Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Potiphar’s Ire and Joseph’s Imprisonment - Genesis 39:19-20


Now it came about when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, “This is what your slave did to me”; that his anger burned. So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail.

Do you ever get a story from a relative about another person that just makes your blood boil? That happened to Potiphar when he came home to find his wife holding on to Joseph’s garment and telling him he tried to rape her. Although it depends on who is doing the telling, we normally buy into the story right away. Potiphar did just that, but as we know, he was wrong.

When something which at first appears a little unbelievable is told to us, it would be wise for us to pause and consider what is being said; who is saying it; why are they saying it; and what we personally know concerning the person it is said about. We need to verify it against our own knowledge and understanding and to the best of our ability, against the facts. Perhaps we would be wise also to check it with the person who may be the subject of the news.

We often fail to do so. That gets us into problems with family, with friends, and if the truth be known, with those other brothers and sisters that we worship with. Making the practice of not doing this kind of verifying starts at an early age (I have seen it in my grandchildren) and unless parents take the time to help children work out and correct the reality, it will go unchecked right into adulthood.

Of course, there are always clues along the way that should cause us to think there might be another side to any bit of surprising news. In Potiphar’s case, he may have been more sensitive and tuned in to the kind of wife he had or the feelings she was experiencing at the time. Or, he may have paid more attention to the fact that her story may not have been as accurate, given that she used it as another opportunity to blame him for all her problems. But he missed both of these clues.

Behaving true to his normal pattern, he instead reacted with himself in mind. After all, to Potiphar life was all indeed about him. So he feels very betrayed by Joseph and thus the text says ‘anger burned’ inside him. He may also have realized that now he would be ridiculed by those who had opposed his decision to trust Joseph as he had. So he acts and he acts in a most definitive way. Our first lesson here is to not act hastily as Potiphar did. There is no enquiry, no cross-examination, no opportunity for Joseph to tell his story. He is once again treated, without notice, like a simple valueless slave.

But there is also a lesson for us if when we feel like Joseph, the one lied about, the one not listened to, the one discarded like a slave who no longer had any purpose. You see Potiphar throws Joseph in jail with no word as to how long his sentence would last. For all we know, he was there to die. But here’s the interesting thing – Joseph got thrown into the jail that also housed the prisoners of the king himself. We cannot fully appreciate the significance of this bit of information until we finish the story of Joseph in the Bible, but suffice it to say, God had His hand in the selection of the jail Potiphar used.

I love the last phrase of verse 20. It simply reads, “and he was there in jail” period. The story could have ended there – “starry-eyed Israelite dreamer boy ends up as a big shot in Egypt but left to die in the king’s prison. Next story please.” But no, because the very next word, the first word of the very next verse, verse 20, is, once again, my favorite word in Scripture – “But”!

Where are you today? Were you a person with big dreams that somehow just got the bad breaks of life or had other people take advantage of you? Have you somehow ended up in a spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, or social prison? You need not be alone. You need to know that God has indeed reserved one or more of my favorite words just for your life. You need to know that He is willing and able to change things starting right now if you let Him, if you recognize that your only hope is “But God!” I pray you will be able to do that today.

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