Joseph and Potiphar

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Meanwhile the Midianites had sold [Joseph] in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard (Gen 37:36 ESV).

 It is well known that Joseph goes from being the favored son of Jacob, to being sold by his brothers to the Ishmaelites and then being sold by the Ishmaelites Joseph to Potiphar (see Genesis 37:1-35).

What is not well known is the significance of Potiphar’s title the captain of the guard. In Hebrew the root word for guard here is associated with slaughter or butcher. Alter states, “The actual responsibilities of this high imperial post remain unclear” (The Five Books of Moses, 2019, p. 144); however, I think we can make a connection that Potiphar had some degree of involvement with Pharaoh’s kitchen (as we will see in later events).

Joseph was both trustworthy and handsome (39:6). As much as Potiphar trusted Joseph, Potiphar’s wife wanted to seduce Joseph. Joseph continues to resist her advances until she had enough and told Potiphar that Joseph tried to lie with her (see vv 7-18). When Potiphar heard her story his “anger was kindled” (or “he burned with anger” NIV) and he put Joseph in prison (vv 19-20).

There are some misconceptions here. First, Potiphar was NOT angry with Joseph; he was angry with his wife. Potiphar is angry that she lied about Joseph trying to seduce her. Walton states, “Given his wife’s slander of his own motives [Potiphar bringing a Hebrew into the house to laugh at them], the proven trustworthiness of Jospeh, the fact that he is going to lose the services of a competent slave, and his knowledge of his wife’s character or lack of it, his anger arguably burns at his wife, not at Joseph” (J. Walton, Genesis, NIVAC, 2001, p. 671).

The second way we know that Potiphar believes Jospeh is because he did not have Jospeh executed immediately. To this point Walton states, “Jails were not common in the ancient world since imprisonment was not a standard punishment for crimes. If Potiphar truly believed that Joseph, his slave, was guilty of sexually assaulting his wife, execution would have been the swift and normal response” (J. Walton, “Genesis,” ZIBBC, 2009, p. 127). Potiphar puts Joseph imprison to keep his family’s honor and to preserve Joseph’s life. “The actions he takes against Joseph are as minimal as they can be” (Walton, Genesis, p. 672).

Later on we learn that “Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined” (Gen 40:2, emphasis mine). While Potiphar is not mentioned by name here, what is mentioned here is Potiphar’s title, captain of the guard.

Jospeh is not imprisoned in some other part of Egypt, he is “transferred to another part of Potiphar’s house” (“Genesis,” p. 127). This is why I think that guard has a connection to the kitchen. It only makes sense that Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker would be imprisoned at the house of the captain of the guard. The chief cupbearer and chief baker are vital to the survival of Pharaoh. Walton states, “The potential for assassination attempts through the king’s food was real and constant, so these officials not only needed to be incorruptible themselves, but also had to be able to hire people above reproach and to identify attempts at infiltration of the staff by enemies of the king…it seems logical to speculate that the king may have gotten sick from a meal” (“Genesis,” p. 128).

If in fact the chief baker and chief cupbearer were enemies of Pharaoh, it makes perfect sense why Potiphar, “the captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them and attended them [because] they continued for some time in custody” (v 4, emphasis mine). Potiphar, as the captain of the guard would not want anything to happen to Pharaoh under his watch. Potiphar already knows the kind of man that Joseph is and again, it is no wonder that he “appoints” Joseph to watch over them!

No two people would be closer to Pharaoh than the chief cupbearer and chief baker and at some point each of these men had a dream (v 5). God gave Joseph the ability to interpret the dreams correctly. The chief baker was hanged and the chief cupbearer was restored to his position (vv 6-23).

Two years later, God caused the cupbearer to remember the “young Hebrew… a servant of the captain of the guard (41:12, emphasis mine) who interpreted correctly the dreams of himself and the chief baker. Pharaoh then sent for Joseph. God caused Joseph to interpret Pharaoh’s dream correctly, thus being elevated to the second most powerful person in Egypt (vv 14-45). In which Joseph is used by God to save Israel and sons from the famine in the land. Truly what Joseph’s brothers meant for evil God used for good.

By looking at the historical-cultural background we can see even more how God’s Hand, Favor and Protection were upon Joseph. Joseph was with Potiphar for 11 years (how the time is divided between house and prison is unknown; see Walton, Genesis, p. 672). God uses unbelieving people to accomplish His will in His people’s lives, both in blessing and in consequence/discipline. Potiphar is part of Joseph’s story more than we realize. Who are the unbelieving people that God has used in your life?

Father God, thank You that when we look deeper into Your Word we learn more about the time and place in which Your people who went before us lived. Lord God, may we be reminded that Your common grace rains on both the just and the unjust. Lord God, thank You for the life and story of both Joseph and Potiphar. Their lives are intertwined more than we usually realize. Lord God, help us to be a people of integrity regardless of who is watching. Lord God, while You may not elevate us to the palace in this life, may we be mindful that Your Kingdom that is coming is more glorious, more majestic and magnificent than any palace this world has to offer. May we be encouraged by Your past workings in our lives and in the lives of others, so that we may endure our current circumstances and to eagerly await Your second coming and the consummation of Your Kingdom. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

Published by

Blue Collar Theologian

My name is Mandy Sweigart-Quinn, I live in Lancaster, PA and I am a “Blue Collar Theologian.” I love Jesus! I am passionate about His Word (The Holy Bible)! I come alive when I can encourage others in their walk with Jesus (whether by writing or speaking). As a “Blue Collar Theologian” it is my aim to live/practice/work out my Christian hope with sincerity, authenticity and genuineness. As a “Blue Collar Theologian,” I strive to meet people right where they are (“Incarnational Theology”). I graduated in May 2019 from Capital Seminary and Graduate School with a Master's in Biblical Studies. I am a passionate, excited and enthusiastic person! I love flowers, sports and sunsets. Since January 2, 2018 I have had the privilege of being married to Nathan.

49 thoughts on “Joseph and Potiphar”

  1. Great stuff, Mandy! I know that’s not the most scholarly of phrases, but the points you brought up were great. I had heard, too, about Potiphar not being angry at Joseph, particularly, believing him and not his wife, otherwise he would have killed him. What’s new to me here is the relationship between the captain of the guard and the kitchen, as well as the fact that the what the baker and butler could well have been guilty of was Pharaoh possibly getting poisoned.

    Looks like The Five Books of Moses is another book I need to get!

    Great job, Mandy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, David! Robert Alter’s Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary is an AMAZING reference to have! I know you are a Jewish background believer (SO COOL!!) Alter is Jewish and so he does come to different conclusions with certain texts. His knowledge and understand is amazing! I have really benefitted from his work on the Psalms. Also, Jame Kugel is another Jewish Hebrew scholar who I have also learned A LOT from!

      My Hebrew professor and mentor has always said that learning Hebrew makes the Bible Jesus read like high density tv. Potiphar’s anger at his wife is seen better in Hebrew than in our English translations. Do you speak Hebrew fluently? Whenever I travel (especially to FL) I usually have something in Hebrew on me, I have found it to be a great conversation starter and a way to attempt to share Jesus.

      Thank you for your encouragement! This is probably one of my most favorite posts I have ever written. This is what I am passionate about. Love and blessings, David!

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  2. Wow! I really like the details you pulled out here that are often missed! I had seen a depiction of Potiphar before that brought out the anger towards his wife rather than Joseph but I didn’t really think about the siginificance of the cupbearer and the baker in this way before! Well done, Mandy!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for reading this! I appreciate your thoughts SO much! God orchestrated events in Joseph’s life even more than we realize. I have never heard any teacher/preacher say that Joseph was imprisoned in another part of Potiphar’s house, that is significant to me. Normally it’s Joseph was thrown in prison and that’s the end of the role of Potiphar and that is just not true! Thank you again for reading and for your encouragement. You are loved my beautiful friend!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Did you see the TNT miniseries “Joseph”? It showed Potiphar yelling loudly at Joseph behind closed doors, but then asking him quietly “Tell me what really happened!” Joseph responded, “Do you want me to call your wife s liar?” And Potiphar would start yelling again, knowing the rest of the household could hear him outside.
      It showed Potiphar and his wife later, his wife demanding why he hadn’t executed Joseph, and Potiphar said, “Because I know what kind of man he is … and, wife, I know what kind of woman YOU are.” 🤨(End of conversation.)
      As Dave would say, “Great stuff!”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, that was the one! When we went remote schooling last spring. it was actually a senior assignment for my oldest boy’s English class to watch it last year (Love his teacher’s faith and how she shares it in the classroom!) and write a report on. I, of course, watched with him. We really appreciated the portrayal.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The TNT miniseries did such a good job with this story! (See my response to Marissa.) The last they showed of Potiphar (played by Ben Kingsley 👍) was when Pharaoh announced to the court that Joseph was being placed second in command of Egypt. It zooms in on Potiphar’s face, and you see the subtlest hint if a smile…
    >YES!< (Can you tell I majored in directing? 😏)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Mandy, for bringing out some extra detail I’d not heard regarding Joseph’s imprisonment and the others with him. Though I’d known that Potiphar apparently disbelieved his wife as evidenced by not having Joseph killed, I didn’t know about the other details you brought forth.

    Tangentially, a while back I was going to write a blog post describing Joseph as the first recorded ‘mentoo’ and Potiphar’s wife the first (of many subsequent) false accuser.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi, Craig! Judah in Gen 38 falsely accuses Tamar of prostituting herself “metoo” and in the next chapter Potiphar’s wife and “mentoo.” Judah did at least admit Tamar acted with more honor than he did. The Bible is authentic in that it shows how men and women slander and do terrible things to each other. This could be an interesting post! Thank you for your time and sharing your thoughts! Love and blessings, brother!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow this is very new for me. I need to read Walton’s works on Genesis. Never saw it in that way and I’m still stunned (in a good way) about it all. THank you for this dive into Joseph and Popiphar

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Again thank you for what you are sending ahead of time! Walton I am aware isn’t YEC but I think he’s still important to read him with his OT studies’ contributions

        Liked by 1 person

  6. We are almost at this part in our morning Bible reading, so this is great timing! Joseph’s story is always interesting to me, because even though so much went wrong, God made it work out for good (as Romans 8:28 says). Great post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Weather here is very windy and a bit chilly but it is nice! Smog is gone for today lol. Sorry took a while to comment back since I visited parents with my girls and we were at the park most of the day and when I try to comment on your blog on my phone it doesn’t have me logged onto WordPress for some reason on your page

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is interesting and something I’ve never thought about, but I know was confused about. I’m definitely going to study this. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Walking in the woods in the cold is an act of showing your husband love with this business! Today we have the merging of chinese new year celebration, Lord’s Day and Valentines. We will be seeing my side of family for the first, we finished Church for the second and tonight we will do the third but with kids too lol

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post, Mandy! I have read that the Egyptian captain of the guard was also what we would call the state executioner. And that as Mrs. Mariposa brought out, Potiphar must have trusted Joseph – otherwise would have killed him. But I had never heard of the connection of Potiphar to Pharaoh’s kitchen. Sounds logical however. Because he was likely also in charge of state security. And protecting the king’s life would have headed the list. Thanks for bringing fresh insight to these passages. Appreciate it!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Answering your question on my blog: Our Marine’s version of winter warfare is at Bridgeport California in the Sierra Nevada under the umbrella of mountain warfare and I think it might not be as intense as what the Army has since there’s entire units I think in the Army that’s dedicated to that mission than the Corps. Our unit and probably many West Coast units probably didn’t have as much training in this as much as other training such as urban warfare and desert warfare. I think Marines the last twenty years have become more desert, tropic and urban warriors and the one time we were in the North sea for amphibious exercise we were all super miserable compared to other county forces and the US Army lol

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My respect for the Army has grown since I got out of the Marines lol. Some might say its away from the Corps brainwashing but I also think when we were in sometimes Marines can become so caught up in our own little world. Plus when I got out I read a little bit more and realize wow, the Army’s got some good outfits

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Nathan originally wanted to join the Marines but didn’t because they wouldn’t let him pick his own MOS. They wanted Nathan to be a mechanic and Nathan was like nope so then he went Army. We have a good friend Denise (I’m not sure if you read this post https://bluecollartheologian.blog/2019/06/18/the-navy-and-the-cavapoo/) anyway, at least around here the Air Force gets picked on the most (we have a lot of prior Navy, Marines and Army here).

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I remember that post1 GOod to read it again and also emembering the jokes of Army and Navy that went on lol. Yeah it seems everywhere one goes USAF is the butt of jokes lol

        Liked by 1 person

  12. When you dive in you go deep! Great work and insights regarding the intertwining of their lives! That is something that I have been reflecting on lately. It is interesting to meditate on how God has directed our steps! Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

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