By Wayne S. Walker
One of the unconscious phrases that tells so much about the condition of our society is the response that one receives from many when talking about a young couple a few years after their marriage. “Oh, are they still together?” The prevalence of divorce is one of our great national tragedies. However, this problem is not limited to those “in the world.” We hear with increasing frequency of those in the church, even gospel preachers, becoming involved in a divorce situation. The immorality so rampant in the world usually finds it way among members of the church. Why is this so? The answer is temptation. The apostle Paul said that the Old Testament was written for our learning. In this article let us look at an example of one who met and overcame temptation.
Turn to Genesis 39:1-23 so that we may study about Joseph and temptation. Most of us, I am sure, are familiar with the story of Joseph. He was the eleventh of twelve sons in the family of Jacob. Because he was the older son of Jacob’s beloved Rachel, his father showed him favoritism which provoked jealousy on the part of his older brothers. Eventually, Joseph’s brothers sold him to a band of Ishmaelites or Midianites, who in turn took him to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Though but a slave, he proved so trustworthy that his master made him the overseer of his house. But Potiphar’s wife cast lustful eyes on Joseph and presented him with temptation. There are three characters in this story who need to be considered.
I Potiphar’s wife was a temptress. We have other examples of seductive women in the Bible. Tamar tempted her father-in-law Judah to commit fornication (Gen. 39). Delilah apparently seduced Samson to enter into an illicit relationship with her which ultimately resulted in his downfall (Judg. 16). Bathsheba lured David to engage in adultery (2 Sam. 11). Of course, David’s actions constituted sin, but one of the unanswered questions of God’s word is, what was Bathsheba doing bathing herself in a place that was in full view of the king’s rooftop where he very likely was often to be found? Nothing said here is intended to diminish the sinfulness of the behavior of any of the men mentioned but, as one of my history teachers said, it takes two to tango!
To me, Potiphar’s wife is an excellent example of the kind of woman that Solomon described and warned against in Proverbs 7:10-14 (and with seven-hundred wives and three-hundred concubines, Solomon ought to know): “And there a woman met him, With the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart. She was loud and rebellious, Her feet would not stay at home. At times she was outside, at times in the open square, Lurking at every comer. So she caught him and kissed him; With an impudent face she said to him: ‘I have peace offerings with me; Today I have paid my vows.”‘ I hate to sound “down on women” too much, but I fear that there are far too many ladies in the church today who, unconsciously I hope, are leaving the impression with men that they are “easy” or like harlots by the way they dress, act, and speak. The feminism and freedom for women that characterizes today’s society has had far too great an impact on those who are to be godly women. For example, I am appalled just at what some young women wear to church services, let alone what they probably wear in other places.
The New Testament ad dresses this subject. Certain ly, men are to guard their hearts that they do not look at a woman to lust after her and thus commit adultery with her in their heart (Matt. 5:28). But women should help the men in this area by adorning themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation (1 Tim. 2:9). Godly women will not seek to make themselves attractive to others solely on the basis of their outward appearance, whether it be by gaudy dress or by skimpy attire, but rather on the basis of “the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Pet. 3:34). While it is unfortunate, it is also true that young men may desire a certain kind of girl to date but another kind of girl to marry. Young ladies who are Christians will strive to be the kind of girl that they want to marry.
II. Joseph was the one faced with the temptation. We, too, are faced with all sorts of temptation today. We need to understand the nature of temptation and the consequences of yielding to it. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (Jas. 1:14-15). Temptation is made possible because of the lusts within us. That is why John tells us not to love the world with its lust of the flesh, Just of the eyes, and pride of life (1 Jn. 2:15-17). And the end result of giving in to temptation is death – not just physical death, although that is sometimes the case, but spiritual, eternal death (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8).
Like many do today, Joseph could have offered excuses to justify his going ahead with Potiphar’s wife. He might have reasoned, “I’m young and have a right to sow a few wild oats.” In fact, Joseph was sold into Egyptian slavery at the tender age of seventeen. But he understood the principle stated by Paul in 1 Timothy 4:12: “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example of the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” He might have thought, “I’m far away from home and no one else will ever know.” Unfortunately, other people usually do learn of our sins. “And be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). And even if no one else on earth will ever know, God will know (Psa. 139:7-12). Or he might have said, “It’s my own life and I’ll do with it whatever I want to.” But that is not true, especially for the child of God. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Rather than throwing in the towel, Joseph overcame this temptation by saying, “No!”, by exercising self-control. Whenever we are faced with a temptation like Joseph, whether it be to commit fornication, drink alcoholic beverages, abuse drugs, watch pornographic movies, read filthy literature, tell dirty jokes, lie, cheat, steal, disobey the laws of the land, or whatever, may we have the courage of our convictions that characterized Joseph to stand by the principles of righteousness that we know to be true from God’s word. “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore . . . I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:25-27).
III. The third character in this story that needs our consideration is God. Joseph recognized that to lie with Potiphar’s wife would in fact be a sin against God. Yes, it would be a great wickedness against Potiphar’s wife, against Potiphar himself, against Joseph’s own body, and against Joseph’s family who brought him up to do better, as well. But all sin is primarily against God. When David sinned with Bathsheba he acknowledged in his prayer to the Lord, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight” (Psa. 51:4). Whenever we think about doing something that is a sin, we need to consider that it will be a violation of the very will of God himself (1 Jn. 3:4). That might help us stop and think twice before doing it.
Yes, God knows when we sin. And God hates the sin that we commit. But God also wants to help us overcome sin. Jehovah is not some mean, nasty taskmaster who is just waiting for us to sin so that he can gleefully mark it down in his little black book and then look forward with joy to casting us into hell because of it forever and ever. He has promised us assistance. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). However, it is up to us to find that way of escape that we might take advantage of the Lord’s aid. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
How does God provide this help, this way of escape? One way is through his word that he has revealed to us. David wrote, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You” (Psa. 119:11). In this written word we have an account of the life of Jesus who left “us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, Nor was guile found in His mouth” (1 Pet. 2:21-22). Jesus was tempted in all points like we are, so he understands what we have to endure; yet, he did so without sin (Heb. 4:15). When Jesus faced those temptations, he resisted Satan by relying upon God’s word. “It is written. . . . It is written again. . . . For it is written” (Matt. 4:1-11). If we develop this same dependence upon the Scriptures and use them as Jesus did, we can “resist the devil and he will flee from” us (Jas. 4:7).
I cannot think of a finer example, apart from our Lord, of how to meet and overcome temptation than Joseph, unless it be Daniel and his three friends. I would hope that, as we seek to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, their main heroes will not be war generals, television actors, movie stars, or rock singers, but the great men and women of faith found in God’s word. These stories are recorded to thrill our hearts, raise our hopes, and strengthen our resolve to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. May we turn to them often for comfort and encouragement in our struggles against temptation and sin. And may they draw us closer to the Lord that we might be more like him who died to save us from our sins.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 12, pp. 364-365
June 16, 1988