The story of Joseph and Potiphar begins when Potiphar is introduced at the end of Genesis 37 as the man who purchased Joseph as a household servant: “Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:36). Joseph had been sold by his own brothers to traveling Midianites, who in turn sold him in Egypt to Potiphar. Potiphar was likely a very wealthy man; he was employed as captain of the guard and was able to purchase a servant. Potiphar would have likely led the king’s executioners as ordered by Pharaoh.
Potiphar clearly enjoyed Joseph’s work: “When [Joseph’s] master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate” (Genesis 39:3–6).
However, the account of Joseph and Potiphar changes when Potiphar’s wife asked Joseph to sleep with her. When he refused, she falsely accused him of attempted rape. Upon hearing the charges, Potiphar removed Joseph as servant and sent him to prison.
In this Egyptian prison, Joseph found favor with the guards and was soon placed in charge of the other prisoners. In Genesis 40, he correctly interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants. This event would later lead to his opportunity to stand before Pharaoh and interpret the king’s dreams. When he did, Joseph was promoted from prisoner to prime minister overnight! He served as second in command to Pharaoh and ended up providing a way to save his own family as well as the people of Egypt during a future famine.
Many lessons can be learned from the story of Joseph and Potiphar. First, God is with us no matter our life situation. At various stages of his life, Joseph was a slave, a prisoner, and a national leader. Wherever Joseph was, God was at work in his life in ways Joseph could not have understood at the time.
Second, God calls His people to live pure lives. Joseph refused to join in an adulterous relationship with his master’s wife. Though Joseph’s integrity led to prison rather than a promotion, God later honored Joseph’s faithfulness in a far greater way. In the end, Potiphar would have been servant to Joseph!
Third, the account of Joseph and Potiphar teaches us that our success is in direct proportion to God’s blessing. Joseph was successful in whatever he did. As Potiphar’s servant, as a model prisoner, and as a national leader, Joseph was successful because God was with him: “The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (Genesis 39:23).