Whatever else we might think about Joseph’s “tattling” on his brothers (Genesis 37:2), his inability to keep his mouth shut, or his obvious lack of diplomacy, when we pick up his story again in Genesis 39, we find him a young man of impeccable ability and character.
He is but a youth, in his late teens or perhaps twenty when he becomes Potiphar’s slave but it isn’t long before he has distinguished himself as a young man of uncommon ability and trustworthy. Potiphar, is an important man with great responsibilities, but he entrusts everything he owns to Joseph’s care – an amazing position for a young man.
Sexual favors were expected of slaves in the ancient world – it was one of the reasons to have them. But Joseph’s ethics were not ordinary. To sleep with his master’s wife was to engage in wickedness and bring disgrace on God and so, when Mrs. Potiphar made her amorous overtures toward him, he refused.
She could have been critical of Joseph, that he had not been an obedient slave, but to do so would have revealed his rejection of her and her vanity would not have allowed that. So . . . she accused him of rape.
With whom was Potiphar angry? Perhaps with them both, but I suspect it was aimed more at his wife. Joseph, as a slave, should have been killed on the spot. But he isn’t. Remember that Potiphar is the “captain of the guard,” in charge of the prison where people of royal distinction are kept. Joseph, though a prisoner, is still in Potiphar’s house (40:3).
Two things stand out to me about this story: First, Joseph’s high standard of conduct. It’s not every young man (not even most young men) who would have acted as he did. Considering that his father was somewhat of a scoundrel, I wonder where he learned such behavior?
Second, God was with him – a fact made eminently clear by specifically mentioning the fact seven times in twenty three verses.
Was God with him because of his character, or did he behave well because he knew God was with him? Job’s friends would have maintained the latter. Joseph might have wondered about the former during all the hard years of service he went through. But the clear point is that one’s character, and God’s presence, go together.