Learning From the Temptation of Joseph (Genesis 39:12)

Share the Post:

I’m not one to armchair quarterback someone else’s life (most times). I don’t like it when people do it to me, so why would I do it to someone else? I don’t have all the relevant info, so how accurate can my assessment be anyway?

That being said, I’m going to do that with Joseph in Genesis 39. This part of his story isn’t long, but it’s so dramatic. In less than twenty verses, he literally goes from being one-hundred percent in charge of Potiphar’s household, to a convicted criminal rotting in prison.

All of that happens because of the lust of Potiphar’s wife. Make no mistake about it, what she was asking of Joseph was most likely par for the course in those days. It was not out of the ordinary for privileged women in upper class societies to have suitors on the side. The men usually did too — as long as no one ever talked about it.

Whether or not it was “normal” is irrelevant to our discussion. Maybe it wasn’t “abnormal” in their circles, but either way, Joseph recognized it for the sin that it was. He viewed it categorically as a crime against Potiphar and God (Psalm 51:4).

So, what happened here?

First, Joseph was in the house alone. A lot of people will harp on this statement about Joseph, as if it was foolish of him to be in the house alone. Just like they do with David in 2 Samuel 11 who stayed home when his army went out to battle, Joseph should never have put himself in this position to begin with.

They’re not wrong. When I was a young preacher, I was told by several older preachers to never be alone with a woman. Why? Because (a) the temptation is there, and (b) the accusation could be there too, even if nothing happened. It’s just not smart, even if our modern-day culture scoffs at such wisdom.

Should Joseph been alone in the house? Probably not, but who’s to say he even knew he was alone. Maybe he assumed others were nearby, or maybe he was just making a quick trip in the house. Regardless, he should’ve been aware of his surroundings. If he had been, he would’ve known there was a wolf waiting in the next room.

Second, Joseph ran. I remember laughing at this imagery as a kid. It seemed so extreme to me that someone would just leave their clothes in someone’s hand and run off, but it points to the aggressiveness of Potiphar’s wife. The fact that that was his only recourse in getting away shows just how adamant Mrs. Potiphar was in getting what she wanted.

Surprisingly, it’s not the only time in Scripture that someone leaves their clothes in someone else’s hand to get away. Mark —- er, a “young man” — runs away naked to escape the guards coming to arrest Jesus (Mark 15:51-52). When you need to leave, don’t walk. Run.

There is probably a thousand more things we could say about this moment, but this should be enough to chew on. The one thing I have learned about temptation in my short time on this earth is that if you take a bite, you’ll end up eating the whole thing. Don’t give someone like Mrs. Potiphar a moment of your time, or you’ll find yourself in a world of pain (Proverbs 7).