Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bad Girls of the Bible: Potiphar's Wife

* Material taken from Bad Girls of the Bible by Liz Curtis Higgs

Bad Girls of the Bible: Potiphar’s Wife
Genesis 39:1-20

Bad Girls:      Bad to the Bone- Not a single kind word was ever spoken about them in scripture; a pattern of sinning; no evidence of remorse, repentance, or a desire to change; they sinned with gusto. Made in the image of God, so not truly bad to the core—they just behaved that way.
                        Bad for a Moment- Women who made one huge, colossal, life changing blooper that was recorded in scripture to teach everyone else a lesson. Seem to be believers in the one true God at the start but when forced to make a decision, chose disastrously.
                        Bad for a Season, but not Forever- Sins in their past, but were willing to change and be changed.

Intro: Our next Bad girl of the Bible doesn’t even have a name. She obviously had a name but it isn’t recorded in scripture anywhere. She was known only as Potiphar’s wife. That actually happens a lot in scripture: “mother of”; “wife of”; “servant of”; “daughter of.” It even happens today. Go to a little league game and you’ll see scores of parents with team shirts that say “Caleb’s Daddy,” “Cindy’s Meemaw,” and other embarrassing things. You go pick up your kid at school, “Are you Caleb’s dad?” “Yes, but my name is Adam.”
            Maybe Potiphar’s wife, or Mrs. P from here on out, loved being known as the wife of Potiphar because of the fame, notoriety, and attention that came along with it. Potiphar was the captain of Pharaoh’s guards, and some people believe him to be Pharaoh’s chief executioner. Either way Potiphar was a big, powerful, official in all of Egypt which garnered a lot of respect.
            Or maybe Mrs. P. was bored of being known as the wife of Potiphar. Maybe she was tired of everyone treating her with kid gloves. In the movie Of Mice and Men there was a young woman married to Curley, the son of a big ranch owner. She grew bored and restless on the farm and started to do things that she shouldn’t have done, stretching the confines of her marriage. If you look up her name on IMDB, her name is listed, ironically, as “Curley’s wife.” She was known only as “the wife of….”
            Perhaps Potiphar was an older man and Mrs. P was pressured into marrying him as a young teenager and never really loved him. We don’t know why Mrs. P. wandered but we do know that she did.
Genesis 39:1-6  Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and 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 succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and 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 because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.

            Again, we’re left with more questions than answers. Why was Mr. P only interested in his food? Was he a food connoisseur? Was he just fat? Was he only concerned with his food because Joseph was so good at everything else that he didn’t need to be concerned with it? We do know that Hebrews and Egyptians couldn’t eat together from a later chapter in Genesis. Was that the reason that Mr. P. only cared about his food? Was he a beefy body builder, captain of the guards, satisfying the needs of his stomach while ignoring the needs of his wife? Mrs. P., bored to distraction, or someone with unquenchable lust? We don’t know. Enter Joseph, a man who gave Mrs. P’s wandering eye something to look at.

Genesis 39:6b Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.

            It is very rare that a person’s physical appearance is mentioned in scripture, unless it is important to the story. That makes these few words jump out at us. Joseph’s mother Rachel was also described in scripture as someone who was extremely beautiful. Joseph was a proud, handsome, young, confident man, slave in name only now strutting around the house of a neglected, older, needy, and powerful woman.
Genesis 39:7 And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph…

            Just like Adam and Eve, we don’t know how long they were in the garden before they ate the fruit, we don’t know how long it was before Mrs. P cast her eyes on Joseph.

Genesis 39:7 …and said, “Lie with me!”

            Not exactly subtle. She was accustomed to getting what she wanted and what she wanted was forbidden fruit. She wanted an adulterous relationship with her husband’s foreign slave. Wrong on every count.

Genesis 39: 8-10 But he refused and said to his master's wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

            We can assume she was used to getting what she wanted. And we can assume by how aggressive she was in her request that this was probably not her first adulterous relationship with one of the slaves. Adultery was a huge issue in that time and would have been punishable by death. Joseph stood strong in the face of temptation and refused to sin against Potiphar and against God. If Mrs. P. would have quit there, apologized and begged for forgiveness from Joseph, she would have been relegated to the Bad for a Moment list. But she didn’t stop there.

Genesis 39: 11  But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house,

            I wonder how long it took Joseph to know that it was a trap. An empty house that is used to being filled with servants, now all of a sudden eerily quiet. Its hard to believe that the empty house wasn’t arranged.

Genesis 39:12 she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.

            When it says “He left his garment in her hand” it means he ran away naked. Remember last week when we talked about one of the mistake Eve made was debating with the devil when she should have been fleeing from him. Here Joseph learned from her mistake and fled. Joseph was “completely undressed, at once disgracefully and honorably.” 

Genesis 39:13-15 13 And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, 14 she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. 15 And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.”

            Soooo…in her story, she cried out to the hired servants, the same ones she sent outside so she could trap Joseph in private. Did anyone hear her scream? They probably didn’t hear her scream until a while after they saw a naked Joseph running through the courtyard. Here’s the timeline: Joseph runs out the door and across the lawn in the buff; Mrs. P. initially shocked, then ticked, then when she noticed she had evidence in her hand, she screamed. Several moments would have passed between the streaking Joseph and the screaming Mrs. P. According to her story, Joseph ran because she screamed.
            This was her story to the servants. If the boss lady said she screamed, she screamed. How many of them had been in the same situation of being harassed by Mrs. P. They had to go along with her story because of who she was and who she was married to.
Genesis 39:16-20 16 Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, 17 and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. 18 But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”19 As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. 20 And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison.

            I imagine Mrs. P. just laying on her bed smirking, waiting on her dear old hubby to come home from work, clutching Joseph’s clothes. I imagine she heard her husband coming and then started bawling like she had been crying the whole time. She fed Potiphar all of her rehearsed lines. She even blamed him by saying “this Hebrew servant whom you brought among us” like she was completely innocent. It actually reminds me of Adam when he blamed God for putting Eve in the garden with him.
            Mrs. P lusted after Joseph. When her advances were frustrated her intense desire for him was only matched by her intense hatred of him, so much so that she knew that she was handing him over to be killed. The intense love turned to intense hate is played out later in scripture when one of David’s sons rapes his sister because he desired her so much. That desire, the Bible says turned to hatred, as well.
            Mr. P’s anger was kindled. Anger was kindled at whom? Joseph or Mrs. P? I don’t think Mr. P was so stupid that he couldn’t see that his wife was running around on him. Perhaps this wasn’t the first time this has happened. But in order to save himself from being humiliated he had thrown Joseph in jail. Prison yes, but executed no. Remember, Mr. P was the chief executioner. He was very good at it. He didn’t want to put Joseph to death, because he knew he was innocent.

Proverbs 6: 16-19 There are six things that the Lord hates,
    seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
    and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
    feet that make haste to run to evil,
19 a false witness who breathes out lies,
    and one who sows discord among brothers.
            Is there any of those that Mrs. P didn’t do?
            Yes, Joseph was sent away to prison, but if you keep reading the rest of the story of Genesis, God was with him through it all and He blessed him. What happened to Mrs. P? She was never mentioned again in scripture. While Joseph went on to be the number 2 man in all of Egypt, Mrs. P was trapped in a prison of her own. Her prison bars were made of lust, revenge, and lies. Her warden was her husband who had every reason to mistrust her.
            What else can we get from this story? Joseph was an innocent man punished for a crime he didn’t commit, but God was with him, and He used him for a greater purpose. Jesus was an innocent man punished for crimes He didn’t commit, but God used Him for a greater purpose, too. In taking on the sins He didn’t commit he paid our debt and we can be free.


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