By David Baumann
A Reading from Genesis 39:1-23
1 Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 5 From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. 6 So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.
Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. 7 And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. 9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” 10 And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. 11 One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, 12 she caught hold of his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. 13 When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, 14 she called out to the members of her household and said to them, “See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; 15 and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.” 16 Then she kept 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 insult me; 18 but as soon as I raised my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.”
19 When his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, saying, “This is the way your servant treated me,” he became enraged. 20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. 22 The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.
Back with Jacob and his family, years pass and life goes on. Benjamin becomes the new favorite son, overprotected by his anguished father. The ten brothers continue to graze the flocks. We can only guess at their memories of the time they sold one, whom they had described as their “own flesh and blood,” into slavery to Midianites, also distant relatives and descendants of Abraham. One can only guess at Joseph’s last tormenting sight of his hard-faced brothers, and of his state of mind as he was taken to Egypt.
But we needn’t guess at how he handled his completely unforeseen new situation. He served his master Potiphar well. Given the opportunity, Joseph’s latent skills in administration flourished. We are told in today’s lesson six times that “the Lord was with Joseph” and gave him success in all that he did. The naïve 17-year-old who had described his strange dreams to his already-troubled family, quickly becomes, in slavery, thoroughly devoted to the God of the Hebrews. He is trustworthy and effective as Potiphar’s factotum, and rejects the repeated advances of his master’s wife, which he describes to her as “a wicked thing” and a “sin against God.” When he is falsely accused and put in prison, he continues his fidelity to God, and again finds success in all that he does. As he had served Potiphar, so now he serves the warden of the prison, and does so excellently. He has learned to be faithful to God in all circumstances, and shows no anxiety. Apart from father and family, he knows he is still under the care of God, and he thrives. His witness is potent and compelling that when we are suffering terribly, God is still present and almighty if we but continue to trust in him. He may even use it to mature us.
David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield; he retired last year. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro – The Anglican Church of Tanzania
The Diocese of Southwest Florida