Genesis (Part 176)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 39:1-5

39 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. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. 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. 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.


We return to Joseph’s story, now, for most of the rest of Genesis. Despite being sold into slavery, things are now going well for Joseph. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(1) Potiphar . . . bought him.—Having given the genealogy of Judah’s house, which, owing to the sins of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, was now to be the Messianic line, and invested with the inheritance of the Abrahamic promises, the history reverts to Joseph, because it was through him that Israel was to be transplanted into Egypt. His life there is divided into two main portions, during the first of which, for thirteen years, he was a slave; while during the second, for seventy years, he was governor over all the land of Egypt. In his former capacity he is falsely accused by his mistress, and cast into prison. But this unjust treatment was the necessary pathway to his elevation, because it was in the prison that he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s two officers, and so, in the king’s emergency, was summoned, upon the testimony of the chief butler, to appear before him.

I will again add to the comment above that in addition to there being a messianic tradition, concerning the line of Judah, there is also a less well-known messianic tradition concerning the line of Joseph.

Wikipedia is actually a good place to begin reading on the topic, with a link HERE. In addition, though, David C. Mitchell wrote a really great scholarly book on this topic, appropriately named “Messiah ben Joseph” which covers a lot of the tradition. The book also convincingly makes the Christian argument that Jesus appears to have been aware of the Messiah ben Joseph tradition, and using genealogies, Mitchell argues that Jesus can be considered to also be from the line of Joseph as well as from Judah. Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries at verse 2:

Genesis 39:2

And the Lord—Jehovah, as usual, because the entire chapter is the work of the Jehovist (Tuch, Colenso), with the exception of a few alterations by the redactor (Davidson), or because, though the work of the Elohist, it has been modified by the Jehovistic editor (Bleek, Vaihinger); but more likely because the advancement of Joseph in Egypt was a special fruit of the theocratic promise which belonged to the patriarchal family (Hengstenberg, Quarry)—was with Joseph (cf. Genesis 39:21Genesis 21:20Genesis 26:24Genesis 28:15), and he was a prosperous man (literally, a man prospering)and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian—i.e. as a domestic servant.

Ellicott’s note on this verse goes into a little more detail:

(2) The Lord.—Heb., Jehovah. In the history of Joseph there is the greatest possible precision in the use of the divine names. Wherever, as here, the writer speaks in his own person, he uses the name Jehovah, which is a strong argument for the Mosaic authorship of this narrative, as while the whole colour of this Tôldôth is strongly Egyptian, the word Jehovah was not specifically the name, in the family of Abraham, for God in covenant with man until the time of the Exodus (Exodus 6:3). Once Jacob uses it in the blessing of Dan (Genesis 49:18), in an ejaculation marked by deep religious feeling, but the passage referred to in Exodus does not mean that the patriarchs did not use the name of Jehovah at all, but that it was a name with no particular fulness of meaning. Excepting this one place, the name of the Deity everywhere is either El or Elohim, with the article prefixed only on special occasions (see Notes on Genesis 45:8Genesis 46:3). Very probably Joseph had left memorials of his life behind him, in which naturally he used only the general term God. In framing these into a history, the writer carefully shows that it was the covenant Jehovah who guarded and kept His innocent worshipper.

Prosperous.—Heb., causing to prosper. Joseph brought a blessing with him to his master’s house. (See Genesis 39:3, where the same word is translated made to prosper.)

In the house.—Slaves generally were bought for the hard work of the field, but Potiphar assigned to Joseph the lighter home service, because perhaps of his youth and comeliness.

The note above makes a long comment regarding the use of the names for God and argues in particular that the precise use of Jehovah/Yahweh in the Joseph section implies the authorship of Moses. This is something we will keep an eye on through th rest of the Book. Returning to The Pulpit Commentaries for verse 3:

Genesis 39:3

And his master saw that the Lord (Jehovah) was with him—this does not imply that Potiphar was acquainted with Jehovah, but simply that he concluded Joseph to be under the Divine protection—and that the Lord (Jehovah) made all that he did to prosper in his hand. That which led to the conviction of Potiphar concerning Joseph was the remarkable success which he saw attending all his efforts and undertakings.

I think it’s important to pay attention to the character of Joseph in the changing circumstances he faces. He was the favorite son of his father, a slave, and then such a good slave that he is elevated. It would be easy for Joseph to conclude – in this moment – that the evil which he has faced is now being used for good. That is certainly possible. His faithfulness proves to be exceptional as things go bad for him again in the next section of verses and he continues to be blessed. But before we get there, we can finish out this section and how things are going well. From Ellicott in verse 4:

(4) He served him.—Rather, he ministered to him (Numbers 3:6), as the word is used not so much of work as of office. So in Genesis 40:4, it is used of the attendance of Joseph upon the chief butler and baker in prison. His office is explained more exactly in the next verse, where we read that “he made him overseer,” or his deputy. In the Egyptian monuments we often find an overseer with writing materials keeping an account of all expenditure and of the labour done.

This verse explains the nature of Joseph’s promotion within Potiphar’s house. Finishing out the section in The Pulpit Commentaries and verse 5:

Genesis 39:5

And it same to pass from the time that he had made (literally, from that time he madehim overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that (literally, and) the Lord (Jehovah) blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake (cf. Genesis 30:12); and the blessing of the Lord (Jehovah) was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field. It is observable that throughout this chapter, when the historian is speaking in his own name the term Jehovah is used to designate the Supreme Being (cf. Genesis 39:21Genesis 39:23), whereas when Joseph replies to his mistress it is the word Elohim which he employs, the reason of which is sufficiently obvious.

Again take note, from the comment above, the way in which the name for God is used in this section with Joseph.

Despite making the best of his unjust enslavement, Joseph is once again about to be the victim of unjust treatment. We’ll cover that in the next section.