“God’s anonymous: Potiphar’s wife”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Born in Long Beach, California in March of 1962, Marc Cherry is an American television writer and producer. Shortly after he moved to Hollywood at the age of twenty-four, he began to write for the well-known sitcom, Golden Girls, and for its not-so-well-known spinoff, The Golden Palace. (Weren’t those the days!)
Then in 2002, after having a conversation with his mother, he got the idea to create another show about the lives of upper middle class suburban women, what he would come to call, Desperate Housewives.
Now I have to admit that I’ve never seen it, and probably never will. But if you have, you’ll probably know that it follows the lives of four women, played by Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross and Eva Longoria, as they face the secrets, crimes, and mysteries that lie hidden behind the doors of their seemingly perfect suburban neighborhood on Wisteria Lane. In its day, it was one of TV’s most popular shows, with an audience of more than 120 million.
Now I’m not really sure why, but it seems that quite a lot of people have quite a lot of fascination for shows just like that--think Devious Maids, Big Little Lies, and Why Women Kill. (And, by the way, if you’re familiar with any of the shows I just mentioned, we probably need to talk!)
And strangely enough, along with all the other “desperate housewives” we might find in movies and on TV, even the Bible tells of yet one more, one of “God’s anonymous”--Potiphar’s wife.
Listen to the words of Genesis chapter 39: “Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 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” (Genesis 39:1-4).
Now to better understand exactly what’s going on here in the words of Genesis chapter 39, let me take you back, for just a moment, to a chapter or two before.
As you’ll probably remember, Joseph was the son of Jacob and his dearest wife, Rachel. And because he was such a loved and even favored son, Jacob went so far as to give him a beautiful, multi-colored coat, a robe that set him apart as different, better than all the rest. And if that wasn’t enough to make the rest of his eleven sons infuriatingly jealous, when Joseph dreamed his dreams of sheaves bowing down before him in a field, and the sun, moon and stars bowing down in the sky, that was pretty much the last straw. So just as soon as they had the chance, they stripped him of his robe, fooled their father into believing that an animal had killed him, then sold him into slavery in Egypt. And that’s when a man named Potiphar happened to come along.
Now let’s get this straight--Potiphar wasn’t just some ordinary guy. The Bible called him “an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:36). Other translations read, “head of the executioners” and “commander of the king’s bodyguards” and “commander in chief of the imperial guards.”
However you want to translate it, it’s easy to say that Potiphar was not only a very important, respected, and powerful kind of guy, he was Pharaoh’s most-trusted, life-depended-on, right-hand-man. And since he was such a powerful guy, he was pretty much used to getting anything he wanted, any way and anytime he wanted. So when he saw that young, strong, and handsome young man standing on that auction block, with a few short bids they were on their way home.
Now if you would, put yourself, for just a moment, into Joseph’s shoes. Just a few short weeks before, he had literally been torn from the very home and family he knew and loved. And though his father might have wept for him, his brothers hated him, which made it very likely that he would never, ever see any of them again. And now, out of the blue, he’s been thrown into a language, a country and a culture that he knew absolutely nothing about. This once longed-for child of Rachel and openly favored son of Jacob was sold as a common slave.
But God had a plan. As it says in the words of verse 2: “The Lord was with Joseph.”
So when Potiphar brought him home, he was pleasantly surprised. Along with a rich and powerful man came a rich and beautiful house. And with such a rich and beautiful house, there was quite a lot of work to do, and Joseph was more than happy to do it. In fact, as the Bible says, “His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands” (Genesis 39:3).
Even better, in just a few short months, since Potiphar loved and respected him so much, he not only made him overseer of his house, he put him in charge of everything he owned (Genesis 39:4).
But as it often goes, along with rich and powerful men and a rich and beautiful house comes a rich and beautiful wife.
Enter Mrs. Potiphar.
Now we really don’t know her whole story. Was it that Potiphar was seldom home, always away on business? After all, it’s a heavy responsibility to be the captain of the king’s guard. Or was it that he was often brutish and unkind?
Or was it something else? Was she lonely? Was she bored? Or did she simply have too little to do, with way too much time on her hands?
Whatever the reason, it didn’t take her long to notice Joseph. In fact, the very first words the Bible records coming out of her mouth are something along the lines of Mae West: “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?”
Now remember that, even though Joseph had great responsibility and was in charge of the entire estate, at the end of the day, he was still a slave. And if the mistress of the house ever wanted him to do anything, however great or small, he didn’t have a lot of choice. Even worse, as it says in verse 10: “She spoke to Joseph day after day.”
Persistently, relentlessly, tenaciously, this woman would not give up! And you can bet she was good at it! An extra spritz of perfume here, a batting of the eye there, a not-so-subtle glance. As Simon and Garfunkel might sing, “Here’s to you, Mrs. Potiphar!”
Then finally, the day came when she had him right where she wanted him--just the two of them… completely alone...in the house. And when still he refused, the Bible says “she took him,” “she caught him,” “she grabbed him” by his clothes. And running away, he left his garment behind.
And what should happen next? You know what they say about a woman scorned! Along with her pretended screams came a cavalcade of accusations and lies--”Your Hebrew”...”Your slave”...”Your fault.”
And what did Potiphar do? He could have cut off Joseph’s head. After all, nobody plays patty cake with the wife of the captain of the king’s guard.
But he didn’t do it. Do you know why? Because he knew Joseph and he knew his wife. And caught between a rock and a hard place, he had no choice but to throw him in prison instead.
As much as we might hate to admit it, just as it once was in Joseph’s world, so it is in our world today, for there are Mrs. Potiphars of all shapes and kinds. You name it, and you can count on the fact that she’s just around the corner, ready and waiting for you.
And let me tell you, she’s relentless. In fact, it’s her goal to wear you down, to break you down, to make it seem right, without even a twinge of guilt or consequences.
As one author wrote, “At any given place and time, say the busy sidewalks of a college campus or the busy lunchroom of a large company, you could draw a circle around half the people in those places and thereby give yourself a great visual image of the pain, frustration, dysfunctions, and destruction caused by our failure to understand and cope well with temptation.”
Just a few years ago, back in February of 2018, a six-year-old boy named Mason was having dinner with his family at a local Titusville, Florida restaurant called, Beef O’Brady’s. And while they were waiting for their order to come, little Mason asked if he could spend some time in the game room. “Of course,” his parents said. “Why not?”
And just as soon as he walked in there, not only did he notice a giant claw machine, he saw a toy he really wanted inside. But as hard as he tried, he just couldn’t get it.
So what would you do if you were a six-year-old boy, and saw a toy you wanted? Sure enough, he crawled inside.
Thankfully, an off-duty firefighter also happened to be having dinner at that very same restaurant and, with a little help from his firefighter friends, he broke the lock, pulled the pins, and got poor Mason safely back outside.
Sin is just like that. It’ll invite you, tempt you, and lure you. But only when it’s too late do you realize that you’re trapped inside.
But as Paul once wrote to the Corinthians: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13).
To put it another way, God doesn’t care about your age; He blessed an old man named Abraham. He doesn’t care about your experience; He chose a young boy named David. He doesn’t care about your gender; He raised up a girl named Esther. He doesn’t care about your reputation; He chose a tax collector named Zacchaeus. And He doesn’t care about your past; He chose a murderer-on-the-run named Moses.
God never made a promise He wouldn’t keep. He never heard a prayer He wouldn’t answer. He never found a sinner He wouldn’t forgive. And He never found a soul He wouldn’t save.
No matter how many times you’ve failed, there’s forgiveness at the cross of Jesus.
Before we leave this text, there’s one more thing to say. You know, out of all the characters we find throughout the Bible, and there are many, there’s no one who’s more like Jesus than this one named Joseph.
Think about it--when Joseph was born, his mother, Rachel, was barren. When Jesus was born, His mother, Mary, was a virgin. Joseph was a shepherd, and so was Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Both were hated by their brothers without cause. Both were persecuted for speaking the truth. Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver. Jesus was sold for thirty. Both escaped death by finding refuge in Egypt. Both became servants. Both were tempted, yet refused to sin.
Both wore royal robes, and both were dressed as kings. Then both were stripped of their robes, and suffered bitterly at the hands of others. And while a goat’s blood was spilled on Joseph’s robe, Jesus’ blood was spilled on His.
Both were falsely accused. Both were sentenced with two criminals and, in both cases, one was saved, and one was lost.
Both forgave those who wronged them, and both became savior of their people, turning evil into blessing, and harm into good. And after suffering the worst that man could think of, both were exalted, and both were given all power and authority.
And as Joseph’s brothers once knelt before him, the day will come when, at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Dear Father, the story of Joseph reminds us of Your grace and providence even in the worst of what life can bring. Help us to follow the example of our Lord Jesus, never doubting Your power and promise to save, for His sake. Amen