Genesis 37:36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.
Joseph could have been sold to someone obscure, but in the providence of God, he was sold to one of Pharaoh’s officials. This would allow him to be groomed for higher service. If Joseph was going to be in charge of Egypt, he would have to learn how government works, how leadership behaves, and how to handle responsibility. Joseph learned quickly, and handled himself so well, that he was soon in charge of Potiphar’s entire estate. With Joseph in charge, Potiphar did not have to worry about anything, except what to have for dinner (Genesis 39:6).
Genesis 38:1 At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah.
We are not told why Judah left his brothers at this time, but it may have been due to their sin against Joseph. Their mutual secret would have weighed on their consciences and poisoned their relationships. Sin creates disharmony, and Judah wanted to get away. We cannot do evil to others without doing it to ourselves.
Genesis 38:2 Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man.
Together they had three sons, and the oldest married a woman named Tamar. He died young, however, so Tamar married Judah’s second son. He also died young, so Judah offered Tamar his third son as soon as he was old enough. But Judah was afraid his third son would also die young, so he did not keep his pledge.
This put Tamar in a difficult position. She was twice a widow, without any children. Her prospects for marriage were poor, and she would have no one to take care of her when she was old. In a culture that prized motherhood, her situation was bleak. So Tamar took action.
She veiled her face and went to a place known for prostitution. When Judah came by, and did not recognize her, he purchased Tamar’s service in exchange for a goat. Since he did not have a goat with him, Judah gave Tamar his seal and staff as a pledge. In this way, Tamar became pregnant by her father-in-law, to secure his financial support.
Genesis 38:24 About three months later Judah was told, Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant. Judah said, Bring her out and have her burned to death!
Judah’s double standard is deplorable, but not uncommon. Many condemn others for the sin they allow themselves. When Tamar produced his seal and staff, Judah was ashamed, and she was spared. Tamar gave birth to twins, and all four are mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:3).
Here we see the kind of people God sent his Son to save–not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy (Titus 3:5), wrote Paul. God used the unseemly union of Judah and Tamar to bring his Son into the world. We should never do evil that good may result (Romans 3:8), but nothing is so evil that God cannot use it for good (Romans 8:28).
Genesis 39:5 [T]he Lord blessed the household of [Potiphar] because of Joseph.
It was not because Potiphar prayed and obeyed that his household was being blessed. It was because of Joseph. Joseph may have been the only person in Potiphar’s household who believed in God, and it was because of him that God was blessing Potiphar.
From this we learn that God may bless our employers because of us. Christians ought to serve their employers wholeheartedly, and pray for God’s blessing wherever they are. God may bless our places of employment simply because we are there.
Genesis 39:6-7 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!
Day after day Potiphar’s wife pursued Joseph, and day after day Joseph declined her advances. Finally, she grabbed him by the cloak and said, Come to bed with me. Joseph promptly ran out of the house, leaving his cloak behind (Genesis 39:10-12). Potiphar’s wife was so angry that she told her husband it was Joseph who made advances. And when she screamed, Joseph ran out of the house without his cloak. So Potiphar threw Joseph in prison (Genesis 39:11-20).
Life is not always fair. We hope to be rewarded for good behavior, not punished for it. But setbacks are often a setup for God to bring us good. We bring more glory to God by trusting him when things go wrong, than when things are going well. It would take some time, but Joseph would learn that his faith in God was not misplaced.
Genesis 39:20-21 But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him.
There he met a couple of Pharaoh’s officials, and was able to interpret their dreams. Two years later, when Pharaoh had a dream, one of the officials mentioned Joseph. Then Pharaoh summoned Joseph to interpret his dream (Genesis 41:14), and suddenly, Joseph was in the presence of Pharaoh. This would not have happened if Joseph had not gone to prison. Sometimes we have to go down in order to go up.
The middle school I attended had a new section and an old section. If you were on the second floor of the new section, and wanted to go to the third floor of the old section, first you had to go down, then over, then up. That’s how it is with God. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up (James 4:10), wrote James.
Genesis 41:15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.
Pharaoh thought the dream was important, and he was right. Seven skinny cows ate up seven fat cows, and seven skinny grains ate up seven fat grains (Genesis 41:17-24). The meaning was clear to Joseph: there would be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine (Genesis 41:29-30).
Drawing on all he had learned, Joseph advised Pharaoh about how to prepare for the famine. Pharaoh was so impressed that he put Joseph in charge of Egypt—second only to himself (Genesis 41:43). In a single day, Joseph went from the prison to the palace. It may have seemed like a dream, but his dream was coming true.
Likewise, those who serve God faithfully will also be promoted. Jesus will say to one, take charge of five cities (Luke 19:19). And to another, take charge of ten cities (Luke 19:17). We might be on the bottom now, but our promotion is coming soon.
Reflection and Review
How did God use Judah and Tamar’s sin?
Why did God allow Joseph to go to prison?
What can we learn from Joseph’s promotion?