Women of the Bible – Potiphar’s Wife

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Potiphar’s Wife

You will find her story in: Genesis 39

There’s a lot of bad women in the Bible. Jezebel comes to mind. Her name has become synonymous with a scheming and shamelessly evil woman. But, if I were handing out awards for the “Most Wicked Woman” in the Bible, I’d have to pick Athaliah – who kills her grandchildren so she can reign supreme as queen. (More on the two of them, later.) Potiphar’s wife would probably make the Bible Bad Girls Hall of Fame. While some of our biblical heroines sinned “helping out God,” Mrs. Potiphar is the first woman on record to sin for purely sensual reasons.

sensual [sen-shoo-uh l] adjective

  1. pertaining to, inclined to, or preoccupied with the gratification of the senses or appetites; carnal; fleshly.
  2. lacking in moral restraints; lewd or unchaste.
  3. arousing or exciting the senses or appetites.
  4. worldly; materialistic; irreligious.

Well, that about sums up Potiphar’s Wife. End of story.

Just kidding.

Seriously – after Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, he ends up a slave in the house of Potiphar, a high ranking Egyptian official. Even in the midst of slavery, God is with Joseph and made everything he did successful. Potiphar is no dummy. He notices that God is blessing Joseph and puts him in charge of his entire household. Enter the problem at hand:

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome. After some time his master’s wife looked longingly at Joseph and said, “Sleep with me.”

Talk to the Hand!

Contrast Joseph’s response to Judah in the story of Tamar. Judah easily gave in to lust and slept with a “prostitute.” Joseph said, “Talk to the hand!”

“Look,” he said to his master’s wife, “with me here my master does not concern himself with anything in his house, and he has put all that he owns under my authority. No one in this house is greater than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. So how could I do such a great evil and sin against God?”

Who are you sinning against?

Joseph knew that all sin is ultimately against God Himself. If he had given in to Mrs. P’s request Joseph would’ve committed a sin trifecta sinning against God, Potiphar and himself. Proverbs 5 – entitled “Avoid Seduction” in the Holman Christian Standard Bible – describes the hurt we do to our own self by giving in to sexual temptation:

My son, pay attention to my wisdom; listen closely to my understanding so that you may maintain discretion and your lips safeguard knowledge. Though the lips of the forbidden woman drip honey and her words are smoother than oil, in the end she’s as bitter as wormwood and as sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps head straight for Sheol. She doesn’t consider the path of life; she doesn’t know that her ways are unstable. 

So now, my sons, listen to me, and don’t turn away from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from her. Don’t go near the door of her house. Otherwise, you will give up your vitality to others and your years to someone cruel; strangers will drain your resources,and your earnings will end up in a foreigner’s house. At the end of your life, you will lament when your physical body has been consumed…

Why, my son, would you be infatuated with a forbidden woman or embrace the breast of a stranger? For a man’s ways are before the Lord’s eyes, and He considers all his paths. A wicked man’s iniquities entrap him;  he is entangled in the ropes of his own sin. He will die because there is no discipline, and be lost because of his great stupidity

Joseph’s Coat

To do his job, Joseph had to keep on going to Potiphar’s house and keep on encountering Potiphar’s Wife. She was persistent, you have to give her that. She spoke with Joseph “day after day.” Finally, one day she throws herself on him and begs him to sleep with her. He escapes leaving his coat in her hands.

Which brings us to an interesting point. Joseph’s coat is almost like a character in his story.

  • Jacob, Joseph’s father, gives his favorite son a “coat of many colors.” This induces jealousy in his older brothers.The jealousy leads to betrayal.
  • When Joseph’s brothers betray him by selling him to traders, they tear up his coat, put blood on it and lie to their father, telling him “Joseph must be dead.”
  • Now, Potiphar’s Wife keeps Joseph’s coat (which she tore off his body) and spins a passel of lies on how he tried to seduce her.

The Bible says Mrs. P sits down next to Joseph’s coat and waits for her husband to come home. Creepy. Really creepy. You can just imagine her muttering under her breath, stroking it, plotting her revenge. Tired Potiphar arrives home after a long day at work and is bombarded with her outrage. She’s quite the “Poti Mouth.”

Gien Karssen says: “She accused (Joseph) of the immorality she had intended to commit herself!  …she decided, without any scruples, to ruin his career and stain his good name.”

Potiphar has to punish Joseph or he’ll never get any peace at home for the rest of his married life. We can surmise, however, that there may have been some niggling doubts in Potiphar’s mind about the veracity of his wife’s tale. He could’ve just had Joseph killed. Instead, he sends him to prison.

How is Jesus involved in the story of Potiphar’s Wife?

We’ve already learned in Rachel’s story that Joseph is a Type of Christ. Jesus also said:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

“And the two become one flesh.” Here’s my theory: Every time you sleep with someone you are not married to, you become “one flesh.” So when you break up – which you inevitably will because without the covenant of marriage you are, frankly, just using each other to get what you want – when you walk away, you will tear apart the one flesh and leave a little piece of yourself behind in the process. If you repeatedly do this over and over and continue to fragment yourself, you no longer feel whole anymore. Little bits of your heart and soul are walking around in other people.

The only way to become whole again is to come to Jesus and let Him heal you and fill your empty places. Obeying the law of God is for our protection. He made us. He knows what’s best for us.

Questions to Ponder

  1. Temptation is a fact of life. Joseph ran when he was tempted. According to Proverbs 5 above, how can you avoid temptation, what are the results of giving in to temptation?
  2. How did wealth and idleness predispose Potiphar’s Wife to sin? Are you spoiled? Why or why not?
  3. How do you think Potiphar’s Wife felt when Joseph – years later – came to be the second most powerful man in the land of Egypt?

Prayer:

Lord, our society is a lot like the society Potiphar’s Wife lived in. You have given us so many blessings: Comfortable homes. Good food. Beautiful clothes. Peace. Joy. Grace. But still we want more, more, more. We are not content with the things we have. We don’t remember You have said the greatest blessing of all is that You will never leave us nor forsake us. Help us to remember that, Lord. Help us not to wander, to lust after what we cannot have. We have all we need in You. Amen.

The Bottom Line

Things I learned from Potiphar’s Wife: Idle hands ARE the devil’s workshop.

First posted March 19, 2016


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