Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 5 From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. 6 So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7 And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. 9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her. 
During the last half of the 19th century, the most popular American author was Horatio Alger. He wrote 109 books which sold over 30 million copies. The names of his characters changed but his basic plot never varied from book to book. Alger sold “the American dream” – that by hard work and personal integrity it was possible to rise from whatever low position into which one had been born to a position of influence and wealth. His books were all rags-to-riches tales of America’s great Gilded Age. We could be tempted to view Joseph’s story in the same way. A hard-working man of integrity rises from slavery to become prime minister of the wealthiest and most powerful country of its era. That sounds like an Egyptian version of a Horatio Alger story.
But there is a giant difference between Joseph’s real-life narrative and an Alger work of fiction. The main emphasis of Joseph’s story was not that he prospered by integrity, good looks, and hard work, but that YHWH prospered Joseph. The dominating theme of the Joseph narrative repeated several times in chapter 39 alone is, “YHWH was with him” (2, 3, 5, 21, 23). The hero of this story is NOT Joseph, but God who exercises his chesed (his covenant loyalty love). God is being faithful to his Abrahamic Covenant. The events of Joseph’s life are proof of God’s loyalty love.
When last we left Joseph, he was trudging toward Egypt, a tethered slave in the company of Midianite traders yet entirely alone. Rejected by his brothers who had beaten him, stripped him, tossed him down a well, and sold him into slavery. He had every human reason to feel betrayed, abandoned, and rejected by both man and God. He could have, like his Uncle Esau (27:42), sustained himself with thoughts of revenge. For all we know, he did for a time. He was, after all, a young sinner in a sinful world who had led a sheltered and privileged life. But as chapter 39 opens, the narrator does not delve into Joseph’s emotions. Instead, he focuses on the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise of divine intimacy: I will be your God; you will be my people; I will dwell with you.
By the time Joseph is settled into Potiphar’s household, there’s no hint of bitterness or feelings of betrayal in the young slave. “Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.” YHWH blessed Joseph with a sense of God’s special presence, not merely a sense of his spatial presence. God was with his father, Jacob, as he labored for Uncle Laban, so that Laban prospered. Now, the same is happening for Joseph (c.f. 26:3; 28:15; 31:3). Victor Hamilton, in his commentary, writes:
…the name Yahweh occurs here at what is the most uncertain moment in the life of Joseph. His future hangs in the balance. He is alone in Egypt, separated from family, vulnerable, with a cloud over his future. Or is he alone? Only the narrator, never any of the characters, uses the name Yahweh. Thus, it is the narrator who tells us, no less than five times, that in a very precarious situation, Joseph is not really alone. Yahweh is with him.
Joseph was surrounded by an idolatrous, demonic culture. Every morning the rising sun was greeted by priests chanting cultic hymns to awaken the gods from their nightly sleep, after which the idols were ritually washed and dressed and fed a breakfast offering. “Egypt’s multiple gods were everywhere. There were local deities: Ptah, the god of Memphis; Thah, the god of learning and the moon, at Hermopolis; and Amon the hidden god of Thebes. There were cosmic gods: Re, the sun-god; Nut, the sky goddess; and three gods of the air— Shu, Geb, and Nu. And there was the pervasive cult of Osiris and its cyclical observances with the annual rise and fall of the Nile. Pharaoh was himself considered a god, the falcon sky-god Horus.” There were offerings made to Baal-zephon the Canaanite storm god, associated with the Egyptian god Set. There were household idols and temples for Ra, Hathor, Sobek, and Wadjet and hundreds of other greater and lesser demon gods who, upon their own whims, tormented or prospered their worshippers.
But Joseph is not alone. At the most uncertain time of his life, when he could see nothing of YHWH, Israel’s great covenant-making and covenant-keeping God was working in and through Joseph to prosper him, whether in Potiphar’s household or in the depths of the royal prison.
SUCCESSFUL SLAVE (2-6A)
As we have mentioned, the reason for Joseph’s spectacular success is the narrator’s statements, framing the story at its beginning and end. “3 His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 5 From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. 6 So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.”
God’s hand of blessing took Joseph from a common household slave to Potiphar’s personal attendant, and then to overseer of all Potiphar’s affairs. Potiphar became the beneficiary of the Abrahamic promise “I will bless those who bless you” (12:3). Everything Joseph touched turned to gold for his Egyptian master. Joseph was so excellent at his work that Potiphar left everything but overseeing the kitchen to him. Likely, this was due to the pagan ritual preparation of meals. In short, Joseph was the envy of every other slave owner. He was trustworthy and extraordinarily successful.
Moses tells us Joseph was hot. “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.” That’s not surprising since his mother Rachel was described the same way (29:17). Joseph and Rachel are the only two people in all scripture to receive this description. Once commentary notes:
This story about Joseph reverses a well-known plot in the patriarchal narratives. Whereas before it was the beautiful wife (yepath marʾeh, 12:11; tobat-marʾeh, 26:7) of the patriarch who was sought by the foreign ruler, now it was Joseph, the handsome patriarch (yepeh-th oʾar wipeh marʾeh, 39:6) himself who was sought by the wife of the foreign ruler. Whereas in the earlier narratives it was either the Lord (12:17; 20:3) or the moral purity of the foreign ruler (26:10) that rescued the wife rather than the patriarch, here it was Joseph’s own moral courage that saved the day.
Joseph was the perfect choice for entertaining a bored and ignored housewife. “7 And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me.’” Last year, a news story broke about a wealthy man who had his own sex slave ring of under-age girls and an orgy palace on his private island. Why would any man do that? Because he could. He was smart enough to include powerful industrialists, royalty, and politicians in his activities to afford him the secrecy and protection he needed. But he had enough resources to be as degenerate as any human could be. That is what Joseph is facing here – a sensual pagan with the wealth and power to take what she wants.
Joseph was a slave, thus her cold demand. Joseph was her property to do with as she pleased. And Joseph is around 18 years old, at the height of his hormones. He could have rationalized that he was merely following orders. Who would know? Besides, sexual contact was a routine in slaveholding households. Giving in to Mrs. Potiphar’s wishes would only enhance his career track, maybe even earn him eventual freedom. It’s not like Potiphar was exactly keeping his wife happy. She was entitled to a little caring and affection. It would be cruel to deprive her. The situation actually demanded this ethic. It was the ethic of his brothers Reuben and Levi – they saw, and they took.
Add to those rationalizations the fact that Joseph is a product of a dysfunctional family – the favoritism of his father, the scorn and hatred of his brothers, the betrayal of being sold for profit, and the humiliation of being treated as someone’s property. Additionally, Joseph is now in an utterly foreign culture – a stranger in a strange land full of dark magic and hostile people. He had every reason to be angry, resentful, full of self-pity and self-indulgence. Why not take some comfort in a warm embrace. Who could blame such a victim?
But Mrs. Potiphar’s two-word proposition (in Hebrew) met with a 35-word answer from young Joseph.
8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. 9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”
Joseph knew that following Mrs. Potiphar’s order would violate the trust her husband placed in him, violate his relationship with Potiphar, and violate his covenant relationship with God. It would be great wickedness in human terms and sin in spiritual terms. Because God was with Joseph, Joseph was with God and his moral life was a unified, integrated part of his covenant relationship with YHWH. Joseph’s reaction to a wicked proposition is entirely of God. God is the hero of the Joseph narrative. From the human perspective, Joseph knew all he did was done in the presence of God. That is the strongest deterrent to sin – knowing we live and move before the face of God. King David grasped that idea after facing the horror of his murderous, adulterous sin:
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned…. 
Joseph made a wonderful speech, but Mrs. Potiphar did not give up. Her pride was on the line. She was not accustomed to not getting what she wanted. Her life was one of seeing and taking, because she could. “10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.” Joseph did not resist merely a single temptation, he withstood a prolonged attack – even her demands to simply lie down beside her or just to hang out with her. He made no provision for even the possibility of sin – regardless of how beneficial such sin could have been. In this way, Joseph is a rough outline of the Promised Seed to come, of whom St Author of Hebrews wrote:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 
FALSE INDICTMENT (11-20)
Maybe Joseph saw Mrs. Potiphar’s accusation coming. She could have tried to blackmail him into adultery. But there was little he could do since he ran the household. He had to be around Mrs. “See and Take.” She planned an ambush:
11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, 12 she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.
Mrs. Potiphar waited for the perfect moment when all the other slaves were outside working. Perhaps she hid around a corner waiting to pounce. She has moved from seductress to aggressor. She was no longer merely inviting. She was insistent. All she was able to grab was Joseph’s cloak. But a struggle took place, resulting in Joseph losing another garment as a victim of violence. Both garments become the physical evidence of false accusations – the royal colored cloak, and the slave’s tunic. Joseph proved to be the right kind of coward. As the apostle Paul warned the profane Corinthians:
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
If she could not have Joseph, she would destroy him. Mrs. Potiphar was a skilled liar, tailoring her story first to incite Joseph’s underlings and then altered it to incite her husband. Potiphar had left all that he had in Joseph’s hand (v. 6). Now Joseph has left his garment in Mrs. Potiphar’s hand (v. 12). First, she assembled the household staff:
See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. 15 And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.
All her lies were laced with prejudicial subtleties to elicit their wrath— for example, identifying Joseph as “a Hebrew” to evoke their national fear of strangers. And then, in preparation for her husband, she arranged Joseph’s garment next to her and pretended to almost swoon as she rearranged the details of her story to maximize her husband’s “guilt.”
The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. 18 But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.
The word “to laugh at me” is a polite-but-misleading translation you may recall from when Abimelech saw Isaac and Rebecca “laughing together” and realized they were not siblings. To be attacked by a “Hebrew” was bad. To be attacked by a Hebrew slave was far more insulting. Mrs. Potiphar’s lies worked to some extent.
As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. 20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison.
It seems Potiphar was not completely convinced by his wife’s story. Otherwise, he would have ordered Joseph’s execution. Potiphar seems to have imprisoned Joseph out of necessity, as a means to save face while leaving Joseph alive should more information come to light. The way Moses writes these verses leaves us to wonder, at whom was Potiphar’s anger really directed?
MODEL PRISONER (21-23)
Already, we’ve seen an amazing story. Joseph had gone from the status of a privileged son, to a beaten and stripped brother tossed into the depths of a broken cistern, to a common slave on and Egyptian auction block, to the overseer of a wealthy household of a royal official. Now, he becomes a prisoner. Joseph was taken from the penthouse to be shackled in the dungeon. Psalm 105 sings of his plight.
Joseph, who was sold as a slave. 18 His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him.
Whether in prosperity or adversity, Joseph had not acted out. In every circumstance, he had sensed and appropriated God’s gracious presence. Never had he been more of a success than now. Falsely imprisoned, he does not languish but becomes the model prisoner. “He dwarfed the monuments of the Nile.” Joseph does not hear the words of the narrator that you and I hear – that YHWH was with him:
21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.
Here the same motif is repeated, but in an even more dire circumstance. Everyone could see Joseph was favored by his Hebrew God. His Egyptian master had seen it. The prison warden saw it. In every circumstance in which providence placed him, Joseph was a testimony to his all-powerful God who triumphed over the demons of Egypt as he secured the man who would be savior of the people who had despised and rejected him.
When the Lord Jesus, the Promised Seed, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, the angel Gabriel announced to another Joseph, “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus’ divinely-given name combines two words: “YHWH” and “salvation.” His name means “God Saves.” Jesus is YHWH, the one who was with Joseph and openly prospered him even in the worst of circumstances.
Consider what Matthew wrote after Gabriel’s announcement to the “other” Joseph. “22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”  The resurrected and ascended Promised Seed, who lived the perfect life we could never live and offers that perfection to us, and who died the death our sin deserves, bears the name “God with Us.” If you are trusting into his person and work, then he is as with you as he was with young, falsely-accused and imprisoned Joseph. He is with you in all the circumstances of your life. He promises, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 
For you who know and trust the person and work of Christ, you can live in the reality that God is with you. The reality we are called to embrace would have astonished Joseph, who did not know when or how the Promised Seed would come and exactly how the head of the great serpent-dragon would be crushed. The reality that YHWH would permanently wed himself to a human body and soul, be rejected by his people, allow them to humiliate him, falsely accuse him, even crucify him as a criminal, rise from the dead, ascend back to heaven’s throne, and yet still remain “God with us” is so much more than Jacob would even know. It is the greatest reality of the universe. May we own it with all our being!
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 39:1–10.
 Hamilton, 2:459.
 Hughes, 460. Kindle Edition.
 John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 234.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 51:3–4.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 4:15–16.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 6:18.
 Hughes, 465. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 105:17-19.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 1:20–21.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 1:22–23.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 28:20.