Genesis (Part 179)

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

Genesis 39:19-23

19 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. 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.


Joseph is an example of a person who is never buried by circumstances. He is planted in new circumstances. In this section, he transitions from being in charge of Potiphar’s household to being in charge of the prison. Starting with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 39:19

And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner (literally, according to these words) did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled. A papyrus consisting of nineteen pages of ten lines of hieratic writing (purchased from Madame D’Orbiney, and presently in the British Museum), belonging probably to the nineteenth dynasty, contains a tale of two brothers, in which incidents occur very similar to those here narrated. While the two are ploughing in the field, the elder sends the younger brother, who appears to have acted in the capacity of general superintendent, to fetch seed from the house. “And the younger brother found the wife of the elder sitting at her toilet.” …. “And she spoke to him, saying, What strength there is in thee! Indeed I observe thy vigor every day. Her heart knew him She seized upon him, and said to him, Come, let us lie down for an instant. Better for thee … beautiful clothes.” “The youth became like a panther with fury on account of the shameful discourse which she had addressed to him. And she was alarmed exceedingly.”… “Her husband returned home at evening, according to his daily wont. He came to the house, and he found his wife lying as if murdered by a ruffian.” Inquiring the reason of her distress, he is answered as Potiphar was answered by his deceitful spouse. “And the elder brother became like a panther; he made his dagger sharp, and took it in his hand”.

This commentary note recounts a similar story recorded in a papyrus located now in the British Museum. Continuing on, Ellicott’s Bible Commentary records a note on Joseph’s imprisonment from verse 20:

(20) Prison.—Heb., sohar. This word occurs in the Bible only in this and the next chapter, but in the Talmud it is used for a walled prison. It is supposed to mean a round or arched tower. As the king’s prisoners were confined there, it was a portion of Potiphar’s official residence, as he was captain of the royal bodyguard (see Genesis 40:3); but we learn that it had its own keeper, though Potiphar was the chief in command (Genesis 40:4). The Jewish commentators consider that Potiphar did not really believe the accusation, or he would certainly have put Joseph to death. We learn, however, from Psalms 105:18, that his treatment in the prison at first was very severe; but as Potiphar, in Genesis 40:4, is said to have entrusted Joseph with the charge of the chief butler and baker, he must soon have been convinced of his innocence.

This note reflects a speculation I had in the previous section study. Did Potiphar really believe his wife? Or was it that her public accusation forced his hand with Joseph?

The note mentions, though, that Psalm 105 recounts a certain amount of physical torture endured by Joseph, in the prison, before his ascension. It may be though that this punishment was the way to avoid killing a man Potiphar valued and believed innocent. Continuing on, with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 39:21

But (even if Joseph was harshly treated in the tower of Heliopolis) the Lord—Jehovah (vide on Genesis 39:5)—was with Joseph (vide Genesis 39:2), and showed him mercy (literally, extended kindness unto him)and gave him favor in the eyes of the keeper (or captain) of the prison (or round house).

Genesis 39:22Genesis 39:23

And the keeper of the prison (captain of the round house, or chief officer of the tower) committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it—literally, and all that they (the prisoners) were doing there, he was the person doing it, or attending to it; i.e. the keeper gave him charge to see that the prisoners obeyed whatever orders were issued for their regulation; and, having implicit confidence in Joseph’s probity, the keeper of the prison looked not to anything that was under (or in) his hand (i.e. he did not trouble himself about anything entrusted to Joseph); because the Lord (Jehovah) was with him, and that which he did, the Lord (Jehovah) made it to prosper.

Just as Joseph was elevated to being second in command of Potiphar’s household, he elevates again within the prison to the position of being second in command. What we do not see in this interval, recorded in the text is what (if any) struggle Joseph endured concerning his faith. The wider perspective within the narrative of Joseph finding himself, punished upward, obscures our vision to that.

Perhaps there is something to learn of how God views people and situations in all of this.

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