The very first temptation happened in the garden in Eden, the garden which the first humans were given the responsibility of tending. This was the workplace of Adam and Eve.
Joseph also experienced temptation in the workplace, Potiphar’s palace. There was a woman in the palace, Potiphar’s wife. One can imagine her as beautiful, rich, and bored. She imagined she could risk having some fun with this handsome steward, for Joseph was good-looking, as his mother had been.
Joseph certainly could not avoid noticing Potiphar’s wife. Indeed, many people today might well have said, ‘Joseph, indulge yourself. Have your fun, man, if you get the chance! No one is going to see you. What harm is there in it? She is very beautiful, and available, and you are lonely and have nothing to lose.’
The narrative at this point concerns a situation in which everything is permitted, with one exception. We have read something very like that before – the story of the original temptation in Genesis 3. The resonances are strong: not now a beautiful garden, but a beautiful palace; not Eve but another woman appealing to aesthetic and basic human drives; not now to eat a forbidden fruit but to taste the forbidden fruit that she herself was. One writer recognizes this allusion when he has Joseph say to her, “Understand me rightly – I dare not take a bite of the lovely apple you offer me, that we may eat of wrongdoing and ruin everything.”
Yet what a world of difference there was between the situation in the garden and the one in Potiphar’s house. Adam, perfectly created from the hand of God, with his eyes wide open, took his eye off the spiritual and moral dimension and fell for the temptation offered by his wife, thereby bringing disaster to the world. Eating the tree promised the knowledge of good and evil, a knowledge that proved Adam’s undoing. But Joseph, maybe in his early twenties by this time, shows that his knowledge of good and evil is very different from that of Adam. It led him to refuse the evil. “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). Joseph’s reply to her shows that his ethics were not of the situational variety that characterizes much relativistic thinking: “If it feels right, it must be right.” For Joseph there was absolute values; there was such a thing as sin.
He regarded the particular sin tempting him not only to be against Potiphar, but ultimately against God, who had defined marriage as an exclusive bond between a man and woman until one of them dies. She was Potiphar’s wife, and Joseph saw that giving in to her desires would be an offense not only against Potiphar but also against God. the sad irony here is that Joseph valued Potiphar’s trust; his wife did not.
The only way of dealing with this kind of powerful temptation of lust is to make God the center and focal point of our morality, not our desires, or feeling that it is so right.
But we cannot leave this episode in Joseph’s life without thinking about the question of what happens if we fail to do what Joseph did, and we fall into temptation, which realism and experience tell us can happen.
The Bible does not comment on this here in Genesis but has a great deal to say about it elsewhere. What comes to mind at once is the behavior of Israel’s greatest king, David, who saw from his palace roof a beautiful woman and summoned her to the palace, where he slept with her. But Bathsheba was another man’s wife, and when she became pregnant, David eventually arranged for her husband, Uriah, to be killed in battle.
Guilty of adultery, deceit, and murder, David was the polar opposite of Joseph. Yet God did not destroy David but sent the prophet Nathan to confront him with the devastating consequences of what he had done: see 2 Sam. 12:10-12.
Faced with this, David at once confessed his guilt: “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’” (12:13a). And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die” (12:13b-14).
There are two major lessons to be learned from this. The first is that God is rich in forgiveness for those who repent (see Psalm 32). God forgave David, but (and this is the second lesson) sin has consequences. In David’s case those consequences were irreversible and wrought havoc on his family for many years.
Join us this week as Chad helps us to think through and apply to our lives strategies and helps to avoid and/or overcome such powerful temptations, as well as to avoid such horrible consequences as David experienced.
For His Glory,
Remember to mark your calendars for Sunday October 23. Immediately following our worship, we will have a fellowship. The church will provide some delicious meats and drinks. We are asking you to bring some side dishes and a dessert. During this time of fellowship, we will have a churchwide meeting to elect our officers, petition the Presbytery for particularization, and call our pastor.
Missed Sunday? Read the Summary