“And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.” (Genesis 39:10)
Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard, appointed Joseph to a position of great responsibility. He put him in charge of his whole household and entrusted everything that he owned to his care. With Joseph in charge, Potiphar only had to concern himself with his daily meals.
Nice work if you can get it, we might think. Great not to have a boss hovering over you, constantly checking all your work and making sure that you’re not slacking off. But we mustn’t forget that – despite this position of great responsibility – Joseph was still, to all intents and purposes, a slave. He still refers to Potiphar as his master.
Ultimately though, it’s not fear of his human master that keeps Joseph from giving into the temptation to commit adultery. No, it’s his fear of God. In response to the invitation to come to bed, Joseph says to Potiphar’s wife, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (v 9)
Potiphar’s wife is certainly persistent. She speaks to Joseph “day after day.” In any modern work environment this would surely be grounds to pursue a case of sexual harassment. But Joseph has no rights. He has to continue faithfully attending to his duties, even in the face of this relentless provocation.
What he does do, though, is make every effort to avoid sexual immorality. He refuses to go to bed with her “or even be with her.” So he doesn’t dance around the edges of the temptation and flirt with immorality. No, he does everything possible to avoid being alone with her. He works hard to avoid even the appearance of evil.
As it turns out, Joseph’s godly resistance and wise avoidance techniques don’t prevent him from being falsely accused of sexual immorality and thrown into prison for two years. But he does at least have a completely clear conscience before God. And we’re told that “the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden” (verse 21).
There are many lessons to be learnt from the account of Joseph. Lessons about God, certainly, and about his great purposes in salvation history. But let’s not ignore one very obvious, practical application: As God’s people through faith in Christ, “It is God’s will…that you should avoid sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Is there a particular person or situation that I need to be avoiding? Someone that I can’t risk even being with? Or is there some place (real or virtual) that I can’t allow myself to go? Let’s follow Joseph’s example by fearing God and taking radical steps to avoid immorality.