Lessons in Slavery

Genesis 39

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
November 2015

We come today to a very important chapter in Genesis.  It is a familiar chapter to most of us.  It is a short chapter. It only has twenty-three verses. We are going to look at only part of it this week

The chapter has three parts to it.  There is a slave scene (39:1-6), a seduction scene (39:7-20) and a jail scene (39:21-23).  Most of the chapter deals with Joseph’s temptation by Potiphar’s wife. We will only have time today to look at two of these scenes.  We will look at the next one in a week.

This chapter is full of applications.  There are some deep lessons for us from this chapter.  We can study this chapter in depth but if we do not see these powerful lessons, we miss the whole point of the passage.  I want to look at some of these lessons this morning. 

Lesson on Suffering

1) God’s people are not immune from suffering.

Life is not always fair.  Joseph had all kinds of problems.  He was thrown into a pit by his own brothers and left for dead.  He was later sold into slavery.  He was sold on a slave block.  He had no rights.  He was brought down to Egypt. 

He does not just go to Egypt.  He was brought down to Egypt.  He was not just enslaved, he was exiled.  He lost his freedom.  He lost his dignity.  He lost his family and is probably homesick.  He lost his country.  He was exiled. 

He was accused of a crime he did not commit. He was slandered.  He was framed.  Then he was fired.  He lost his job. He was thrown into prison. Joseph becomes an inmate. He is accused of a sex crime. 

Joseph was accused of rape.  He becomes a convicted criminal.  He now has a criminal record.  He is now a felon.  He is a registered sex offender.  He was unemployed.  He was enslaved.  He was incarcerated.  Joseph did not cause any of these problems.  He didn’t do anything wrong.

Joseph did the right thing and was punished.  He did the right thing and, not only was not rewarded, he was punished.  He was faithful to his master.  He was more faithful to his master than his own wife was.  He showed self control. 

He resisted a powerful temptation.  He avoided committing adultery and yet he was punished.  What is the lesson here? 

Bad things happen to good people.  Sometimes we suffer for doing good.  Joseph had a lot of bad things happen to him.  When we are mistreated or experience an injustice, we are outraged.  The NT says that we are called to that.  When that happens, we become like Jesus.

I Peter 2:18-23 says, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?

But if when you DO GOOD and SUFFER FOR IT you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (ESV)

Peter says again, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled…For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (3:13-14, 17-18 ESV).

2) God limits the suffering that we face.

God only gives us what we are able to handle (I Corinthians 10:13).  How did God limit Joseph’s sufferings?  He limited them in four ways.  One, God controlled who bought Joseph as a slave.  He controlled who his owner was. 

His master was rich.  He worked for Pharaoh.  He treated Joseph well.  He did not beat him or abuse him.  He recognized his gifts and abilities and put them to use.  What if someone else bought Joseph as a slave, instead of Potiphar?

Second, God controlled the type of slavery he experienced.  Joseph was a house slave, not a field slave.  There were two types of slaves: house slaves and field slaves.  Joseph was a house slave.  He had it easier as a slave than others had. We know from extra-biblical sources that Egyptian slaves worked in the field.  Asian slaves worked in the house. 

Third, God controlled the type of prison he went to.  Joseph did not go to just any prison.  He went to a special prison.  Joseph became one of the king’s prisoners.  This prison held political prisoners.  It did not hold hardened criminals. Who did Joseph meet in this prison?  He met the baker and the butler.  He did not meet serial killers and child molesters there.

Four, God protected his life when it was in danger.  God kept Joseph alive.  Joseph was accused of rape. Normally, if a slave tries to rape the wife of a high ranking official of the government, he would be executed. 

He would have been killed on the spot and Potiphar was the chief executioner in Egypt.  He was the Captain of the Guard.  He had the power of life and death but he doesn’t execute him.  He just imprisons him.  He gives him a light sentence.  Potiphar showed mercy on Joseph. 

Joseph was like an escape artist.  He escaped death twice.  His brothers tried to kill him but he doesn’t die.  Potiphar’s wife accuses him of a capital crime but he does not die again.  Every time he is thrown into a pit, he gets out.  His brothers put him in a pit but he escaped.  Potiphar put in in another pit but he got out of that put as well. 

Psalm 37:23-24 says, “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand” (NIV)  Proverbs 24:16 says, “for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes” (NIV)

3) Suffering has a purpose

The suffering we experience also has a purpose.  We do not always know what that purpose is immediately.  The suffering that Joseph experienced was not random.  It had a purpose.  There was a reason that Joseph experienced slavery and prison.  God used that to prepare him for the future. 

What did he learn in these settings?  He learned humility.  He learned the value of hard work.  He learned how to be a leader.  He might not have learned those skills back home pampered by his dad as the favorite son.  He would have just spoiled him. 

Each job involved supervision, administration and leadership.  Joseph was put in charge of some things. The warden put Joseph IN CHARGE of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there” (39:22). 

“Potiphar put Joseph IN CHARGE of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned” (39:5). He is not just put in charge of some things.  He is put in charge of EVERYTHING (all of the prisoners and everything Potiphar owned).

In fact, Potiphar said, “I put you in charge of everything, except the food that I eat(39:6).  I guess his wife did the cooking.  Joseph was responsible for the food at Potiphar’s house but ironically was later put in charge of the food supply of the whole country. 

Each time, he had leadership responsibilities.  Each time, he supervised people under him.  Each, time, he had one person over him.  He was always the number two man.  He would later be the number two man under Pharaoh.

God tested Joseph just like he tested Abraham and Isaac.  He tested Abraham by telling him to go to the Promised Land and giving him a famine when he got there.  He tested Isaac by telling him to sacrifice his son on a mountain after he had waited so long to have a child.  Now he tests Joseph.  He gave him a dream about him ruling over others but makes him a prison and a slave first.

God was preparing Joseph for future leadership roles.  The master in the Parable of the Talents said, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” (Matthew 25:21). Luke 16:10 says “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much

 Lesson on Success

1. Success comes from God

We are told that in the text.  Genesis 39:3 says, “The Lord GAVE him success in everything he did” (NIV).  Genesis 39:23 says, “The Lord was with Joseph and GAVE him success in whatever he did” (NIV). 

God is the one who gives people success.  He is the one who causes people to prosper.  Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord” (NIV). This passage is dealing with military success.  We can do all kinds of things to try to be successful but God is the one who makes us successful.

2. Success comes in many forms.

We often think of success just in financial terms.  If you do not reach a certain status economically or socially, you are just not successful.  Some of the prosperity preachers use this kind of language.  Some teach that God wants everyone to be wealthy and if you are obedient to God, He will make you successful financially. 

The only problem is that theology does not work in this chapter.  Joseph was obedient to God but he was NOT successful financially.  He was on the very bottom of society.  He was a foreigner.  He was an immigrant.  He was a slave. He was a convicted criminal.

How can you possibly be successful when you are slave?  How can you be said to prosper when you are not even a free man?  It seems impossible to prosper inside of a prison cell.  How can you prosper when you cannot even see your family?  How can you be blessed when you are not allowed to go to your own country?

The answer is that success comes in different forms.  Joseph was successful was both a slave and a prisoner.  How?  He shown given favor before his superiors in both situations by God (39:4, 21).  Potiphar trusted him with everything in his house and the prison warden trusted him as well and he was promoted in both situations.

Lessons on the Sovereignty of God

This whole chapter is all about the sovereignty of God.  What does it mean that God is sovereign?  It means that God is in complete control.  He is sovereign over everything that happens in the universe.  He is sovereign over everything that happens in your life.

Daniel 4:34-35 says, “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.  No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” (NIV)

Psalm 103:19 says, The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (NIV).  That is interesting.  You say, “I thought Satan was ruling over the planet.”  He is but God rules over Satan.  Satan can only do what God allows him to do for as long as God allows him and then it is over for Satan.  How did God rule in this chapter?  God rules over EVERYTHING that happened in this chapter. 

God was sovereign over Joseph’s brother’s actions.  It was no accident that they sold him into slavery and that he ended up in Egypt.  That was part of God’s plan.  God was not shocked by what Joseph’s brothers did to him. Joseph ends up exactly where the Lord wants him to be.

God was even sovereign over Potiphar’s wife and her seduction.  If Potiphar’s wife did not seduce Joseph, he would not have ended up in prison.  If he did not end up in prison, he would not have met the butler. 

If he did not meet the butler, he would not have been introduced to Pharaoh.  If he was not introduced to Pharaoh, he would not have been second in command over all Egypt.  If Potiphar’s wife did not do this, Joseph would have never become the Prime Minister of Egypt.  What she did was wrong but God was completely sovereign, even over her sin.  God works behind the scenes.

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