Genesis 39 Lesson: The Presence of God in the life of Joseph

Bible Study Series: Joseph, Jesus and You

Genesis 39 Lesson: The Presence of God in the life of Joseph

by I Gordon

Genesis 39 Bible Study Lesson Presence of God in the life of JosephWe are back in the life of Joseph today and you may remember that when we left our good friend he was down in the pits of despair. Well he was, quite literally, in the pits anyway! He was hated, ridiculed, rejected and then thrown into a pit before finally being sold into slavery... and by those that were meant to love and care for him - his own brothers. Gulp... And remember - this was their 'friendlier' plan B for him! Let's not even contemplate what their plan A was! Eventually he was taken down into Egypt and traded by his Ishmaelite masters to Potiphar, a captain in Pharaoh's guard. Not good. But as we shall see, things will soon take a wee turn upwards for young Joseph... before plummeting into an unexpected downward dive once again! Oh the life of Joseph. He must have wondered what was going to come next! But it was all under the careful eye of God who was not only watching, but controlling all things for this very special great grandson of Abraham! And so Genesis 39, which we are studying today, begins and ends by saying that the Lord was with Joseph. So in this lesson we'll focus on the following:

  • The noticeable difference God's presence made as Joseph served faithfully - how does this picture Jesus and provide lessons for our life?
  • The presence of God in Joseph's temptation and trials - what was his, and our, way of escape when temptation comes?
  • The presence of God when life makes no sense - What kept Joseph sane as life once again took a crazy unexpected turn? 

The Presence of God - In Serving the Lord

Gen 39:1-6 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. (2) The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. (3) When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, (4) Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. (5) From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. (6) So he left in Joseph's care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. 

McGee: "This fine-looking young man, seventeen years old, would be a prize as a slave in the market. He was bought by Potiphar who was a captain of the guard. Potiphar was in the military, he had his office in the Pentagon of that day, and he was part of the brass, a prominent official."

So from a natural point of view, it seems that Joseph is at the mercy of the hands of men. He's gone from the hands of his brothers, who man-handled and threw him in the pit, to slavery at the hands of the Ishmaelites, to servanthood under the hands of Potiphar, an Egyptian official under Pharaoh. To the human eye it seems like he is helpless, held captive by the will of man. Yet the spiritual eye sees the unseen hand and will of God at play. Our passage tells us that through all this, God was with him. Alone, as we said last time, but not alone. And Joseph's master notices it too. He sees that the Lord is with him. There is something different about Joseph that can only be explained by one thing - God. This is interesting because the name Potiphar means 'Dedicated to Ra' who was the Egyptian sun-god. So as a faithful Egyptian of that time, Potiphar may well be dedicated to Ra, the Sun-God, but he can't help but notice that this kid Joseph is different... in a good way. And he finds something as well. He finds that when he puts Joseph in the right place, things click into place for him and his household also! We read:

From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.

Suddenly the blessing of the Lord that was upon Joseph extended to Potiphar's house and property as well and it all happened 'from the time Potiphar put Joseph in command over his household.' 

Picture of Jesus as the Servant

There are several other pictures of Jesus in this passage that are worth noting.

  • Like Joseph who was a prosperous servant (Gen 39:2, 3) so Jesus was the prosperous Servant (Isaiah 52:13; 53:10, Philippians 2:6, 7; Luke 22:27)
  • Like Joseph’s master was well pleased with him (Gen 39:4) so the Heavenly Father was well pleased with Jesus (John 8:29) 
  • Like Potiphar entrusted all that he had unto Joseph (Gen 39:4), so the Father entrust all with Jesus (Luk 10:22)
  • Like Joseph's master was blessed in and through Joseph (39:5) so we as believers are blessed in and through Jesus! (Eph 1:3)

So what can we learn here? What is the Bible telling us that we can take for our own lives?

Learning from the characters
  • We can learn from Joseph - Joseph was a servant. Whether it was with Potiphar, in the dungeon or under Pharaoh himself (as we'll see) Joseph was a servant. And he served his master well because he first and foremost served the Lord. This example reminds us of what the New Testament says: Col 3:22-24 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. (23) Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, (24) since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
    You may also remember the fleshly disagreement that the disciples were having as they discussed who amongst them was the greatest! Ha... just imagine! The Lord would have probably been thinking 'oh dear oh dear... I have some way to go!'1 Can you remember what He said to them?
    'Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. (25) Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. (26) But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. (27) For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.' (Luk 22:24-27) 
    Our Lord came to serve and so should we. So we can learn from Joseph here, and obviously the Lord. And we can learn from the disciples... on what not to do!
  • We can learn from Joseph in that he found himself in a culture so foreign to his own yet he stayed true to his beliefs and principles and didn't compromise them. And this made him stand out! He was noticed and had a great impact on those around him. Among all the 'gods' of Egypt stood this young boy who shone a light for the true God of heaven and Earth!
  • We can learn from Potiphar - Potiphar was smart enough to spot the one that God's blessing and hand was upon. Now I know some prosperity teachers would try to use this to say bless our ministry and God will bless you. And it always has to be their ministry, not someone else's... so shameless! Rest assured that is not where I am going with this! All blessings are 'in Christ Jesus' (Eph 1:3, 1 Cor 1:30) and our blessing comes from being associated with, and in, Him! But we do have to put Him in his right place. We see in this picture that Potiphar was blessed from the moment that he put Joseph in charge. We too need to take our hands off the steering wheel and all our Lord to take charge. Which always seems scary as it seems like we won't have control. And we won't. But things are not out of control when He is in charge. That is where the place of blessing is. But be careful not to become legal in this. As a young Christian I used to hear 'if He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all'... all the time. That soon places a burden upon people that no one can live up to (if they are honest!). But it is about prayer, It is about dependence and thankfulness. It is about knowing that God's will is the best will for you and bringing Him into your everyday life. It is about talking to the Lord as you go about your day, committing your ways unto Him and thanking Him that He will guide and direct your steps. Corrie Ten Boom had a great quote saying 'Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” I like that and it is worth thinking about! Potiphar prospered when he put Joseph in the right position and we can learn from that with the greater Joseph we have!

The Presence of God - In testing and temptation

Gen 39:7-20 Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, "Come to bed with me!" (8) But he refused. "With me in charge," he told her, "my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. (9) No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" (10) And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. (11) One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. (12) She caught him by his cloak and said, "Come to bed with me!" But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. (13) When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, (14) she called her household servants. "Look," she said to them, "this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. (15) When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house." (16) She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. (17) Then she told him this story: "That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. (18) But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house." (19) When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, "This is how your slave treated me," he burned with anger. (20) Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined. 

Now everything is just starting to go swimmingly for Joseph. He has overcome the tremendous trials of being rejected, hated, and sold into slavery. The blessing of the Lord is clearly upon his life and everything is upwards and onwards from here... right? Isn't that how life works? Well, life often has a habit of changing in unforeseen ways! And what is it that is going to get him into trouble? Well, of all things, it is his looks! The Bible says that he is well-built and handsome. Another version, the NKJV, says he was 'handsome in form and appearance'. If you look up 'handsome' in the Bible you won't find many references. It is fair to say that when it comes to beauty, men come a far-distant second between the two sexes! But a few get a mention2 and so Joseph was in a select group which, though no fault of his own, led to problems!  

Learning from Joseph - Standing strong in temptation
 Despite the repeated advances and temptation of Potiphar's wife, Joseph stood strong in this temptation. I had a young believer write to me this week with the subject line of 'Advice/Tips/Help/Reassurance/Anything...' You see he was desperate. He has been a believer less than a year but, in his own words, has been addicted to pornography for about 15 years. And he is finding this addiction very hard to break, even now that he has become a Christian. Lust and sexual sin could be called the curse of our generation because it is all so rife and accessible with the rise of the internet. Experts tell us that viewing pornography repeatedly can rewire the brain leading to an addiction similar to a drug user, constantly needing another (and often bigger) 'hit' for satisfaction, only leaving them emptier than before. To quote a small part of his email he wrote:

"I don't want to do this anymore man, I just want to be with Jesus, I want to follow Him, Love Him, Truly put my faith and trust in Him but with all these times I keep failing and going back to this addiction. Am I even saved? Has God truly just left me to a reprobate mind? Am I just deluding myself into thinking I'm a child of God when I'm just constantly disobeying, constantly going back to the same stupid stuff that I want to kick, am I just lying to myself and to God?"

One thing is clear and that it is you won't be strong in temptation when you're not strong in the Lord and are wondering whether even God Himself has given you over to a reprobate mind! So, what can we learn from Joseph? What did he do, even early on in this temptation, to escape the lures of this woman?
  1. ' My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife.' Joseph thought about the impact on his earthly relationships. He cared about others. He cared about the kindness of his earthly master and didn't want to do anything that would damage that relationship. 
  2. Joseph looked forward instead of giving in to a temporal present lustful temptation he would later greatly regret!  
  3. 'How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?' Joseph called sin 'sin' and didn't try to make any excuses for why it would be ok 'just this one time'.   
  4. Joseph brought God into the situation and cared about what He thought - More than anything else, he cared about the thoughts of his heavenly master and this was the most important point of all! He saw this potential act primarily against God Himself. 
  5. 'And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.' Joseph gave the one tempting him a wide berth! Notice the wisdom in Joseph's approach. Not only did he clearly say 'no' to Potiphar's wife (and explained why, including his obedience to God), but when she persisted we read that 'he refused to... even be with her.' He 'took the long way home' if it meant avoiding this woman! He was determined not to put himself in a compromised position by being with her. Wise man!3

Now speaking of these Old Testament stories, the Bible says:

1Co 10:11-13 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. (12) So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! (13) No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

The reality is that there is always a way of escape for us... if we want it. That is a biblical promise! But it isn't our ability to resist the temptation that provides the key. It is His presence in our life and it is bringing God into the situation that is the key. We have to bring the Lord Jesus into the situation right at the point of temptation. But notice also that Joseph fled - he ran! He was 'outta there' and wasn't leaving anything up to chance! He didn't even flirt with the thought. In like manner the New Testament is clear and tells us to run and flee from similar temptations:

2Ti 2:22 Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Some fellow leaders at the church I went to had a friend who was a young believer and was concerned about backsliding. So he was asking the Lord how he can avoid backsliding and he felt the Lord say to him 'don't go where it is slippery!' Good practical advice! If you have a known weakness in an area of temptation, take the long way home if you have to, and don't put yourself in a known area of temptation, whatever that may be.

In all this temptation we have a picture of the One who faced even greater trials and testing. 

Picture of Jesus in the testing and trials
  • Like Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife yet did not sin (39:7-12) so Jesus was tempted in all ways and did not sin (Matthew 4:1-11; Heb 4:15) 
  • Like Joseph was falsely accused (39:16-18) so Jesus was falsely accused (Matthew 26:59-61) 
  • As Joseph offered no defense (39:19) so Jesus gave no defense at His trials (Isaiah 53:7) 
  • Though innocent. Joseph was cast into prison (39:20) and Jesus was sentenced to death though no fault was found in Him (John 19:4, 6) 
  • Joseph was jailed with prisoners (39:20) just as Jesus was crucified with criminals (Luke 23:33) 

And always remember that 'Because he (Jesus) himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.' (Heb 2:18)4

Now refusing temptation caused everything to suddenly go well for Joseph right? Um, yeah, about that... not exactly. Have you heard the saying 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'? Well hear she and it comes! In fact he got into as much trouble as if he had actually given in to the temptation for he goes from being tempted, to being framed, by this 'lovely' woman! And though innocent, he was placed in prison. Yet he went to prison with something and someone. He went with a clear conscience and with the presence of God. Let's focus on that now.

The Presence of God - When you feel trapped

Gen 39:20-23 ...But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. (22) So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. (23) The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

God was with Joseph in all the highs and the lows. And it is fair to say that many of what we see as lows (from a human perspective) are actually highs (from God's perspective) and vice-versa! The so-called lows in Joseph's life were God's way of bringing about His purposes. The reality, even for our own lives, is that we often can't tell what is actually a good thing and what is a bad thing. Oh we know whether we think of something as good or bad based on how it makes us feel at the time. But are feelings a good judge of eternal matters? How does God see that which troubles us? Good or bad? Useful or useless? The reality is that all difficulties are useful in the hands of God and it is in those moments that His presence is all the more real. So note how the Bible repeatedly says that the Lord was with Joseph during his trials for as mentioned at the start, this chapter is book-ended by this thought of the presence of God. 

  • After being sold into Egypt as a slave: Gen 39:2 The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. Gen 39:3 When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did...
  • After being put in prison on false charges: Gen 39:21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. Gen 39:23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

Whether Joseph was free or in prison, God was with him and the result was the same. The goodness of God followed him. Joseph may not have had the experiences of God that some of his fathers had but He was experiencing His goodness and presence right in the midst of trouble. And it made all the difference... even in totally unjust experiences like being thrown into prison on false charges. So this raises the question of why prison was God's will for Joseph.

So why was God's will for Joseph prison?
  1. Firstly for the development of his faith and character. He had to learn to trust in the hardest of situations. And prison, on false charges, was such a situation! There is a great passage in the Psalms that speaks of how this time really tested young Joseph. If you think that Potiphar's wife was a test and a temptation, well she had nothing on the long, slow, seemingly never-ending test of being forgotten in prison. The Bible says:
    Psa 105:18-19 They afflicted his feet with fetters, He himself was laid in irons; (19) Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the LORD tested him.
    In other words, this time even tested what God had previously promised Joseph in his two earlier dreams, where even his own family bowed down to him. Yet his circumstance now, alone in prison and separated from his family, was the exact opposite of what those dreams said would happen! Would he still believe and trust what God said even though present circumstances were the complete opposite?
  2. Secondly prison was God's will for Joseph to allow him to experience the lowest of lows as a picture of what the greatest servant, the Messiah, would one day experience. Just as Joseph's great Grandfather Abraham got to experience what the Lord would experience by being asked to offer his only son, so Joseph got to experience so much (but not all!) of what the Lord Jesus would one day go through.
  3. Thirdly God allowed this to be an encouragement for all of us who find ourselves trapped in a situation outside of our control. Joseph stands as a clear example that God can turn the worst situation around for good. Whether your personal prison is physical, spiritual or mental... Or a pornography addiction!
  4. And lastly, God's will for Joseph was prison because He would eventually use it as the vehicle for which Joseph will ascend to the right hand of Pharaoh! Oh what a strange path to take... but such are the paths of God!


So what have we seen? We've seen that in all stages of this crazy roller-coaster of a life that Joseph led, God was with him. And that made all the difference for Joseph. And our Lord has promised that He will be with believers right to the very end as well. And we need to act, taking this reality into account. When we are nervous or fearful, we speak the truth of God's word:

Heb 13:5-6 ...God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"

When we are uncertain of which way to go, we speak to our heart again saying

Pro 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; (6) in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

And when circumstances look like they are against us, we say:

Rom 8:31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

This is all because of the presence of God in our life. Let me conclude with a quote from William MacDonald that sums things up very well:

"The truth of Rom 8:28 is wonderfully displayed in this chapter. God was working behind the scenes for Joseph. The latter resisted temptation and sought to avoid occasions for sin (vv. 8-10). Despite this, his would-be seducer framed him. And so for a second time Joseph found himself in chains (Psa 105:17-19). Under the circumstances he should have been upset. But he was not "under the circumstances"; he was above them and saw God's hand in them. His time in prison was "training time for reigning time." So things that were meant by others for evil turned out to be for good."
William MacDonald, The Believers Bible Commentary

And may we learn to see life the same way as we take God into account!

God Bless!.


  1. And this is not even the first time in the gospel of Luke that the disciples were arguing over whom of them was the greatest! See also Luk 9:46-48.

  2. But some notable men in this department are mentioned like King Saul (1 Sam 9:2), David (1 Sam 16:18) and especially David's son Absalom, of whom it says 'In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him.' (2Sa 14:25) Ok... I'm sure that didn't go to his head at all now did it?! And let's not forget a young Daniel and his three handsome buddies (Dan 1:4).  

  3. "When he went down to Egypt, it was a land filled with idolatry just as much as Babylon was. In that land of idolatry, Joseph maintained a testimony for the living and true God and a high moral standard. When this woman enticed him, he said, "My master has turned over everything to me but you—you are his wife." Notice what a high viewpoint Joseph had on marriage. You see, God has given marriage to all mankind. When a person begins to despise the marriage vows, he is beginning to despise God, my friend. A man who will break his marriage vows will generally break any vow he has made to God." J Vernon McGee

  4. And remember that Jesus was tempted by the trickiest of foes (Satan himself), in the harshest of conditions (in the wilderness/desert with no support) and when His natural impulses would have been screaming (having had no food for 40 days). Yet in all the different types of temptations made, Jesus would bring God and His word into the situation saying 'It is written...' and He prevailed!