Tempted, But Without Sin

Genesis 39

There was once an old pastor who ministry was mostly among sailors. One day, he met a man in public life who had got himself involved in a corrupt entanglement. The pastor rebuked him. The man responded, “But, pastor, you don’t know what the outside pressure was.” “Outside pressure,” came the indignant response, “outside pressure! Where were your inside braces?” Alexander Maclaren said “People read us a good deal more than they read the Bible.” If people read that we have inside braces that can resist temptation when it comes our way, they will want to know why it is that we have those inner braces. However, if we look just like the world, then the world will not bother to read us at all. Joseph is an example to us of how to resist temptation, even though he is also more than that. A CAT scan of Joseph’s soul revealed no spiritual malignancies anywhere. Joseph shows us that our Savior must be one who resisted temptation, and succeeded against temptation, such that He was a perfect Lamb for us.

Joseph had been sold as a slave to Potiphar, an Egyptian officer. The NIV says that Potiphar was a captain of the guard. More likely Potiphar was a leader of the cooks, or butchers. He was an important man, with servants of his own besides Joseph. This shows Potiphar to be a man of substance and standing in the court of Egypt.
The text says in verse 2 that the Lord was with Joseph, and made everything that he did prosper. This reminds us of Psalm 1, where the righteous is like a tree planted by streams of water, and everything he does the Lord will prosper, and make him succeed. Joseph succeeded so much that Potiphar saw the value of this man very clearly. In fact, Potiphar promoted him to be the ruler of his entire household. Joseph was so good at what he did, that Potiphar had no concern in his household, but what he should eat (vs. 6).

However, Joseph perhaps had one endowment too many. He was extremely handsome in appearance. The words used to describe Joseph’s appearance are only used in one other place in Scripture: in the description of Rachel, Joseph’s mother. Plainly then, Joseph had received his good looks from his mother.

But this one endowment too many had a downside: it made him a target for Potiphar’s wife. Verse 6 probably indicates that Potiphar didn’t spend much time with his wife. And so she was looking for something better.
She found it in Joseph. Her command is very short and to the point. She commands, and expects instant obedience. But in this case, she is mistaken, for Joseph must obey God rather than man, or woman, in this case. But her tempting of Joseph was by no means easy to resist.

Hughes says this: “What an insidious temptation. Joseph was 17 or 18 years old (cf. 37:2), and his hormones were at full force; so he brimmed with sexual curiosity and drive. The rationalizations were so easy and logical. No one would ever know. His family would certainly never find out. They were on the other side of the Sinai and beyond. Moreover, Joseph was a slave. His life was not his own. Sexual promiscuity was a daily part of all slave holding households. Besides, by giving in to Mrs. Potiphar’s wishes, he could enhance his career. This is a time-honored political strategy. What is so wrong with a little “strategic adultery” if it furthers the cause? And face it, old Potiphar was gone all the time and was not meeting his wife’s needs. She was entitled to a little caring affection. This would actually be the loving thing to do. In today’s terms, the situation demanded this ethic. Even more, who could blame him? It was in his blood. Just look at his brothers Reuben and Judah! And again, not a soul would ever know.” How tempting it would be to let go just this once! And yet, Joseph gives her a very reasonable response. Joseph does not preach to her, actually, but tells her why he cannot do these things. Notice that he starts with what he considers to be her best interests, and then moves on to those considerations which are his highest goals. First he starts with the fact that Potiphar has nothing to worry about. Then he mentions that Potiphar has put everything under his control. Then finally, he mentions the number one reason why he cannot do this thing: it would be a great wickedness against God. He says, “how could I commit such a great sin against God?” A weak man here would have said, “how can I not sin when the temptation is so strong?”

She was not convinced by this argumentation, since she was literally hell-bent on getting Joseph. She continually tempted Joseph. The text says “day by day.” She continually faced Joseph with this temptation. It is no small credit to Joseph’s holiness that he was able to resist for so long. It is true, however, that Joseph knew that even if he gave in, he could still wind up in prison, only if that were the case, he would also have forfeited God’s god opinion of him.

However, the day came when she had the perfect opportunity to try something a little more drastic. She risked an all or nothing assault on Joseph. Interestingly, this incident shows that it was Potiphar’s wife who was really the one enslaved, not Joseph. Joseph was free, and in command of everything that belonged to Potiphar. However, she was a slave to her own lust. But Joseph did the admirable thing: he fled from her presence. This is what we all should do when the temptations become violent: we should flee them. As Paul told Timothy: flee youthful lusts. Flee temptation. We are not to stand and fight against such strong temptations as this. There are other temptations that God will enable us to withstand. However, there are some that we are not capable of withstanding. In those cases, God is looking for a few good cowards! That’s right: a few good cowards. We are not to stand and fight a superior foe, but to fall back to our mighty fortress, Jesus Christ, and let Him do the heavy lifting.

Of course, when something like that happens, the Christian will often be accused of something that they did not commit. Satan is the great accuser. He accused Jesus of blasphemy, when Jesus was innocent. Satan accused Joseph, through Potiphar’s wife, of molesting Potiphar’s wife. Potiphar’s wife cleverly gets the servants to side with her, though it is clear that they could not have known anything. She uses the tactic of hating the foreigner, mentioning his Hebrew nationality, so that they would be angry that an outsider had such privilege, and had abused it. But when she tells Potiphar about Joseph, she puts some of the blame on him. She says that it was Potiphar, after all, who had brought this man into the house.

Potiphar becomes very angry. However, the usual assumption that he is angry at Joseph is probably a bit premature. If Potiphar was really and truly angry at Joseph, he would have executed him on the spot, and been perfectly within his rights to do so. Rather, he puts Joseph in prison, and not just any prison, but the prison where the king’s prisoners were kept. This was a much better place than where the other prisoners were kept. In fact, he gives Joseph the lightest possible sentence. So Potiphar was actually angry at the whole situation: angry that he would lose Joseph, one of the best servants he had ever had; angry that he cannot prove his wife wrong, since he probably knows her tendency to lie; and angry at his wife for creating this situation. At any rate, he is not especially angry at Joseph. But since he could not prove his wife wrong, he had Joseph locked up. He had to save face for his wife, even if he believed that she was lying.

However, even with Joseph in the pit of prison, God was with him. As Corrie Ten Boom says, “There is no pit, but that God is deeper still.” In the humiliation of the prison, however, Joseph is seasoned so that he is later able to endure being placed in an exalted position without danger of falling into conceit. So we see there the reason why God put Joseph through all of these trials. He is forging a savior for the world.

In the same, God forged Jesus Christ in the heat of trial, in order to be the Savior of the world. Jesus had to be tempted, so that He would be without sin. That means that Jesus Christ is our great high priest. He is perfect.
So, do you want inner braces? Then look to Jesus Christ. He will supply you with all you need.