In this Bible study, we continue reflecting on the life of Joseph the Patriarch, particularly how Joseph’s tragedy turns to success.
Trials and testing
“Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there” (Genesis 39:1).
Slave markets, such as the one in Egypt where Joseph was sold, were very common in those days. The slaves were paraded naked on a platform to be examined by buyers. Slave owners had tremendous authority over their slaves, and could punish or even kill them. There were many slaves and many buyers at this market, but out of all of them, it was a royal officer of Pharaoh who bought Joseph, as part of God’s plan.
In Joseph’s story, we can see both the plan of the evil one and the plan of God at work. The evil one knew that Joseph was going to be a very influential person, and therefore tried to destroy him from his childhood. He instigated Joseph’s brothers to attack him, then had him sold into slavery. But God turned everything into good.
If you are chosen by God because of something big that He has planned for you, you will be persecuted, even from your childhood. You may experience many evil attacks in your personal life, perhaps in the form of sicknesses, tragedies, or humiliating experiences, because the evil one doesn’t want you to fulfil your purpose. When you have struggles in your life, remember that you have a special call that the evil one is trying to destroy. If you are faithful to God, sooner or later you will see the glory of God in your life.
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
If you look into the lives of Moses, Joseph, David, Daniel, and all the Patriarchs, you will see that because they were chosen by God for a purpose, they had to go through many difficulties, persecution, and humiliating experiences. If God has a special plan for you, you will be tested. The evil one will try to destroy everything on one hand, and on the other God will turn everything into good. Ultimately God will be victorious, provided you cooperate with Him.
Some people, in these moments of testing, deny God. They end up completely destroyed. Often these are the people who had a higher call, and one example is Judas Iscariot. He could have become a saint, perhaps the patron saint of money. But unfortunately, he destroyed himself. The higher the call, the bigger the temptation. Peter also had big temptations, but although he failed many times, he remained faithful to Jesus. All the disciples had a tough time, but they cooperated with God and were saved.
“My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing” (Sirach 2:1-2).
Anyone who wants to serve God will have to go through testing. There are many people who have failed in their testing but are still serving God. They have no love inside but somehow they are still committed to serving, and this is dangerous. So it is important to be prepared for testing.
Biblical meaning of success
In the story of Joseph, every time there was a crisis, the next sentence was, “the Lord was with Joseph”. When he was in the pit, the Lord was with Joseph. When he was sold, the Lord was with Joseph. And when he was a slave in the Egyptian master’s house, the Lord was with Joseph.
Success is not just having a lot of money – the world sees success in a different way to the Bible. If you are a businessman with lots of money and many people working under you, you are considered successful from the world’s point of view. But in the Bible, you can be a slave and still be successful if the Lord is with you.
Saint Martin de Porres was a very holy man. He was illiterate and not able to become a priest, so he spent most of his time cooking in the religious monastery or taking care of the sick in the infirmary. But God was with him. When he died, everything came to a standstill in the town of Lima. For three days his body was laid out for public veneration, and thousands of people came because they believed that he was a living saint and that he would be canonised soon. Everybody knew that God was with him.
In Christianity, success depends on whether or not God is with you. If God is with you, you are successful, even if your business has failed or if you work as a cleaner. It doesn’t matter if nobody knows you or if you have no followers on social media – if Jesus is with you, you are successful, more successful than people with thousands of followers.
This is what was so special about Joseph – the Lord was with him, so he became successful. He was still a slave, but at the same time, he was successful. In order to be successful, we should not think highly of ourselves, we just need to be in the presence of God.
“His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands” (Genesis 39:3).
His master, who was the captain of the guard and in charge of the whole army, looked at his slave and realised that the Lord was with him. He was a Gentile and didn’t know the true God, but he was able to recognize that God was with Joseph.
If God is with you, people will recognise that you are a child of God wherever you go. Even non-believers will be able to recognise the presence of God in you, because there will be something special or something different about you. Perhaps you have already experienced people telling you that you are different from everyone else because you are always smiling and full of joy, or because you are compassionate or forgiving. Or perhaps when you returned to work after a retreat, people noticed the change in your attitude.
If God is with you, it will be reflected in your actions and the way you relate to others. While living out the Gospel and the teachings of Christ might sometimes challenge or discomfort those around you, it’s essential to remember that Jesus Himself faced rejection and misunderstanding. Feeling rejected or misunderstood does not necessarily indicate the absence of the Lord in one’s life. Instead, the true sign of God’s presence is the peace and inner joy that you experience, even in the face of adversity. The Bible teaches that when we live in accordance with God’s will, we may find harmony even with those who oppose us. Strive to be a witness to God’s love, and even if the world may not always understand or accept it, find solace in the assurance that you are walking in God’s path.
Holiness is protection
“So Joseph found favour in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had” (Genesis 39:4).
Joseph got promoted to a high position very quickly. How did he accomplish this? Simply by living a holy life. Holiness is the biggest protection in our lives. Holiness brings the presence of God into our lives. God is ‘Holy Holy Holy’, as the angels cry out in heaven. If you are holy, you can connect to God. You will be protected. No one can come close to harm you, just as no one can come close to God because He is so holy.
“From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field” (Genesis 39:5).
Because Joseph was holy, there was blessing wherever he went. Compare this to the Prodigal son who was living an evil life, and as a result there was famine wherever he went. When you are in sin, there will be confusion, tension, fear and all kinds of negative things wherever you go. But if you are with God, there will be blessings, protection, and success because of the presence of God.
God told Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him, because of his obedience to God. A holy man or woman of God is the biggest blessing in any family. If one person is holy, every person in their household will be blessed in some way. When Sodom and Gomorrah were going to be destroyed, Abraham asked God if he would spare the city for the sake of just ten holy people, and God said yes (Genesis 18:32). Had there been even one holy person, God would have spared the cities for their sake. But there was no one holy. Remember, your holiness is your biggest protection.
Lust vs love
“Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me’” (Genesis 39:6-7).
Potiphar’s wife lusted after Joseph, and we know that it was lust because she was only interested in a physical relationship. What is the difference between lust and love? Lust is only an interest in the body, whereas love is an interest in the person. Lust looks at a person part by part, but love looks at them as a whole. Lust is secret, but love is open. Lust is dangerous, but love is holy. Lust, when it is broken, is vengeful. There have been many incidents where rejection or the end of a relationship has led to violence, often in the form of acid attacks or rape. These are clear signs that there was never any love, only lust.
Even in Joseph’s case, Potiphar’s wife was initially very attached to him, but once she was rejected, she made sure that he was imprisoned. Why? Because lust always turns to hatred. Love on the hand, even if it is denied, will never turn into hatred. True love will continue even after the relationship ends. Someone who truly loves you will be happy to see that you’re happy, even if you don’t love them back.
“But he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’” (Genesis 39:8).
Every time we are tempted to sin, we need to remember who we are and who the other person is. Although Joseph was holy, obedient, and committed to God, he was sold into slavery instead of being able to enjoy life in his father’s house. But despite this, he never denied or questioned God. He was humble, and remained holy and faithful to God. He could have easily chosen to be with Potiphar’s wife, and it would have remained a secret, because no one was there to watch or judge him and he had full freedom to do as he pleased. But he chose not to. He knew that God was within him and watching over him. Even in the face of tragedy and after many struggles and hardship, Joseph remained committed to holiness.
What about the Christians of today? In the face of tragedy, and sometimes even at the slightest hint of failure, we deny God and succumb to sin, enjoying the pleasures of this world and finding comfort in vices such as alcohol, drugs, and unhealthy relationships. Some even resort to making blasphemous statements against God.
Have any of us experienced a series of crises comparable to Joseph’s? He came from a rich and powerful family, from the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but found himself enslaved in the foreign land of Egypt. Yet during this challenging period, he powerfully resisted all temptation and chose not to fall into sin.
Our true nature comes out when we are alone. Reflect on your behaviour during times of stress when no one is around, and you will see your true nature. Joseph’s true nature was holiness, so no wonder God was always with him. Wherever there is holiness, God is there. Your holiness is your biggest protection.
“And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her” (Genesis 39:10).
Joseph’s temptation was not one-off, it was ongoing. He lived in Potiphar’s household for 11 years, and each day he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife. If we were in Joseph’s shoes, we might have initially resisted, but eventually we would’ve succumbed. However, Joseph completely refused and kept his distance from her. If someone is tempting you or if you are a temptation for others, keep a distance from them and make sure you’re never alone with them.
“Flee from sin as from a snake; for if you approach sin, it will bite you. Its teeth are lion’s teeth, and can destroy human lives” (Sirach 21:2).
Joseph recognized that this woman was like a snake, which is why he escaped by literally running away from her. If you know that someone is a temptation, don’t encourage any sort of connection with them. Some people are overconfident and will justify their actions by saying “we’re just friends”, but can be dangerous, like making friends with a snake.
“One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside” (Genesis 39:11-12).
One day, when no one was around, the woman acted forcefully, but Joseph fled. He ran for his life, leaving his clothes behind. But instead of running to another room, he left the entire building, because he did not want to be associated with this sin in any way. He risked his life to preserve his holiness.
St Maria Goretti also risked her life to preserve her holiness. While she was alone, she was harassed. Her harasser tried to force himself on her, but she resisted and cried out for him to stop because it was a sin. But upon rejection, he felt humiliated. His lust turned vengeful and he stabbed her 14 times. She died from her injuries, but she died a virgin. In today’s world, this might be seen as more of a failure than an accomplishment, but virginity is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Protect your purity. Protect your holiness.
Joseph’s story continued
“When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to the members of her household and said to them, “See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside” (Genesis 39:13-15).
Unfortunately, Joseph’s clothes were left in this woman’s hand, and because she was embarrassed and angry at being rejected, she used her power and position to take revenge. She lied to Potiphar, and he became enraged. But he didn’t kill Joseph, even though he easily could have. If he was truly angry at Joseph, he would’ve killed him. Perhaps he knew his wife’s nature, and that’s why he imprisoned Joseph rather than killing him. He may also have imprisoned Joseph to keep him safe from her. And he kept the reason for Joseph’s imprisonment a secret from the guards, so that Joseph wouldn’t be mistreated.
When Joseph was accused, he never tried to defend himself or reveal what really happened. He knew that it would hurt as well as humiliate his master, so he took the blame and sin of the woman upon himself, and went to prison, just as Jesus took the sin of the world upon Himself and went to Mount Calvary.
Joseph remained silent, just as Isaiah prophesied. He never told anyone why he was in prison. He kept all his struggles to himself. If you are a victim of injustice, there is not much use in trying to gain sympathy from others, because you may miss out on the sympathy and blessings of the Lord. Surrender everything to God, and He will take care of it. The Lord will stand up for victims of injustice, He will protect and lift them up. The world may not understand, but the Lord will.
“But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favour in the sight of the chief jailor” (Genesis 39:21).
The Lord was with Joseph. Whenever Joseph was in trouble, the Lord was with him. God is with us in every tragedy, not just when we are successful. Joseph went through many trials, not as a result of sin but because of his holiness. This is a blessing and a clear sign of success. Joseph even found favour in the sight of the chief jailer – he was successful in prison too. This shows that a man of God will find success wherever he goes!