Genesis 39 – The Rise and Fall and Rise of Joseph, King of Slaves

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Today’s PassageGenesis 39

The life of Joseph is a real riches-to-rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches story. He goes from the son of a prosperous owner of livestock to a commodity in human trafficking, to the chief steward for the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard to a prisoner in Pharaoh’s jails, to–well, let’s not spoil the surprise. But this chapter covers several of those moves in the ebb and flow of Joseph’s fortunes, so pull down that lap bar tight across your lap and lock in, because the metaphors we’re mixing today are not only personal economies and tidal phenomena, but also a roller coaster.

The moon makes the tides come in. Either mechanical devices or momentum make a roller coaster rise. And a variety of factors can change a person’s material prosperity. But when things go well for Joseph, each time this chapter points to a single cause responsible for his success. From the self-absorbed brattiness he displays in his introductory chapter, we can infer that it’s not his compelling personality, and although Joseph has inherited his mom’s good looks (6), it’s not his +2 appearance-based social reaction bonus (+4 with the opposite sex!).

In fact, it’s no trait of Joseph at all. It’s the Lord’s presence. Time and time again, as good fortune visits our hero protagonist, the text tells us “The Lord was with Joseph” (2). When he does well as a slave in Potiphar’s house, it’s because God’s got his hand on the dial. Potiphar sees that where Joseph is involved, his God gets involved too, and Joseph’s got a God with him that brings in the good things (3, 5). The text doesn’t even say that Joseph particularly pursues the presence of God or seeks his face. God just goes with him into slavery. As he turns everything Joseph touches to metaphorical and possibly even sometimes literal gold, Potiphar gives him free rein to manage all his assets. And then, when false accusations of sexual misconduct land Joseph in prison, God goes with him into prison (21), and before you know it, the trustworthiness and respect conferred by God’s presence has got Joseph enjoying unprecedented latitude in the prison (23).

But if God is responsible for the ups, may we also blame him for the downs? After a fashion, but here we also have to blame Joseph. When Potiphar’s wife makes advances on him, he explains that to thus betray his master would be to betray his deity: “How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” (9). Potiphar’s wife gets so fed-up with this studly slave who won’t have sex with her that she frames him for sexual assault. If Joseph had gone ahead and bumped sexies with her (because let’s be honest, “bumping uglies” would not be an accurate term for the handsome Joseph and the beguiling-yet-unnamed wife of Potiphar), she likely wouldn’t have conspired to get him fired and jailed. But when God hangs out with you for long enough, you tend to pick up a thing or two about integrity from the Author of integrity itself. And if Joseph chose to disrespect Potiphar and violate his trust, then at best we could expect God to be less pleased to hang around our friend the Dream Master, and we couldn’t fault him if God even chose to leave him.

There are any number of lessons you might take away from this chapter. But here are two of them: first, God is Lord over the ups and the downs. And second, better to go to prison with God than to get it on with a hot woman and keep your position as her husband’s estate manager.

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