Potiphar’s Favor

The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands” (Gen. 39:2-3).    

- Genesis 39:1–6a

Thus far our study of Genesis has demonstrated that with Abraham and Isaac, as well as with Jacob and his twelve sons, God began fulfilling His promise to use the woman’s seed to defeat Satan (Gen. 3:15). Up to this point, Jacob’s sons have not exactly shown themselves to be paragons of righteousness (chap. 34, 37–38). Yet in Christ these men (along with all other believers) make up the seed of the woman (Rom. 16:20), and so we expect to see the Lord’s presence and favor among them as we study the remaining story of their lives. 

Returning to Genesis today, we can see how this expectation is not without warrant in the opening verses of chapter 39. Jacob’s favorite son, betrayed and sold into slavery by his brothers (37:12–36), is now a servant in Potiphar’s house (39:1). However, Joseph’s situation is not as bad as it seems. At first, Jacob’s son is only a menial slave for Pharaoh’s captain of the guard, but soon he is given a more respectable status as an indoor servant (v. 2), before becoming Potiphar’s personal attendant (v. 4). This is a position of great honor and indicates a close, personal relationship between the two men. The Hebrew root (sharat) used for Joseph’s position is the same one used for Joshua’s relationship to Moses (Ex. 24:13). Joseph is so beloved and trustworthy that he is left in charge of all of Potiphar’s financial matters so that the captain need only worry himself with his personal affairs (Gen. 39:6a). 

Verse 2 attributes Joseph’s success to the Lord’s presence with him, but we must not think he is a passive player in these events. Joseph has worked hard to achieve his position; this is made more plain in the original Hebrew text. His activity is described with similar terms as the Suffering Servant’s achievement of His objectives in Isaiah 53:10.

Nevertheless, Joseph would not have gotten so far if the Almighty’s hand was absent from his life. So great is Joseph’s success that even his pagan master can see the blessing on his life (Gen. 39:3). Indeed, God has been good to Joseph in his travails. John Chrysostom writes: “Grace from on high stood by him [Joseph]…and smoothed over all his difficulties” (Homilies on Genesis, 62.13).

Coram Deo

Matthew Henry comments: “Good men are the blessings of the places where they live.” Joseph, a good man, brought much blessing to Potiphar not only because the Lord was with him, but also because he was faithful and trustworthy. By the power of the Spirit, our Father is making us “good people,” and one way we can judge our progression in sanctification is to see if we are bringing blessings to others. Are you making your corner of the world a better place?

Passages for Further Study

Gen. 48:21
1 Chron. 22:2–13
Isa. 41:8–10
2 Cor. 13:11

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