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, 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.” (Genesis 39:11–12 (ESV)
It is interesting how three words can establish an ominous tone in literature. I’m certain you have heard the well-mocked expression, “It was a dark and stormy night.” This archetype, by many, for bad writing comes from the first phrase of the opening sentence of English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton‘s 1830 novel Paul Clifford.” Just a brief bit of trivia to begin your day.
However, Moses should not be compared to Edward Butler-Lytton as an example of writing bad prose. Rather, the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:16-17) established a foreboding and sinister premonition that something sinister was about to happen to Joseph. The phrase but one day is another way of writing and it came to pass.
It occurred that one day, as Joseph was going about his normal business in his master Potiphar’s house, that none of the other men, presumably other servants, were there in the house. Joseph was alone, except for Potiphar’s wife. This was not a good situation.
Given her previous behavior of sexual advances toward Joseph (Gen. 39:6-10), the fact that the two of them were alone in the house was not a coincidence. Potiphar’s wife was seeking to fulfill her wanton desire. The text says, “She caught him by his garment, saying, and “Lie with me.” She seized Joseph’s by his clothes and continually commanded him to be sexually intimate with her.
Joseph did the only thing he could righteously do. He fled from the scene. The interpretive principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture certainly applies. 2 Timothy 2:22 (ESV) says, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
The time for discussion was over. It was time to do the only right thing he could do given the particular circumstances. The text says Joseph left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.” To flee means to not only physically leave the house, but also to reject the woman’s indecent proposal.
Potiphar’s wife wanted Joseph and was willing to go to great lengths to entrap him. Potiphar’s wife set the trap. Joseph refused to take the bait. He did what every leader should do in a similar situation, but often do not; he ran away. He got as far away from her as he could. Joseph did the right thing.
Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “Joseph would have been wearing the typical garments of the day: a long-sleeved shirt and shorts that come down to the mid-calf. For him to flee and leave these behind would mean Joseph engaged in a forceful struggle with the woman to escape — since the clothes could not normally be removed so quickly (vv. 12b–13). Joseph is honorable and would rather leave a valued piece of clothing behind than to sin against the Lord. His flight from evil is a response all believers do well to imitate (1 Tim. 6:11). God promises to bless those who obey Him and resist transgression (Deut. 28:1–14; Matt. 5:10), yet this episode in Joseph’s life reveals that the reward is not always immediate. In fact, faithfulness often brings persecution.”
Puritan Matthew Henry comments: “It is better to lose a good coat than a good conscience.”
Another commentator put it this way: “Joseph would rather lose his possessions or even his reputation on account of Potiphar’s evil wife than transgress the Lord’s commandments. There are times when we may have to choose between what others might think of us and doing the right thing. Even if others lie about us now, our righteousness will be rewarded in the age to come (Matt. 5:11–12).”
Faithfulness often brings persecution. We’ll see how this occurred in Joseph’s life when next we meet.
Soli deo Gloria!