We pick up the story of Joseph living in the Egyptian home of one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard. Pharaohs were believed to be the representatives of God on earth, so this is no meager position. Joseph arrived in Egypt with the Ishmaelites who had bought and taken him there. Potiphar purchased Joseph and because God showed him favour, Joseph became Potiphar’s personal attendant.
Genesis 39:2,5,6 “The Lord was with Joseph…The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So, he left in Joseph’s care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.”
As often happens when God is blessing and life is good, sin comes knocking at the door.
Genesis 39:6b-10 “Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.
Here is our first lesson in overcoming temptation: And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. Joseph walked away from the situation. Mrs. Potiphar was persistent. She was insistent. She was clear in her intentions and intended to have her way and every single day Joseph needed to call on God to give him the strength to walk away. It wasn’t only a moral issue; his life and service had been bought by this family, and they had the final say on both how and if he would live. Refusing her on moral grounds would please God but could very well cost Joseph his position of good standing as a slave. What does he do? He not only refused her daily advances (which is a tiring feat in itself) but refused to be with her at all. He removed himself from the situation.
Is there a situation you need to remove yourself from? For me, it is having tea with certain individuals. We meet innocently enough over coffee, but the discussion becomes either a gossip fest or a slam of what each husband does wrong. I may not be tempted to slam my husband but my ears do itch to hear the gossip even if my own lips are sealed. So, I need to refuse to even be with them.
As we will see, Mrs. Potiphar did not struggle with being a woman of ‘strength and aspiration’ and had no intention of taking no for an answer. We pick up the narrative in Genesis 39.
Genesis 39:11, 12 “One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.”
Here we have a second strategy for dealing with sin: flee!
Sometimes saying no, being persistent in doing good and holding the line are NOT the best line of defense. Sometimes you just have to flee. We would never let our children get too close to a fire because after all, there are blankets, buckets of water and even a fire extinguisher nearby. In our wisdom and experience we know how badly they could get burned despite the best intentions to intervene. Instead, we make them sit back, put up a fireguard such as a screen, make them sit with an adult or tell them they have lost the privilege because they are getting too close. In the same way, we cannot sit too close to the fire of sin and temptation despite all the safety implements at our disposal; prayer, God’s Word, the Holy Spirit within us, our knowledge of right and wrong. Sometimes, you just have to flee.
I remember my brother coming to my parents as a teenager. He told them he had a drug problem and wanted to be admitted to a rehab center. They had no idea! He wasn’t going to be found out. He had nothing to lose because no one suspected. In his words, he had put boundaries in place to avoid drug use and crossed those despite the best intentions. Now, he needed help to flee.
There is never any shame in admitting something is too hard and you need help to flee. In fact, the Bible encourages us to ‘confess our sins to one another,’ and to be there for each other. And this includes welcoming back the one who wasn’t wise enough to avoid the situation at all cost, the one who doesn’t flee.
James 5:20 “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
2 Corinthians 2:5-8 “If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.”
Resist. Avoid. Flee. Support others and reaffirm. Whether we are the one needing the help, or giving the help, together we stand stronger, and that is one of the purposes of the body of Christ. Let us take and practise this lesson from Joseph’s life.