Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in issue no. 2 (weeks 5–8; February 3–24, 2019) of The Lookout magazine, and is also available online at www.lookoutmag.com.
Lesson Text: Genesis 39:1-4, 19-23
Lesson Aim: Be assured that God will never forsake you in times of trouble.
By Mark Scott
We sometimes use the expression, “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” when we want to emphasize that good is on the way and that soon our “tunnel experience” will end. But sometimes we add to that secular proverb the phrase, “But the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.” Of course this creates angst because often life goes from good to bad or from bad to worse. Such was the life cycle of the patriarch Joseph. About the time he thought his life would improve it seemed to spin around to another conflict.
In terms of the number of chapters, Joseph’s story controls the bulk of Genesis—from chapters 37-50. Joseph’s life seems like a yoyo. He was his father’s favorite and he had the coat to prove it. His family dreams did not endear him to his brothers (Genesis 37:1-11). When Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers, they mistreated the dreamer and sold him to the Ishmaelites, who in turn sold him to Potiphar, captain of the guard for the Pharaoh (Sesostris II) in Egypt. Within a short time he went from being a chosen son in Israel to a slave in Egypt. But you can’t keep a good man down.
Egypt—Mountain of Success | Genesis 39:1-4
Our text reveals Joseph’s rise to the mountain of success. Joseph (whose name meant “Yahweh has added”) served in Potiphar’s house. Potiphar (whose name meant “Belonging to the sun”) was one of Pharaoh’s officials (chamberlains or eunuchs)—the fact that this word can refer to eunuchs is proof that sometimes the word eunuch did not mean a sexually-compromised male, since Potiphar was obviously married. He was captain of the guard. Joseph was oppressed, but God was with him—a phrase that occurs four times in our printed text.
God caused Joseph to prosper (succeed). This was so obvious that even Potiphar noticed it. Joseph had free reign in Potiphar’s house. Joseph had gained Potiphar’s favor (grace or charm). Joseph became Potiphar’s attendant and was in charge of his household and everything he owned. Potiphar could even tell that Joseph’s God was blessing his own house (Genesis 39:5-6a). But this success would not last.
Prison—Valley of Despair | Genesis 39:19-23
The non-printed text gives the reason for the quick descent from success (Genesis 39:6b-18). Potiphar’s wife had more than just eyes for Joseph. She was in a state of mad lust. Madam Folly (Proverbs 5 and 7) made her move on Joseph day after day. Perhaps she felt that she could wear him down with her persistence. When a moment of privacy presented itself, she grabbed him and made her brazen move. Joseph knew that the stakes were high and ran out of the house leaving his coat (now the second time that a coat played a significant role in his life) in her hands. Totally scorned, Potiphar’s wife lied about Joseph and lived out the proverb, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Once again Joseph found himself in the valley of despair. Potiphar burned with anger (the expression means to flare back like the nostrils of a horse). Potiphar incarcerated Joseph where the king’s prisoners were confined. But once again we read, “But while Joseph was there in prison, the LORD was with him. God showed Joseph kindness (chesed, mercy) and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.”
Almost immediately Joseph was given significant responsibility. He was put in charge of all the prisoners and was responsible for all prison activities. He became the overseer of the prisoners and the activities director of the prison. The prison warden began doing what Potiphar had done earlier (Genesis 39:8) by not concerning himself with anything in the prison. Make no mistake, God was behind all of Joseph’s successes.
It would be hard to believe that Joseph never wondered about God being there for him in the dark nights of his soul. But the truth of God never forsaking us in times of trouble is clearly a biblical irony. Reality is that sometimes God seems far. But equally real is that God is always near. He never does leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). But sometimes that is a hard truth to swallow. This is why we must continually lean into the promises of God (Romans 8:35-39). Joseph had much practice with this leaning in because he had so many valleys of oppression.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on the scope and sequence, ©2018 by Christian Standard Media. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
Image: The painting “Joseph in Prison” by Louis de Boullogne II; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.