Desperate Housewife: Mrs. Potiphar

(Genesis 39:1-21)

The story of Potiphar's wife demonstrates how boredom, affluence, and lust can add up to trouble—in any century.

Our drama features three main players: an Egyptian named Potiphar, head of Pharaoh's bodyguards; his new slave Joseph, Jacob's son sold into bondage by his brothers; and Potiphar's unnamed, uninhibited wife.

When Potiphar realized the Lord had given this new slave "success in everything he did" (Genesis 39:3), Potiphar put all that he had in Joseph's charge.

All except Mrs. Potiphar, our desperate Egyptian housewife.

If only busy Potiphar had spared more time for his spouse! Instead, he left Mrs. P. with a houseful of servants, too few responsibilities, and way too many hours on her idle hands.

Enter "well-built and handsome" (Genesis 39:6) young Joseph. The temptation for Mrs. Potiphar proved irresistible, as evidenced in her first recorded words: "Come to bed with me!" (Genesis 39:7).

The wife of a powerful man, she was used to getting exactly what she wanted. And she wanted Joseph. "But he refused" (Genesis 39:8), and for good reason: "How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9). Way to go, Joe!

Cloak and Swagger

Not only was Mrs. P. morally corrupt; she was also persistent, propositioning Joseph day after day. To his credit, "he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her" (Genesis 39:10). To her shame, Mrs. P. wouldn't take "no" for an answer.

One day Joseph was attending to his duties while the other slaves were con-veniently elsewhere. Again Mrs. Potiphar demanded, "Come to bed with me!" This time, determined to have her way with him, she gripped his garment, a long shirt tied at the hips.

Poor Joseph tried to escape with his virtue—if not his wardrobe—intact when "he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house (Genesis 39:12).

Angry at his impudence, Mrs. P. resolved to spin the situation in her favor. She flipped the encounter and insisted the Hebrew slave had designs on her. Didn't she have his cloak as proof?

Don't Walk Like an Egyptian

When her husband returned, Mrs. Potiphar accused Joseph of the very sin she'd committed and blamed her husband for bringing such a man into her home: "This is how your slave treated me" (Genesis 39:19). Your slave, your fault.

Understandably, Potiphar "burned with anger" (Genesis 39:19), though we don't know who felt the heat. True, Potiphar put Joseph into prison, but not to death, the usual punishment for a foreign slave causing a domestic disturbance.

Maybe Potiphar couldn't bring himself to kill an innocent man or his guilty wife. We do know this: Mrs. P.'s story ends in silence, with her locked in a self-made prison of dishonor and deceit.

What can we learn from such a wanton woman? To do everything she didn't. To honor the Lord and—if we're married—our husbands. To fill our spare time serving others. If a godly hunk comes into view, to focus on his faith, not his handsome face. And to always speak the truth.

If we walk the opposite way from Mrs. P., we're sure to be headed in the right direction.

Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of 26 books, including Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible  (WaterBrook Press). She lives with her husband in Kentucky. www.LizCurtisHiggs.com.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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