went back to Potiphar’s house after that, but she meet the young Hebrew one say as she was walking down the road that followed the Nile. She was carrying a heavy burden and he took it from her and told her that, since he had to go to her father’s house on some business for Potiphar, he would carry it all the way for her.
She thanked him and said, “There is something that I have wanted to ask you for a long time and I might not ever get the chance again. Tell me please, why you don’t act like other slaves. You act almost as if – as though you have authority over everything you do. Sometimes I thought maybe you were a god in disguise come down to spy on us mortals. If you are, I hope you’ll pardon me for asking.”
Joseph laughed. “No, I’m not a god, but I am intimately acquainted with the great God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. In his presence is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore. I am set apart unto him.”
“Yes, I believe you are a very righteous person, Asenath said “It must be because you are special to your god.”
“Ah, but one is righteous; everyone has sinned; no one can be as glorious as our Creator God,” Joseph said. Since God is holy and just, I could not have an intimate relationship with him and have his righteousness until my sin was dealt with. You see, he cannot allow sin in his holy presence.”
“I see,” Asenath said. “How was your sin dealt with? I hope you don’t mind my asking. And why can’t this god allow sin in his presence?”
“Because sin is a violation of his standard and character,” Joseph said gravely. “He must judge and reject it. That is why sin causes spiritual death, which is separation from God. As long as sin separates us from God we cannot enjoy the life and relationship God wants for us.”
Asenath took a deep breath and her eyes sparkled. “You said us. Does your God want a relationship with someone like me too? I try to be good but I hate your mistress and sometimes I would like her dead because she was cruel to me. I beg your pardon if you like her, but I can’t! I will try not to hate her though if your God wants to have a relationship with me. Can he give me joy too?”
“Yes, he can,” Joseph said. They walking so slowly they were almost standing still. “But no one can remove the sin barrier by his own effort.”
“Oh!” Asenath sighed. “Then there is no hope for me? What removed it for you? Did someone else help?”
“No one can redeem his brother from the bondage of sin,” Joseph said, “Nor can he give God a redemption for himself, because the ransom of the soul is too costly.”
Asenath groaned. “Oh, it’s far worse than having one’s body in bondage then. But what made your soul free? What can free mine?”
“God must take the initiative,” Joseph explained. He smiled and Asenath thought it was the sweetest smile she had ever seen. “He provides the solution. It is he that redeemed my soul. The sin barrier can be removed by believing God’s promise and by having the blood of the atonement. Our father, Adam believed God and it was accounted unto him for righteousness. “
“But what did God say to Adam that he believed?”
“He promised that someday the offspring of woman would come into the world and defeat sin,” Joseph said. “He said, to the originator of sin, ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman. And between your seed and her seed, and he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heal.’”
Asenath thought about everything was saying and tried to understand it. They were almost at her door. “Oh, but oh I wish I understood! There is still the blood atonement you haven’t explained and I do so want to know.”
It was at that moment her father approached them so she left Joseph giving him a noble bow and went to the garden to puzzle over what he said.
Was it true that Joseph’s God had given him joy and made him noble and righteous and wanted to do the same for her?
It was quite a while before Asenath saw the Hebrew slave again but she couldn’t get him off her mind. And, strangely, a lot of the things she was in the habit of doing made her feel uncomfortable; and she wondered if perhaps they were things the Hebrew’s God would call sin.
Had the Hebrew’s God heard her say she wanted to have a relationship with him and was perhaps trying to tell her they were a violation of his standard? Could he do that? Hadn’t the Hebrew told her his God was the Creator of the heavens and the earth? If he could do that maybe he could speak right to her heart this way. She would listen and try to find out more about him that way.
But Asenath didn’t seem to be getting any word from the Hebrew’s God. So, eventually, she tried to throw herself into the endless gaiety of the Egyptian upper class, but the days were only filled with everything that was sordid and useless in an endless round of wearisome entertainment. There was no joy. What had Joseph said about pleasures forevermore? Oh, what could remove the sin barrier for her so she could go into the presence of Joseph’s wonderful god and have fullness of joy? Joseph had said something about blood atonement. Maybe that would do it. “I must find out,” she told herself and set about steadily toward finding a way to talk to Potiphar’s Hebrew slave without his wife finding out.
Asenath watched her mother’s slave dress her and apply makeup, and she thought of Potiphar’s wife. Asenath’s mother had taught her well. She knew that women were to more than just the wives of their husbands; they were to be their friends and companions too. In order to make herself attractive for her own husband, Asenath’s mother spent long hours on her adornments. She wore elaborate wigs that had been plaited into tresses threaded with gold tubes. She used green eye shadow made from malachite to enhance the beauty of her eyes, and had them carefully underlined. He had her eyebrows painted with hohl paste until they arches most attractively. She had her fingernails painted a beautiful reddish-orange with henna and her fingers adorned with lovely rings. Her armlets, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces were all chosen carefully for just the right effect. But she did this all to please her own husband. Potiphar’s wife wasn’t doing it just for Potiphar; Asenath was sure of that. Why did she think she needed other men too? And Joseph was one of her husband’s employees, after all. What did she want with him?
Well, it was better not to go into that. After all, Asenath was trying not to hate the woman, if that would please Joseph’s God. But she still didn’t have that relationship with him that Joseph told her brought the kind of joy that made a man a prince even while he was a slave. She must speak to Joseph again and find out about the blood atonement. Would she have to go to the land of the Hebrews and find a Hebrew priest to make a sacrifice for her or something?
Asenath tried to remember everything she could about Potiphar’s estate. It was huge, of course. All wealthy Egyptian estates were self-sufficient with apartments for the master and his family and rooms for all of the servants. She only knew where a few of these were located but they didn’t matter. Even in disguise, she didn’t dare go near the main house. So her mind’s eye wandered through the lush walled garden living room to all the buildings around it that served the household.
There was the balcony were grain was ground into flour and made into bread, and next to it was the brewery where the grain used for making bear was fermented in water. Then there was the butchery where cattle and fowl were prepared for serving. And, last of all, was the building where the weavers made fine linens for the household. Asenath had heard that Joseph was now the overseer of all these buildings. She he would be there when the livestock was counted and he would go into the fields periodically to make sure they were being cared for properly.
Asenath thought about posing as a herdsman, but how was she to know when Joseph would be checking the herds? She wasn’t really built like the herdsmen either, so she abandoned that idea.
“You will soon be taking a greater interest in your own appearance, my Asenath,” her mother said hopefully.
But Asenath only smiled and went back to her internal study of Potiphar’s estate. She thought of the pools of water warmed by the sun where the men carried the harvested flax to soak under the weight of stones. Again, it was the men who removed the stocks from the water, after the rind became loose, to dry in the sun. And it was the men who beat them afterwards on stone slabs with wooden mallets, and combed the rind and outer fibers away to use for lamp-wick; the inner part would be used for weaving.
But both men and women spun the fibers into thread. Asenath had watched them do it. They made the thread on a wooden spindle and wove it into cloth on a loom. It looked fairly simple. The threads were interlaced at right angles by means of a shuttle which was used to pass some of the threads between others – and additional threads were passed firmly into additional threads. Sometimes designs were woven into the fabric with colored threads. Asenath drew her brows together. Maybe it was too complicated after all.
“Why do you scowl at me, Asenath?” her mother asked. “Have I something on wrong, or perhaps my clothes are miss-matched? What is the problem?”
“No, no, Mother, you look beautiful,” Asenath assured her. “I was just thinking. Do you think I could learn to weave, or dye thread?”
A silvery tinkle of a laugh escaped the lips of her mother and she said, “Oh no, dear. What you want to learn to do is apply makeup and dress properly.”
“All right, Mother, if it will please you I will learn to do a better job with my appearance.”