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Joseph found himself in a terrible predicament when Potiphar’s wife relentlessly tried to seduce him. And yet he resisted her because he refused to commit such great wickedness against God. In her desperation, she grabbed him, and when Joseph fled from her presence, his garment was left behind in her hand. How did Potiphar’s wife respond?

And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” (Gen. 39:13–15)

The woman’s vanity was crushed by Joseph’s rejection, so she accused him of attempted rape. She made clear that the man whom she was accusing was not an Egyptian, almost as if to say: “He’s not one of us. Who are you going to believe, me or him?”

Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”

As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. (Gen. 39:16–20)

The fact that Potiphar’s anger was aroused indicates that he believed these false charges. After all, she had the evidence. It’s understandable why he would have been angered. His wife had been violated, and violated by a slave—and not just any slave. She had been violated by a slave to whom Potiphar had granted special privileges and favors.

So then, why didn’t Potiphar have Joseph immediately executed? Perhaps it was because he knew his wife, but he also knew Joseph. He knew Joseph’s character. Joseph seems to have thus gotten off somewhat easy, which hints that Potiphar may have harbored doubts about his wife’s accusation.

So God seems to have rewarded Joseph for his obedience by having him thrown into prison. We may conclude from this story that righteousness does not pay. Joseph may have thought to himself that he would have been better off succumbing to the temptation, for then he may have still enjoyed the status that he had in Potiphar’s house. Instead, he was in prison. Yet we see from Joseph’s conduct and character in prison that there was no expression of hostility toward God for his circumstances.
In this, Joseph was like the Apostle Paul, who was no stranger to the jail system of his day. Paul spent a lot of time in prison, and every time he was there, it was on false charges. The Apostle said of his own life: “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound” (Phil. 4:11–12).

That’s what we find in the character of Joseph. We read this after Potiphar put Joseph into prison: “But the Lord was with Joseph” (Gen. 39:21). That’s the second time we read this statement. The first was after Joseph had been sold into slavery and brought to Egypt (Gen. 39:2).

Wherever we are, we can know not only that God is there but that He is pursuing us with His mercy and with His goodness.

Joseph’s situation took a turn for the worse. He was thrown into prison, where his abandonment seemed to be complete and his solitude absolute—except that the Lord was with him. We see in this story not simply Joseph’s fidelity amid these difficult circumstances; we see also the fidelity of God. God promised that He would be with this man, and He did not depart from him. Whether in slavery or in prison, God was there.

This is an important point for us to remember. Prosperity preachers today tell us that if we’re Christians, we will never suffer. Even a cursory reading of the Scriptures reveals that this is a lie, and we should not be deceived by it. God does not promise us freedom from pain, persecution, tribulation, or suffering. On the contrary, He promises that these things will happen to us, but in the midst of these circumstances, He also promises His presence. We see this demonstrated in Joseph’s life.

“The Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (Gen. 39:21). It certainly doesn’t seem as though Joseph was getting much steadfast love. He was certainly not getting any justice. “And [God] gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (v. 21). When Joseph had been sold into slavery, God blessed him, in that he won the favor of Potiphar.

Every time Joseph was shown favoritism, he got into trouble. He had received great favor from his father, Jacob. He had received Potiphar’s favor. Now the warden of the prison looked kindly upon Joseph. We may wonder what it was about this young man that people were so favorably disposed toward him. It was probably a matter not simply of Joseph’s personality and character but also of his skills. Even in prison, he began to use the gifts that God had given him in leadership, management, and administration.

And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. (Gen. 39:22–23)

While Joseph was in Potiphar’s household, Potiphar had delegated authority over his entire household to Joseph. And now the warden placed Joseph in charge of the whole prison. The text exactly repeats what had been said of Joseph when he began to manage Potiphar’s affairs. He managed things so superbly that the person to whom Joseph was answerable stopped bothering to supervise him. Nobody was looking over his shoulder. Everything that he did prospered. He was better at the job than the warden was.

Wherever Joseph was, he did his work to the glory of God. No job was too menial or too low for him to apply his energy in this way. This was very likely because of his relationship with God.

The Scriptures tell us again: “The Lord was with [Joseph]. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed” (Gen. 39:23). Joseph was in prison by the providence of God, and the success that he found in prison was not simply the result of his own ability or energy. It was the Lord who made him prosper. He understood that he was to do everything in his power to the glory of God but that God would ultimately bring the increase and the prosperity.

Psalm 23:6 says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” In Hebrew, the verb translated as “follow” means “to pursue” or “to chase after.” That is what we see in the life of Joseph. God’s mercy followed him wherever he went; it chased him. He couldn’t outrun the mercy and goodness of God. That’s what it means to submit to the providence of God. Wherever we are, we can know not only that He is there but that He is pursuing us with His mercy and with His goodness.