39 1 Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an official of Pharaoh, chief steward, an Egyptian man, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down.
2 YHWH was with Joseph so that he became a man of success while he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 His master saw that YHWH was with him, and with everything he did, YHWH made his hand succeed. 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. He put him in charge of his house, and everything belonging to him he placed in his hands. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he had, YHWH blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake. YHWH’s blessing was upon everything he had in house and field. 6 He left everything that was his in Joseph’s hands and, with him there, paid no attention to anything except the bread he ate.
Joseph was fair of form and pleasant to view. 7 After a while, his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Lie with me!”
8 He refused, saying to his master’s wife, “My master has no concern with anything in the house while I am here. Everything he has he has placed in my hands. 9 He is not greater in this house than I and has withheld nothing from me except you, his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”
10 She continued to coax Joseph, day after day, and he refused to listen to her, to lie by her, to be with her.
11 It happened one day that he came into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house were in the house….
Plots have a way of thickening.
Joseph was brought to Egypt as a commodity. Presumably, he was bought for more than the 20 pieces of silver for which he was sold. Perhaps the Ishmaelites earned half again what they paid and brought his price the betrayal level of 30 pieces of silver? The dreamer of being the main “sheaf” is well out of his expected center.
One way back to the center is to become indispensable to the center. The author(s) of Genesis record that Joseph became a successful servant. He learned the levers of power in this Egyptian context. The author(s) claim that YHWH stood behind Joseph and was the source of his success. We are not told that Joseph understood this source of his growing success.
His learning paid off. After some time, he was put in charge of Potiphar’s house and all in it.
Joseph’s master understood that which benefited him and how Joseph seemed to have a golden touch regarding the administration of resources. It didn’t hurt that he was good-looking. Joseph is described in the same words that were used of his mother, Rachel. Beauty, according to cultural norms, is a resource and power that gives opportunity. It may have been Joseph’s looks that first caught his master’s eye.
It is this same beauty (like his embroidered tunic) that raised Joseph up, and that will lay him low.
His master’s wife was part of the household. She initiates a proposal for a sexual encounter different in purpose than the one Tamar set up. Potiphar’s wife is the one who says, “Come in to me.” Joseph has an extended excuse to counter the short command.
At question is the use of authority. Joseph, as a male servant, carries more weight than Potiphar’s unnamed wife.
Day after day, this request and rebuff went on. Joseph became cunning in his avoidance of these encounters.
One day, of course, when no one else was around, words became action….