Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
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. 13 And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, 14 she called to the men of her household and said to them, “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.” 16 Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, 17 and she told him the same story, saying, “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.”
Spurned, Potiphar’s wife decides to falsely accuse Joseph of doing with/to her what she was trying to do with/to him. (It is interesting how often people of low character accuse others of doing what they themselves are doing.) Picking up with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary in verse 11:
(11) To do his business.—That is, to attend to his ordinary duties as steward. The absence of all men from the house is explained by the supposition that it was a festival; but as she called to them (Genesis 39:14) it seems as if they were engaged in their several departments close by.
The note explains why Joseph and Potiphar’s wife ended up alone in the house together. This is the day when everything that seemed to be going well for Joseph stops going well. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And it came to pass about this time (literally, at this day, i.e. it one day happened), that Joseph went into the house to do his business (i.e. to attend to his accustomed duties); and there was none of the men of the house there within (or, in the hour). And she caught him by his garment (this was probably the long loose robe or mantle, with short sleeves, used in Oriental full dress), saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out—literally, and went forth into the place without, i.e. out of the house and into the street.
The note tells us that Joseph was wearing a loose fitting outer garment and that he abandoned it in his haste to flee. Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries:
And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand (a very indiscreet act on the part of Joseph, considering the possible use that might be made of it), and was fled forth, that she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in (literally, one has brought in, the subject of the verb being indefinite) an Hebrew (literally, a man, an Hebrew) unto us to mock us (the verb עָחַק, from which comes Isaac, is here used in a bad sense; not the same as in Genesis 26:8); he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice: and it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me (literally, by my side), and fled, and got him out (or, went forth into the street, et supra).
I always wondered about whether the servants she speaks with believe her. It seems plausible to me that they did not, but that 1) none of them would be willing to say she is lying due to their relative positions, and 2) some or all of them may have been jealous of Joseph’s elevated position within the household .
Ellicott notes that Potiphar’s wife blames her husband for this.
(14) He hath brought in.—The wife ascribes it as a fault to Potiphar, that, by buying a foreign slave, he had exposed her to insult. And so in Genesis 39:17.
The actual insult she is feeling is likely the feeling of her advances being rejected by Joseph. Not only does she accuse Joseph of what she herself was doing, she blames her husband for it. There’s a lot of complicated psychology at play in this story.
Returning to the text with The Pulpit Commentaries:
And she laid up his garment by her (literally, by her side), until his lord came home (literally, until the coming of his lord to his house). And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us (here she charges her husband with being indirectly at least the cause of the alleged affront which had been put upon her), came in unto me to mock me:—”she seemed too modest to speak in plain terms of Joseph’s crime (Lawson)—and it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me and fled out (i.e. went forth into the street, ut supra).
This lie traps Joseph and I cannot help but wonder whether it traps Potiphar, too. Did he really believe that Joseph did this? Surely he knew something of his wife’s temperament. Nevertheless he likely really was angry and he very likely was angry at Joseph (if not for actually believing that he did this, but for putting him in the position to have to outwardly act as though he does.) Of course, Potiphar might have been a man who was oblivious to his own wife’s potential machinations, too, and may genuinely have believed her story. As I said above, there is a lot of complicated human psychology at play within this story.
In any event, Joseph was sold into slavery by brothers (despite doing nothing wrong) has now been accused of sexual assault by a woman who was trying to sleep with him. This is a genuine test of his character.
I’ve included a link HERE to a study on Potiphar’s wife from chabad.org. The teaching caught my eye because it is titled “Desperate Egyptian Housewives.” It’s lengthy but worth watching .
In the next section, Joseph’s circumstances again seem to get worse despite his innocence.