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Joseph: “How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?”

4 min

A young Hebrew slave in Egypt was suddenly commanded by his master’s wife: “Lie with me!” Sooner or later, every man will face the temptation to violate God’s moral standards. Temptation may come in many forms. It may begin with a harmless conversation, a pretty face, or a nice smile in seemingly innocent circumstances. It may come by way of a website, a text, a book, a magazine, or an email that first draws our thoughts or emotions where they should not go. Temptation often strikes when we are least expecting it, and Satan, the enemy of our souls, will make sure that it will be easy to yield to whatever temptation is offered.

Joseph, the Hebrew slave mentioned previously, had convenient reasons to yield to the temptation that faced him that day in Egypt. He was far from the watchful eye of his father. The seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” had not yet been given. His own father and great-grandfather had entered into and justified intimate relationships with concubines. Besides, life had been hard on Joseph, and he had many reasons to harbor hurts or bitterness. First, his jealous brothers had cruelly sold him into slavery rather than killing him. Second, now he was far from home and alone in a foreign land. His boyhood dreams seemed a long way from reality. Third, life as a slave was demeaning. Joseph must have longed for the admiration and love of someone.

Then there was his master’s wife. Here was a woman who seemed interested in him. She admired and desired him when others probably looked down on him as a slave. She spoke to him daily, entreating him. Her invitation would have been very tempting in a hard, cruel world.

But no, something inside of Joseph was stronger than any temptation that could be brought to bear from the outside. Joseph could not. Joseph would not! When she “cast her eyes upon Joseph” (Genesis 39:7) and openly asked him to commit adultery with her, Joseph resolutely replied, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”

Joseph recognized that to commit adultery was to sin directly against God Himself. After the initial solicitation, Potiphar’s wife continued to speak to him “day by day.” According to Scripture, Joseph “hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her” (Genesis 39:10).

Finally, the ultimate test came. Potiphar’s wife chose a time when no other men were in the house, and Joseph was going about Potiphar’s business. She “caught him by his garment” with a repetition of her plea, “Lie with me.”

This time, Joseph did not speak. He acted! He fled from the temptation and “left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out” (Genesis 39:12). His coat of many colors had been taken by his brothers and given to his father as supposed evidence that Joseph was dead. Now, in another strange misuse of his garment, deception played out again as false evidence to bring harm and hurt to Joseph. Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of the very sin that she had suggested.

Joseph’s stand for purity and integrity landed him in prison. The resulting consequences of a courageous stand may not always turn out the way we expect, but it is always right. According to Genesis 39:21, “But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy.”

Through all these tests of character, the Lord was preparing Joseph for a unique destiny as the deliverer of his family. In a series of specially timed, astonishing events, Joseph experienced what was perhaps the most dramatic promotion in the history of the world. He woke up one morning as a common prisoner and went to bed that same night as the prime minister of the empire of Egypt (Genesis 41:40), the second-most powerful man in the world!

The Hebrew boy who had once been betrayed by his brothers, accused by his master’s wife, and forgotten by his fellow prisoners was now arrayed in fine linen, wore the gold signet ring of Pharaoh, rode in the second chariot, and bore a gold chain about his neck. Wherever he went, people bowed in his presence.

But what was no doubt of greater satisfaction to Joseph was that he knew in his heart that he was living in freedom, fulfilling the work that God had given him to do. God had remembered and had been faithful to him through all his trials and hardships and had given him a testimony of purity, forgiveness, and service to the glory of God that has lasted for thousands of years and into eternity!

Joseph became the deliverer of his family, providing them not only with the grain of Egypt, but also with a secure place where they would grow from seventy-five souls to a nation of millions of people in only 400 years.

God blessed Joseph with a wife, Asenath (Genesis 41:45), and with two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Unlike Jacob his father and Abraham his great grandfather, Joseph had only one wife and was faithful to her all his days. He who had resisted adultery was blessed with a fruitful and lasting marriage, and both his sons inherited his portion among the twelve sons of Jacob, which turned out to be a double portion of the inheritance of the Promised Land.

Before Jacob died, Joseph was blessed to see his aged father as often as he desired and to present his two sons to his father for the patriarchal blessing (Genesis 48:15–16). Joseph also genuinely forgave his brothers and testified to them of God’s goodness, “Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good” (Genesis 50:20). The betrayal of his brothers, the temptations and false accusations of Potiphar’s wife, the forgetfulness of his fellow prisoners had all been used by God to accomplish His divine purpose. Joseph became one of the types of Christ in the Old Testament.

Joseph’s life and testimony stand as an example to us. As Christian men, we must purpose that we will not allow lust, bitterness, anger, and pride to ruin our effectiveness for God. Many men have destroyed their own future in the hour of temptation, squandering years of potential for a fleeting moment of pleasure. Had Joseph yielded to the flattery and embraces of Potiphar’s wife, how different his testimony would have been. May each one of us as Christian men be on constant guard against the slightest hint of moral compromise and say with Joseph, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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