Genesis 39


Joseph, being brought to Potiphar's house, prospers in all

his undertakings, 1-3.

Potiphar makes him his overseer, 4.

Is prospered in all his concerns for Joseph's sake, in whom

he puts unlimited confidence, 5, 6.

The wife of Potiphar solicits him to criminal correspondence, 7.

He refuses, and makes a fine apology for his conduct, 8, 9.

She continues her solicitations, and he his refusals, 10.

She uses violence, and he escapes from her hand, 11-13.

She accuses him to the domestics, 14,15,

and afterward to Potiphar, 16-18.

Potiphar is enraged, and Joseph is cast into prison, 19, 20.

The Lord prospers him, and gives him great favour in the sight

of the keeper of the prison, 21,

who intrusts him with the care of the house and all the

prisoners, 22, 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 Ge 37:36,

See Clarke on Ge 40:3.

Verse 4. He made him overseer] hiphkid, from

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


Verse 6. Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.]

yepkeh thoar, vipheh mareh, beautiful in his person,

and beautiful in his countenance. The same expressions are used

relative to Rachel; see them explained Ge 29:17. 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, [Arabic]

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., verse 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 keh Yusuf dasht


Keh ishk az pardah-i ismat beroon arad Zuleekhara.

"I understand, from the daily increasing beauty

which Joseph possessed,

How love tore away the veil of chastity from


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 [A.S.], witan, to know; hence [A.S.], wit, intellect,

understanding, wisdom, prudence.

Verse 9. How then] 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

offence, 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. letsachek,

here translated to mock, is the same word used in Ge 26:8,

relative to Isaac and Rebekah; and is certainly used by Potiphar's

wife in Ge 39:17, to signify some kind of familiar intercourse

not allowable but between man and wife.

Verse 20. Put him into the prison] beith sohar,

literally the round house; in such a form the prison was probably


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 honours 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 savour of true godliness behind


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, Re 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,

See Clarke on Ge 38:29.

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