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Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme: Overcome: Living Beyond Your Circumstances

What This Study Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

This study is about Joseph, a man who was very clear about the horrific side effects of giving in to temptation. His example can help us to not be taken by surprise when temptation comes and what to do when it does come.


Oct. 19

Overcome Betrayal


Oct. 26

Overcome Temptation


Nov. 02

Overcome Being Forgotten


Nov. 09

Overcome Hard Times


Nov. 16

Overcome Bitterness


Nov. 23

Overcome an Earthly Mindset



It’s easier to resist temptation when you know what’s at stake.


Genesis 39:3-12





Presence and Blessing (Gen. 39:3-6)

Standards and Convictions (Gen. 39:7-10)

Temptation and Response (Gen. 39:11-12)


This study focuses on one of the most famous temptation scenes in the Bible, Joseph being tempted to a sexual sin with his master’s wife.  God had blessed Joseph and his service to his master to the point his master placed Joseph over the entire household and all his possessions.  Even the master’s wife was impressed with Joseph and repeatedly tried to seduce him.  But Joseph was successful in his resistance to that temptation. 

Overview is adapted from the following sources:

Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Sin is so enticing and compelling on the front end that Satan uses it in his attempt to destroy our relationship with the Lord.   But afterward, when it is all over and we face the consequences of giving in, we can see our sin from a different perspective.  It is in the aftermath that we often ask ourselves with regret, “Why did I give in?” 

This session stresses that we can resist the temptations to sin more easily when we consider all the possible consequences of our actions.  The story of Joseph resisting temptation should remind us that being tempted to sin and actually sinning are different.  We all face temptations, but when we recall Joseph’s story of resistance we should find encouragement that resistance is always possible and, of that, we need to be constantly reminded.

Introduction is adapted from the following source:

Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Presence and Blessing (Gen. 39:3-6)

3 When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he did successful, 4 Joseph found favor in his master’s sight and became his personal attendant. Potiphar also put him in charge of his household and placed all that he owned under his authority.  5 From the time that he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house because of Joseph. The Lord’s blessing was on all that he owned, in his house and in his fields.  6 He left all that he owned under Joseph’s authority; he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome.

1.     Who was Joseph’s master and what do we know about him? (See 39:1.)

2.     How do you think Potiphar would have known about Joseph’s God (v. 3)?

3.     What did Potiphar perceive about Joseph (v. 3)?

4.     What was the benefit to Joseph of the Lord being present with him (v. 3)?

5.     Based on verse 4, how would you describe the effect Joseph’s godly behavior had on Potiphar?

6.     How would you describe the level of trust Potiphar had in Joseph to make him his personal attendant (v. 4)?

7.     According to verse 4, what other two responsibilities did Potiphar give Joseph (v. 4)?

8.     Based on these verses, how would you describe Joseph’s job in Potiphar’s household?

9.     What do verses 5-6 tell us about the relationship Joseph had with Potiphar?

10.  How would you describe the level of trust Potiphar had in Joseph (v. 6a)?

11.  Have you experienced this level of trust in your relationships with others? 

12.  If so, to what would you attribute this trusting relationship?

13.  What impact can the behavior of a believer have on those around him/her?

14.  Why do you think a believer’s behavior can have a positive impact on the people around them?

15.  What are some biblical examples of this happening that can you recall?  (See 2 examples: Acts 10:1-48; Acts 16:19-34.)

16.  What does this passage tell us about the importance of our daily behavior in our relationship with God?

17.  Is there a relationship between God’s blessings and a believer’s behavior?  If so, how would you describe it?

18.  What do you think is the point of describing Joseph’s physical characteristics in the last part of v. 6?


Lasting Lessons in Gen. 39:3-6:

1.  God can bless us wherever we are.

2.  When we are blessed by God, the people around us are impacted positively as well.

3.  Non-believers will sometimes reward God’s people for their strong character and conduct.



Standards and Convictions (Gen. 39:7-10)

7 After some time his master’s wife looked longingly at Joseph and said, “Sleep with me.”  8 But he refused. “Look,” he said to his master’s wife, “with me here my master does not concern himself with anything in his house, and he has put all that he owns under my authority.  9 No one in this house is greater than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. So how could I do such a great evil and sin against God?”  10 Although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her.

1.     Do you think it is important to heed warning labels?  Why, or why not?

2.     What are some warning labels you never ignore?

3.     Do you think it’s easier to resist temptation when you know what’s at stake?  Why, or why not?

4.     What are the characteristics of a “trustworthy” person?

5.     What characteristics suggest God is with someone?

6.     According to verse 7, what was unfolding in Joseph’s life?

7.     How did Joseph respond to the invitation to “Sleep with . . . “ Potiphar’s wife (v. 8)?

8.     After he refused her offer, what did Joseph say to her (vv. 8-9)?

9.     What does verse 10 tell about Joseph’s conviction in this situation?

10.  According to verses 8-9, what would have been at stake should Joseph have given in to this temptation?

11.  Had Joseph given in to Potiphar’s wife’s, to whom would he have sinned against? Potiphar’s wife, Potiphar, or God?  Or all three? 

12.  What do you think is the biggest thing that’s at stake when we give in to temptation?

13.  What do you think is at stake when we give in to a temptation when nobody knows about it?

14.  When we refuse Satan’s temptation, why do you think he keeps repeating it?

15.  What is the implication for us when we think we have overcome the temptation?

16.  What do you think is the biggest motivator in a believer’s yielding to temptation?

17.  When we yield to temptation, why do you think we often try to rationalize our behavior?

18.  Do you think a non-believer is ever subjected to temptation?  Why, or why not?


Lasting Lessons in Gen. 39:7-10:

1.  We gain our basic moral convictions from our family and close friends.

2.  As Christians, we need to gain our moral convictions from God’s Word.

3.  We can resist the temptation to sin more easily when we realize God is with us.

4.  Our sin primarily impacts our relationship with God.

5.  Our sin impacts our relationship with ourselves and with other people.

6.  Overcoming temptation begins by having standards and convictions already in place.



Temptation and Response (Gen. 39:11-12)

11 Now one day he went into the house to do his work, and none of the household servants were there.  12 She grabbed him by his garment and said, “Sleep with me!” But leaving his garment in her hand, he escaped and ran outside.

1.     In what unavoidable situation did Joseph find himself (v. 11)?

2.     What indicates that the stage had been set for this encounter Joseph was about to experience?

3.     What indicates Potiphar’s wife took her advances to a new level (v. 12)?

4.     How did Joseph respond to her advances this time (v. 12)?

5.     What options did Joseph have besides running away?

6.     What was significant about Potiphar’s wife having Joseph’s garment after he fled?

7.     What was it that would connect the garment to Joseph (v. 12)?

8.     If a believer can’t always count God blessing/s by resisting Satan’s attacks, what can he/she count on?

9.     When resisting temptation brings on serious consequences, what are some things a believer should do?

10.  Do you believe it’s easier to resist temptation when you know what’s at stake?  Why, or why not?

11.   What are we to do when Satan catches us off guard in a moment of weakness?

12.  What does this do to our relationship with the Lord?

13.  How importance is it to understanding that, like the persistence of Potiphar’s wife, Satan will attack us repeatedly?

14.  In a culture saturated with temptation, how do we avoid giving in to temptation?

15.  If we know how to avoid giving in to temptation, how can we avoid it consistently?


Lasting Lessons in Gen. 39:11-12:

1.  Often the best response to the temptation to sin is to change one’s geographical location.

2.  Resisting the temptation to sin occasionally has short-term negative consequences.

3.  We should make our ethical decisions on biblical standards rather than calculating short-term benefits.



The Bible has much to say regarding fleeing temptation.  James 1:14 explains that we are tempted when we become enticed by our own natural desires.  Temptation comes to all of us.  This chapter in Joseph’s life should serve as a model for us to stand firm in the face of Satan’s attempts to tear down our relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Satan is a very clever tempter, and will be never give up in his efforts to get us to sin against God.  Satan will see to it that we will face his temptations for as long as we live.  So, we must always be aware of what’s at stake.  Then, by God’s power, we will always be prepared to resist.

So, how well do you think you are equipped to stand firm in the face of temptation?  How well do you know which of your “hot buttons” Satan is most likely to push to tempt you into sinning against God?  How would you rate how well you stand firm in the face of the “hot button” temptations Satan sends your way.  On a scale of 1 (not firm at all) to 10 (very firm), rate the strength of your stand against Satan’s “hot button” temptations.  Does your rating need improvement?  If so, how are you preparing to make those improvements?  God will help you if you will ask Him!

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.



— Lesson Outline & Commentary

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version:

3 And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand.  4 And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.  5 And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field.  6 And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.  7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.  8 But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; 9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?  10 And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.  11 And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within.  12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.   (KJV)

New International Version:

 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.  Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 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.   (NIV)

New Living Translation: Psalm 104:1-5,24-30:

3 Potiphar noticed this and realized that the LORD was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did.  4 This pleased Potiphar, so he soon made Joseph his personal attendant. He put him in charge of his entire household and everything he owned.  5 From the day Joseph was put in charge of his master’s household and property, the LORD began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake. All his household affairs ran smoothly, and his crops and livestock flourished.  6 So Potiphar gave Joseph complete administrative responsibility over everything he owned. With Joseph there, he didn’t worry about a thing—except what kind of food to eat!  Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man, 7 and Potiphar’s wife soon began to look at him lustfully. “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded.  8 But Joseph refused. “Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household.  9 No one here has more authority than I do. He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.”  10 She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible.  11 One day, however, no one else was around when he went in to do his work.  12 She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house.   (NLT)





Presence and Blessing (Gen. 39:3-6)

Standards and Convictions (Gen. 39:7-10)

Temptation and Response (Gen. 39:11-12)

(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Old Testament,Believer’s Bible Commentary,” andThe Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Old Testament – Gen. 39:2-12

Genesis 39

At this chapter we return to the story of Joseph. We have him here, I. A servant, a slave in Potiphar’s house (v. 1), and yet there greatly honoured and favoured, I. By the providence of God, which made him, in effect, a master (v. 2-6). 2. By the grace of God, which made him more than a conqueror over a strong temptation to uncleanness (v. 7-12). II. We have him here a sufferer, falsely accused (v. 13-18), imprisoned (v. 19, 20), and yet his imprisonment made both honourable and comfortable by the tokens of God’s special presence with him (v. 21-23). And herein Joseph was a type of Christ, “who took upon him the form of a servant,” and yet then did that which made it evident that “God was with him,” who was tempted by Satan, but overcame the temptation, who was falsely accused and bound, and yet had all things committed to his hand.

Verses 1-6

Here is, I. Joseph bought (v. 1), and he that bought him, whatever he gave for him, had a good bargain of him; it was better than the merchandise of silver. The Jews have a proverb, “If the world did not know the worth of good men, they would hedge them about with pearls.” He was sold to an officer of Pharaoh, with whom he might get acquainted with public persons and public business, and so be fitted for the preferment for which he was designed. Note, 1. What God intends men for he will be sure, some way or other, to qualify them for. 2. Providence is to be acknowledged in the disposal even of poor servants and in their settlements, and therein may perhaps be working towards something great and important.

Joseph blessed, wonderfully blessed, even in the house of his servitude.

1. God prospered him, v. 2, 3. Perhaps the affairs of Potiphar’s family had remarkably gone backward before; but, upon Joseph’s coming into it, a discernible turn was given to them, and the face and posture of them altered on a sudden. Though, at first, we may suppose that his hand was put to the meanest services, even in those appeared his ingenuity and industry; a particular blessing of Heaven attended him, which, as he rose in his employment, became more and more discernible. Note, (1.) Those that have wisdom and grace have that which cannot be taken away from them, whatever else they are robbed of. Joseph’s brethren had stripped him of his coat of many colours, but they could not strip him of his virtue and prudence. (2.) Those that can separate us from all our friends, yet cannot deprive us of the gracious presence of our God. When Joseph had none of all his relations with him, he had his God with him, even in the house of the Egyptian. Joseph was separated from his brethren, but not from his God; banished from his father’s house, but the Lord was with him, and this comforted him. (3.) It is God’s presence with us that makes all we do prosperous. Those that would prosper must therefore make God their friend; and those that do prosper must therefore give God the praise.

2. His master preferred him, by degrees made him steward of his household, v. 4. Note, (1.) Industry and honesty are the surest and safest way both of rising and thriving: Seest thou a man prudent, and faithful, and diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings at length, and not always before mean men. (2.) It is the wisdom of those that are in any sort of authority to countenance and employ those with whom it appears that the presence of God is, Ps. 101:6. Potiphar knew what he did when he put all into the hands of Joseph; for he knew it would prosper better there than in his own hand. (3.) He that is faithful in a few things stand fair for being made ruler over many things, Mt. 25:21. Christ goes by this rule with his servants. (4.) It is a great ease to a master to have those employed under him that are trusty. Potiphar was so well satisfied with Joseph’s conduct that he knew not aught he had, save the bread which he did eat, v. 6. The servant had all the care and trouble of the estate; the master had only the enjoyment of it: an example not to be imitated by any master, unless he could be sure that he had one in all respects like Joseph for a servant.

3. God favoured his master for his sake (v. 5): He blessed the Egyptian’s house, though he was an Egyptian, a stranger to the true God, for Joseph’s sake; and he himself, like Laban, soon learned it by experience, ch. 30:27. Note, (1.) Good men are the blessings of the places where they live; even good servants may be so, though mean, and lightly esteemed. (2.) The prosperity of the wicked is, one way or other, for the sake of the godly. Here was a wicked family blessed for the sake of one good servant in it.

Verses 7-12

Here is, I. A most shameful instance of impudence and immodesty in Joseph’s mistress, the shame and scandal of her sex, perfectly lost to all virtue and honour, and not to be mentioned, nor thought of, without the utmost indignation. It was well that she was an Egyptian; for we must have shared in the confusion if such folly had been found in Israel. Observe,

I. Her sin began in the eye: She cast her eyes upon Joseph (v. 7), who was a goodly person, and well-favoured, v. 6. Note, (1.) Remarkable beauty, either of men or women, often proves a dangerous snare both to themselves and others, which forbids pride in it and commands constant watchfulness against the temptation that attends it; favour is deceitful—deceiving. (2.) We have great need to make a covenant with our eyes (Job 31:1), lest the eye infect the heart. Joseph’s mistress had a husband that ought to have been to her for a covering of the eyes from all others, ch. 20:16.

2. She was daring and shameless in the sin. With an impudent face, and a harlot’s forehead, she said, Lie with me, having already, by her wanton looks and unchaste desires, committed adultery with him in her heart. Note, Where the unclean spirit gets possession and dominion in a soul, it is as with the possessed of the devils (Lu. 8:27, 29), the clothes of modesty are thrown off and the bands and fetters of shame are broken in pieces. When lust has got head, it will stick at nothing, blush at nothing; decency, and reputation, and conscience, are all sacrificed to that Baal-peor. 3. She was urgent and violent in the temptation. Often she had been denied with the strongest reasons, and yet as often renewed her vile solicitations. She spoke to him day by day, v. 10. Now this was, (1.) Great wickedness in her, and showed her heart fully set to do evil. (2.) A great temptation to Joseph. The hand of Satan, no doubt, was in it, who, when he found he could not overcome him with troubles and the frowns of the world (for in them he still held fast his integrity), assaulted him with soft and charming pleasures, which have ruined more than the former, and have slain their ten-thousands.

II. Here is a most illustrious instance of virtue and resolved chastity in Joseph, who, by the grace of God, was enabled to resist and overcome this temptation; and, all things considered, his escape was, for aught I know, as great an instance of the divine power as the deliverance of the three children out of the fiery furnace.

1. The temptation he was assaulted with was very strong. Never was a more violent onset made upon the fort of chastity than this recorded here. (1.) The sin he was tempted to was uncleanness, which considering his youth, his beauty, his single state, and his plentiful living at the table of a ruler, was a sin which, one would think, might most easily beset him and betray him. (2.) The tempter was his mistress, a person of quality, whom it was his place to obey and his interest to oblige, whose favour would contribute more than anything to his preferment, and by whose means he might arrive at the highest honours of the court. On the other hand, it was at his utmost peril if he slighted her, and made her his enemy. (3.) Opportunity makes a thief, makes an adulterer, and that favoured the temptation. The tempter was in the house with him; his business led him to be, without any suspicion, where she was; none of the family were within (v. 11); there appeared no danger of its being ever discovered, or, if it should be suspected, his mistress would protect him. (4.) To all this was added importunity, frequent constant importunity, to such a degree that, at last, she laid violent hands on him.

2. His resistance of the temptation was very brave, and the victory truly honourable. The almighty grace of God enabled him to overcome this assault of the enemy,

(1.) By strength of reason; and wherever right reason may be heard, religion no doubt will carry the day. He argues from the respect he owed both to God and his master, v. 8, 9. [1.] He would not wrong his master, nor do such an irreparable injury to his honour. He considers, and urges, how kind his master had been to him, what a confidence he had reposed in him, in how many instances he had befriended him, for which he abhorred the thought of making such an ungrateful return. Note, We are bound in honour, as well as justice and gratitude, not in any thing to injure those that have a good opinion of us and place a trust in us, how secretly soever it may be done. See how he argues (v. 9): “There is none greater in this house than I, therefore I will not do it.” Note, Those that are great, instead of being proud of their greatness, should use it as an argument against sin. “Is none greater than I? Then I will scorn to do a wicked thing; it is below me to serve a base lust; I will not disparage myself so much.” [2.] He would not offend his God. This is the chief argument with which he strengthens his aversion to the sin. How can I do this? not only, How shall I? or, How dare I? but, How can I? Id possumus, quod jure possumusWe can do that which we can do lawfully. It is good to shut out sin with the strongest bar, even that of an impossibility. He that is born of God cannot sin, 1 Jn. 3:9. Three arguments Joseph urges upon himself. First, He considers who he was that was tempted. “I; others may perhaps take their liberty, but I cannot. I that am an Israelite in covenant with God, that profess religion, and relation to him: it is next to impossible for me to do so.” Secondly, What the sin was to which he was tempted: This great wickedness. Others might look upon it as a small matter, a peccadillo, a trick of youth; but Joseph had another idea of it. In general, when at any time we are tempted to sin, we must consider the great wickedness there is in it, let sin appear sin (Rom. 7:13), call it by its own name, and never go about to lessen it. Particularly let the sin of uncleanness always be looked upon as great wickedness, as an exceedingly sinful sin, that wars against the soul as much as any other. Thirdly, Against whom he was tempted to sin—against God; not only, “How shall I do it, and sin against my master, my mistress, myself, my own body and soul; but against God?” Note, Gracious souls look upon this as the worst thing in sin that it is against God, against his nature and his dominion, against his love and his design. Those that love God do for this reason hate sin.

(2.) By stedfastness of resolution. The grace of God enabled him to overcome the temptation by avoiding the tempter. [1.] He hearkened not to her, so much as to be with her, v. 10. Note, Those that would be kept from harm must keep themselves out of harm’s way. Avoid it, pass not by it. Nay, [2.] When she laid hold of him, he left his garment in her hand, v. 12. He would not stay so much as to parley with the temptation, but flew out from it with the utmost abhorrence; he left his garment, as one escaping for his life. Note, It is better to lose a good coat than a good conscience.

SOURCE: Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Old Testament; Parsons Church Group, A Division Of Findex.Com; Omaha Nebraska


The Genesis Record, A Scientific And Devotional Commentary On The Book Of Beginnings: Gen. 39:2-12

Genesis 39:1-6:

Potiphar, to whom Joseph was sold, was captain of Pharaoh's bodyguard, and also probably in charge of political executions ordered by Pharaoh. He is also called an "officer" of Pharaoh, the Hebrew word being saris, meaning "eunuch," or "chamberlain." It was evidently customary in ancient pagan countries, beginning with Sumeria, to require prominent officers associated closely with the king's court to be castrated, perhaps to ensure full-hearted devotion to the duties required of them and to minimize the possibility of their taking over the kingdom by military coup to establish a dynasty of their own. Since Potiphar was a married man, it would seem either that Potiphar had consented to such an operation after he was married in order to acquire his high office or else that his wife had married him for political or financial reasons rather than for normal marital relations. In either case, it is perhaps understandable, though hardly justifiable, that she would be prone to adulterous episodes from time to time.

Joseph was a highly intelligent and personable young man, and Potiphar soon recognized his abilities, placing more and more responsibilities on him. Though Joseph did have a natural problem with personal pride, and it was probably in part because of this that God allowed him to pass through so many difficult and humiliating experiences, he was indeed of high moral integrity and industry, and the Lord therefore prospered his work for Potiphar in an extraordinary way. It is not unusual that unbelieving employers, though themselves indifferent to God, recognize that earnest Christians make the best employees and hence desire to have them in their organizations. Honesty, integrity, faithfulness, sobriety, and similar characteristics are genuine assets to an employer; and such are the fruits of Christian faith and obedience.

It may even be that, because of these attributes, the employee will occasionally have opportunity to give a word of testimony to his "boss" as to the true source of the blessing that attends his activities. This seems to have been the case with Joseph and Potiphar, since "his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand." More and more responsibility did Potiphar turn over to Joseph, until everything in his household and business affairs was under Joseph's oversight.

Just as the Lord made everything Joseph did "to prosper in his hand," so will it be with Christ in His exaltation: "He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand" (Isaiah 53:10). It is a beautiful token of God's grace that He often blesses even the masters (or, in modern parlance, the employers or supervisors) of those servants who are faithful to Him.

It is interesting that three times (verses 1, 2, 5) Potiphar is specifically called an "Egyptian." Since Joseph was in Egypt, this would seem unnecessary, even tautological, except on the supposition that Pharaoh and most of the rulers of Egypt were themselves not Egyptians, as would indeed be the case if this was the time of the Hyksos dynasties.

Potiphar eventually came to trust Joseph so implicitly that he no longer even bothered to check up on his own business. He knew that he would prosper more by completely forgetting it all than by checking the records, offering suggestions of his own, and so forth.

In addition to his assets of mind and character, Joseph was of handsome physique and countenance. A similar statement was made much later relative to young David (I Samuel 16:12), whom God also selected for a high calling and special service. On the other hand, even in the same context, Scripture makes it clear that it is not such outward features that matter with the Lord (I Samuel 16:7), but the attitude of the heart. Absalom, for example, was also of handsome appearance (II Samuel 14:25), but his heart was vindictive and filled with personal ambition and rebellion, and he came to a bitter end.

Genesis 39:7-10:

Although adultery was subject to severe legal penalties in Egypt, it apparently was often tacitly condoned and was not uncommon. Especially in such situations as in Potiphar's household, where a wife was married to a husband who had been made a eunuch, it may have been regarded as almost something to be expected. Though nothing is said explicitly to this effect, one gets the impression that this was not the first of his wife's amorous adventures. In any case, as Joseph became more and more important around the household, and more and more on his own, he gradually became more and more attractive to this woman.

Joseph certainly would have behaved politely and considerately toward his master's wife, but he soon must have realized she was taking more interest in him personally than was fitting. There is no indication that he encouraged her in any way—quite the contrary in fact. Finally she impatiently decided that, since a subtle seduction was not proving effective, she would try overwhelming him with a bold invitation to her bedroom!

Now Joseph was a virile and active young man, and this invitation must have both flattered and tempted him. Her husband was gone, none of the other servants were around (and, even if they should find out, they would probably think nothing of it), and she was an attractive and eagerly available woman. Sexual dalliances were common in such circumstances and, even in his own family, Joseph had no doubt seen examples of his brothers' indifference to high moral standards. Furthermore, in view of his knowledge of the unsatisfactory nature of her marital relations with Potiphar, he might even have justified it as an act of service to meet her own needs.

With such an array of rationalizations easily at hand, it would have been natural to yield to her invitation. But with Joseph there was one consideration which overshadowed all others. He knew that such actions were contrary to God's revealed will. Even though the Mosaic laws were not yet written, there was enough primeval knowledge concerning God's purposes for mankind available for him to know beyond question that adultery and fornication were wrong in God's sight. He knew from the account of man's creation that God had ordained the permanence and sanctity of marriage, and that none of man's convenient excuses for breaking this ordinance were justified in God's economy.

In rejecting her invitation, Joseph tried not to offend her. It was not that she herself was unattractive or undesirable, nor that he was condemning her as immoral for making such a proposal, but that there were greater considerations which must take precedence. His master, and her husband, trusted him fully; it would be a terrible betrayal of his trust for Joseph to take the one thing he had kept from him, his own wife. Even more importantly, such an action would be a great sin against God Himself! Even though neither her husband nor the other servants should ever find out, God would know. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3). All sin, and especially sin against the integrity of God's first institution, that of marriage, must fundamentally be a sin against God.

Therefore Joseph refused her invitation, strong though the temptation may have been. Potiphar's wife, however, was not persuaded by Joseph's good and proper reasoning, but continued day after day trying to attract him to her bed. Joseph not only continued to refuse, but began to avoid her altogether, trying not even "to be with her."

Genesis 39:11-15:

The situation came to a climax one day when Potiphar's wife apparently determined that she would actually pull Joseph to her side by force. The time was opportune, since everyone was gone. Possibly if she could once get him intimately close to her, his resistance would be overcome and he would be impelled by passion to continue all the way. She felt that, if she could really have him completely just one time, then he would keep on coming back to her whenever she wished.

Joseph, however, realizing the danger of the situation, especially the spiritual implications if he should yield, pulled himself away from her arms and rushed out of the room and even out of the house. She had been in the process of pulling his clothing off him (her own had probably already been removed when she came up to him) when he realized what she was doing and immediately fled. However, she clung to the garment as he fled, partially unclothed, from her presence.

At that point, the passionate desire of Potiphar's wife suddenly turned into the rage of a woman scorned. Knowing that her desire for Joseph was now completely impossible of fulfillment, her only thought was to humiliate him as deeply as possible for his rejection of her. Joseph's garment (Hebrew beged, apparently a sort of long cloak or robe) was still in her hand. She knew it would be interpreted as evidence incriminating her unless she quickly took the initiative by accusing Joseph.

Accordingly she began to make a loud outcry, calling for the men servants to come help her. She cleverly appealed to their latent jealousy of Joseph and resentment of Potiphar, by suggesting it was her husband's fault for bringing in an outsider ("an Hebrew") who would come in and endanger all the women of the household ("to mock us"). Now, sure enough, this man, elevated so quickly above all the other servants, had actually attempted to rape the very mistress of the household! She had only saved herself by screaming so loudly that he was frightened away, leaving his shed garment in his haste.

Nothing is said, however, about whether the servants believed her tale. The chances are that they knew her, as well as Joseph, too well for that. In their position, however, they could hardly challenge her story. Joseph probably went to his own quarters to await the outcome.

SOURCE:  The Genesis Record, A Scientific And Devotional Commentary On The Book Of Beginnings;  by Henry M. Morris; Foreword by Arnold D. Ehlert; Baker Book House’ Grand Rapids, Michigan.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Gen. 39:2-12

39:1.  Notice again the contrast with 38:1. Judah was free and his sin was his own choice. The dark picture of his sin in chapter 38 makes the purity of Joseph in the following account stand out all the more. Joseph was a slave and he was about to be tested again and again. The first test was to see how he would react when he was made a slave to Potiphar. As the captain of the king’s bodyguard and chief executioner, Potiphar must have been a man who was severe and not easy to please.

39:2-3.  Instead of becoming bitter, Joseph trusted the Lord. His confidence in God’s promises must have made him willing to commit his way to the Lord (Ps. 37:5). He must have done everything he was asked to do as unto the Lord. Thus, the Lord was with Joseph and honored his faith and faithfulness by making him successful in his tasks in the household of his master. Potiphar could not help noticing this. Perhaps Joseph gave testimony to the Lord. So Potiphar recognized that Joseph’s God was making him successful in all he was doing.

39:4-6. Because Joseph found favor in Potiphar’s eyes, he made him his personal attendant. Later, he made him overseer of his household and over everything he had. That is, he became the business manager with responsibility over all Potiphar’s possessions. It was not uncommon for a trusted slave to be made a personal business manager (cf. the case of Eliezer, Gen. 15:2). From that time the Lord blessed everything Potiphar owned, in his house and in his field or farm property--on account of Joseph (for Joseph’s sake). So completely did Potiphar trust Joseph, that he turned all of his household and personal business over to him without asking Joseph to give any account of it to him. Potiphar carried out his duties for the Pharaoh and paid no attention to anything at home except to enjoy the food he ate. This was important preparation for Joseph. The 17-year-old boy who was sold into Egypt needed several years to learn how to handle business affairs before he could fulfill the dreams God had given him.

39:7-9. The second great test that came to Joseph was the test of personal purity. He was away from home, a handsome young man who was a slave with no rights. It would have been easy for him to yield to temptation when Potiphar’s wife enticed him. Probably no one would have known. But Joseph refused. Potiphar had put him over all the other servants and given him access to everything in the household except her, for she was Potiphar’s wife. Then Joseph revealed the secret of his keen sense of responsibility and of his victory in this great test. He could not do this great evil for it would be a sin, not just against his master, but against God. Joseph’s relation to God was the secret of his victory over temptation to sin.

39:10-12.  Day after day Potiphar’s wife kept trying to entice Joseph to have sex with her. He kept refusing to do so, or even to be with her. He avoided her as much as possible and would not even give her his friendly company. But one day when Joseph came into the house to do his usual tasks and no one else was around, Potiphar’s wife grabbed hold of him by his outer garment and commanded him to lie down with her. But he left his outer garment in her hand and fled out of the house.

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Acts.  Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.



Blessed—God “blessed the Egyptian’s house because of Joseph” (Gen. 39:5).  The concept of blessing can cover a wide range of benefits and activities.  Kenneth Mathews pointed out that “’blessing’ in Genesis typically involves material wealth (24:35; 26:12; 30:27,30).”1  In other places in the Bible being blessed includes a closer relationship with God or other humans.  For instance, Jesus’ “beatitudes” in the Sermon on the Mount include God’s blessings those who mourn and on those who are peacemakers (Matt. 5:3-12).  In a hostile world, God’s people might be persecuted, but God blesses them by His presence and love.  The Book of Revelation includes several beatitudes or blessings, such as Revelation 14:13.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Blessed and blessing: Blessed and blessing (v. 5) are words used both to describe a human response toward God and God’s response toward humankind.  The Hebrew word at its root means “to kneel.”  Therefore, when we bless the Lord or bring blessing to Him, we are kneeling in spirit before Him in honor, exaltation, praise, and thanksgiving.  When used of God’s response toward humankind, the word refers to the favor of the Lord, that is, something favorable added to our lives.  In Genesis, blessings generally involved material wealth, for that was often the way favor with God was measured.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Garment—The Hebrew word translated garment (or “cloak,” NIV) in Genesis 39:12 is a generic word for clothing.  The word appears frequently (about 200 times) in the Old Testament referring to men’s and women’s apparel.  Sometimes it is used of sacred clothing; sometimes it is used of common clothes.  The same word is used for Tamar’s “widow’s clothes” in 38:14,19.  In fact, the term appears six times in chapter 39 (vv. 12[2x],12,15,16,18).  Joseph’s garment was likely not as unusual as the coat of many colors he received from Jacob (37:3), but it must have been distinctive enough that Potiphar’s wife used it as evidence in her accusation against Joseph (39:18).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

Garment:  The Hebrew word rendered garment (v. 12) is the term most often used to refer to clothing in general.  The word was used for sacred clothing and common clothing and for clothing worn by men or women.  It is also rendered “robe” or “cloak,” but the world for garment in 39:12 is a different word that that rendered “coat” in 37:3. 

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.




Potiphar In Egyptian Society

By Robert Bergen

Robert Bergen is associate professor of Old Testament, Hannibal-LaGrange College, Hannibal, Missouri.


OTIPHAR is the well-known figure within the Book of Genesis who had the distinction of being the only person in the Bible to own one of the patriarchs of Israel as a slave.  According to Genesis 37 and 39, Potiphar purchased Joseph, son of Jacob, for use as a household slave, elevated Joseph to a position of privilege within his household, and then threw him in prison after Joseph was accused of attacking Potiphar’s wife.  An Egyptian by nationality, Potiphar is one of only two Egyptian men whose names are supplied in the patriarchal accounts.


A straightforward reading of the Masoretic Text suggest that Potiphar lived during the Twelfth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom period of Egyptian history.  John Walton, who adopts an early date chronology for Old Testament events, suggests that Joseph was sold to Potiphar in 1898 BC.  Such a date would place Potiphar’s career during the reigns of the Egyptian pharaohs Sesostris I (1943-1898 BC, also known as Senusert or Senwosret) and Amenemhet II (1901-1866 BC).1  This early 19th century BC date for Potiphar assumes that King Solomon began constructing the great temple of the Lord in Jerusalem in 966 BC and that the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1 and the 430 years of Exodus 12:40 are to be taken literally.  An alternative view, one which assumes that Potiphar was a historical figure but that the number of years mentioned in 1 Kings 6:1 is symbolic, would place him around 1700 BC, in the Thirteenth Dynasty.2

The Twelfth Dynasty was a period of particular prominence and prosperity in Egyptian history.  Amenemhet I, the founder of the Twelfth Dynasty, moved the royal city from Thebes back to the northern regions of Egypt.  The site he chose became the city known as Itj-Tawy, “[Amenemhet is] the Seizer of the Two Lands,” located just south of Memphis.3  Amenemhet I’s establishment of the capital city there marked the return of a national capital to this region; two hundred years earlier the center of government had been moved southward to Herakleopolis, then farther south to Thebes.

During the reign of Sesostris I, a pyramid was built for him at Lisht and temples honoring various deities were constructed throughout Egypt.  The most notable temple constructed by Sesostris I was located in Abydos and dedicated to Osiris.  Egyptian inscriptions indicate that Amenemhet II fostered extensive international trade, and he is known for having caused the copper mines in the Sinai desert to be worked intensively.4  Other accomplishments associated with the Twelfth Dynasty included the conquest of Nubia, the construction of irrigation canals, and development of the Fayum oasis region west of the capital city of Itj-Tawy into a more productive agricultural district.  Overall, the Twelfth Dynasty was marked by an increase of wealth throughout the land, great military campaigns throughout Africa and western Asia, unification of the land, and centralization of the national government.


“Potiphar” is the Hebrew transliteration of an Egyptian name meaning “He-whom-(the sun god) Re-gives.”5  The name reflects reverence for one of the most popular gods in the history of Egypt, the one god that even Pharaoh, who was himself considered a god, was expected to worship.  Re had been honored in Egypt since at least the Third Dynasty, about 2700 BC.6  The name “Potiphar” was widely used in the history of Egypt, with examples being found in nonbiblical literature dated from the 11th-3rd centuries BC.

As described in the Bible, Potiphar was one of the highest ranking military officers of his day.  Two separate descriptions relevant to Potiphar’s professional status were provided in Genesis, possibly indicating two different responsibilities that he held within the Egyptian government.

Potiphar was first of all called “Eunuch of Pharaoh” (KJV “officer of pharaoh,” Gen. 37:36; 39:1).  The term “eunuch” (Heb. saris) is normally figurative when used in an official title and refers to an administrator (see also Gen. 40:2; 1 Sam. 18:5).  It can, however, be taken literally, referring to one who had been castrated so as to pose no threat to the king or those in his household (2 Kings 9:32; Esth. 2:14).  In the case of Potiphar, the term was certainly figurative, since he possessed a wife (Gen. 39:7).  Though this title is unattested in extant Egyptian literature dated earlier than the fifth century BC7 and therefore cannot be connected with any specific set of responsibilities, it suggests that Potiphar played a significant administrative role in Pharaoh’s court.

The most descriptive professional title applied to Potiphar is “captain of the guard” (37:36; 39:1, KJV).  The literal meaning of the phrase carried with it the idea of being a butcher, of wielding a knife, or of serving as a bodyguard.  Thus, the implication is that Potiphar was in charge of providing meat for Pharaoh’s household and also had military responsibilities.  A closely related title, “captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon,” was applied later to Nebuzaradan, the Babylonian officer assigned the task of demolishing Jerusalem following its defeat in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:8-10).  Taken as a whole, the biblical evidence clearly suggests that Potiphar was one of the highest ranking officers in the Egyptian army, and probably the commander of an elite military detachment.

Within the Egyptian language, known titles of military commanders within the Middle Kingdom period include “general,” “commander of shock-troops,” and “instructor of retainers.”8  Scholars believe that the commanders of shock-troops were in charge of soldiers trained for duty in military expeditions.  Instructors of retainers, on the other hand, are believed to have been men from wealthy families who were given positions of leadership over detachments of one hundred soldiers assigned to protect the pharaoh. 

Evidence from the Book of Genesis suggests that the Hebrew title “captain of the guard” may correspond to the Egyptian military position “instructor of retainers.”  According to Genesis 40:3, it was a captain of the guard who managed the dungeon-prison in which Joseph, Pharaoh’s chief wine steward, and his chief baker were incarcerated.  The task would most naturally be assigned to one who provided security for Pharaoh and his household.

Another piece of evidence pointing to the possibility that Potiphar held the Egyptian position instructor of retainers is that he was a wealthy man.  Potiphar had a sizeable house and possessed fields (Gen. 39:5).  He also owned several slaves (vv. 11,14) and had a personal attendant who managed all but the most intimate of his affairs (vv.4-6,9).  A further indication of his wealth is the fact that his chief slave was given a full garment to wear (v. 12), not merely a loincloth, as many Egyptian slaves would have worn.

Reflective also of his upper-class status is the fact that Potiphar was able to obtain an almost instant legal resolution to his complaints against Joseph.  The fact that he was able to have Joseph imprisoned in the same dungeon-prison that was used to incarcerate Pharaoh’s prisoners (v. 20) adds further evidence to support the view that Potiphar was a top official within Pharaoh’s military echelons.  Finally, the fact that Joseph was imprisoned in the royal dungeon-prison indicates that Potiphar lived in the royal city, a privilege probably reserved for only a few within society.

Taken as a whole, the biblical portrait of Potiphar is that of a wealthy man who held a high rank within the Egyptian military.  He lived in the royal city, was engaged in a profession that demanded his constant attention, owned fields and a large house, and possessed many slaves.  Because of his position he had access to Pharaoh’s own facilities; Potiphar was one of the most privileged men in Egyptian society during his lifetime.


Potiphar’s importance within the biblical accounts is rooted in his connection with the patriarch Joseph.  Potiphar purchased a 17-year-old Asian slave from an Ishmaelite caravan, thereby placing Joseph in one of the wealthiest homes in Egypt, effectively rescuing the patriarch from many of the hardships that would have otherwise awaited him.  Potiphar’s spiritual insight enabled him to recognize that “the Lord was with” Joseph “and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper” (v. 3, KJV).  Foreshadowing what Pharaoh would do for Joseph later, Joseph was put in charge of everything Potiphar owned (37:9, 41:40).  Unhappily, also Potiphar’s blindness to his depraved wife’s deceptions led to Joseph’s imprisonment.  Yet even in this, Potiphar’s actions were used by God.  Potiphar’s placement of Joseph in the prison used for Pharaoh’s prisoners set the stage for Joseph’s eventual rise to a position of power even greater than Potiphar’s.                                                                                                                                                                         Bi

1.  Walton, Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 15,62.

2.  Kitchen, “Egypt, Land of” in Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 2:237

3.  Murnane, “Three Kingdoms and Thirty Four Dynasties” in Ancient Egypt, ed. Silverman (New York: Oxford, 1977), 26-28.

4.  Murray, The Splendor That Was Egypt, rev. ed. (New York: Hawthorn, 1963), 23.

5.  Redford, “Potiphar” in Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), V: 426-27.

6.  Murray, 183.

7.  Redford.

8.  Cottrell, Life Under the Pharaohs (New York: Holt, Rinehart-Winston, 1960), 112.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 2003.


The Egypt Joseph Knew

By Stephen R. Miller

Stephen R. Miller is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Germantown, Tennessee.


VANGELICAL SCHOLARS usually date Joseph to Egypt’s Middle Kingdom Period (2040-1782 BC ) or the Second Intermediate Period (1782-1570 BC ).1  Early chronology has much to commend it and is the dating system we will follow.2  Although the specific pharaohs of  Joseph’s lifetime will vary depending on the dating scheme followed, everyday life in ancient Egypt changed little throughout the centuries.

Political Life in Joseph’s Egypt

According to the early chronology, Jacob entered Egypt about 1876 BC.  Since Joseph preceded his father by approximately 25 years (compare Gen. 37:2 and 41:46), he arrived about 1900 BC during the reign of Amenemhet II (1929-1895 BC ), third pharaoh of Egypt’s stable Twelfth Dynasty.  Evidence suggests an increase of Asiatics during Amenemhet’s time, apparently brought in as household servants.  However, Egyptian records indicate that sometimes Asiatics (like Joseph) attained important government posts.  Joseph lived for 110 years (50:22), dying about 1805 VC during the reign of Amenemhet III (1842-1797 BC ).  Amenemhet III’s reign marked the zenith of economic prosperity in the Middle Kingdom.  Perhaps in the Middle Kingdom.  Perhaps, this is partially due to Joseph’s administrative skills and the acquisition of land for famine (47:20).  Statues and other likenesses of these pharaohs have survived providing a remarkable glimpse into the very faces of people Joseph knew.3 

Egypt in Joseph’s Time

Joseph’s Egypt was a fascinating place.  The capital of the empire was in the north—near Memphis about 30 miles south of modern Cairo.  The great Nile (the longest river in the world) was abuzz with activity.  Large temples and statues were visible throughout the land.  The three huge pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx had already weathered the desert sands for over half a millennium.  The Great Pyramid of Khufu rose about 481 feet high, and each of its four sides stretched about 756 feet.  This one pyramid contains 2,300,000 stone blocks, averaging at least 2.5 tons each.  Originally covered with gleaming white limestone, the Giza pyramids must have been quite a spectacle.  The Greeks designated the Great Pyramid one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and is the only one of the seven that remains.4

Religion was a crucial part of Egyptian life.  The Egyptians worshiped a myriad of deities.  Seven hundred and sixty-five gods decorated the walls of the vestibule leading into the tomb of Ththmosis III (1504-1450 BC ).5  Amun (Amun-Re) was hailed as the king of Egypt’s gods.  Osiris was vital because he was the god of vegetation and the after life.  The life-giving Nile River was even thought to be Osiris’s bloodstream,6 ironic in light of the first exodus plague—when the river turned to blood (Ex. 7:14-25).  Other noteworthy gods were Nut (sky goddess), Isis (goddess of mothers and love), Hathor (goddess of love, joy, and sky; portrayed with horns, with cow’s ears, or as a cow), Thoth (moon god and god of writing, ironically sometimes depicted as a baboon!), and various sun gods—Re (or Ra), Aten, and Atum.  Egyptians worshiped the pharaohs as the embodiment of the god Horus (represented by a falcon), doubtless the motivation for hauling the millions of tons of stone to build the pharaohs’ pyramid tombs.

The Egyptians believed in life after death.  If they passed Osiris’s examination, they entered a beautiful paradise called the Field of Reeds.  If not, their hearts were devoured by the hideous monster Ammit.  But those in the Field of Reeds still were not safe.  If all earthly memory so a person was lost, the deceased could suffer the Second Death, a permanent annihilation of the spirit.  Preservation of the body by mummification and likenesses (tomb paintings, statues) of the deceased were, therefore, necessary to maintain their memory and in turn their eternal life.  No wonder the pharaohs filled the land with images of themselves.  Their eternal life depended on it! 

During Joseph’s day, Egypt led the world culturally.  In fact, the 20th and early 19th centuries BC have been designated the apex of Egyptian literature and craftsmanship.  Reading and writing were the most important subjects in the schools, and the scribe (the most desired profession in Egypt) spent years mastering the 700 signs of Egyptian hieroglyphics.  Two great literary works were composed in the 12th dynasty, “The Instructions of Amenemhet” and “The Story of Sinuhe.”  Jewelry recovered from Middle Kingdom tombs exhibits superb craftsmanship, and tomb paintings show musicians with instruments (for example, zither, lute, drum, harp, and flute). 

Everyday Life in Joseph’s Egypt

The vast majority of Egypt’s population (perhaps 1.5 million in Joseph’s time) lived on the narrow strip of productive land along the Nile.  Principal cereal crops were wheat and barley.  Rainfall was sparse, and farmers depended on the Nile’s inundations to water the land.  If the Nile rose too little, famines such as that in Joseph’s time could result.  Early Egyptian records mention such famines, one lasting seven years.7  In addition to agricultural activities, scenes on tomb walls depict fishing, hunting, bread making, and brick making, as well as potters, carpenters, decorators, goldsmiths, and sculptors.

Most clothing was made of linen.  Men usually were depicted wearing skirt-like garments of varying lengths; and women, ankle-length gowns held up by shoulder straps.  Both men and women applied cosmetics heavily and women were frequently buried with their mirrors.  Short hair was the rule, but both genders often wore wigs.  Men were typically clean shaven (compare Gen. 41:14), though images of the pharaohs often depicted them with fake beards.  Originally, the Sphinx had a beard.

Mummies from ancient Egypt indicate the average height of women was about five feet and men, about five feet, five inches.  Of course, there were exceptions.  Amenhotep II (who may have been the pharaoh of the exodus) was six feet in height and Senusret III stood six feet six inches tall.8  Analysis of mummies also reveals that Egyptians suffered from arthritis, tuberculosis, gout, gallstones, tooth decay, and parasites.

The Egyptian diet included bread (mainly from barley), grapes, dates, figs, olives, cabbage, cheese, goat meat, pork, various fowl, and fish.  Barley beer and wine (grape, date, and palm) were popular drinks.  Sugar cane was introduced later, but the rich could afford honey.

Monogamy was the norm, though nobles and pharaohs could have many wives and a large harem.  Ramesses II had 8 principal wives and fathered over 100 children.  Love poems suggest people pursued marriages for love, and tomb paintings often portray a husband and wife in loving embrace.  Unlike Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39:7-19),9 marriage partners were expected to be faithful.  This is underscored by the penalty for adultery—burning or stoning.10  Egyptian children played games and had toys and dolls.  Family pets included dogs and cats.

According to Egyptian custom, both Jacob and Joseph were embalmed or mummified (50:2,26).11  We have learned much about the mummification process from the writings of the ancient Greek historians Herodotus and Diodorus, from tomb paintings, inscriptions, and from modern scientific analysis of mummies.  Natron, a mixture of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate, was applied over a period of days to dry out the body.  Except for the heart and kidneys, internal organs were removed.  Finally, the skin was anointed with resins and the body wrapped in strips of cloth.  In Jacob’s case, the entire process for mummification and mourning took 70 days (Gen. 50:3), a number cited in at least five Egyptian texts and by Herodotus.12  Joseph died at the age of 110 years.  Apparently, 110 was considered the ideal lifespan for this same age is mentioned in at least 27 Egyptian texts.13                                             Bi

1.    Dates for Egyptian chronology and spelling of the pharaohs’ names are from Peter A. Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt (London: Thames & Hudson, 1994).

2.    For further discussion on the chronological issues, see the following articles: Joel F. Drinkard, Jr. and E. Ray Clendenen, “Chronology of the Biblical Period” and Ralph L. Smith and Eric Mitchell, “Exodus” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (HIBD) (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 291-95; 524-28, respectively.

3.    According to the late chronology, Joseph lived in Egypt during he latter part of the weak and obscure Thirteenth Dynasty (1782-1650 BC ) and in the first part of the Fifteenth Dynasty-Hyksos (1663-1555 BC ).  Records of the kings of this period are meager.  For further study, see Clayton, 90-4, and Daniel C. Browning, Jr. and E. Ray Clendenen, “Hyksos,”  HIBD, 796-98.

4.    Clayton, 47; Lorna Oakes and Lucia Gahlin, Ancient Egypt (London: Amness Publishing Limited, 2003), 66; and . . .


5.    Alberto Siliotti, Guide to the Valley of the Kings (New York: Barns & Noble Books, 1996), 30.

6.    John J. Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in The Book of Exodus (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1971), 94.

7.    John A. Wilson, trans., “The Tradition of Seven Lean Years in Egypt” and “The Prophecy of Neferti,” Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET), ed. J. B. Pritchard, 3rd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 31-2, 444-46.

8.    Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt, 105; Clayton, 84.

9.    “The Story of Two Brothers” (ca. 1225 BC ) tells of an adulteress turning on a young man who spurned her (ANET, 23-5).  The fictional tale no doubt reflects reality.

10.   Joyce Tyldesley, Judgment of the Pharaoh: Crime and Punishment in Ancient Egypt (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000), 66; A. Rosalie David, The Egyptian Kingdoms (New York: Elsevier Phaidon, 1975), 109.

11.   For excellent discussions of mummification, see Howard F. Vos, Genesis and Archaeology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 106-9; and Joyce Tyldesley, The Mummy (Dubai: Carlton, 1999), 15-39.

12.   John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), 303; Tyldesley, The Mummy, 21.

13.   Davis, Paradise to Prison, 304.  For an example written in the Middle Kingdom Period, see “The Instruction of the Vizier Ptah-Hotep,” ANET, 414.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 40, No. 1; Fall 2013.



By Claude F. Mariottini

Claude F. Mariottini is an associate professor of Old Testament, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lombard, Illinois.


HE STORY OF JOSEPH OCCUPIES a large place in the history of Israel.  He is portrayed as the ideal Israelite, the model of the exemplary youth who possessed many ideal characteristics.  Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob and the first son of Rachel, the wife whom Jacob loved most.  To give a precise date for the birth of Joseph is difficult, but historical and archaeological evidence place his birth in the Middle Bronze Age (about 1700 BC).

When Joseph was born, Rachel, recognizing that the Lord had removed her barrenness, said: “May the Lord add to me another son” (Gen. 30:24, NIV).  For this reason she called his name Joseph, which means “He adds” (Gen. 30:22-24).  Joseph has born in Paddam-Aram a few years before Jacob received a vision from God commanding him to return to Canaan.  When Jacob and his family left Paddam-Aram, they came to Shechem and then settled in the valley of Hebron, also called Kiriath-arba (Gen. 35:27; 37:14).  Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son because he was the son born in his old age and because he was the son of his favorite wife.  Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph was contrary to the practices and culture of his day.  In the ancient Near East a father would customarily show his favor toward his firstborn son who, according to tradition, was the legitimate heir of his estate.  But at times, special circumstances contributed to the selection of the younger over the elder son.  Jacob, the younger son of Isaac, received his father’s blessing.  Now Jacob bypassed his firstborn son, Reuben, in favor of Joseph, his younger son (Jacob’s youngest son was Benjamin, who was born a few years after Joseph) and later, on his deathbed, Jacob favored the younger Ephraim over Manasseh, Joseph’s two sons (Gen. 48:8-20).

To express his love for Joseph, Jacob gave him a special coat.  One version says it was a “coat of many colors” (Gen. 37:3, KJV).  However, the Hebrew word seems to indicate that the coat had long sleeves, the kind of coat used by royal persons.  In addition to the passage in Genesis, the word appears in 2 Samuel 13:18 to describe the ornamented robe Tamar, David’s daughter, wore.  By giving this type of garment to Joseph, Jacob placed Joseph above his brothers and “exempted him from the menial tasks of farming.”1

Because Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son, his brothers were jealous of him.  This jealousy increased with the passing of time because of Joseph’s dreams.  His brothers called him “that dreamer” (Gen. 37:19, NIV).  The Hebrew title “a master [baal] of dreams” means more than a mere dreamer.  The title indicates a person who can master or interpret dreams.  All the dreams in the Joseph stories come in pairs: the two dreams of Joseph, the dreams of the baker and the butler, and the two dreams of Pharaoh.  The doubling of the dreams is an indication that the events predicted are soon to occur.  In his dreams Joseph saw his father, his mother, and his 11 brothers bowing down to him.  When Joseph told his dreams to his brothers, they became hostile to him (“they hated him,” Gen. 37:5-11, RSV).

Claus Westermann said that “the statement that the brothers became hostile to Joseph rather than to their father, who is actually responsible for Joseph’s elevation, reveals a deep understanding of human nature: the hatred of the disadvantaged is often directed not against those who bestow privilege unjustly but against those who receive it.”2  One day when Joseph was 17, Jacob sent Joseph from Hebron to Shechem to see how this brothers were doing and to bring a report of their activities.  Joseph’s brothers were shepherding the flock of their father in Shechem.  The sons of Jacob were shepherds, and as such they had to move constantly from place to place seeking pasture in which to forage the flock.

When Joseph arrived in Shechem, he was told by a stranger that his brothers had moved to Dothan.  Dothan was not far from Shechem.  Because the flock was in constant need of water, the distance that shepherds traveled in search of pasture had to be limited.  So Joseph went to Dothan seeking his brothers.  When the brothers saw Joseph from afar, they decided to kill him and report to their father that a wild animal had devoured him. 

Reuben opposed killing Joseph.  Instead, he proposed to throw him in one of the cisterns in the wilderness.  Reuben’s intention was to rescue Joseph from the hands of his brothers without their knowledge and return him to his father.  But during Reuben’s absence (for unknown reasons), the brothers took Joseph from the cistern and sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelite traders who were going down to Egypt.

Joseph’s brothers took his coat, dipped it into the blood of a goat, which they had killed, and brought the coat to Jacob saying: “We found this.  Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe” (Gen. 37:32, NIV).  When Jacob saw the coat and the blood, he concluded that a wild animal had killed Joseph.  Jacob cried and mourned the death of his son.

The Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt and sold him as a slave to Potiphar.  Potiphar was an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard.  When Joseph came to Potiphar’s house, he became a successful man (Gen. 39:2).  The Lord blessed Potiphar and his house.  Potiphar understood that the prosperity of his house was to be credited to Joseph’s presence, so he placed Joseph over all his possessions.  “Joseph was the very model of an administrator.  He is pictured as modest—at least in his Egyptian career—hard working, honest, wise, and devoted to his superiors.  All these qualities contributed to the rapid rise of Joseph.”3  Joseph served Potiphar faithfully, but his master’s wife, noticing that Joseph was “well-built and handsome” (Gen. 39:6, NIV), attempted to seduce him.  She said: “ Come to bed with me” (Gen. 39:7, NIV).  Joseph refused the adulterous advances of Potiphar’s wife because he recognized that such an act was a “wicked thing” and a “sin against God” (Gen. 39:9).  Joseph also refused to betray the trust his master had placed in him.  She tried several times to seduce Joseph, but he rejected her advances and even refused to be with her.  One day, when Joseph came to work in the house of his master, Potiphar’s wife again tried to seduce him.  She grabbed Joseph by his tunic and invited him to go to bed with her (Gen. 39:12), but Joseph escaped, leaving his garment behind.  Later that day, when her husband came home, the woman, scorned by Joseph’s refusal, used the tunic as an evidence to accuse Joseph of rape and to denounce her husband for bringing a Hebrew slave into the house.  Again, Joseph had to suffer because of his clothes.  As Brueggemann said: “It is not the first time Joseph has had to function without his royal clothes (37:23).  The clothes do not make his man.  It is the dream that makes this man and that the woman cannot take from him.”4

This episode in Joseph’s life resembles the Egyptian tale “The Story of Two Brothers.”5  In the story, two brothers lived together, and the younger worked for the older.  One day when the older brother was absent from the house, his wife tried to seduce her brother-in-law.  When she failed in her attempt, the woman accused her brother-in-law of seduction and claimed her innocence.  But the younger brother defended his innocence, and the older brother killed his wife.  Although the stories have some similarities, one cannot say that one story depends on the other.  The Egyptian story was used for entertainment, while Joseph’s story teaches high moral values.

Potiphar placed Joseph in an Egyptian prison where he was a prisoner for several years.  In prison Joseph was blessed by God, and he gained the confidence of the jailer, who made Joseph responsible for the affairs of the prison.  While Joseph was in prison, tow officers of Pharaoh, the chief baker and the chief butler, were in prison with him.  Each had a dream, but no one in prison could interpret the dreams.  When Joseph saw that the two men were dejected, he asked the reason for their sadness.  They told him their dreams; and Joseph offered to interpret the dream with God’s help, for Joseph told them that the interpretation of dreams belonged to God (Gen. 40:8).  After the two officials related their dreams to him, Joseph interpreted the dreams.  What Joseph told them became a reality a few days later.  The baker was hanged, and the butler was restored to his position in Pharaoh’s court.

Two years later Pharaoh had two dreams, but no one in the land of Egypt was able to give the correct interpretation.  The chief butler remembered how Joseph had interpreted correctly his dream, and he told Pharaoh what had happened to him in prison.  Pharaoh sent for Joseph.  After Joseph made personal preparation to meet Pharaoh, he came and interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams.  In his interpretation Joseph said that the two dreams had one meaning and one interpretation: Seven years of plenty would come to Egypt in which there would be great abundance of crops.  After these seven years of plenty would come seven years of famine in the land.  Joseph advised Pharaoh to name a person capable of organizing a program to preserve the results of the years of plenty in order to make provisions for the years of famine.  Pharaoh liked Joseph’s plan, and he became convinced that Joseph would be the best person to carry it out.  Pharaoh then appointed Joseph to oversee the collection of the harvest, and Joseph was elevated to a position in which he was second in power over all Egypt.  Joseph was 30 years old at the time of his appointment by Pharaoh.  When Joseph came to power, the Hyksos probably were ruling Egypt.

The Hyksos were a Northwest-Semitic people who came to Egypt from Canaan.  They conquered and ruled Egypt for about 150 years, from 1700 to 1550 BC, when they were expelled by Amosis I.  During this period, the Hyksos appointed several people bearing Semitic names to high office, and Joseph probably was one of them.6 

Pharaoh changed Joseph’s name to Zaphenath-panea, a theophoric name that means “God speaks and he lives.”  He also gave him Asenath (“the one who belongs to Neith”; Neith was the name of an Egyptian goddess), daughter of Potiphera the priest of On (Heliopolis) as his wife.  The name Potiphera is similar to the name Potiphar, but they are different persons.  Potiphera means “The one who Regave.”  Potiphera was a high priest at the temple of On, a place dedicated to sun worship.

Before the seven years of plenty came to an end, Joseph became the father of two sons: Manasseh and Ephraim.

Finally, the seven years of famine came, as Joseph had predicted.  The famine was over all the land of Egypt and reached even to Canaan.  Because of the famine, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy food for his family.  As they arrived in Egypt, they came to Joseph’s house.  They did not recognize Joseph, but Joseph recognized his brothers.

Joseph tested his brothers’ character twice to see whether they had changed.  At the end of the brothers’ second journey to Egypt, Joseph made himself known to them.  Joseph forgave his brothers for the pain and suffering they had caused him.  Joseph’s words to his brothers (Gen. 45:5-8) are important to the understanding of the focus of the Joseph narratives.  Behind the brothers’ action stood divine Providence (Gen. 45:8; 50:20).  In the study of Joseph’s life, one can see “God’s hand which in all the confusion of human guilt directs every thing to a gracious gosl.”7  The intention of the brothers was to kill Joseph, but God’s purpose was to preserve life.  God had sent Joseph to Egypt ahead of his brothers to make preparation to save his people from the severe famine that would come on the land.  At the same time God used these events to restore Joseph’s relationship to this brothers.  Westermann said: “It is the same God who saves lives in Pharaoh’s kingdom and heals the breach in Jacob’s family.”8  The brothers bowed down before Joseph, thus fulfilling the dreams he had dreamed in his youth.  Joseph sent provisions to his father, inviting Jacob to come to Egypt and live with him.  Jacob and his family came to Egypt, where Pharaoh received them and settled them in the land of Goshen.

Joseph died in Egypt at the age of 110.  His body was embalmed according to Egyptian tradition, and he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.  After the people of Israel left Egypt, they carried Joseph’s body with them.  His remains were buried in Shechem (Ex. 13:19; Josh. 24:32).

The exodus of Israel from Egypt was celebrated in Israel’s worship as one of the mighty acts of God on behalf of His people (Ps. 77:15).  The same God who preserved Joseph and delivered him from prison and placed him over all Egypt was the God who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt.  The faith of the psalmist never ceases to reflect on this demonstration of God’s great power.  God’s great deliverance of His people from the house of servitude is the basis of Israel’s declaration of faith, a faith that is often proclaimed in the hymns of Israel.  To Israel God is:

A God Who has pity on those who are enslaved,

A God Who hears the crying of those who are oppressed

A God Who saves His people from great distress,

A God Who remains faithful to His people forever.                       Bi

1.    Baldwin, The Message of Genesis 12—50: From Abraham to Joseph (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 159.

2.    Westermann, Genesis: A Practical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 263.

3.    Wintermute, Joseph Son of Jacob,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), 2:983-84.

4.    Brueggemann, Genesis (Atlanta: Knox Press, 1982), 315.

5.    For an abbreviated version of the story see Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969), 23-25.

6.    Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 60-61.

7.    Gerhard von Rad, Genesis (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961), 393.

8.    Westermann, 301.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Fall 1983.


Joseph  His Life And Times

By D. Waylon Bailey

Dr. Bailey is professor of Old Testament, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.


XCEPT FOR A BRIEF TIME when he is seen as a brash young man without tact and spoiled by his father, Joseph is one of the most wholesome characters in the Old Testament.  His life serves as a positive example in numerous areas.  He made the best of discouraging circumstances; he rejected the advances of his master’s wife; he saw God’ great purpose being worked out in his own circumstances.  His stories, found in Genesis 37-50, are some of the most fascinating of any body of literature.

The general story of Joseph is well known and, while Joseph is not mentioned in any known Egyptian inscriptions, a number of parallels can be drawn between Joseph’s life and stories which survive from ancient Egypt.  Joseph’s seduction is quite similar to the Egyptian “Tale of Two Brothers,” in which an unsuccessful attempt was made to seduce the younger brother.  Another similarity concerns the butler.  Egyptian records indicate that the butler’s place was well established in the court.  He acted as a trusted advisor.  In one famous trial the king’s butlers served with other officials as judges.  Thus, when the pharaoh had a dream, we are not surprised that the butler accompanied the wise men and magicians who were summoned to interpret the dream and then recommended Joseph as a discerner of dreams.

The question of Joseph’s position and duties in Egypt still is a mystery, however.  In what capacity did he serve and what functions did he perform?

The position Joseph held apparently was that of prime minister, called vizier in Egypt.  The vizier’s duties described in Egyptian records correlate amazingly with the stories of Joseph in Genesis.

After the pharaoh, the vizier was the most important man in the government of ancient Egypt.  In the earliest times of Egyptian monarchy, the pharaoh appointed his son as vizier.  As the government expanded and became more centralized, the vizier came increasingly from the nobility or priesthood.  After the time of Joseph, the office of vizier was divided into two positions.  One vizier became administrator at Memphis over Lower (northern) Egypt while another held sway at Thebes over Upper (southern) Egypt.  This, no doubt, became necessary because of the complexity of the Egyptian state after 1500 BC.

A summary of the duties of the vizier accords well with Joseph’s responsibilities.  Genesis records the words of Pharaoh to Joseph:

Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled; only in the throne will I be greater than thou.  And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt; And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt (Gen. 41:40-44).

The vizier served as the chief justice of the state and dispensed justice throughout the land.  He was the most powerful man in the kingdom under pharaoh.  As state archivist, his office contained all the archives of the government, including the registry of lands and wills.  The vizier administered the kingdom, receiving daily reports from the treasurer and reporting directly to the pharaoh each day.

As vizier, Joseph knew the pharaoh as well as any non-family member Joseph must have been the man in the kingdom; all of the daily workings of government hinged on his capabilities and hard work.  Pharaoh rightly called the vizier “the supporting post of the entire land.”1  With authority delegated to a vizier like Joseph, the pharaoh had the freedom to move his armies out of Egypt to establish an empire or direct his energies in other areas.

The most favorable time for a foreigner in Egypt occurred during the Hyksos period, about 1720-1550 BC.  The Hyksos—“rulersof foreign countries” is the meaning of the Egyptian word—were an array of peoples, including Semites, Hittites, and Hurrians.  In a time of such foreign domination of Egypt, an outsider would have a greater opportunity to rise to great heights.  In the fourteenth century BC, Akhenation promoted a Semite named Tutu to a high position of power.  Among his duties were the inspection of public works and the reception of foreign visitors.  Other people of non-Egyptian descent were given government positions during the second millennium BC.  Thus, nothing particularly surprising can be found in Joseph’s elevation to power and his family’s reception in Egypt.

Joseph’s installation as a vizier of Egypt probably followed a customary pattern.  Genesis 41:42-43 records the ceremony:

Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee; and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt.

Rekh-mi-Re, the vizier of Upper Egypt under the reign of Thutmose (thoot-MOE-suh) III (1490-1436 BC), received a similar appointment.  Rekh-mi-Re said: “I went forth clad in fine linen.  I reached the doorway of the palace gate.  The courtiers bent their backs, and I found the masters of ceremonies clearing the way.”2

The charge to the vizier is as impressive as the ceremony of installation.  In a charge unexpected in such an age, the pharaoh commanded the vizier to govern impartially and with kindness and humanity.

“Behold, it does not mean giving attention (only) to himself and to his officials and councilors, nor (yet) making [dependents] out of everybody.  [The] abomination of the god is partiality.  This is the instruction, and thus shalt thou act: ‘Thou shalt look upon him whom thou knowest like him whom thou knowest not, upon him who has access to thee like him who is far away.’”3

Horemhab (HAHR-im-hab, 1340-1310 BC) paid special attention to the character of those who would serve in such a high capacity.  He called the two viziers he appointed “perfect in speech, excellent in good qualities, knowing how to judge the heart.”4  He attacked bribery as an affront to justice: “Receive not the reward of another.  How shall those like you judge others while there is one among you committing a crime against justice?”5  The biblical record gives many indications that Joseph’s character suited the office of vizier.  He appears in the Bible as a strong-willed, dedicated person who cared for the people around him.  He was one who could sacrifice immediate pleasure for long-term goals.  It was just such a man that the pharaoh wanted to serve over all the land.

The biblical account of Joseph’s duties portrays two main areas of concern: (1) He ruled the land as governor (Gen. 41:44; 42:6); and (2) he was in charge of the royal granary, thus spent much of his time administering agriculture (Gen. 41:49).

From available Egyptian accounts, we can ascertain more detailed duties that Joseph had.  The chief concern of the vizier may have been to dispense justice over all the land.  Each day, Joseph had an audience with those seeking redress of some grievance.  Every morning people crowded to the hall of the vizier, the senior court in the land, to be heard.

The courtroom setting must have been impressive.  When Rekh-mi-Re was vizier, he sat “upon a judgment-chair, with a matting on the floor, a matting over him, a cushion under his back and a cushion under his feet, a [cape] upon him, [and] a scepter at his hand.”6  In front of the vizier were forty leather straps or thongs which were the symbol of his disciplinary authority.  The number of men around the vizier was impressive as well.  He sat with “the Chiefs of Southern Tens on two sides in front of him, the Overseer of the Cabinet on his right hand, the Supervisor of Clients on his left hand, and the Scribe of the Vizier beside him.”7

As chief judge, Joseph had to be able to dispense justice according to fairness, custom, and precedent.  No codified law from this period in Egypt has been found.  Thus, wisdom in making crucial decisions played an important part in Joseph’s life.  Determining the mind of the pharaoh was necessary since the vizier was pharaoh’s mouthpiece.  Even with his enormous power, the vizier recognized that he was subject to pharaoh.  Pharaoh expected the vizier to give every man his due in accord with his previous instructions.  Thutmose III charged his vizier: “Would that thou mightiest act in conformance with what I may say!”8  Matters of great significance for the nation were taken to the monarch.  One such example is the death penalty, which could be handed down only by pharaoh’s permission.

In the Joseph stories in Genesis, the greatest emphasis is given to his supervision of the granaries.  During the seven plenteous years Joseph bought grain and dispensed it during the seven lean years.  But Joseph’s tasks were more burdensome than this.  He supervised the cutting of trees, checked the water supply, sent out the men to plow at harvest time, and received census reports of cattle.9  He heard each territorial dispute within two months, or in the case of his own city, within three days.

In addition to the granary, Joseph probably supervised the royal treasurer.  Each morning the chief treasure reported to Joseph.  Only after his report was made did Joseph give authority to open the offices and carry out the business of the state.

Taxes were collected by the vizier as well.  The tomb of Rekh-mi-Re depicts the vizier receiving dues from lower officials the tribute from Asiatic vassal-princes and Nubian chiefs.10  A long list of officials and their dues also has been found in the tomb of Rekh-mi-Re.

As royal archivist all administrative documents required his seal and no document could be consulted without his permission.  In later times viziers performed such tasks as helping end workers’ strikes and settling disputes among local officials.

Genesis 41-40 says that Joseph was over pharaoh’s house.  This probably included the local palace as well as the entire land.  Being over the house of pharaoh meant that he recruited the staff of the royal household and dispatched all palace messengers.  In addition, he arranged the king’s travels and hired the royal bodyguard.

Joseph’s day-to-day activities must have been quite demanding.  The statement in Genesis 42:6 that Joseph was ruler (governor) over the land fits all the extra-biblical evidence concerning the work of the vizier.  As vizier he consulted daily with the pharaoh, the royal treasurer, and other lesser officials.  He conducted daily hearings in his judgment hall and attended to the administrative affairs of the land.

Concerning the duties of the various viziers, Breasted stated that “it must have been this office which the Hebrew narrator had in mind as that to which Joseph was appointed.”11  Without a man of such tremendous energy and insight, many people would have suffered even more tragically during years of famine and want.  Joseph himself stated well the truth of the providence of God: “And as for you (his brothers), ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen. 50:20).                                                                                                                                                                                                   Bi

1.  Wilson, The Burden of Egypt (Chicago: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1951), p. 172.

2.  Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press. 1969), p. 213.

3.  Ibid.

4.  Breasted, A History of Egypt (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909), p. 405.

5.  Ibid.

6.  Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 213.

7.  Ibid., pp. 213-14.

8.  Ibid.

9.  Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, vol. 2 (Chicago: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1906), pp. 278-80.

10. Ibid., pp. 294-95.

11. Breasted,  A History of Egypt, p. 244.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 1982.




What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (10/26/14)  (Two-part question) (1.) In what Psalm did King David refer to the tribe of Judah as his (2.) what?  Answer next week: (1.) Where? (2.) What?

The answer to last week’s trivia question : What is made acceptable by the word of God and prayer? (10/12/14)  Answer: Everything God created; 1 Tim. 4:4-5.