Men & Women in the Word: Old Testament

Day 17: Potiphar’s Wife

Genesis 39:1-23, Proverbs 24:15-16, Ephesians 5:1-4, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

 

The biblical text is brimming with names, many of them extremely difficult to pronounce. But the point is, there are specific names on almost every page of Scripture. So it always interests me when I come across a man or woman who is unnamed. That’s exactly what we find with the woman at the center of today’s story. She is only known in Scripture as “his master’s wife.” Joseph corresponds to “his,” and Potiphar is the “master”; she is simply “wife,” a woman with no name. But her story is far from simple. And should you choose to read it through some of the cultural filters at work in our day, the story grows even more complex.

Here’s the CliffsNotes version: Potiphar was an Egyptian officer, a captain in fact. Though a slave, Joseph was an up and comer. “The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man” (Genesis 39:2), and Potiphar took notice. So Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household, everything that he owned. In that household was a wife who took a liking to “well-built and handsome” Joseph, and said to him, “Sleep with me.” She made the plea more than once, and each time Joseph refused. His question to her, in addition to breaking trust with Potiphar, was, “How could I do this immense evil, and how could I sin against God?” (v.9).

For God has not called us to impurity but to live in holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:7).

The final proposition scene ended with Joseph running out of the room while Potiphar’s wife was left holding his garment. Yeah, not a good look in biblical times or now. She accused Joseph of trying to take advantage of her, Potiphar believed his wife, and Joseph ended up in prison.

In one sense this could be the script for a made-for-TV movie. Pretty straightforward, really: It’s the story of a frustrated wife who is suddenly taken with the pool boy. The “he said, she said” game never ends well, for anyone involved. But this story contains a line seldom, if ever, heard in TV movies: “But the LORD was with Joseph.”

At first blush it appears a woman is at the center of this story. But upon closer inspection, it’s clear that a larger, grander character is the axis for these scenes. This character has a name: the LORD. Joseph’s life, though not without conflict and hardship, is kept secure in the LORD’s hands. And while the LORD does not bless him solely because of his integrity, Joseph’s refusal to undermine Potiphar’s trust and sin against God shows his steadfast devotion to the Name above all names.

Written by John Blase