Genesis (Part 177)

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

Genesis 39:6-10

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. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” 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. 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.

I can imagine being Joseph. He’s gone through this horrible betrayal, from his own brothers, and he might now finally be making sense of it by telling himself “God has allowed this to happen so that this good thing can happen in Potiphar’s house.” Then that goes awry and he has to recalibrate. We’ll focus on how things began to go awry here. We hear about the good that is happening for Joseph in the note from The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 39:6And (accordingly, encouraged by the admirable success attending Joseph’s management) he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand (i.e. gave him unrestricted control over all his temporal affairs); and he knew not ought he had (literally, he knew not anything with him, i.e. he shared not the care of anything along with him), save the bread which he did eat. This was necessitated by the laws of caste which then prevailed among the Egyptians, and in particular’ by the fact that ” the Egyptians might not eat with the Hebrews (Genesis 43:32). And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favored—literally, beautiful is form and beautiful in appearance, like his mother Rachel (Genesis 29:17).

The note explains why Potiphar has the lone exception of Joseph’s food, when it comes to those things over which he pays attention to regarding his slave. We meet the looming trouble in verse 7, though. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(7) His master’s wife.—Egyptian women did not live in seclusion, nor did they go veiled. (See Genesis 12:13; Rawlinson, Hist. Ancient Egypt, i. 552.) The story of an innocent youth calumniated by an unchaste woman whom he has repulsed, became a favourite subject with classical authors, as in the myths of Bellerophon and Anteia, Hippolytus and Phaedra, and others. The Egyptians had a favourite popular romance of this kind, called “The Two Brothers,” in which the wife of the elder brother Anpu behaves towards Bata, the younger, in exactly the same way as Potiphar’s wife towards Joseph. See Records of the Past, ii. 139-152.

The Pulpit Commentaries seem to agree with the characterization of Egyptian women presented by Ellicott:

Genesis 39:7

And it came to pass after these things,—Joseph had by this time been nearly ten years in Potiphar’s house (vide Genesis 41:46)—that his master’s wife cast her eyes (lasciviously) upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. According to monumental evidence and historical testimony (Herod; 2.111), Egyptian females, even though married, were distinguished for licentiousness and immorality, and were not condemned to live in seclusion (Bohlen), but were allowed freely to mix in promiscuous society, which facts perfectly account for Joseph’s temptation by his mistress.

I’m interested in the “monumental evidence” as stated in the note, which makes reference to the writings of Herodotus.

Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 39:8Genesis 39:9

But he refused,—”it may be that the absence of personal charms facilitated Joseph’s resistance (Kalisch); but Joseph assigns a different reason for his noncompliance with her utterly immoral proposition—and said unto his master’s wife,—”for her unclean solicitation he returneth pure and wholesome words” (Hughes)—Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house (literally, knoweth not, along with me, what is in the house)and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand, (literally, and all that is to him he hath given to or placed in my hand); there is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin (cf. Gen 20:6; 2 Samuel 12:13Psalms 51:4 for the estimate of this act taken by God and good men) against God?—Elohim, since Jehovah would have been unintelligible to a heathen woman.

Joseph remains pure in heart throughout his ordeals and despite his circumstances. It was also almost certainly true that though Egyptian women may or may not have had a reputation for immorality, there was almost certainly a lot of danger to be found from Potiphar if Joseph had complied with her advances.

Verse 10 concludes the set-up of the circumstances before the drama really unfolds in the next section of verses. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 39:10

And it came to pass, as she spake—or, though she spake (Kalisch)—to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her (a euphemistic expression), or to be with her.

Joseph remains pure and continues to deny the advances of Potiphar’s wife.