One day a father said to his son, “Now, son, don’t swim in that canal.” “OK, Dad,” he answered. But he came home carrying a wet bathing suit that evening. “Where have you been?” demanded dad. “Swimming in the canal,” answered the boy. “Didn’t I tell you not to swim there?” “Yes, Sir,” the son said. “Why did you?” “Well, Dad,” he explained, “I had my bathing suit with me and I couldn’t resist the temptation.” “Why did you take your bathing suit with you?” dad questioned. “So I’d be prepared to swim, in case I was tempted,” he replied.
Now, the fact is, every person in this room faces temptation in one form or another. And the fact is most people want to live clean lives. To do this, we need to know how to win the war over temptation. Our text today speaks about a young man who faced temptation. Instead of falling, Joseph stayed strong. But before we get to that, we’ve got to get Joseph into position for temptation.
We saw last week that Joseph moves from the status of Jacob’s favorite son to Ishmaelite slave, and yet we hear no cry of despair, no accusation or complaint from him. His silence indicates his character. He keeps believing that God will have the next word. Even if Joseph is stripped of his multi-colored coat, he’s not stripped of his character.
When the road gets steep, it’s easy to accuse God of being unfair or not caring. Some unfortunate souls allow adversity to poison their souls. Their cry of protest against a God who shouldn’t have let this or that happen be the final word between them.
Let me say this: Faith is choosing not to let that word, that moment, that pain and disappointment be the last word between you and God. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Don’t give up on God or yourself.
Joseph is sold to Potiphar whose name isn’t an actual name; it’s a title meaning “Pharaoh’s man.” In his new surroundings, Joseph redirects his energy into his new work. We know that Joseph was his dad’s favorite son, and now perhaps we know why. Joseph is, well, pretty amazing. While his dad only seemed willing to use him to rat out his family, Joseph clearly had serious untapped potential.
Now I know this sounds strange but I gotta wonder if Joseph would have ever become the man he became if what happened to him hadn’t happened. We all want to reach the heights but if we don’t have significant
depth to build on we won’t be able to build our lives up high or stay there very long. A sheltered child most likely will not grow up into a real leader and force for good.
But Potiphar was wise enough to recognize Joseph’s extraordinary abilities, so he let him manage nearly everything in his household. We’re not surprised to learn in vs. 2 that “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered.”
The truth is it’s often impossible to see just how something is going to turn out. We have to stick with God for the long haul.
I like the story that about an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.
I know this isn’t very decisive but too often we make snap judgments about something that happens to us. It’s either bad or good. It’s hard to let the Lord turn something difficult into something blessed; it’s even more difficult to see how something good might not be what’s really best for us. Don’t make such quick judgments about whether something is bad or good for you. Let the Lord work things through. In due time, things will become clearer, and God’s handiwork will become more obvious.
At this point, relative to how things may have turned out for Joseph, everything seemed to be going well. And then he came face to face with his next major challenge. Her name? Mrs. Potiphar. Genesis 39:6 says, “Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’”
There was nothing discreet or timid about this woman, but then again slaves had no rights. They were considered personal property. And Potiphar’s wife wanted access to her personal property.
Today I guess we’d call it sexual harassment. It’s a situation where someone with power abuses that power for selfish purposes. The person in
the power position uses that power to try to obtain privileges. The one in the subordinate position is faced with an agonizing choice, either to give in against his or her wishes or to fail a course, lose a job, or lose a relationship that has been very meaningful.
It is a cruel dilemma, and for many people it becomes a living nightmare, one that can damage their lives irretrievably.
Joseph resisted her advances. He stood ready with a firm, “No!” He refused to violate the trust Potiphar had placed in him. He appealed to her sense of justice. “Look,” he says to her, “with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand.” The word “hand” means power, control. “How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” He recognizes that a betrayal of his master is also breaking God’s laws.
But his appeal gets him nowhere. The wife continue her campaign “day after day.” Finally, one day when the two are alone in the house, she grabs him by his clothing. Joseph does the only thing he can do. He runs out of the house, leaving his garment in her hand. Did you catch that? “In her hand.” The situation is “out of hand,” as far as he’s concerned. His master’s wife holds “the upper hand.”
Then stuck with nothing else to do, she has to save herself by smearing Joseph. In a moment, everything changes for him.
I don’t know about you but it amazes me, not as much now as it used to since I’m getting used to it, but it really is true that life can change in an instant. One moment you’re on top of the world, and the next you’ve been brought back down to earth, fast and hard.
I know a lot of people believe that life will only get better from here on out—as if there’s a straight line to things getting sweeter and sweeter. That’s naïve.
Now I’m not trying to be negative–I’m being biblical. It’s not in me to sugarcoat things like all those churches and preachers do who will sell folks on the idea that God is going to bless you non-stop because God loves you–just make sure you give money to the church first so the pastor can get his cut first.
Truth is there’s no divine guarantee. You know that, right? Our lives don’t have to go onward and upward, from here on out. Like I tell my kids, people don’t have to act rationally or sanely or reasonably. They don’t all the time. And because of that in an instant everything can change.
Seriously, life looks a lot more like the stock market than an airplane taking off.
On the Thursday before I left for vacation the Brazilian pastor couple, Pedro and Sandra, asked Larry Breakell and me to meet with them. They talked to us about how they wanted to use the sanctuary from now on starting the first Sunday in August and were willing to pay $20,000 more a year, which I thought was an unusually high number, and rather easily agreed to by them. That would be a total of $53,000 a year to our church from their church. They just had to go back and talk to their Board about it.
Thursday night I was happy, as you might imagine. I came to church Friday, and got a call from them. They wanted to come in to meet again. They started out nice and then told me they were leaving the church and going to another location. Poof went $33,000; poof went $53,000–just like that. And off on vacation I went.
But the story doesn’t end there because while away Sarah Hugus advertised our church. When I returned, one church’s representative and I had a good talk about a Sunday afternoon time service for them. They were really interested, which of course made me happy. So I called up the Swedish school representative who watches over the school that’s here at that time to see if we might be able to work something out as far as where they would be in the facility while this church is in the sanctuary.
Know what she said? She told me they were leaving the church and going to a location farther south where more of the Swedish families attending the school live. But since then another two churches have begun talks, for a total of three good churches seriously interested in coming here.
Do you know what may be the end result of the Brazilian church leaving? We may get in two churches, which may result in a greater level of financial support for our ministries. Of course, I’ve got to say with the old wise man in that story about the horse and son, “Maybe.”
Think about it: Potiphar could have easily put Joseph to death. The fact he spared Joseph may indicate he knew what really occurred, that Joseph wasn’t his wife’s first victim. He was angry but it doesn’t say who he was angry with. Thanks to his wife, he’s forced to imprison his smartest, most trustworthy, most valuable aide.
So to save face, he places Joseph in the prison reserved for Pharaoh’s prisoners, and some biblical experts believe, the prison over which he himself is captain.
Seen from one direction Joseph is betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave. But seen from another direction he’s saved from being killed by those brothers and taken to Egypt. Seen from one direction he’s now in prison but seen from another direction his life has been spared again, and Joseph becomes Potiphar’s top man again.
I know this is an extreme version but that up and down pattern is something you and I certainly recognize.
As the chapter closes, scripture wants to make something very clear. It says, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love.” No matter how far he fell, God wouldn’t let him fall all the way. God and Joseph through thick and thin were a team.
Your faith tells you the same thing–through thick and thin, God and you are also a team.