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B'resheet/Genesis 39:10 And it was, when she spoke to Yosef day by day, and he did not listen to her, to lie beside her, to be with her.
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She, of course, is Potiphar's wife. Her husband is said by the Geneva Bible to be a eunuch, but the biblical text is not completely unambiguous on the matter. Either way, Potiphar had bought Yosef to be a household slave, was impressed by his work and ethics, so had promoted him to be completely in charge of his household, "everything that was his, he place in his hands" (B'resheet 39:4). So much so that, "he paid attention to nothing save the food that he ate" (v. 6, NJPS). However, there was a fly in the ointment - two flies, in fact. The first was that "Joseph was well built and handsome" (ibid.), the second was Potiphar's wife who, it appears, became infatuated with Yosef and tried to get him to have sexual relations with her. Yosef, of course, said 'no' and explained that not only would that be breaking trust with Potiphar, his master, but would be a sin before G-d. We should notice that whereas the surrounding text uses the tetragrammaton name for HaShem, Yosef uses the nameElohim when talking to Potiphar's wife so that she will understand who he is talking about.
Our text tells us what Yosef's daily routine was like. The woman makes no attempt to respond to or counter Yosef's arguments; on the contrary, Nahum Sarna tells us, "her tactic is to war down his resistance by her relentless importuning." The word - the Pi'el infinitive form of the root , to speak, with a prefix, usually translated 'when' and a 3fs possessive pronoun, 'her' - conveys the sense of repeated speech. This is emphasised by the repeated noun , 'day'; she spoke to him about sex day by day, each day, every day! The NJPS translation offers the word 'coaxed' to describe her manner. Bruce Waltke confirms what she is doing - "she tries to wear him down" - pointing out that this is "a tactic twice successful against Samson: 'During the rest of the seven days of the feast she continued to harass him with her tears, and on the seventh day he told her, because she nagged him so' (Judges 14:17, NJPS); 'Finally, after she had nagged him and pressed him constantly, he was wearied to death and he confided everything to her' (16:16-17, NJPS)."1
We find the same phrase "day by day" being used for the way the officials of the king of Persia spoke to Mordechai when he wouldn't bow down before Haman as the king had ordered. "Why do you disobey the king's order?" (Esther 3:3, NJPS), they asked him over and over again as each day he refused to yield. Eventually, the courtiers told Haman to see if Mordechai's reason - that he was Jewish - would be acceptable. Haman was filled with rage, but that doesn't make any difference to Mordechai who still will not budge. Just like Potiphar's wife, Haman's anger is completely irrational; she tries to get Yosef executed by accusing him of attempted rape, while "Haman plotted to do away with all the Jews, Mordechai's people, throughout the kingdom of Ahasuerus" (v. 6, NJPS).
Back in Egypt, Yosef consistently refuses to hear or consider Potiphar's wife's propositions. He ignores her words and avoids even being alone with her as far as that is possible. TheRashbam writes that "he was careful not even to be alone with her until the day when it happened that he came to work and found no-one else there but her." He wants to give no room for temptation or even a suspicion of impropriety. An unusual preposition - the only time it is so used in Tanakh - tells us something more. , here with a 3fs object pronoun, means 'beside' or "at the side of" rather than more aggressive , 'with' that she otherwise uses. Elsewhere, "to lie with" someone always means to engage in sexual relations with that person. Potiphar's wife softens her demand and tries to just get his physical presence next to her even, the Ramban comments, if that is only "to lie next to her fully dressed." Abravanel surmises that "under normal circumstances, she would be on a sofa and he would have been expected to sit next to her when they spoke." The Ralbag tries to give her the benefit of the doubt, suggesting that "she thought that if he would not lie with her sexually, his just being with her might quench her desire for him."
Another interesting choice of words - "to be with her" - further clarifies the picture. TheBaal HaTurim reports that "the gematria of this phrase is equivalent to that of , 'into the midst of Gehinnom.'" The ancient rabbis had already written that "he refused to lie by her in this world so that he should not be with her in the Gehenna in the world to come" (B'resheet Rabbah 87:6). The Sages of the Talmud amplify this into a general case and uses our text as a proof: "Rabbi Samuel ben Nahmani said in the name of Rabbi Jonathan: Every good deed that one does in this world precedes him and walks in front of him in the world to come, as it is said: 'your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the L-RD shall be your rear guard' (Isaiah 58:8, ESV). Likewise, every transgression that one commits clings to him and leads him on the day of judgment, as it is said, 'They clasp him in the course of their way' (Job 6:18, Soncino). Rabbi Eleazar said: It is tied on to him like a dog, as it is said, 'He did not listen to her, to lie by her, to be with her' (B'resheet 39:10); to lie by her in this world, would mean to be with her in the world to come" (b. Avodah Zarah 5a and b. Sotah 3b).
Like most of the Tanakh, the early church fathers treated the patriarchal narratives as allegory. Iain Provan observes that Bede's Commentary of the Pentateuch, casts Yosef as Christ, "who did not commit adultery by accepting the teaching of the scribes and the Pharisees, but left His life in their hands (as Yosef left his garment in the hands of the temptress)."2 That rather spoils the power of the Apostolic Writers' affirmation that Yeshua "in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15, ESV). Yeshua was offered not just one but three temptations over the course of forty days in the wilderness: first "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread" (Matthew 4:3, ESV), then "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down" (v. 6, ESV) and finally "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me" (v. 9, ESV). Bigger temptations, maybe, than any of us will have to face, but Yeshua shows how it is done. On each occasion, he refused the enemy's advances, citing Scripture as the non-negotiable ground on which He stood.
Writing to the first Jewish communities of believers in Messiah, Peter warns them that they are in the same way of temptation: "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8, ESV). The very same devil that tempted Yeshua also tempts us and not only us, but the body of Messiah around the world is afflicted in the same way: "Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world" (v. 9, ESV). The same response that Yeshua used will work of us too, Peter says. We resist him, firm in our faith in Yeshua; like Yosef, we refuse to listen to his words, softenings, blandishments and - let's call a spade a spade - his lies. But will it really work for us too? Yes, James assures us, it will: "Submit yourselves therefore to G-d. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7, ESV). When we are rightly submitted to G-d, walking in faith and obedience, we can resist the devil and he will flee. Satan has no foothold or resting place in a life that is obediently submitted to G-d, that is walking with Yeshua and that is exercising faith in the Holy Spirit.
We need to hear Rav Sha'ul's warning: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of G-d? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of G-d" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, ESV). These are those who have been tempted by Potiphar's wife, who have given into her whining and wheedling, who have lain beside her for a little while just to get her off their backs. Like Samson, they have confided the secrets of their lives to the enemy; they have bowed the knee to Haman. But take courage; no situation is beyond the reach of Yeshua, of repentance and calling out to Him. Whether we have struggled to resist or succumbed in some measure, Sha'ul reminds us that "in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37, ESV). That is why Sha'ul cries out in praise, "thanks be to G-d, who gives us the victory through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Corinthians 15:57, ESV). Make sure that is your cry today!
1. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), page 521.
2. - Iain Provan, Discovering Genesis: Content, Interpretation, Reception (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), page 175.
Further Study: John 6:27-29; Romans 8:1-2; Ephesians 4:25-27
Application: Have you compromised with the enemy and been captured by sin? Are you struggling to find a way back to G-d? Know that G-d has given you the victory that Yeshua won on the cross, that you are authorised and empowered to resist the enemy in Yeshua's name and that you have been given the right to be a child of G-d when you call on Him. Cry out right now and come home to your Father and His kingdom!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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