This post follows yesterday’s, where we looked at the similarities between the accounts of the temptation of Eve in Genesis 3 and Joseph in Genesis 39. First we looked at similarities in the stories (both situations involved someone given authority with one thing they were forbidden), and then charted the process of Eve’s temptation and eventual defeat by the temptation.
Today we’ll look at Genesis 39 and watch Joseph’s trial–of course, the outcome of his is the opposite of hers. This time, I’ll paraphrase Joseph’s response to Potiphar’s wife in order to see, point by point, what helped him to defeat the temptation.
- “Potiphar is my master.” We shouldn’t miss the significance of Joseph calling Potiphar “master” in verse 8. Even though he was wrongly betrayed and sold by his brothers into his current position as slave to Potiphar, Joseph acknowledged Potiphar’s authority over him as legitimate. As we read on, we can discern that this is because Joseph recognized that God granted Potiphar that authority.
- “Potiphar gave me responsibility.” (v.8) We should notice that Joseph took this seriously. It was a (sacred) trust, not to be despised.
- “With that responsibility, Potiphar gave me great privilege.” No spider-man reference here…That’s what’s behind his statement in verse 9–“no one in the house is greater than I.”
- “But you are outside of my privilege.” As he says it: “neither has he kept back anything from me, except yourself” (v.9). This is key. Here we see how Joseph’s story repeats Adam and Eve’s. He was made ruler over all, with one exception, and it was in relation to this one exception that he was tried. Potiphar’s wife was a sign of Potiphar’s ultimate authority over Joseph. To ignore that would be to deny Potiphar’s authority, and to usurp his place. It would be to act as if Potiphar (her husband) didn’t exist. In other words, to fail in this one point would be to fail in everything.
- “This would be wickedness.” (v. 9) No moral relativism here. No cutting himself slack because of his hard circumstances. No justifying the sin because of some failing of his boss. Joseph declares her request pure evil.
- “Behind it all is God, and this would be a sin against Him.” (v.9) And this is where we get to the heart of the issue. It further highlights Joseph as a picture in Genesis of God’s intention for humanity (and thereby, looking forward, as a picture of Christ).
And now we’re ready to look at why Adam and Eve failed and Joseph succeeded.
In the first (#1) and last (#6) statements, we see that Joseph recognized, first and foremost, God’s total authority over him. He saw that authority as legitimate, so that if God wanted to sell him down to Egypt to slavery in Potiphar’s house, He could! This enabled Joseph to work faithfully without despising Potiphar. So when Potiphar’s wife came to him with what seemed to be a simple temptation to give in to lust, he was able to see the real issue: this actually was a temptation to violate Potiphar’s, and therefore God’s, authority. He was set up to succeed.
Eve was tempted in this same respect, but she got stuck contemplating the actual fruit. The fruit was so good looking, she couldn’t see that Satan was actually inviting her to ignore God’s authority, or even to take it to herself. He was inviting her to act as though she had authority over the fruit, when she did not. When Adam and Even bit the fruit, they were only physically acting out the seismic spiritual shift that was already occurring inside: They had moved God out of His place and claimed that territory for themselves.
What does this tell us about our own battles? When we’re being tempted one of the key things for us to remember is that temptation is always a battle for authority. Will we acknowledge, in that moment, God’s authority over us? Or, being tempted, will we declare in thought and action that we are the authority over ourselves? In any tempting circumstance, we should acknowledge, consciously in our thoughts: “God, you are king over me. You are Lord.” We should just pray it up to Him. (For a great meditation on this (and Joseph’s story) see 1 Peter 3:13-18 & 4:1-6.)
Thinking like Joseph will predispose us to defeating temptation. We’ll be quick to look up to God and want to honor Him. We’ll be quick to sniff out anything that would undermine His authority in our lives. And we’ll be able to look through a temptation to see the tempter behind it–and the God he’s fighting over it all.