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Adam Clarke Commentary

Genesis 39

Introduction

Joseph, being brought to Potiphar's house, prospers in all his undertakings, Genesis 39:1 -3. Potiphar makes him his overseer, Genesis 39:4 . Is prospered in all his concerns for Joseph's sake, in whom he puts unlimited confidence, Genesis 39:5 , Genesis 39:6 . The wife of Potiphar solicits him to criminal correspondence, Genesis 39:7 . He refuses, and makes a fine apology for his conduct, Genesis 39:8 , Genesis 39:9 . She continues her solicitations, and he his refusals, Genesis 39:10 . She uses violence, and he escapes from her hand, Genesis 39:11 -13. She accuses him to the domestics, Genesis 39:14 , Genesis 39:15 , and afterward to Potiphar, Genesis 39:16 -18. Potiphar is enraged, and Joseph is cast into prison, Genesis 39:19 , Genesis 39:20 . The Lord prospers him, and gives him great favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison, Genesis 39:21 , who entrusts him with the care of the house and all the prisoners, Genesis 39:22 , Genesis 39:23 .

Verse 1

An officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard - Mr. Ainsworth, supposing that his office merely consisted in having charge of the king's prisoners, calls Potiphar provost marshal! See Clarke on Genesis 37:36 (note), See Clarke on Genesis 40:3 (note).

Verse 4

He made him overseer - הפקיד hiphkid, from פקד pakad, to visit, take care of, superintend; the same as επισκοπος, overseer or bishop, among the Greeks. This is the term by which the Septuagint often express the meaning of the original.

Verse 6

Joseph was a goodly person, and well favored - יפה תאר ויפה מראה yepkeh thoar, vipheh mareh, beautiful in his person, and beautiful in his countenance. The same expressions are used relative to Rachel; see them explained Genesis 29:17 (note). The beauty of Joseph is celebrated over all the East, and the Persian poets vie with each other in descriptions of his comeliness. Mohammed spends the twelfth chapter of the Koran entirely on Joseph, and represents him as a perfect beauty, and the most accomplished of mortals. From his account, the passion of Zuleekha (for so the Asiatics call Potiphar's wife) being known to the ladles of the court, they cast the severest reflections upon her: in order to excuse herself, she invited forty of them to dine with her, put knives in their hands, and gave them oranges to cut, and caused Joseph to attend. When they saw him they were struck with admiration, and so confounded, that instead of cutting their oranges they cut and hacked their own hands, crying out, hasha lillahi ma hadha bashara in hadha illa malakon kareemon. "O God! this is not a human being, this is none other than a glorious angel!" - Surat xii., Genesis 29:32 .Two of the finest poems in the Persian language were written by the poets Jamy and Nizamy on the subject of Joseph and his mistress; they are both entitled Yusuf we Zuleekha. These poems represent Joseph as the most beautiful and pious of men; and Zuleekha the most chaste, virtuous, and excellent of women, previous to her having seen Joseph; but they state that when she saw him she was so deeply affected by his beauty that she lost all self-government, and became a slave to her passion. Hafiz expresses this, and apologizes for her conduct in the following elegant couplet: - Men az an husn-i roz afzoon kehYusuf dasht danistam Keh ishk azpardah-i ismat beroon arad Zaleekhara.Joseph possessed, How love tore away theveil of chastity from Zuleekha."The Persian poets and eastern historians, however, contrive to carry on a sort of guiltless passion between them till the death of Potiphar, when Zuleekha, grown old, is restored to youth and beauty by the power of God, and becomes the wife of Joseph. What traditions they had beside the Mosaic text for what they say on this subject, are now unknown; but the whole story, with innumerable embellishments, is so generally current in the East that I thought it not amiss to take this notice of it. The twelfth chapter of the Koran, which celebrates the beauty, piety, and acts of this patriarch, is allowed to be one of the finest specimens of Arabic composition ever formed; and the history itself, as told by Moses, is one of the most simple, natural, affecting, and well-told narratives ever published. It is a master-piece of composition, and never fails of producing its intended effect on the mind of a careful reader. The Arab lawgiver saw and felt the beauties and excellences of his model; and he certainly put forth all the strength of his own language, and all the energy of his mind, in order to rival it.

Verse 8

My master wotteth not - Knoweth not, from the old Anglo-Saxon, witan, to know; hence, wit, intellect, understanding, wisdom, prudence.

Verse 9

How then - ואיך veeik, and how? Joseph gives two most powerful reasons for his noncompliance with the wishes of his mistress:1. Gratitude to his master, to whom he owed all that he had.2. His fear of God, in whose sight it would be a heinous offense, and who would not fail to punish him for it.With the kindness of his master and the displeasure of God before his eyes, how could he be capable of committing an act of transgression, which would at once have distinguished him as the most ungrateful and the most worthless of men?

Verse 14

He hath brought in a Hebrew unto us - Potiphar's wife affects to throw great blame on her husband, whom we may reasonably suppose she did not greatly love. He hath brought in - he hath raised this person to all his dignity and eminence, to give him the greater opportunity to mock us. לפחק letsachek, here translated to mock, is the same word used in Genesis 26:8 , relative to Isaac and Rebekah; and is certainly used by Potiphar's wife in Genesis 39:17 , to signify some kind of familiar intercourse not allowable but between man and wife.

Verse 20

Put him into the prison - בית סהר beith sohar, literally the round house; in such a form the prison was probably built.

Verse 21

The Lord was with Joseph - It is but of little consequence where the lot of a servant of God may be cast; like Joseph he is ever employed for his master, and God honors him and prospers his work.1. He who acknowledges God in all his ways, has the promise that God shall direct all his steps. Joseph's captivity shall promote God's glory; and to this end God works in him, for him, by him. Even the irreligious can see when the Most High distinguishes his followers. Joseph's master saw that Jehovah was with him; and from this we may learn that the knowledge of the true God was in Egypt, even before the time of Joseph, though his worship was neither established nor even tolerated there. Both Abraham and Isaac had been in Egypt, and they had left a savor of true godliness behind them.2. Joseph's virtue in resisting the solicitations of his mistress was truly exemplary. Had he reasoned after the manner of men, he might have soon found that the proposed intrigue might be carried on with the utmost secrecy and greatly to his secular advantage. But he chose to risk all rather than injure a kind benefactor, defile his conscience, and sin against God. Such conduct is so exceedingly rare that his example has stood on the records of time as almost without a parallel, admired by all, applauded by most, and in similar circumstances, I am afraid, imitated by few. The fable of the brave and virtuous Bellerophon and Sthenobaea, wife of Proetus, king of the Argives, was probably founded on this history.3. Joseph fled and got him out. To know when to fight and when to fly are of great importance in the Christian life. Some temptations must be manfully met, resisted, and thus overcome; from others we must fly. He who stands to contend or reason, especially in such a case as that mentioned here, is infallibly ruined. Principiis obsta, "resist the first overtures of sin," is a good maxim. After-remedies come too late.4. A woman of the spirit of Potiphar's wife is capable of any species of evil. When she could not get her wicked ends answered, she began to accuse. This is precisely Satan's custom: he first tempts men to sin, and then accuses them as having committed it, even where the temptation has been faithfully and perseveringly resisted! By this means he can trouble a tender conscience, and weaken faith by bringing confusion into the mind. Thus the inexperienced especially are often distracted and cast down; hence Satan is properly called the accuser of the brethren, Revelation 12:10 .Very useful lessons may be drawn from every part of the relation in this chapter, but detailing the facts and reasoning upon them would be more likely to produce than prevent the evil. An account of this kind cannot be touched with too gentle a hand. Others have been profuse here; I chose to be parsimonious, for reasons which the intelligent reader will feel as well as myself. Let this remark be applied to what has been said on the sin of Onan, Genesis 38.

Genesis 39


  1 And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.
  2 And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.
  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 any thing 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.
  13 And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth,
  14 That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:
  15 And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.
  16 And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home.
  17 And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:
  18 And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.
  19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.
  20 And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.
  21 But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
  22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it.
  23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper.

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