CHPT 3| Man-Down!
“When God wants to drill a man and thrill a man and skill man…”
Joseph is a man down. Down is directional. His low-down, dirty brothers cast him into a pit. He must have cried for hours. Cried until his spittle dried up and his lips cracked. Later, these same dirty hands would yank him out and sell him to slavers. The writer tells us that Joseph “…had been taken down to Egypt.” Down is positional. Joseph is descending. Over the next two decades he will rise in power and become one of the most successful men in the Bible, but not yet. First, God had work to do—His methods painful.
God was drilling into Joseph.
God was skilling Joseph.
But it was not without adversity and testing.
God was making Joseph into a great man, but He never does that without great, hurtful, hammering blows. In twenty years Joseph will rule Egypt, but today he is a man down.
1 Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt. An Egyptian named Potiphar, an official of Pharaoh and the captain of the guard, purchased him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph. He was successful and lived in the household of his Egyptian master. 3 His master observed that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he was doing successful. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal attendant. Potiphar appointed Joseph overseer of his household and put him in charge of everything he owned. 5 From the time Potiphar appointed him over his household and over all that he owned, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s household for Joseph’s sake. The blessing of the Lord was on everything that he had, both in his house and in his fields. 6 So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; he gave no thought to anything except the food he ate.
God’s Presence Brings Success
When you’re down and out, “with” is a powerful thing. When you’re lonely and surrounded by strangers, “with” can give you the strength to endure. Alone is no good. In a book exploring the challenges that suffering brings to faith, Philip Yancey tells the story of a university experiment designed to test the limits of pain. They recruited volunteers to see how long they could keep their foot immersed in a bucket of ice water. Interestingly, they observed that whenever a friend was permitted in the room, the subject could go twice as long. Yancey writes, “Researchers concluded that, ‘the presence of another caring person doubles the amount of pain a person can endure’.” Joseph is a man-down, but he is not alone:
“The LORD was with Joseph.”
Compared to the last chapter on Joseph, God is photo-bombing this episode. The phrase, “the LORD was with Joseph” repeats 4X in the chapter. More than that, Joseph’s success is directly attributed to the presence of God in his life, and just to make sure that we don’t miss it, the writer literally bookends the chapter with the themes of God’s presence and prosperity:
“The LORD was with Joseph , so he became a successful man” (v. 2)
“The LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made prosper” (v. 23)
You might be wondering why I’m putting the word “Lord” in full caps. No, I’m not shouting at you. In most of our English Bibles, the word “Lord” is used to translate two Hebrew names for God. The first is Adonai. This word signifies ownership. “Master” is a good stand in word. The second way that “Lord” is used is to translate God’s personal name, Yahweh. Whenever you see LORD in full caps, you can be sure that the Hebrew word Yahweh is underneath it. You might be more familiar with the term Jehovah, which is a spin on the Hebrew Yahweh or YHWH (ancient Hebrew had no vowels). To say that this is God’s personal name is to suggest that God is relational. When God introduced Himself to Joseph’s Dad (Jacob), He appeared to him in a dream, “I am YHWH, the God of your father Abraham and the God is Isaac…” (Genesis 28:13).
The use of God’s personal name in Genesis 39 is significant. God’s presence brings success. Not just average, “we’re-doing-okay” success, but ridiculous success. The repetition of “The LORD was with him” let’s us know that God was the source of Joseph’s success. It wasn’t because he was smarter or better looking than the other servants. It wasn’t because he worked harder. No, long before Joseph was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye, God made a promise to his great-grand dad, faithful Abe:
I will make you a great nation
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse
In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.
I emboldened the “I will’s” in the promise so that you can see that God and God alone was underwriting this promise. He Himself would be responsible to see to its fulfillment to faithful Abe and his family, which included Joseph. Joseph was ascending because God always keeps His promises. The young man prospered, moving from auction block to house slave to personal assistant. God’s presence brought success to Joseph and blessings to Potiphar’s estate.
The crops did not fail.
The children were healthy.
The investments brought in exponential returns.
Life was good.
Now this is the point in the story where the melancholy voice of Patrick Warburton from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events intrudes, “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, then you would be better off somewhere else.” Remember that Joseph was ridiculously handsome. One commentator writes, “Amid Joseph’s many blessings, he suffers from one endowment too many, stunning beauty.”
6 Now Joseph was well built and good-looking. 7 Soon after these things, his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Have sex with me.” 8 But he refused, saying to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not give any thought to his household with me here, and everything that he owns he has put into my care. 9 There is no one greater in this household 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 Even though she continued to speak to Joseph day after day, he did not respond to her invitation to have sex with her.
God’s Presence Enables Us to Resist Temptation
Joseph was living well. He had food in his belly. He wore a clean shirt and new sandals. It would not do for Potiphar’s personal assistant to go around looking shabby. In the rods of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man”:
They come runnin’ just as fast as they can
‘Cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man…
Potiphar’s wife was crazy for Joseph. I imagine her as a “cougar,” oh so casually brushing up against Joseph and showing off just the right amount of cleavage. She was a master of the Legally Blonde “bend and snap”. If you’re not familiar with the term, a “cougar” is an older woman who tries to score with a much younger men. Potiphar’s wife was hot for Joseph and Joseph was a red-blooded teenager, his body rippling with sexual energy and testosterone.
She came on to him, “Have sex with me.”
How does a red-blooded, sex-charged teenage boy avoid sexual stupidity? And what does this story of resisting temptation have to teach us about success?
Let’s talk about sex, baby (sing it)
Let’s talk about you and me (sing it, sing it)
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Thank you Salt-n-Pepper for breaking the ice! Let’s talk about sex and the Bible. The Bible has been talking about “all the good things and the bad things” for centuries. Forget Cosmo magazine and Fifty Shades! What God has to say about sex will make you blush. God likes sex. He’s the one who thought it up. Sex is God’s wedding gift to every man and woman in the covenant of marriage. Sex is good. I’m going to use the word sex 7X in this paragraph! God has a lot to say about sex because nothing will wreck you in life quicker than sexual stupidity.
Next to the Joseph story, my favorite passage on avoiding sexual stupidity is found in Proverbs chapter 5. Proverbs 5 is essentially “the talk.” You know, that awkward five minute conversation that parents and kids both dread. The one where no one makes eye contact and your child asks, “Umm, can I go now?” Well, in Proverbs 5, God inspires King Solomon to make eye contact with us and give us the skinny on temptation. Because Solomon is sitting his down, the warning is cast in terms of a loose woman, but it can just as easily be a loose man:
“For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.”
Oh the sweet, seductive power of the lips. Solomon likens it to honey, “Son, she’s going to look good. You will want to lick her honey lips.”
Oh the sweet, seductive power of flattery. “Son, she’s going to tell you things you want to hear and you’re going to think, ‘It’s been a long time since anyone complimented me in this way.’”
But, Solomon continues,
“…in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as any two edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.”
The sex talk is over.
“Umm, can we go now?”
“Yes, just don’t be stupid. I love you.”
“Uhhh, yeah. Thanks, dad (that was weird).”
Back to the Joseph story. Potiphar had a wife with honey lips. She cornered Joseph in a quiet section of the house, “Joseph, have sex with me.”
Let me tell you, it’s incredibly intoxicating to have a woman come on to you like that! It happened to me once. I was 17 and trying to get to class in high school. Her name was Ellie. She was pretty, petite and listened to the Cure. “I would kill to have three hours of ravenous sex with you,” she said. Not just sex, but ravenous sex! Oh the sweet, seductive power of honey lips. Her words stunned me. Her aggressiveness excited me. I ran away.
Back to the question. How does a red-blooded, sex-charged teenage boy avoid sexual stupidity?
One of the oldest morality tales in the world is the “Tale of the Two Brothers.” It was the Egyptian version of the “Talk.” I’m going to copy and past the story from Wikipedia, because it will save you the time of looking it up:
The story centers around two brothers: Anpu (Anubis), who is married, and the younger Bata. The brothers work together, farming land and raising cattle. One day, Anpu’s wife attempts to seduce Bata. When he strongly rejects her advances, the wife tells her husband that his brother attempted to seduce her and beat her when she refused. In response to this, Anpu attempts to kill Bata, who flees and prays to Re-Harakhti to save him. The god creates a crocodile-infested lake between the two brothers, across which Bata is finally able to appeal to his brother and share his side of the events. To emphasize his sincerity, Bata severs his genitalia and throws them into the water, where a catfish eats them….Anpu returns home and kills his wife.
The “Tale of the Two Brothers” and the story of Joseph teach us that no one is exempt from sexual temptation. They also uphold a moral standard, an “ought” and “ought not” within the silky realm of sexuality. The similarities are interesting, but the source of Bata’s ability to resist sexual stupidity is never named. The stories push us in different directions. It’s true, catfish will eat anything, but the only hope you and I have in resisting honey lips is the power of a greater affection. What the story of the two brothers only hints at, Genesis makes explicit:
“So how could I do such a great evil and sin against God?”
Please note that Joseph took his stand against sexual stupidity without a list of rules. In fact, the rules hadn’t been written down yet. When you know God, you don’t need a list of rules. What would later be engraved on a tablet of stone was engraved in Joseph’s heart, because he knew God and the LORD was with Joseph. This ridiculously handsome young man loved the presence of God more than an invitation to three hours of ravenous sex. He was more thrilled with knowing God than knowing Potiphar’s wife. The more your life is filled with the presence of God, the better you will be at resisting temptation.
11 One day he went into the house to do his work when none of the household servants were there in the house. 12 She grabbed him by his outer garment, saying, “Have sex with me!” But he left his outer garment in her hand and ran outside. 13 When she saw that he had left his outer garment in her hand and had run outside, 14 she called for her household servants and said to them, “See, my husband brought in a Hebrew man to us to humiliate us. He tried to have sex with me, but I screamed loudly. 15 When he heard me raise my voice and scream, he left his outer garment beside me and ran outside.”
16 So she laid his outer garment beside her until his master came home. 17 This is what she said to him: “That Hebrew slave you brought to us tried to humiliate me, 18 but when I raised my voice and screamed, he left his outer garment and ran outside.”
The English playwright and poet William Congreve is credited with the phrase, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” I’m stretching the meaning of scorned here a bit (the scorned woman is usually the one cheated on), but the phrase captures the wife’s fury. She would make Joseph pay for rejecting her advances! The proof of Joseph’s innocence could be spun, with the right amount of acting, into an accusation. She clutched it tightly between her fingers and screamed, “See, my husband brought in a Hebrew man to us to humiliate us. He tried to have sex with me, but I screamed loudly. When he heard me raise my voice and scream, he left his outer garment beside me and ran outside.”
What is it with Joseph and his jackets?! Once again he is identified by his clothing. First it was the bloody coat of many colors, and now it is his outer cloak. When Potiphar got home he burned with anger put Joseph into the jail.
Our story began with Potiphar purchasing Joseph on the slave block and ends with Potiphar putting him in prison. In between these bookends, God is using the house and the prison as workshops to whittle Joseph’s soul to “play the noblest part.” The worst thing that can happen to a man is for him to succeed before he’s ready. Joseph remains a man-down.
When God wants to drill a man, And thrill a man, And skill a man When God wants to mold a man To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart To create so great and bold a man That all the world shall be amazed, Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects Whom He royally elects! How He hammers him and hurts him, And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which Only God understands; While his tortured heart is crying And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks When his good He undertakes; How He uses whom He chooses, And which every purpose fuses him; By every act induces him To try His splendor out- God knows what He’s about.
Some Implications for Winning in Life:
Are you willing to run?
When it comes to battling sexual temptation, the Bible tells us to run! Beat feet! Don’t let your pride sell you an empty promise, “I can handle it.” In his excellent book Sex & Money, Paul David Tripp writes, “…if you are going to live in the sexual domain of your life in the way that God has called you to live in the middle of this world that has gone sexually insane, you are going to have to be willing to do a whole lot of running.” Running takes different forms:
- Running might look like blocking an old high school or college flame on Facebook.
- Running might look like putting the computer in the living room and giving your spouse full access your smartphones, etc.
- Running might look like the discipline of refusing to touch a person you’re attracted to (hugs are not always harmless).
Running might require actual bipedalism! If you don’t run, you’re likely to do something you’ll regret later. Flings and affairs can wreck you and your family. What you’ve spent a lifetime building can be destroyed in a day. You’ll never win in life if you’re not willing to run.
Are you willing to wait?
In a world that is “nasty, short and brutish”, why wait? Why not take a little sexual comfort when you can?
Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers
Just a come-on from the whores
On Seventh Avenue
I do declare
There were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there, le le le le le le le
Paul Simon’s The Boxer is searching for something on Seventh Avenue, something that can be glimpsed, but not found on a one-night stand—real intimacy. The desire to be utterly known—naked—yet totally accepted. This is, I think, what G.K. Chesterton was getting at when he said, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”
I think that Joseph knew something about sex that we don’t. Sex is way bigger than we realize. The naked exposure of our bodies to another person points to our deep desire to be known and accepted. The tingle of pleasure that runs down our spine points to our hope of greater pleasures to come. And God intends for us to catch a glimpse of such things, without shame, regret or guilt, in the arms of someone we intend to stick it out with in marriage. Anything less cheapens it.
Can you rule yourself?
Joseph was ascending. Thanks to the presence of the LORD, he made it from the fields to the house and from the house to personal assistant. He was given a position of power within the house, but the place of blessing can become a platform for temptation. Abraham Lincoln wisely noted, “Nearly all men can withstand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Faced with intoxicating temptation and honey-lipped opportunity, what would Joseph do?
The LORD was testing Joseph, because God knows that a man who cannot govern his zipper should not govern a nation. If you cannot rule yourself, you’re not ready to rule a nation or run a company or household:
- A spouse ruled by the impulse to shop will destroy the family finances;
- An impulsive CEO will hire more people than needed or make the wrong investment and ruin a company;
- A politician will tarnish their legacy, throw an election or even sever the golden link of character and power.
You will not be successful in life if you cave into temptations. God has good things in store for us, but these gifts can be forfeited. I’m convinced that the last tears some of us will ever cry will flow from catching a glimpse of what God wanted to give us, but we would not have.
Next Time: What may come of dreams