Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

First off, I just have to share with you one of my favorite verses in the Bible.
It’s Genesis 39:6b: Now Joseph was well-built and handsome.

I’m working on the well-built part, but handsome part, I gots down… I’m sorry about that.

I ran across a verse that I never noticed before, while brushing up on Joseph’s story for the sermon this Sunday. And it’s the same verse as one of my favorite verses. Right before the part about me…er Joseph being well-built and handsome, Potiphar entrusts Joseph with everything Potiphar had. Then the verse says this: “With Joseph in charge, [Potiphar] did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.” (Also realized that throughout the entire story of Joseph and Potiphar, Poti is not given a single line to speak.)

But let me repeat that verse (in my words): Poti didn’t worry about anything else except what he ate. What a selfish jerk! Because Joseph could handle everything, all Poti did was wonder what he was gonna eat, and that’s the only thing he concerned himself. Meaning, everything else in his house went neglected by him, including his wife. Did they even have conversations throughout the day? The verse seems to elude that there was definitely no sexual interaction between husband and wife, after all, food took precedence over the wife’s need. Which also makes me wonder, when he had his sexual urges, did he go to the female servants of his house? Or, did he not have any urges? Which also begs another question, was Potiphar a fat dude? I used to imagine Potiphar as a well-built guy himself. But now, with this knowledge in my head, every time I think of Potiphar, I think of this dude:

Just imagine him with some Egyptian clothing on.
The dude (Poti) just eats. And perhaps, even engaged in some Egyptian version of World of Warcraft. I mean, can’t you picture Potiphar, with the name like that, as a too old of a man, dressed up as Harry Potter, with wand and invisible cloak (even a nimbus 2000) waiting in line for the last Harry Potter? And every parent is a bit weary with his presence there, so they sort of back away… Okay. Wow. How I digressed. I’m sorry for being so mean…
Anyway. So. After a while, “handsome and well-built” Joseph caught the eye of a very, very neglected wife.
She wasn’t receiving any attention from her husband. Maybe at this point, she was so desperate for any kind of attention/companionship, that she couldn’t help but desire for Joseph, which is saying a lot, because Egyptians did not trust foreigners. She even calls him “this Hebrew” in a rather derogatory way (Gen 39:14).

During my younger (and Sunday School) days, Potiphar’s wife was declared a Jezebel, evil, home-wrecker, etc. But perhaps she wasn’t as much of a seductress and Jezebel we made her out to be.

Turns out, she’s very human. I’m not making any excuses for her, but if you place yourself in her shoes…

I mean, look. Neglected and lonely. Did she have anyone to talk to? How many times was she ignored by her (now fat) husband?
She sees this boy. And her loneliness is too much to ignore. So she makes a play. He resists. She becomes bolder. He flees, leaving behind his coat. At this point, how would you react?
Scared, frustrated, pride mortally wounded (a slave doesn’t want me? The madam of the house!?! And at that, a lowly Hebrew?), she’s afraid that Joseph will tell her husband. She sees that Joseph is an honorable, trustworthy person, and maybe she fears that he won’t keep this quiet. So she needs to beat him to the punch.

Instead of being the villain, the Wife just seems like a fragile, lost, very realistic woman, a product of a very loveless marriage.
I wonder if she ever felt guilty for what she did to Joseph? Was her pride so scorned that she felt he got what he deserved anyway? Did she try to make a play at another servant in her household?

Husbands, nothing in this earthly world is more important than our wives. Not even our work.
Sometimes, I forget how much my wife has to deal with, especially living with me.
And more often than not, I take her presence for granted.
We should all learn from Potiphar’s mistakes and remember that our wives are very, very important. And they should be reminded of how important and special they are to us.

7 thoughts on “Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

  1. Well, here’s the thing. If Potiphar had really believed that Joseph tried to be intimate with his wife, by Egyptian law, he would have put Joseph to death. Other historical accounts say that his wife had had other affairs, so he didn’t really believe her. However, he couldn’t ignore her accusation, so he had Joseph thrown in jail. One account goes so far as to say that Pharaoh was going to have Joseph put to death, but Potiphar interceded on his behalf, knowing how his wife was.

    That he only concerned himself with the food he ate could mean several things. Perhaps it meant he had to be careful lest he be poisoned (like Pharaoh and his cupbearer) OR, perhaps that he didn’t WORRY about anything else–he was at peace about everything else, including his relationship with his wife. A good case can be made from the original language that it is an idiom meaning “his own personal affairs.”

    I agree with your sentiment concerning husbands and wives, that men should not neglect their wives. But I don’t believe you can read into Genesis 39 all that you did. There are plenty of New Testament verses and commands concerning men and their wives to back up your final conclusion. You don’t need to make Potiphar’s story walk on all fours.

  2. Hello.

    I agree with Kathi. You took this story way out of context by theorizing. If you wanted to theorize, perhaps it would have been better to share your thoughts about Poti’s wife ending up with Joseph’s cloak in her hands. Did Joseph allow her to take the cloak off and ran when he realized what he was doing wrong, or did he run off immediately as soon she tugged at his cloak? Perhaps this is a better discussion when it pertains to this story.

  3. Interesting thoughts on the story. I like it. I think in the bible stories there is always “the story”, but there are so many stories in the stories. This is what keeps the Bible so fresh through the years. There is always something new to see and learn. Human nature has not changed in thousands of years. The times and situations change, but not human nature. Potiphar is so much like the men of the house today. We contract our food source, our lawn care, our car washing, our house upkeep and maintenance. Why? So we can do the things we want to do, including work for many of us. There are relationships at home that require upkeep also. The question becomes do we take care of those relationships or do we contract that out also? Christ told us how to maintain those household relationships, but are we willing to do the work or are we more interested in doing what we want to do? There is more to learn from this story than just Joseph.

  4. Well, you tried to give the story a 21st century perspective. Which is ok for teaching and admonition as long as the message of the Holy Spirit (very vital) is not lost. I will says I do not agree with your summation that Potiphar’s wife was probably neglected and lonely. The Bible text states she cast her eyes on Joseph. It’s precisely because he was well-built and handsome. You tend to neglect the fact that it’s not only neglect and loneliness that drives some folks to commit adultery and fornication. Lust is powerful and it’s the suspect culprit here. lust got the better of Potiphar’s wife because of the physical assets of Joseph. I won’t be surprised if Joseph’s physical stature and beauty has an effect of Potiphar himself. Men also have a way of being drawn to a handsome fellow without been sexual.
    Having said that no man worth his salt should neglect the wife and vice versa. Great post though.

  5. Pingback: Run like Joseph…

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