Genesis 39:1-23

(sermon note: 09-25 sermon note)

Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; 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 prosper in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him; 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, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.

Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. 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, ‘Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. 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 could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me!’ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to the members of her household and said to them, ‘See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.’ Then she kept his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, ‘The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to insult me; but as soon as I raised my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.’

When his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, saying, ‘This is the way your servant treated me’, he became enraged. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.


This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a man who spent his first night in prison. Right after lights out, he was surprised to hear someone yell, “42!,” after which the entire cell block erupted in laughter. Soon after, another inmate yelled, “17!,” and again there was uproarious laughter and applause. The man asked his cellmate to explain. His cellmate told him that all the inmates had been there forever and they all knew the cell block’s jokes so well that there was no need to tell the whole joke. Just the number sufficed, and they had about 100 of them. “Ooh, ooh, I wanna try it,” said the man. “What’s a good one?” “I’d go with 70,” said his cellmate. “That one never fails to get a good laugh out of people.” So the man yelled, “70!” with all his heart and soul…but nothing. No response. Not even a peep from the other prisoners. “What happened?” asked the man. The cellmate shook his head and said, “I’m sorry, but you told it wrong.”

Gotta love gallows humor…who knew you could screw up #70 in the way you said it?! Silly new guy, you’ve gotta earn the right way of saying it through years of suffering! You don’t just walk in there presuming you know how to tell a joke. I mean, come on…with all your heart and soul?! I don’t think so! Of course, had that man been Joseph he probably would have received the appropriate laughter. Why? Because Joseph had something special, he had God’s favor. It’s amazing what we can do with God’s favor. It’s amazing what we can avoid with God’s favor too as we heard in our reading today. Being in God’s favor, Joseph was able to resist the temptation to commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife. He had enough sense to know that if he were to lie with her then he would jeopardize that favor. Yes, it would have undermined Potiphar’s trust in him but more importantly it would have undermined God’s trust in him. I think we tend to forget that each of us is in a loving relationship with God and that, as in all loving relationships, each of us is expected to be both trusting and trustworthy. Trust goes both ways in a relationship and our relationship with God is no different. Isn’t God trustworthy? Of course He is! God always keeps his promises! God always loves us! God is always working for the good of those who love him as we hear Paul tell us in Romans 8:28. Yes, God is always trustworthy so we ought to strive to be trustworthy in our relationship with him. Joseph knew this all too well, he continually strove to be trustworthy before God. He continually listened and obeyed God in an effort to be trusted by God. Having God’s favor means having God’s trust, plain and simple.

Joseph is the third key figure in these opening verses of Genesis to have found God’s favor. Noah had found God’s favor and was saved along with his family and two of every creature from the great flood. Abraham had found God’s favor and was saved from a life without an heir. Of course, this isn’t to say that generally a life without an heir is something that needs saving, that an heir is the only thing that justifies a life. But specifically for Abraham caught up in a specific time and culture, having an heir seemed to be the only justification for his life. So God blessed him with an heir and a great name as we heard last week. This week we hear how Joseph had found God’s favor and was saved not once but twice, first from the catastrophe that could have resulted from lying with Potiphar’s wife and second from the misery that awaited him in the jail cell. He was put in charge of all the inmates in the cell block and invariably received benefits from the jailers and inmates alike for such leadership. In all three men, God’s favor resulted in some degree of salvation. And it makes perfect sense: God saves those He can trust. We might then ask, “well, what about those He doesn’t trust, the untrustworthy? Does He save them?” That’s when our friend and brother, Jesus, comes into play. Because of what he did on the cross, died and rose to everlasting life, because he did that on our behalf, we are forever trusted by God. And not just some of us but ALL of us! God trusts all of us because of Christ! Because we are trusted by God through Christ, we ought to claim him as our Lord and Savior. He saved God’s trust in us and for that we ought to gladly proclaim him as our Lord. He is a good and gracious Lord! And it is he alone who reclaimed God’s trust for all of us. It’s easy to hear about these early biblical figures and think that it was their efforts that saved us. Noah built the ark, Abraham went into a foreign land, Joseph continually took the high road in unjust situations…are they the ones that saved us? No, it was God’s favor that saved them, not necessarily us. God’s favor is what saves us and God’s favor in Christ is what saves all of us.

 So I guess God’s favor is about both trust and grace. God wants to trust us so much that He’s willing to give it to us for free. God gave us his Son for free! God gives us opportunities in life to show we can be trusted for free! It’s a fine distinction to make but an important distinction. We look at the efforts of people like Noah and Abraham and Joseph and think that we have to somehow earn God’s trust. We have to build an ark, venture into foreign lands, take the moral high road to receive God’s trust. But those are simply situations that reveal our trust in him. God already trusts us! God wants us to trust him so He gives us these lives to reveal our trust. 

God’s favor is a gift. And what a gift it is! What a gift it is to be trusted by God! What a gift it is to have these lives to reveal our trust in him! We sing with David in his 90th psalm, “let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands–O prosper the work of our hands!” (vs. 17) Because we have his trust, we can do great and mighty things. We can build great arks, venture into the great unknown, lead great households and prison cells, resist great temptation because God trusts us and loves us. We can trust in the wisdom of Proverbs that says, “My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you. Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them round your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people.” (3:1-4) The leaders in scripture were greatly blessed for trusting in God and being assured of God’s trust in them. Let us likewise trust God and be worthy of his trust. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.