The Point: It’s easier to resist temptation when you know what’s at stake.
Flee from Temptation: Genesis 39:3-12.
 His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.  So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.  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.  So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.  And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, "Lie with me."  But he refused and said to his master’s wife, "Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge.  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 can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?"  And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.  But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house,  she caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me." But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. [ESV]
[3-6] “Favored by God and man! This was Joseph’s story for the first eleven years of his life in Egypt. Note in verses 3-5 the emphasis upon what the Lord was doing in the life of Joseph: the Lord was with him … the Lord caused all that he did to succeed … Joseph found favor in his sight … the Lord blessed … the blessing of the Lord. But attention to the whole story compels us to acknowledge that Joseph’s circumstances did not continue along this line forever. Joseph pleased Potiphar. But unfortunately, he also pleased Potiphar’s wife, and the plans she had for him were neither God’s nor her husband’s. Up to this point it had been God first, followed by favor with man. But suddenly it was God or man, and Joseph, like all true men of God, determined to walk with God whatever it might cost him. Joseph pleased God even when that meant displeasing those who were around him. As long as you and I are in this world, we must serve God first and hope that in pleasing Him and receiving His blessings we also please men and women and find their favor. Joseph pursued this course and obtained this result for eleven years. But let us observe that there are times when it is not possible to serve or please both God and man. When that happens, we must be clear in our minds that we are to please God first of all and then actually choose for Him whatever the consequences. Joseph was unjustly slandered and wrongly imprisoned; for the space of two years he was forgotten. But he stood for God and was vindicated in due time. We need a generation of men and women like that today. We need Christians who serve humanity as they serve Jesus, but who serve Jesus above all and listen for His commendation: Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master [Matt. 25:23].” [Boice, pp. 906-911].
[7-12] “Joseph had come to a position of prominence in Potiphar’s house and was noticed after a while by Potiphar’s wife. The woman was of a kind who is out to ‘get her man’ regardless of whom he may be married to or of what his moral standards consist. This woman was covetous, for she took covetous notice of Joseph . She was shameless, for she accosted him directly: Lie with me . She was persistent and scheming, for she repeated her invitation more than once and even arranged to have the house empty of the other servants on the final occasion [11-12]. Joseph did not succumb to this temptation. He resisted her, first by words and then afterward by actual physical flight. In this he followed the injunction Paul was later to give to those in his day, saying, Flee from sexual immorality [1 Cor. 6:18]. There are several factors that made this temptation particularly dangerous and made Joseph’s victory all the more significant. First, it was a natural temptation in the sense that it appeared to a right and normal appetite. There is a valuable distinction at this point between temptations that are natural in the sense of appealing to a proper appetite and those that are unnatural. A temptation to murder is not natural. True, it is a natural outcome of the hostility to and hatred of others that lie not far below the surface of every human heart, but hostility and hatred are not in themselves either proper or natural. They are perversions through sin of what we were meant to be. Stealing is also unnatural in this sense, though it comes to sinful persons naturally. So is the giving of false testimony and the failure to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. But a temptation to sexual sin (as was the case here) is natural in the sense that it appeals to a right, proper, and even God-given appetite or desire. But notice: even though it was natural, it was not right in this case. To have yielded would have been sin; Joseph was right to turn from it. Joseph recognized that Potiphar’s wife was setting a natural instinct against purity and the revealed will of God. Sex is natural, but it is not to be indulged in under all circumstances or with all partners. It is a gift to be enjoyed within marriage, where it becomes a cement to bind the marriage together and permit two people to grow in the fullest measure of commitment to each other. Second, the temptation that Joseph faced was a strong temptation because it came to him when he was away from home. Why is it that professing Christian young people go away to college and there fall into living with a boyfriend or girlfriend, which they would never have done while at home? Why will a man on a business trip do what he would probably resist doing in his hometown? Why will Christians compromise their speech and actions at parties in a way that they would not in everyday circumstances? The reason is the individual’s low view of God. They may profess to believe in God and may actually think of themselves as good (or at least normal) Christians. But what they really have is a tribal view of God. They think of God as the god of their local family or hometown or workaday world, and not the one, universal God of all times and places. God is as much at the office party as He is in your workroom. He is as present in your college town as your hometown. God is omnipresent, present everywhere. Joseph had such a God, and it is that truth above all else that saved him in the evil day. He was not concerned with the so-called gods of Egypt. He served Jehovah! So he replied to Potiphar’s wife, How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? . The third factor that made this temptation so strong for Joseph is that it came from an important woman. She was a godless woman, of course, and wicked. Had she succeeded in seducing Joseph, it probably would have been neither the first nor the last of her extramarital affairs. But though godless and wicked, Mrs. Potiphar was nevertheless important as the world counts importance, and Joseph could not have failed to see that she would be as valuable an ally, if accepted, as she would be an enemy to be feared if he refused her. F. B. Meyer puts it like this: ‘It seemed essential to Joseph to stand well with his master’s wife. To please her would secure his advancement. To cross her would make her his foe and ruin his hopes. How many would have reasoned that, by yielding only a moment, they might win influence which they could afterwards use for the very best results. The only armor against giving in to temptation is faith that looks to the long future, and believes that in the end it will be found better to have done right and to have waited for the vindication and blessing of God. Well was it for Joseph that he did not heed the suggestions of temptation: had he done so, he might have acquired a little more influence in the home of Potiphar; but it could never have lasted – and he would never have become prime minster of Egypt, or had a home of his own, or have brought his boys to receive the blessing of his dying father’. Fourth, Joseph encountered the temptation after an important promotion. It was not when Joseph was struggling to reach the top, moving by degrees from his position as a new and menial slave to becoming Potiphar’s personal attendant and business manager. It was afterward, when he might have told himself, ‘Joseph, you have reached the top now. All your hard work has paid off. Now is the time to relax and enjoy the fruits of the position you have won’. Indeed, he might have said that the interest of his master’s wife was natural and now rightly his because of his achievement. Beware of temptation when you think you have arrived! Temptation came to David when he was in his fifties, after he had unified the kingdom, expanded his borders, and brought peace to many of the regions around. And when was our Lord tempted? It was immediately after He had received John’s baptism and had heard the voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased [Matt. 3:17]. Beware of temptation when you have achieved a victory! Beware when you have just led someone to the Lord! Beware when you have completed some difficult assignment and are now taking some needed and well-deserved rest. Fifth, the temptation was strong because it came to Joseph repeatedly. This is one of the devil’s chief strategies – to come again and again, as he did to Jesus. He knows that we are weak. If we are Christians, we have some knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. Moreover, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit within to warn us of Satan’s advance and turn us from evil. When temptation comes we often react quite properly, saying, ‘This is a violation of the standards of the Word of God. I cannot do that and be a Christian’. But then the devil comes back, using one argument after another, and eventually he wears us down. This is what Potiphar’s wife was trying to do in Joseph’s case. She constantly sought him out, asked him to spend time with her, and then propositioned him. The final factor that made this temptation strong for Joseph was that it seized the perfect opportunity. The text says that it came on a day when he was about his duties in the house. Only he was there – he and Mrs. Potiphar. None of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying “Lie with me”. But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house [11-12]. Many have fallen into sin because it came to them when no one seemed to be around, and the circumstances, as we say, ‘were right’. ‘No one will know’, the sinner has told himself. No one? No one but the person with whom you sin – who may often speak of it. And God, who will not hold blameless those who sin against him. But Joseph was able to fight off this temptation because he had fixed certain truths in his mind before facing temptation. The first thing Joseph had clearly in his mind is that sin truly is sin. He called it wickedness: How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? . This is an important starting point, because one of the devil’s tricks in his campaign to promote sin and limit godliness is to call sin something other than what it is and thus make it sound less objectionable and perhaps even desirable. This is true of almost any sin. Unjustified hostility and temper are called “self-expression.” Pride is reinterpreted as “self-esteem.” Gluttony is called “the good life.” Coveting is trying to “improve yourself” or “get ahead.” The worst of these efforts is to rename sin in the matter of sexual relationships. Perversions, which are condemned so directly and fiercely in the Bible, are called “an alternative lifestyle.” Fornication is “experimentation.” Adultery is “an attempt to cure a lackluster marriage.” And so on. The problem with these attempts to justify sin by renaming it is that they conflict with reality. Call it what you will, sin is still sin and it will operate destructively as sin regardless of your nomenclature. The second thing Joseph had straight before temptation came to him is that sin generally (if not always) hurts others. In his reply to Mrs. Potiphar, Joseph acknowledges three things: (1) he had arrived where he was because of Potiphar and therefore had a moral debt to Potiphar to honor his trust; (2) Potiphar had not given his wife to Joseph even though he had given him authority over everything else in the house; (3) Mrs. Potiphar was her husband’s wife, which placed moral obligations on her as well as on Joseph. To sin with her would mean harming her as well as harming Potiphar. In addition to seeing sin as sin and as something that is always harmful to other human beings, Joseph saw that sin is an offense against God. Joseph recognized that, however great an offense his sin might be to other people, it was far more offensive to God. This is the point of emphasis in his reply to Mrs. Potiphar. It is the key verse, the last thing he mentions: How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? The concluding point in this analysis is that, having settled these matters in his mind before the temptation ever came to him, Joseph did not hesitate to put them into practice. He did this in three ways. First, he let his position be known. That is, he spoke about it. He made known to Potiphar’s wife that the greatest hindrance to his sinning was the character of the God he worshiped. Second, Joseph kept busy. That is, he did not merely talk about righteousness and against sin; he also practiced righteousness and avoided sinning. Finally, Joseph put his principles into practice by running from sin when that became necessary. If he had not had his principles straight before Mrs. Potiphar accosted him, he might have paused to try to think through the matter, and his delay would have been fatal. But he had already thought through them and had decided that he would have to avoid this woman at all costs. Would that all God’s people were so set against sin! What misery would be avoided! What victories for righteousness would be won!” [Boice, pp. 912-924].
Questions for Discussion:
1. What are the six factors that made Joseph’s temptation particularly dangerous?
2. Evaluate and discuss Boice’s statement: “Beware of temptation when you have achieved a victory.”
3. Joseph was able to fight off this temptation because he had fixed certain truths in his mind before facing temptation. What are these truths? What three ways did Joseph put these truths into practice when tempted by Potiphar’s wife?
4. What do we learn from Joseph concerning how we can resist temptation in our own lives? Memorize How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? Say that verse to yourself the next time you are confronted with temptation, especially sexual temptation.
Genesis, volume 3, James Boice, Baker.
Genesis, John Sailhamer, EBC, Zondervan.
Genesis, volume 2, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman.