Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. I Cor. 4:2
If there is one criterion for anyone who is hired to handle a great deal of money or oversee the finances of some important corporation it is that he must be trustworthy. In a day of rank dishonesty, swindling of accounts, and embezzlement of funds a faithful, honest man is of infinite value. Even after a corporation has scrupulously screened its potential candidates with character references, lie detector tests, and the most refined selection processes, how can it ever be certain that a man is wholly trustworthy?
It must strike the Genesis reader that no other Bible character so closely approaches the high standard of moral uprightness and faithfulness required of the God-fearing man than Joseph. Not even the patriarchs themselves could equal him in this capacity. Perhaps he did not evidence the spectacular faith of an Abraham sacrificing his only son on Mt. Moriah; perhaps he lacked the prophetic value of an Isaac when he was old and his eyes were dim; perhaps he fell short of the wonderful power of prayer of a Jacob at Jabbok; but neither did he suffer from their deceitfulness and lies so that at times one experiences a sense of disappointment in these church fathers.
In Ephesians 6:6 and 7 the Apostle Paul gives guidance for the conduct of servants that they are to discharge their duties to their masters on earth as in view of their Master in heaven “with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.”
No man was more faithful in exemplifying this rule of conduct than young Joseph. And it was because Joseph was a servant of the God of his illustrious forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-rather than merely a servant of Potiphar-that he was so conscientious and discreet. two qualities pleasing to God in any occupation. In Joseph’s rapid rise from shackled servant to steward in Potiphar’s house, his irreproachable conduct and honest demeanor prompted Potiphar to give over all his affairs to this foreign slave from Canaan. Scripture states clearly that Potiphar did not know or even concern himself any longer with anything that went on in his great important household except the daily meal which went into his mouth. He had perfect trust in Joseph who had arrived in his household as a lad of about seventeen years.
It was only on account of Joseph’s virtue, diligence, and faithfulness that God blessed the household of Potiphar. Potiphar himself recognized the supernatural force which made everything prosper in the hands of this Hebrew lad. “And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hands” Genesis 39:3. Some older versions of the Bible give a curious, however colorful, translation here: “The Lord was with Joseph; and he was a luckie fellow” (F.B. Meyer, Joseph, p. 26). Potiphar saw (to his benefit) that the Lord was with Joseph, but Joseph freely acknowledged it too, “God did send me hither. . .” Genesis 45:8.
And so, for a time, all seemed to be going well for the trustworthy young slave from Canaan. His inherent character shone as the sun in the godless house of Potiphar. Everyone was only too happy to have an overseer who was industrious, reliable, and diligent. Who could find any fault with a man who did his work thoroughly in the spirit of true godly labor? Nor did Joseph trudge despondently around Potiphar’s house putting in the minimal amount of service to avoid the whistle of the whip around his ears: but rather he gave service to his earthly lord, Potiphar, with an eye to pleasing his heavenly Lord, Jesus Christ. What a difference that makes even today in how one does his duties-are you pacifying your boss, or are you with singleness of heart pleasing your Father in heaven? “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh. . .in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” Colossians 3:22 and 23. The motive that inspires our work will bear fruit in the manner we carry out that task. Joseph did not bewail his lot in life, shedding useless tears over the former good years he had spent in his father’s tents (even though it appears that he was greatly spoiled and shown deference to), but manfully he immersed himself in his work in the most menial of tasks, promoting Potiphar’s household -for which he probably received not one shekel remuneration. Joseph was faithful to Potiphar “with no string attached”, convicted that God had placed him where he was.
Who of us is not familiar with the sordid scene of Potiphar’s wife turned temptress? Her “lie with me” turns the hardest heart to putty. For Joseph this was a temptation accompanied by opportunity. To please her would certainly serve his advancement; to cross her would surely place his exalted position and hopes in jeopardy. But Joseph’s moral caliber and godly character caused him to resist temptation and sacrifice advancement (perhaps even freedom, which Potiphar’s wife could surely have influenced). He tries to dissuade her from her infamous proposal by three arguments:
- He urges her to remember that she is the master’s wife! She should not forget who she is -she is no common Egyptian whore.
- He shrinks from repaying his master, who trusts him implicitly, with such a vile and evil deed.
- In words immemorial he pleads, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”
We must remember, too, that Potiphar’s wife’s proposition was not a one time, “heat of the moment” enticement. She enticed Joseph day after day. “And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her. . .” Genesis 39:l0. Finally, the day comes when, although circumspect in all his comings and goings, Joseph cannot escape the trap she lays for him and he is forced to run from the house-leaving his garment in her traitorous hands.
So what did Joseph gain by his integrity and his resistance to his master’s wife’s shameless proposals? In the next scene we find the once faithful steward a lowly prisoner in Potiphar’s dungeon. How painful it must have been for Joseph (as it is for us who read this vivid account) to be innocently maligned, helpless to vindicate his position. How fruitless his faithfulness must have seemed to him as he lay in the dark, fetid air of Potiphar ‘s dungeon. To use Joseph’s own words, “I have done nothing that they should put me into this hole.” But his trust in God was never shaken by this great wrong done to him.
Potiphar, as Captain of the Guard, is considered by some Biblical scholars to have been Pharaoh’s royal executioner. As such, he had total power of life and death in his hands. It is even claimed that the dungeon into which Joseph was put was on Potiphar’s premises. If so, it occurs to me that for the criminal act of raping his wife, Potiphar should have quickly killed Joseph. In fact, I don’t think Potiphar ever believed his wife, and rather than send an innocent and wholly trustworthy man to his death, he sends Joseph instead to the prison house. Potiphar’s irresponsible act of throwing an innocent man into prison was an act of “saving face.” Potiphar knew the intrinsic goodness of his faithful steward as compared with the deceit, guile, and impudence of his capricious Egyptian wife. Not for a moment did he believe her tale. But he had to save face for her too; so to the dungeon with Joseph. His decision to punish Joseph but spare his life bears close resemblance to a later decision of Pilate’s, who, convinced that Christ had done no wrong, appeals to the Jewish mob, “I will therefore chastise him and release — – him” Luke 23:16.
In the prison house Joseph immediately put his talents to use, making himself invaluable to the keeper of the prison. It would seem that Joseph was at first cruelly treated in prison for Psalm 105:18 says, “Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron.” It could not have been of long duration, however, for the keeper of the prison was undoubtedly previously acquainted with Joseph as manager of Potiphar’s household. Soon the keeper of the prison came to admire Joseph for the same qualities for which Potiphar had promoted him, and Joseph was advanced to the responsible position of which Genesis 39:22 and 23 speaks.
His new responsibility as manager of the prison was an important one for it was in this prison house that the offenders from Pharaoh’s court were detained. Yet the keeper came to rely fully on Joseph’s integrity and trustworthiness so that Joseph directed and oversaw how everything in the prison was to be carried out and all the prisoners were committed to his faithful oversight. How wonderful are God’s ways! Joseph had opportunity to become acquainted with Egyptian culture and court life during his confinement in prison. The imprisoned court magnates under his supervision must have talked freely to Joseph so that he learned much about politics, economics and trade, which in God’s plan would be very useful to him in his future career as Prime Minister of all Egypt. Joseph is being fitted for Pharaoh’s courts in the unlikely dungeon of Potiphar! God’s ways are past finding out -only like Joseph, trust him in everything. How was Joseph to know that for the wisdom. tact, and discretion necessary to bring the great nation of Egypt through a horrible crisis God was providing training in the dungeon? Even though Joseph enjoyed a certain amount of liberty in Potiphar’s prison, the clank of the fetters reminded him daily that he was a prisoner still.
It would take another sovereign act of God to bring Joseph out of prison and into the second most important position in Egypt’s land. And so we find Joseph interpreting the butler’s dream. Again we are impressed with Joseph’s faithful character. In his poignant plea to the butler to show kindness to him when he is restored to his position as Pharaoh’s cup bearer, he makes no attempt to clear himself by implicating others. He does not accuse Potiphar’s wife nor does he blame his brothers who sold him into Egypt, but says simply, “For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon” Genesis 40:15. Such a “covering of sins” pays big dividends for Joseph’s brothers in the end, for it is debatable whether Pharaoh would have been favorably disposed towards Joseph’s brethren had their earlier deeds of treachery to Joseph come to his knowledge.
Indeed, Abraham stands foremost on faith’s pinnacles, but Joseph stands preeminent for unfaltering faithfulness, steadfast principles, and trustworthiness. His father Jacob’s often unwise partiality towards him did not in the long run spoil him; the betrayal by his brothers did not embitter him nor cause him to lose heart; and Egypt’s allurements did not lead him astray. His own heart being without guile, he saw it not in his brothers. Whether he was in charge of finances. the lives of other men, or courtly decorum, he undertook his duties with meticulous fidelity. In every new position in which he was placed, he put his trust in God, showing faithfulness first of all to Him and then fidelity to all men, so that profane men in a debauched nation were forced to acknowledge his integrity and reliability. In sore trial as well as high honor he was faithful.
In Scripture’s detailed narrative of Joseph, we are impressed with his complete dependence upon and acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty in all his affairs. When Potiphar’s wife seduces him. he answers, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” Genesis 39:9. When the butler and the baker relate their dreams, Joseph replies, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” Genesis 40:8. When Joseph has opportunity to “toot his own horn” to Pharaoh, he humbly, but forthrightly declares. “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace” Genesis 41:16. His message to his aged father contains no words of self-commendation. but rather, “Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt” Genesis 45:9. Even in the naming of his sons he calls his ever-faithful God to remembrance (Genesis 41:51, 52). And who can read with dry eyes his words: “I am Joseph your brother. . .be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life . . .and God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance” Genesis 45:4-7. When father Joseph died and the brothers quaked with fear that now Joseph might retaliate. he assures them, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good. . . . Genesis 50:20. But it is Joseph’s dying words which place him forever in the annals of history (Hebrews 11): “God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence” Genesis 50:25.
Concerning Joseph, we can only echo Hebrews 11. “These all died in faith”, faithful!
As Joseph’s coat of many colors, once blood-stained and torn! was exchanged for a robe of fine linen, and his shackles of iron replaced with a chain of finely-wrought gold, so the faithful among us will be given the glorious apparel of Jesus Christ.
Peter tells us how we should act toward those who wrong and persecute us. When you are treated badly, he says, you should do good. When you are reviled and cursed, you should bless. . .O Lord God, how rare such Christians are!
Martin Luther (on I Peter 3:9)