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Why Potiphar was Blessed

Joseph working

by Dennis Pollock

If it were not for his association with Joseph, Potiphar, a captain in the army of Egypt thousands of years ago, would be entirely forgotten. But he has not been forgotten. His name is mentioned nearly every time anyone does an extensive teaching or sermon about the life of Joseph. This Egyptian man, almost certainly an unbeliever, is referred to again and again by Bible teachers. He played a pivotal role in the early days of Joseph, as God was training and preparing him to serve as the number two leader in Egypt during a season when Israel’s very existence was at stake.

The story of Joseph, found in the Book of Genesis, is so well known that I will give a very brief recap to get us to the point where young Joseph’s life and Potiphar’s intersect. Joseph was the son of the patriarch Jacob, grandson of Abraham, who was the father of the Jews. Joseph’s father doted on him far above all his brothers, and as a result, Joseph’s brothers became intensely jealous, murderously so, and at an opportune time they decided to kill their younger brother. The oldest brother, Reuben, did not feel good about this and convinced them to throw Joseph into a pit and let him starve to death. His intention, however, was to come back secretly and set the young lad free.

Fate intervened. Actually, it was God who intervened, who is the Author of our “fate.” Some Midianite traders came along, and the brothers changed their minds and decided to sell Joseph to them as a slave. That way they could rid themselves of daddy’s favorite, would surely never see him again, and be guiltless of the blood of their brother. The Midianite traders gladly bought Joseph and took him along on their long journey to Egypt. As far as the brothers were concerned it was good riddance.

Sold into Slavery

When the Midianites reached Egypt, they put Joseph up for sale. He probably fetched a good price. He was young, good-looking, and smart. He would have been a real prize for anyone’s household. Here is where Potiphar enters the story. We are told in the Scriptures: “Now the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:36). Potiphar was an important government official and leader in the army, and the fact that he bought Joseph indicates that the asking price was probably pretty high. Slaves were generally for the rich, and Joseph represented the cream of the crop.

But it was more than just a high price that landed Joseph in the household of Potiphar. It was the hand of God. It may have appeared that God had forgotten His young servant, but in truth He was in control of every aspect of Joseph’s destiny. God had things ahead for Joseph, great things, things which would prove a major turning point in the history of the Jewish people, things which would be referred to and taught in books, sermons, and lectures for the next thousands of years, even to this day. And the Creator of heaven and earth, who holds the destinies even of little sparrows in His hand, was not about to allow Joseph to suffer some random fate or land in the household of someone who would interfere with His determined plan for the young man.

When Potiphar purchased Joseph, he could see he was getting a slave with definite promise. But he could not realize at the time just how much of a bargain he was getting for his money. For this scared, Jewish youth had the favor of God resting upon his life and the blessings of heaven accompanying, infusing, and energizing everything he did. Joseph was overflowing with the favor of God, and anything and everything he touched or with which he associated was going to enjoy some of that overflow. Potiphar didn’t know it yet, but he was about to enter into a season of unparalleled blessing and abundance as a result of the addition of Joseph into his household.

Successful Man

The Bibles describes Joseph at this time with these words:

The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian (Genesis 39:2).

Success is an elusive quality, and most people see it in only a limited measure. But certainly it is something we all desperately want in every aspect of our lives. In this little verse we are told A) that Joseph was successful, and B) the reason for his success. That reason was summed up in the words: “The LORD was with Joseph.” Remember when Moses talked with God and declared that he could not speak well, suggesting that surely God must be mistaken for calling him to go and liberate the Israelites? What was God’s reply? “I will be with you.” This is ultimate success for every human, regardless of sex, background, nationality, or race. “God with us” means that all is well; “God with us” means however people may criticize us, misunderstand us, or mock us, we are truly successful. When God is with you, it cannot be otherwise.

Joseph went to work for Potiphar. Surely if anyone had a right to complain, to slack off or to have a bad attitude, it was Joseph. At the age of seventeen he had been unjustly uprooted from his family as a result of the treachery of his own brothers and been converted from the pampered life of a favored son from a wealthy family to another man’s property. But somehow this didn’t affect Joseph’s attitude. He accepted his new position and worked hard and well for his new master. Joseph had not read the Book of Genesis. He had no idea where his life was going. For now, he made the best of things, and served Potiphar faithfully.

What Potiphar Saw

Potiphar was not a stupid man, and he quickly saw that he had a real gem in his new slave. The Bible says:

And his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him (Genesis 39:3, 4).

God’s favor was so obviously resting upon young Joseph that even the pagan, tough Potiphar couldn’t help but notice. He didn’t wait long before he made a crucial decision: he turned over the running of his household to Joseph. The Bible tells us:

Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority (Genesis 39:4).

Joseph was no longer an ordinary slave working at specified tasks. He was now the boss; he had a hand in all that went on in Potiphar’s estate. Potiphar stopped trying to control every aspect of his household and left it in Joseph’s hands. From this moment on, God’s blessings overflowed:

So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field (Genesis 39:5).

Potiphar was now living a life of incredible blessings. Outside observers might assume that he was just experiencing a lot of “good luck” or perhaps that he was enjoying amazing success because he had a smart, hard-working slave. But the blessings being poured out on the household of the Egyptian army captain involved more than this. The God of heaven and earth, the Creator of all the universe was placing a blessing on this man’s family, property, and estate.

At no point are we told that Potiphar became a believer, or became a Jew, or became a man of great prayer. Most likely he was what he always was: a wealthy, tough, Egyptian army leader. The blessings that were falling all around him had nothing to do with the man’s godly character or deep prayer life. They had everything to do with one decision he made: to put all he had under the control of Joseph. Once that had been done, the faucet of heaven’s blessings had been turned on, and Potiphar’s life was transformed. In a word, Potiphar was blessed, not for his own sake, but for Joseph’s sake.

Joseph – Symbol of Jesus

Nearly every Bible teacher and scholar believes that Joseph served as an Old Testament symbol and foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. Both men were beloved by their fathers, both were betrayed by their brothers, both began their ministry at the age of thirty, and both were highly exalted. Many more parallels could be given. In the story of Joseph, the Holy Spirit was preaching Jesus Christ to those who have eyes to see it. And in this declaration of Potiphar being blessed as a result of Joseph, we find a tremendous insight about the nature of God’s blessings upon His people today.

You may think, “How can Joseph be symbolic of Jesus? Jesus is certainly not our slave!” No, of course He is not. But in the act of submitting all he had into the hands of Joseph, Potiphar gives us a demonstration about the way we will find favor with God today. Joseph was living in the favor of God, to the degree that anyone who surrendered what they had into his hands was going to experience an overflow of that favor and that blessing. Potiphar, although a leader and a wealthy man, was otherwise ordinary. There is no indication that he was especially godly, or that he spent his days frequently praying and fasting, or that he was especially concerned for the poor. He was just a guy who had a little bit of sense – enough sense to recognize that God’s favor was on Joseph, and that the smartest thing he could do would be to put Joseph in charge of all he had.

But if Joseph lived with the favor of heaven upon him, how much more does Jesus live and reign in heaven’s favor. Jesus prayed to the Father: “I know that You always hear Me…” God had promised through Moses that if anyone kept all His laws and obeyed all His commandments that they would be blessed “in the city and in the field… going out and coming in,” essentially blessed in everything to which they put their hands. Problem was, nobody ever truly earned that blessing and promise. All came short of it, even Moses, the one through whom the promise was made. “All have sinned and come short…”

Blessed Jesus

Until Jesus. When Jesus Christ came to this earth, He fulfilled God’s law perfectly. As a result, He was “blessed in the city and blessed in the country, blessed going out and blessed coming in.” But the blessing did not just rest upon Him – anyone who got near Him was likely to be blessed. People were healed of terrible diseases just by touching His garments, dead people were raised, lame people walked, broken-hearted people were made joyful, and oppressed people were set free. It seemed that, as with Joseph (but to an infinitely greater degree), there was an overflow of heaven’s favor that splashed freely on all who approached and honored the Savior. These people were blessed, not for their great intellectual abilities, not for their own personal godliness, not due to their wonderful personalities, or charm or beauty or kindness, but because they had enough sense to draw near to Jesus.

Joseph and Potiphar are a wonderful reminder of why we can expect heaven’s blessings on our lives, our families, our ministries, and our work – and how we can ensure that these blessings keep right on flowing. Why are we blessed? For Jesus’ sake. As we pray in His name, and meditate on Him through reading the gospels, and utter words of trust and confidence to Him, and make much of Him in our lives, heaven’s spigot is turned on, and favor begins to flow.

To ignore Jesus is to turn that spigot off. When pastors preach Christ-less, cross-less sermons, they are robbing their congregations of the ultimate blessing, and essentially placing them under the law, where there is a curse rather than a blessing. Our desperate need is for Jesus, and our focus must never deviate from Him. Even after being born again through faith in Jesus, we must never lose sight of the Savior. He is our life, and when our confidence is in Him and our attention is on Him, we are blessed in His name and for His sake.



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