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This disturbing chapter is artfully inserted at the beginning of Joseph’s story for a reason. Though Joseph has the key role in getting Israel to Egypt and saving his family from the upcoming famine, it is Judah’s line that is chosen by God to play a crucial part in Israel’s more distant future. Judah’s son, Perez, is the ancestor to King David and ultimately to the Anointed One (Matthew 1). But Perez’s strange birth is overshadowed by the sleazy events that lead to his conception. The sexually-charged atmosphere of this chapter may well upset some, but Scripture is brutally honest about people and what they do. Lust and lies, deception and prostitution do not frustrate God’s plan; in fact God has a way of taking them, redeeming them, and including them within His greater will.
39 Now Joseph had been taken to Egypt. Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard, himself an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him there to sell along with their goods and wares. 2 The Eternal One was with Joseph, however, and he became successful in his own right as a slave within the house of his Egyptian master.
3 Potiphar could not help but notice that the Eternal One was with Joseph and caused everything Joseph did to prosper. 4-5 Joseph became the favorite of the household and rose in the ranks to become Potiphar’s personal attendant. In time, Potiphar made Joseph overseer of the entire household and put him in charge of everything he owned. From that moment, the Eternal One blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake, a blessing which seemed to cover everything Potiphar possessed from house to field. 6 Potiphar entrusted everything to the care of Joseph. With him in charge, Potiphar had no concern about anything except for his private affairs, such as the food he chose to eat!
Now Joseph was a well-built, good-looking young man. 7 After a while, his master’s wife began watching him, and she tried to seduce him.
Potiphar’s Wife: Come. Sleep with me.
8 But Joseph refused.
Joseph (to Potiphar’s wife): Look, please don’t take offense, but with me in charge, my master has no concerns for anything that goes on in his house. He has trusted me with everything he has. 9 He hasn’t treated me like I am any less than he is, and he hasn’t kept anything from me—except, of course, for you because you are his wife. Why would I do something so clearly wrong and sin so blatantly against God?
Joseph’s refusal to have sex with Potiphar’s wife demonstrates how God wants His people to act. How different he is compared to Judah and Reuben!
10 Although she pursued him day after day, Joseph would not consent to sleep with her and refused to be alone with her. 11 One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work while no one else was in the house, 12 she grabbed him by his clothes and tried again to seduce him.
Potiphar’s Wife: Come on. Sleep with me.
But Joseph ran outside away from her, as far and as fast as he could, leaving her holding his clothes in her hand. 13 When she realized he rejected her again and she had his clothes in her hand, 14 she called out to the other servants of her household.
Potiphar’s Wife: See here! My husband brought this Hebrew into our house to take advantage of us! He came to me and wanted to sleep with me. I screamed as loudly as I could, 15 and when he heard me yell, he dropped his clothes here beside me and ran outside.
16 She kept Joseph’s clothes beside her until her husband came home. 17 Then she told him the same story.
Potiphar’s Wife: The Hebrew servant you brought into this household came in to take advantage of me. 18 When I screamed as loudly as I could, he dropped his clothes here beside me and ran outside.
19 When Potiphar heard his wife’s account, his face flushed with anger. 20 So Potiphar, Joseph’s master, put him into prison and locked him up in the place where the king’s prisoners were confined. Joseph remained there for a time. 21 But the Eternal One remained with Joseph and showed him His loyal love and granted him favored status with the chief jailor. 22 The jailor put Joseph in charge of all of the prisoners who were confined there. Whatever needed to be done, Joseph was the one to do it. 23 The chief jailor, like Potiphar, didn’t need to worry about anything that was in Joseph’s care because the Eternal One was with him. And whatever Joseph did worked out well because the Eternal made it so.
40 Some time later, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker both offended their lord, the king of Egypt. 2-3 Pharaoh was angry with his two attendants, and so he put the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard in the same prison where Joseph was confined. 4 The captain of the guard put Joseph in charge of the men, and Joseph took care of them as he did the others. They remained there in custody for some time.
5 One night while they were in prison, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt had dreams. Each had his own dream, and each dream had its own meaning.
6 When Joseph came to check on them the next morning, he saw that both men looked troubled.
Joseph (to Pharaoh’s prisoners): 7 Why do you both look so dejected today?
Cupbearer and Baker: 8 We’ve both had dreams, and there is no one here in prison to interpret them.
The Egyptians thought that dreams were often moments of revelation, but they also thought it took special training to know how to interpret them.
Joseph: Interpretations belong to God, don’t they? If you’d like, tell them to me!
9 So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream.
Cupbearer: In my dream, there was a vine in front of me, 10 and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms opened up and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and then I placed the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.
Joseph: 12 This is what your dream means: the three branches are three days. 13 Within three days, Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; you will place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer.
14 But I ask one thing. Remember me when things are going well for you. If you have the opportunity, do me a favor and mention me to Pharaoh. Perhaps he will get me out of this place. 15 You see I was stolen from the land of my people the Hebrews, and I’ve done nothing to deserve being thrown into this pit.
16 When the chief baker saw that the cupbearer received such a good interpretation, he told Joseph his dream as well.
Baker: I’ve also had a dream: There were three baskets of fine cakes stacked on my head. 17 In the upper basket, there were all sorts of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds swooped down and kept eating Pharaoh’s food out of the basket on my head.
Joseph: 18 This is what your dream means: the three baskets are three days. 19 Within three days, Pharaoh will lift your head and remove it from you. He will impale your body on a tree and vultures will swoop down and eat the flesh from your bones.
20-21 On the third day, which also happened to be Pharaoh’s birthday, he prepared a huge feast for all of his servants. As they were gathered together, he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and restored him to his former office. That day the cupbearer resumed placing the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. But Pharaoh lifted off the head of the chief baker 22 and impaled him on a tree for the birds, just as Joseph had interpreted. 23 Sadly the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph at this time; instead, he forgot all about him.
Although the text is not clear, the chief baker dies a particularly gruesome death. The way the story is told, Pharaoh lifts up the baker’s head—a gesture which would seem to signal royal favor—but in the next treacherous instant, his head is removed. Then his lifeless corpse is impaled on a tree, exposed to the elements. Because the body is left to rot outside and be eaten by birds—instead of being carefully embalmed and entombed—the Egyptians believe the victim’s soul can never enter the afterlife. This is the worst form of capital punishment, leaving the cupbearer to fear not only death but also eternal oblivion.
41 Two years later, Pharaoh had a dream. He dreamed that he was standing by the Nile River, 2 and out of the Nile came seven healthy, fat cows. They all grazed in the grassy reeds at the river’s edge. 3 Then, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile and stood by them on the bank of the river. 4 And the ugly, thin cows ate the seven healthy, fat cows. And then Pharaoh woke up, startled.
5 Again he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. This time, seven ears of grain, all plump and fine, were growing on one stalk. 6 Then seven other ears that were shriveled and burnt by the east wind sprouted up after them. 7 The shriveled ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Then Pharaoh woke up again, realizing it was only a dream.
8 In the morning he felt uneasy, so he sent for all of the magicians and all of the wise men of Egypt to come and consult with him. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him. They had no idea what they could mean.
9 The chief cupbearer remembered Joseph, so he went to Pharaoh.
Cupbearer: I am reminded today of something I did wrong. 10 Once when Pharaoh was angry with his servants, he put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard. 11 One night we both had a dream. The dreams were unique, and their interpretations were also unique. 12 There was a young Hebrew there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him our dreams, he interpreted them for us. 13 Things turned out exactly as he had interpreted them: I was restored to my office, and the baker was impaled.
14 Pharaoh sent for Joseph, hoping he could also interpret Pharaoh’s dream. His officers rushed to the dungeon to get Joseph ready to meet the king. After he had been allowed to shave and change his clothes, he was brought before Pharaoh.
Pharaoh (to Joseph): 15 I’ve had a dream, and I can’t find anyone who can tell me what it means. But I’ve heard that when someone tells you a dream, you are able to interpret it.
Joseph: 16 I cannot do this, but God will answer Pharaoh’s request and relieve your concerns.
46 While Jesus was speaking to the crowd, His mother and brothers came up and wanted to speak to Him.
Someone in the Crowd: 47 Your mother and brothers are waiting outside to speak to You.
Jesus: 48 Who is My mother? And who are My brothers? 49 (pointing to His disciples) These are My mother and brothers. 50 Anyone who does the will of My Father in heaven is My mother and brother and sister.
13 That same day, Jesus left the house and went to sit by the sea. 2 Large crowds gathered around Him, and He got into a boat on the sea and sat there. The crowd stood on the shore waiting for His teaching.
This next sermon series, the third of Jesus’ five Mosaic-like sermons, is filled with parables or stories with a deeper meaning about the kingdom of heaven.
3 And so Jesus began to teach. On this day, He spoke in parables. Here is His first parable:
Jesus: Once there was a sower who scattered seeds. 4 One day he walked in a field scattering seeds as he went. Some seeds fell beside a road, and a flock of birds came and ate all those seeds. 5 So the sower scattered seeds in a field, one with shallow soil and strewn with rocks. But the seeds grew quickly amid all the rocks, 6 without rooting themselves in the shallow soil. Their roots got tangled up in all the stones. The sun scorched these seeds, and they died. 7 And so the sower scattered seeds near a path, this one covered with thorny vines. The seeds fared no better there—the thorns choked them, and they died. 8 And so finally the sower scattered his seeds in a patch of good earth. At home in the good earth, the seeds grew and grew. Eventually the seeds bore fruit, and the fruit grew ripe and was harvested. The harvest was immense—30, 60, 100 times what was sown.
9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Disciples: 10 Why do You speak to the people in parables?
Jesus: 11 The knowledge of the secrets of heaven has been given to you, but it has not been given to them. 12 Those who have something will be given more—and they will have abundance. Those who have nothing will lose what they have—they will be destitute. 13 I teach in parables so the people may look but not see, listen but not hear or understand.[a] 14 They are fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy:
You will listen, but you will not understand;
you will look, but you will not see.
15 The people’s hearts have turned to flab;
their ears are clogged;
their eyes are shut.
They will try to see, but they will not see;
they will try to hear, but they will not hear;
they will try to understand, but they will not comprehend.
If they, with their blindness and deafness, so choose, then I will heal them.[b]
16-17 Many holy prophets and righteous men and women and people of prayer and doers of good have wanted to see but did not see, and have wanted to hear but did not hear. Your eyes and ears are blessed.
18 This is what the parable of the sower means. 19 It is about the kingdom of heaven. When someone hears the story of the Kingdom and cannot understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away whatever goodness and holiness had been sown in the heart. This is like the seeds sown beside the road. 20-21 You know people who hear the word of God and receive it joyfully—but then, somehow, the word fails to take root in their hearts. It is temporary. As soon as there is trouble for those people, they trip: those people are the seeds strewn on the rocky soil. 22 And you know people who hear the word, but it is choked inside them because they constantly worry and prefer the wealth and pleasures of the world: they prefer drunken dinner parties to prayer, power to piety, and riches to righteousness. Those people are like the seeds sown among thorns. 23 The people who hear the word and receive it and grow in it—those are like the seeds sown on good soil. They produce a bumper crop, 30 or 60 or 100 times what was sown.
1 Listen, O Eternal One, to my cry for justice.
These words of mine are true—turn Your ear toward me.
2 Announce that I am free of all the charges against me—only You can see into my heart to know that to be true.
Treat me with fairness; look at me with justice.
3 You have searched me—my heart and soul—awakened me from dreaming and tested me.
You’ve found nothing against me.
I have resolved not to sin in what I say.
4 The path violent men have followed,
I will not travel. Violence is not my way.
Your ways and Your voice now guide my journey.
5 I will press on—moving steadfastly forward along Your path.
I will not look back. I will not stumble.
6 I am crying aloud to You, O True God, for I long to know Your answer.
Hear me, O God. Hear my plea. Hear my prayer for help.
7 Put Your marvelous love on display for all to see.
Liberator of those who long for shelter beside You,
set them safely away from their enemies, ever welcomed by grace.
8 Keep close watch over me as the apple of Your eye;
shelter me in the shadow of Your wings.
9 Protect me from the wicked who are poised to attack,
from the enemies swarming around me and closing in quickly.
10 Like clay baking in the sun, their hearts have hardened;
arrogance spills from their mouths.
11 They’ve tracked me down like quarry.
They’re surrounding me
and are poised to throw me down into the dirt.
12 Like a lion—crouching in the brush—they are ready to tear me apart.
Like young lions in their hiding places, they are poised to strike.
13 Rise up and confront them, O Eternal One! Make them pay.
By Your sword, set me free from my wicked enemies!
14 May Your rescue find me here.
By Your hand, save me from my enemies, Eternal One.
Save me from men whose hopes are rooted in this world.
But as for those You cherish,
may they feast on all You have set aside for them;
may their children never be in need;
may they have enough so their children will inherit their wealth.
15 But as for me, my hope is to see Your face.
When I am vindicated, I will look upon the holy face of God,
and when I awake, the longing of my soul will be satisfied in the glow of Your presence.
33 His curse lingers over the wicked and their families,
but He forever favors residence of those who do what is right.
34 God treats the arrogant as they treat others,
mocking the mockers, scorning the scornful,
but He pours out His grace on the humble.[a]
35 In the end, the wise will receive honor,
but fools will face humiliation.