I want to begin with a question. How many times have you used
the word ‘God’ this week? Around the house? At the office? In the classroom
or the playground?
Have you ever noticed when you read the Old Testament how often the word
God comes up? The people of the Old Testament saw God in everything – they
had an absolutely God saturated lens filtering their experience of the world.
It can be a foreign experience for us who live in the 21 st century, in the
Nietzschean, God-is-dead world of the secular enlightenment.
If it weren’t for cussing and post-game interviews, you might go weeks
without hearing the word God.
The television, cinema, news and radio we take in are for the most part
Godless. As a society we have taken great pains to banish talk of God from our
public spaces. You won’t hear the word in the classroom, the office or the
This makes the Old Testament feel a little foreign and for the same reason
makes the Old Testament essential reading for those who have an interest in
the topic of God.
We’re going to look at the God saturated view of Joseph. Not only did Joseph see God in everything, he spoke about God in everything. We’re going to talk about seeing and saying God in every area of our lives – specifically in our seductions, our success and our sorrows.
If you need a quick primer, Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, also called
Israel, from whom the Jewish people of Israel derive their name. As a young
man Joseph had a lucid dream of his large family of brothers and his mother
and father bowing down to him.
The brothers despised him for the favoritism he received and, after hearing
about his dream, took an opportunity while away from home to kidnap Joseph
and sell him to human traffickers. That moment was the beginning of extreme
sorrows, extreme successes and extreme seductions in this man’s remarkable life. This makes him a great case study for all of us who may not know the
extent of his experiences, but will nevertheless be acquainted with them in
our own way.
First we will begin with the seduction Joseph experienced.
After he was betrayed by his own flesh and blood, he was taken across the
border to Egypt where he was purchased by a captain of the royal guard by
the name of Potiphar. We’re told in Genesis 39 that Joseph threw himself into
the work he was forced into and, through God’s blessing, became a trusted and
valued asset in the house of Potiphar. In verse 6 it tells us that his master “left
all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about
anything but the food he ate.” What he didn’t realize was that he had
something very personal to be concerned about because his wife was a bit of
what we might call a cougar.
That was going to be a real problem, because as verse 6 goes on to tell us,
Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. Let’s read on in verse 7. Now
we aren’t told much about the appearance of this woman, but we can imagine
an influential soldier who kept close company with the royals probably
secured for himself a highly attractive wife. It goes without saying that for the
average young man of the world, this moment is the stuff dreams are made of.
As common as it may be in his daydreams, a beautiful woman begging him to
come to bed is slightly rarer.
So what does he do? Verse 8.
“But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house that I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.”
Joseph refused what many would see as the opportunity of a lifetime.
But it wasn’t just one opportunity, was it? Notice that this wasn’t just one
moment for Joseph. There are some seductions that keep beating on the door.
How do you stand against temptation like that? The answer is you see God in
the midst of your seduction.
1. Joseph saw the holiness of God in the midst of his seductions.
At this point some people may ask: What does Joseph’s sex life have to do
with God? Is God really concerned with what he does in the bedroom?
In our secular society, we ask – “as long as you are not harming someone else,
why shouldn’t we be free as individuals to do as we please in our bedrooms
and every where else?”
The Bible’s answer to that is that we are not autonomous individuals.
We are not random accidental products appearing for a moment out of the
chaos of the cosmos – we are created things who live in a created world. As
created beings, everything we do has meaning and everything we do has to do
with God. Because He has made us, because He has communicated truth and
justice and love and goodness to us, we have an obligation to keep him in
mind in everything we do.
For Joseph, God had everything to do with his sex life.
When he was alone with Potiphar’s wife, he knew that he wasn’t really alone
and three things happened.
- He saw God.
- He spoke of God.
- He fled the scene.
This is the best approach to seduction.
Flee from sexual immorality.
1 Corinthians 6:18
How are you going to respond to the temptations you will experience this
week? You see God there with you in the seduction. You say “how could I do
this and sin against God?” and you flee.
A couple of side notes:
First, some of you are not fleeing from seduction, you are flirting with it, you
are entertaining it. There’s something interesting that happens with a person
who is giving in to temptation.
When you give in, if you don’t want to be tormented by the voice of your
conscience you have to block God from your vision. You create a space in
which, at least in your mind, God is not there. Here’s what happens next –
when you don’t have God, you don’t have any meaning. Christians who are
giving in to temptation and hardening their conscience begin to lose all sense
of meaning – they develop a detachment to reality and the things of God, they
lose their enthusiasm for life because they have blocked whatever meaning
there was in their activity. The meaning of sex, the meaning of love, they
diminish until they are gone all together. If this describes you, let me tell you
this, you don’t have to live in that miserable condition. Open your eyes to see
God, say, “how can I be doing this and sinning against you God?” and then flee.
And watch your world flood with meaning and color and depth of experience.
Second: doing the right thing will not always equal applause and awards will
it? Because Joseph fled, he was accused by the rejected seductress and he was
thrown into prison. Joseph shows us that sometimes waiting for us on the
other side of a righteous decision is a hardship.
In those moments we are tempted to say, well, “what was it all for then?”
Joseph did not say that, because he knew this: though his actions did not
receive applause from the house of Potiphar, by faith he heard the applause
ringing out through the windows of the house of God. He knew the approval
of God and the satisfaction of walking in God’s way.
So Joseph went from being a slave to being a prisoner. Once again he threw
himself into the work and the routines of prison life, once again he rose to the
top until he came to the attention of Pharaoh himself. Pharaoh had two
disturbing dreams and was looking for an interpreter. He was told of a young
Hebrew prisoner who had the ability to interpret dreams and Joseph was
hurriedly cleaned up and brought into the royal quarters.
Let’s step into the account in Genesis 41:15.
“And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”
Again, for an ambition and gifted young man, this is the kind of moment
dreams are made of. You’re standing in front of the most powerful man in the
world with the opportunity of a lifetime. Proving your worth here would
mean not only escape from prison but a lucrative career. All it takes is a little
confidence – “why yes sir, I do have a knack for dreams. It’s a gift I’ve had and
cultivated since my youth. I’m confident I can help you with whatever you
That’s not quite how it goes, though is it? Let’s look at Joseph’s response in
verse 16 – Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘it is not in me.’ I can’t do it. WHAT?!
God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.
The last thing you want to do with the interview of a lifetime is admit that you
can’t do the work but you’re sure God can help.
But Joseph couldn’t help it. He understood what was behind all of his success
and the opportunity he faced in this moment.
2. Joseph saw the grace of God in his successes.
I’m sure you’ve heard sermons about temptations and suffering, but you may
not have heard a sermon about seeing God in your success. As Christians we
have a difficult relationship with success. With the Bible’s emphasis on
humility it’s easy for us to create a false dichotomy – you’re either ambitious
and successful in business or you’re godly. It’s common in Christian circles,
but not in the Bible.
In Genesis and many other places, the Bible presents to us people who are
highly successful and deeply humble – Joseph, Moses, David, Esther, Daniel.
How do you know if you’re humble in your success? Can you say “this is all
about God?” Can you tell your boss or your future employer, “I’ve had success
by the grace of God”?
Someone is thinking, “that’s fine for you to say that standing in a church
building. I can’t say that at work.” Why not? How do you know what will
What happened to Joseph? In verse 39, Pharaoh tells Joseph – “Since God has
made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you.”
And he went on to give Joseph the keys of the kingdom.
Some of you are experiencing success right now. I’m all for it. God wants you
to keep one thing front and center:
For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
1 Corinthians 4:7
You have no success that God did not give you. Why not give him the credit?
Personally, I have no problem with athletes thanking their Lord and Savior for
the victories they have achieved playing with a ball on a field. It’s one of the
last places in our society where successful people have the courage to see and
speak openly of God in all of their winnings. Success makes a terrific platform
to bring God into someone else’s field of vision.
Some of you have drive and ambition and success and you need to remember
where it all came from. You need to honor God in your successes, and you
need to do it verbally.
Some of you have the opposite experience. Your work is a matter of clocking
in and clocking out and paying the bills. Why not go into work tomorrow
morning and resolve that you’re going to be the very best at what you do.
You’re going to be the best teacher in the district. You’re going to get the
attention of the people in the front office.
I’ve had some uninspiring jobs, yet this attitude of striving to be the best kept
me from boredom in those jobs. Some ambition at work can win you respect, it can win you promotion, it can win you influence. Why not throw yourself at it and praise God along the way?
Joseph once again threw himself into the work God put in front of him and
became the most powerful man in the country next to Pharaoh. He was an
overwhelming success in his new position. And in that position, everything
came full circle when his brothers walked into town looking for help. As
Joseph had told Pharaoh would happen in interpretation of his dreams, a
severe famine had spread throughout the region. The tribe of Israel was in a
desperate situation and they had heard about the wealth of Egypt under their
new administrator. Little did they know that administrator was their own
brother. In that unforgettable scene, Joseph has the men who cause him so
much pain under his power. What does he do? Let’s read in chapter 45 –
“do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Joseph forgave them and embraced them with open arms. How do you open
yourself up to someone who has caused you enormous heartache? How did
Joseph do it?
3. Joseph saw the wisdom of God in his sorrows.
Look how emphatically Joseph saw God in his sorrows:
45:5b – “…for God sent me before you…”
45:7 – “And God sent me before you…”
45:8 – “so it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
There is a great deal of good that can come out of our sorrows. This is evident
among people who have experienced deep suffering. Alexander Solzhenitsyn
was one of those. A Russian soldier during World War II, Solzhenitsyn was
arrested for disparaging Joseph Stalin in letters to a friend. He was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment in which time he experienced all of the horrors of
Soviet concentration camps. Solzhenitsyn describes the benefit he gained
from that sorrowful time in his famed work The Gulag Archipelago:
“It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments.
It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. . . .
That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!” I . . . have served ME enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!”
The hard-earned wisdom of age and experience teach us that there is much
good that can come from our encounters with evil. But that’s not all we are
saying is it? The point is not that Joseph saw good in his sorrows. He saw God
in his sorrows.
He saw himself, he saw his pain in the reflection of the eyes of God. He saw
the circumstances around his suffering in the skilled hands of God.
When you see God in your sorrows you can speak about God in your sorrows
and all who hear will learn the greatness and the goodness and the glory of
One of my great heroes in life is Joni Eareckson Tada, who was paralyzed in a
swimming accident as a teenager. She spent the great majority of her life
confined to a wheel chair. She has also spent that majority of her life very
publicly praising the goodness and wisdom of God in the midst of her sorrows.
In recent years Joni has contracted a very painful form of cancer which often keeps her up through the night. Recently she spoke at a women’s conference
about one of those sleepless nights. She relayed how one night at 2am as she
lay nauseated from chemotherapy she had a realization:
“Something dynamic and electrifying is abuzz in my dark room. The unseen world in the spirit realm and all the heavenly hosts including powers and principalities, they’re watching me. They are listening to me. And as I respond, they are learning about God and his character through me—little me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been able to press on because I know my life is on display. . . . We don’t suffer for nothing and we never suffer alone. . . . My response to hardship is never isolated. It is not true that no one cares or notices. The stakes are high and God’s reputation is on the line. It’s all for God’s glory. When the spirit world sees God’s strong arms hold you in your weakness, the Father gets the glory. The spirit world watches us persevere under pressure and you know what they think? “Oh, how great her God must be to inspire such loyalty through such suffering.”
We’ve seen that in our midst, haven’t we? I’ve personally seen the glory and
goodness of God in the way some of you in this room have seen and spoken of
God in your sorrows. And so have many other people.
When you’ve been wronged, how do you open yourself to forgiveness? When
you’re experiencing deep heartache how do you open yourself to hope? You
look for the wisdom of God in your sorrows and you speak that gracious
wisdom into your sorrows.
What if I can’t see it? It’s one thing for Joseph to be standing on top of the
world and say “now I know that was the best thing to happen to me and to our
family.” I can’t find any meaning in my pain.
Someday you will. You may not have evidence, but you have a sample of God’s
wisdom in the life of Joseph. You have the promises of God.
You have Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things God works for the
good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Think for a moment about everything God was working with in the salvation
of Israel’s family – the dreams, the family tensions, the diversity of people, the sin and failure of so many people, global climate events. God worked all of
these things together for just the right moment.
And that was only the beginning. The saving of lives God intended didn’t end
with Joseph’s family. The writer of Genesis could not have comprehended the
worlds of meaning in those words. Joseph was just one step, one stone on the
path forward from generation to generation until a little child called Jesus was
born in Bethlehem.
Wicked men meant great evil to Jesus. Yet they were merely tools in God’s
hands and the darkest moment in human history was the very moment that
would provide the greatest act of salvation the world has ever known.
If God can do all of that, if he is willing to do all of that, we can trust him with
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown