Week of Jan 1: Awareness of God's grace can guard against temptations
By the Rev. Sam and Helen Rogers
Scripture: Genesis 39:7-21
Background Scripture: Genesis 39:1-23
On this first day of the New Year, the continuing unfolding drama of the Bible takes us to Egypt and the temptation of Joseph. How did he get in this mess? The student needs to remember that Jacob had 12 sons by four different mothers! Jacob, who tricked his brother Esau out of the family’s inheritance, was tricked himself by Laban before he could marry Rachel. It is Rachel who gives birth to Joseph and then dies in giving birth to Benjamin. Jacob’s preference for Joseph creates division and jealousy in the family. The other brothers plot to murder him but Reuben saves him. Later, to rid themselves of Joseph, Judah prevails upon his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Thus Joseph comes to Egypt, and the story unfolds.
Potiphar, commander of the Pharaoh’s personal guard, purchases Joseph. Soon Potiphar discovers the special gifts Joseph has and gives him complete control of his household. Joseph is a very handsome young man, and Potiphar’s wife becomes infatuated with him. (Sounds like a soap opera!) But Joseph has integrity. He refuses the wife’s overtures by emphasizing the trust Potiphar has placed in him and states clearly, “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Thus he rejects the blatant invitation for an adulterous relationship. “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned!” She accuses Joseph of molesting her. It is worth noting that Joseph seems never to defend himself! Joseph is thrown into the prison of the Pharaoh.
“But the Lord was with Joseph” and soon the prison warden also discovers the administrative gifts of Joseph. Like Potiphar, he places Joseph over the other prisoners and in complete charge of all prison matters. The Bible simply reiterates the fact: “The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”
When do you feel the presence of God? Too often we acknowledge God’s presence in the good times, but have a difficult time affirming Him when things are tough. Psalm 23 puts to rest forever the lie that God is absent in times of trouble with the affirmation: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” A powerful hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul,” was written by Horatio Spafford following the sinking of the Ville du Havre in which his wife and children perished. Often people continue to believe bad things happen because God is inflicting punishment. So it was with Job’s life. Tragedy, misfortune, calamity, grief, and disaster came one after another. “You must have done something wrong,” advised his friends. Again and again Job maintained his innocence and integrity.
Christians should know better! The last thing Jesus said to the disciples after entrusting the Great Commission to them was: “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV) The very title of God’s Son is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” On his deathbed, the last words John Wesley said were, “The best of all, God is with us. Farewell!”
In Genesis 39: 21, there is a Hebrew word that occurs often in the Old Testament. That word is “hesed,” translated as “God’s loving- kindness.” This word is a powerful predecessor to “grace.” The undeserved love and mercy of God is offered long before Jesus to Joseph. In Jesus, the character and nature of God is made fully clear and distinct. Before speaking of the human need to be faithful and loyal to God, how important is it to know of God’s loyalty and faithfulness to us?
The account of Joseph’s temptation to betray Potiphar’s trust by accepting his wife’s advances raises issues about personal integrity today. How do people find the strength to resist evil in whatever form it comes? Breaking or keeping promises is a very contemporary issue. One writer has said, “Our true character is displayed when we are not required to act in a certain way. What we do in private often reveals more about us than the public “‘face’ we wear.” This fact applies not only to sexual or financial actions, but also extends to our treatment and attitudes toward others. When persons are treated as if they are less than children of God, the relationship with God is damaged.
God’s loving kindness (grace) is constant and undeserved. To be aware of the reality of grace can keep us safe from the temptations that will inevitably confront us. Before we can find the strength to resist, God’s powerful love is already on our side. When we were teenagers, we realized some of our classmates were being paid to make good grades—some with money and some with a car! We both made good grades also, but we never consciously did because we would receive something in return. We did because our parents knew we could and expected us to do our best. In other words, making good grades was our way of showing our parents, in return for their constant love and support, we would do our best.
So Joseph resists the temptress with the word of the key verse: “How could I do this wicked thing and sin against God?” He had been trusted, and he would not give in and betray not only Potiphar, but God as well. The complex issues of sin affect not only other human beings, but ultimately God. When we sin, we betray God’s constant love and trust in us. The very modern story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife can help us remain true and faithful to God regardless of the circumstances.