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  • Susan Brown

Ladies’ Bible Study: Potiphar’s Wife

Potiphar’s Wife

Write a thumbnail sketch of the person’s life:

This is an ugly story, about an ugly sin.  But it is a story we need to hear.  This woman in our lesson today is an example of what we should NOT be.  How did she get to be so wicked, and how can we avoid becoming a wicked woman like Potiphar’s wife?

I have been grieved since coming to Thailand to hear of a sin that troubles the churches here.  It is a sin that will destroy a church, will destroy marriages, children, and will destroy YOU. It is a sin to be avoided at all costs.  It is the same sin that brought down Potiphar’s wife– sexual immorality. We will look at her story today, to see what led her into this sin, and what happened as a result.  What can we learn from her that will keep us from falling into this pit? We will also look at things to teach our children to avoid this trap of the devil.

We first see this woman when we read of Joseph’s story in Genesis 39.  Joseph’s brothers were jealous and sold him as a slave to some Midianite traders. These men took him to Egypt where he was purchased by a man named Potiphar.  Potiphar was an important man in Egypt.  He was an “officer of Pharaoh” and  “captain of the guard.”  We don’t know exactly what that meant, but we can gather that he was respected and feared. Probably he was wealthy. We know for sure that he had influence and power.

Do you think that would make you happy, to have money and a nice home? To have servants to do your work? Potiphar’s wife had all that.  She probably was treated with respect everywhere because her husband was such an important man.   Her life was one of comfort and ease.

But she wasn’t satisfied.  That is one trait we see in her life that we will look at today:  even though she had many blessings, she wasn’t content with what she had. She wanted Joseph, too. She “cast her eye” on the young slave and tried to seduce him.  Day by day she tried to get him to sin with her and day by day Joseph resisted her.  He wouldn’t have sex with her and he avoided her.

“My master has been good to me and hasn’t withheld anything but you, because you are his wife,” Joseph said. “How can I sin this way against God?”

One day she caught him alone — which tells us that most days he managed to avoid being around her unless other people were nearby.  But on this day she said, “Lie with me.”  She clung to his robe, hanging on to him.  Joseph did the wise thing.  He ran. He left his robe in her hands and got out of there as fast as he could.

Then she was angry. If Joseph wouldn’t sin with her, she would destroy him.  She called the other servants.

“That Hebrew tried to attack me,” she lied.  “See, here’s proof.  He left his clothes behind when he ran away.”

We don’t know if the other servants believed her — but they probably didn’t.  Evidently Potiphar did, because he had Joseph thrown in prison.  And then she leaves the story, and we don’t hear about her anymore.  We do hear about Joseph, how the Lord took care of him and blessed him even in prison.  Later He used Joseph to save many people alive in a time of great famine, so even this wicked woman was used by God for His great plan.

What are her character qualities and what does Scripture say about them?

What can we learn from her?  Let’s look at her character.

She was discontented.  She focused, not on her blessings, but on what she lacked.  Instead of being thankful for her wealth and comfortable home, she probably thought about how her husband was seldom at home.  She focused on his failings.  If we turn our eyes away from Jesus, and start thinking of what we lack instead of what we have, we are ready to fall into temptation.  Discontent can lead us into many kinds of sin. People steal because they don’t have the things they want.  People lie to get things that way.  Discontent ruins marriages, when women nag their husbands and make them miserable because they want things they don’t have.  Or their husbands don’t measure up. The men don’t fulfill what they expect in a husband.  Discontent is the root of many sins.  It is the root of the sin of adultery.

Potiphar’s wife was not content with her husband. She didn’t think about the good things she had in her life. Instead she thought about what she did NOT have, and she was miserable.  She was in a position for the devil to tempt her to sin.

She considered sin.  She cast her eye on Joseph. If you are thinking about sinning, wondering what it would be like to be with another man, you are a step closer to destruction.  You may say, “Well, I haven’t done anything yet. I am just wondering what it would be like.” But if you are thinking about sinning, you can be sure that the devil has already accomplished his first goal and is getting closer to destroying you and all you hold precious.

Potiphar’s wife became a destroyer. Do you think sin only affects you?  No, your sin hurts other people as well.  It hurts God.  Joseph said, “How can I sin this way against God?”  God sees and grieves when His children stumble and fall.  And He loves His children so much that He won’t let them continue on in sin.

How did her life and character affect her husband and children?

We don’t meet her husband and children in the Bible, but we can guess that she didn’t have a good relationship with them.  If she was so determined to be unfaithful with Joseph, in spite of his rejection of her advances, no doubt she was unfaithful with others.

What do you think is the leading lesson taught by her life?

Immorality destroys.  It hurts your family. Of course it hurts your husband.  There is nothing that devastates a husband so much as an unfaithful wife.  It makes him ashamed, as if he wasn’t man enough to satisfy her and make her happy.  And that shame is as rottenness in his bones. It weakens and destroys him from the inside.  ( Prov. 12:4)  It will also lead him to sin.  Proverbs 31 talks about the virtuous woman.  It says, “The heart of her husband safely trusts in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.”  (Prov. 31:11)  “Spoil” is a war word.  In those days when the soldiers conquered a country, they could take away the belongings of the conquered people as a reward. If you are unfaithful, you bring war into your home.  Your husband will be tempted to seduce someone else to prove his manliness.  That might break up another home.  When you throw a rock into a pond, there are ripples that spread out for meters from the place the rock went down.  It is that way with sin.  It spreads on and on, hurting and destroying.

And what about your children?  The home is the foundation for children.  They need to have a strong home with parents who love each other in order to be healthy in mind and heart.  If their home is not stable, they will grow up to be unstable, weak people.

They will also be more likely to fall into sin, themselves. Maybe it will be sexual sin, but maybe it will be destruction of another kind. “My sin isn’t so bad. It isn’t as bad as what my mother did,” they may think.  They will excuse their sin because of yours.  If there is no other thing that will keep you from sin, surely you love your children enough to run away from immorality!

What applications can you make to your own life?

How can we teach our children to resist immorality?

SHOW them a godly example.  They should see holiness in your life.

TELL them it is wrong.  Say it in words, “You may be tempted to be immoral. It is wrong and it will hurt you and everyone else if you do it.”

TEACH them from God’s word.  “Flee youthful lusts”  (II Tim. 2:22) is a good one for them to memorize.  Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife, and they should run from temptation.

PROTECT them.  If they aren’t in a situation that could lead them to sin, they are less likely to fall. (Prov. 29:15) Make sure your teenagers aren’t alone with a member of the opposite sex a lot.  Keep them in groups and keep them supervised.  If your young teenager is attracted to someone who is a bad influence, lovingly pull him or her back.  I say “lovingly” because if you are ugly and mean and say, “NO you WON’T hang around that creepy guy!” your daughter will be more determined to run away with him. She will be tempted to sneak around behind your back. Instead explain why.  Explain that you love her. Explain what consequences you can see from her being with this young man.  And give her other good things.  Let her be around good Christians from church.  It’s important that as we hold back the evil with one hand we offer the good with the other.

KEEP them busy.  We have a saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  I’m not saying make them work all the time, but too much time with nothing to do will open the doors for temptation.

GIVE them a vision.  If your child feels hopeless and worthless and as if there is no future for him or her, he will be much more likely to fall into sexual sin.  Talk to your child about the good things God has for him or her.  Try to give them opportunities for something better.  Give them a vision of serving God and doing something that matters.

In Potiphar’s wife we see the destruction caused by sin.  Let’s take the warning from her life and be faithful and true, to God and husband.

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