4 minute read

Enslaved, Seduced, and Shackled: And ‘The LORD was with Joseph’

By Rev. Peter Cage

Joseph is merchandise trading hands, finally sold to Potiphar down in Egypt. Sometimes you are put in a place you don’t especially want to be and given things to do you’d rather not do. But “The Lord was with Joseph,” the Bible says. Though not by the looks of things, proud, dreaming Joseph, son of Jacob, has become a slave. Potiphar is his master, lord over his body, and gives him orders he must obey. But “The Lord was with Joseph” the Bible insists, and so this is different. The Lord did it. See God’s hidden hand like this: Joseph has a new calling with a new neighbor in a new place. Serving Master Potiphar is his vocation for a time, getting ready to do something even greater later— just like Jesus gave Himself to Judas and Pilate and Herod for a time, for something greater.

And “His master Potiphar saw that the Lord was with Joseph and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed.” This slave purchase has turned out superbly for Potiphar and his house. Joseph knows how to manage details and oversee things. Let him do it. And “The Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house”—every unbelieving one of them, blessed. And Joseph is still a slave in the place he didn’t choose to be, but where God has put him.

Someone else in Potiphar’s house doesn’t know her vocation. She is Potiphar’s wife. She is to be a wife, faithful to her husband despite her desires or cultural customs. But she says to Joseph, “Lie with me. That’s sex, Joseph.” Day after day she’s coaxing and mocking him with her words. He avoids her. That’s smart, but they kind of work in the same place. Joseph knows his vocation and hers, even if she doesn’t. It is not given to Joseph to share intimacies with a woman, or with this woman, not his wife—that’s Potiphar’s job. So Joseph says no to her ambush and invitations. And not with some embarrassed and cowardly, “Gosh, I’d really like to, but I shouldn’t,” but with a muscular, “How can I do this great wickedness...and sin against God.” (Though maybe his words were stronger than he felt.) But young, tempted Joseph knows what it all is, and what she is, and what he’s capable of—what sin is.

So where are his excuses? I can think of plenty of excuses to do what Joseph won’t do. “I am alone in an exotic world, no parents, no connections. I am trusted. My boss likes me. I am a man: handsome, young, and lonely. She offered. Why, I bet Potiphar is even mean to her sometimes, and that she’s lonely too. And I think I can get away with it.” But what is an easy decision for our over-exposed cyber appetites is sin against God, and Potiphar, and her, and Joseph’s own body and calling. And so it is wicked. That’s the right word—God’s Word. Joseph rightly sees everything that this sin will touch and answers well. And he’ll still get no reward for it.

In fact, this lady’s lust turns into hate pretty quickly. She holds up the garment she rips off Joseph, waits for her dear, dear husband, and accuses Joseph of the very thing he wouldn’t do. Watch Joseph’s newest humiliation: the house slave must go down even further into prison now. The guiltless one is pronounced guilty. The godly one suffers. The Lord is with him? Ha! But yes. God is doing something with Joseph. He is giving him another vocation—this new one in prison with shackled feet and an iron collar around his neck (Psalm 105:18). This leads toward another vocation after that as governor of Egypt, number two guy, who feeds the world. Who sees that coming but the Lord who put him in each miserable place?

And “The Lord was with Joseph.” Scripture keeps on saying that. The Lord was with the slave Joseph, the seduced Joseph, and the shackled Joseph, and in all of it, the Lord showed him steadfast love. Love—so that the Lord could save His people then and bless the nations of the world through Jacob’s other Offspring—so that the Lord could show you Jesus, right here, in steadfast love. God did all that, with Joseph, for you.

That’s God’s vocation, the way God loves and serves His neighbor whether it’s someone like you or Potiphar or Potiphar’s wife. Whether Jesus is Himself tempted in the wilderness or on the cross, or sold Himself, even betrayed for thirty pieces of silver and hanging crucified with criminals, or imprisoned in a tomb that can’t hold Him. Wherever His vocation takes Him, it is for you.

How can He do this great salvation that forgives my great wickedness and sins against God? By His holy humility, the truly guiltless One pronounced guilty in my guilty place, by His suffering and death as a perfect and holy sacrifice to God, by His flesh and blood, by baptizing you and still speaking His beautiful resurrection sentence: “I forgive you all your sins.” Just like Joseph, wherever the Lord put him, the Lord is with you— enslaved or shackled or seduced or all three—in His body and blood with you, baptized with you, “I forgive you all your sins” with you. He shows His steadfast love, giving us Christ, Immanuel. It is God-with-us. Amen.

Rev. Peter C. Cage is a campus pastor at Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, and serves on the Higher Things Christ on Campus Committee. His email address is pccage@juno.com.