BIBLE STUDY SERIES #29, 30 and 31

17 May, 1992

POTIPHAR'S HOUSE

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

On our last programme, our Bible study took us along in the company of the young Joseph as he was sold by his brothers to Ishmeelite strangers, and then carried into Egypt, to be sold into slavery in the house of Potiphar, Pharaoh's Officer, a Captain of the Guard. I attempted, at that time, to draw us into the thought processes of this youth of excellent character for several reasons.

We can, if we are thoughtful, see ourselves, our own apprehensions, failures, troubles, and eventual success, as we think Joseph's thoughts with him, and realise that even we may share his experience, translated into our own lives and circumstances.

I believe also that this is essential for a complete understanding of the story which the Bible tells, regarding the ongoing Great Plan of the Almighty God, for the establishment of His Kingdom upon the earth.

For those who are conscious of the evidence which points to the British and American kinsfolk as the descendants of Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, the story of Joseph contains essential knowledge of their own hidden racial and cultural roots. We may see in the life of Joseph an enacted prophetic fore-view of the course of that people's history which descend from him.

Thus, his life is an enacted prophecy of Our Lord's own dealings with His people. Particularly, we, of the British-Israel-World Federation believe that this pertains to the subsequent history of those who are kindred folk, and whose latter-day history is designated as that of the core people of the British Commonwealth and of the United States of America.

A momentary digression may be needed for those who are familiar with the claim that the British Commonwealth contains the main stream of Joseph's younger son, Ephraim and the U.S.A. that of Manasseh, the older of Joseph's sons. As some have stressed that the U.S.A. now tend to out-weigh the British, while Ephraim was to be greater, and upon this apparent disparity with the prophecy deride our position, we should remind our listeners that the U.S.A. also has many of the other eleven tribes of Israel contained within it, so not all of the U.S.A. would, in that case, be Manasseh's descendants alone.

Further, some have pointed out that Joseph appears to have expressed in his life's experiences a prophetic fore-view of Our Lord's own life as incarnate Saviour and Redeemer.

With these considerations in view, let us now return to the Biblical account of Joseph's experiences as he takes up his new duties as overseer in Potiphar's house. We begin by reading from verse 7:

7. And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.
8. But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;
9. There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

I might insert here a couple of samples of the amplification which the non-Biblical Book of Jasher supplies to this passage, for they tend to convey more detail, and the work certainly provides a suggestive description as compelling as any in modern literature. In Chapter 46 of that work, we find:

And Joseph was eighteen years old, a youth with beautiful eyes and of comely appearance, and like unto him was not in the whole land of Egypt. At that time whilst he was in his master's house, going in and out of the house and attending his master, Zelicah his master's wife lifted up her eyes toward Joseph and she looked at him, and behold he was a youth comely and well favored. And she coveted his beauty in her heart, and her soul was fixed upon Joseph, and she enticed him day after day, and Zelicah persuaded Joseph daily, but Joseph did not lift up his eyes to behold his master's wife.

And Zelicah said unto him, how goodly are thy appearance and form, truly I have looked at all the slaves, and have not seen so beautiful a slave as thou art; and Joseph said unto her, surely he who created me in my mother's womb created all mankind. And she said unto him, how beautiful are thine eyes, with which thou hast dazzled all the inhabitants of Egypt, men and women; and he said unto her, how beautiful they are whilst we are alive, but shouldst thou behold them in the grave, surely thou wouldst move away from them.

The account continues with further amplification, and on the next page, as Zelicah becomes sick with desire, and the women gather to ask after the reason for her condition, we read her explanation thus:

And Zelicah answered them, saying, this day it shall be made known to you whence this disorder springs in which you see me, and she commanded her maid servants to prepare food for all the women, and she made a banquet for them, and all the women ate in the house of Zelicah. And she gave them knives to peel the citrons to eat them, and she commanded that they should dress Joseph in costly garments, and that he should appear before them, and Joseph came before their eyes and all the women looked on Joseph, and could not take their eyes from off him, and they all cut their hands with the knives that they had in their hands, and all the citrons that were in their hands were filled with blood. And they knew not what they had done but they continued to look at the beauty of Joseph, and did not turn their eyelids from him.

At this, Zelicah draws the attention of the women to what they had done, and explains that, while just looking at Joseph had drawn this response from them, she endured living in the house constantly with Joseph present. Well, while that is not a Biblical passage, it certainly goes along with it to amply explain the sort of reaction which Joseph drew from Potiphar's wife!

I might, especially, ask the ladies of our audience; "Have you ever seen a man of sufficiently attractive countenance to illicit such an unwitting response from you?" Well may we weigh, then, the understated words of the Biblical passage as we ponder the potential which might have lain behind them. All the passion of lust here meets the unswerving loyalty of a Godly man. What a story may lie hidden for Hollywood to sort out! But I might doubt the capacity of Hollywood to draw the correct moral from the story. It might not be "box office" in the estimation of someone who does not live the life which Joseph lived, in total and strict accord with God's demands upon his life, even when passions tempted his reserves. Let us pick up the Biblical account again at verse 10:

10. And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.
11. And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within.
12. And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.
13. And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth,
14. That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:
15. And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.
16. And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home.
17. And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:
18. And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.
19. And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.

We read much, these days of society's reaction to what has become known as "sexual harrassment in the workplace." I would doubt that we could find a better description of it, although reversing the normal situation, than what we have just read! The reactions of Joseph to those almost overwhelming advances and pressures by a woman in authority might form a pattern of character for those who may feel thus imposed upon today. All this testing was, if we reason through the account of Joseph's life to its conclusion, a preparation by God for great glory to come. But that is for a later moment, and Joseph, for the present, must endure, and not cease to give his full devotion to his God.

We shall be examining these matters more fully later, but I would, just as we close today's talk, remind you of Hebrews 4:19 which says "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." With that reassurance, let all who honour the name of Our Lord take heart.

24 May, 1992

PRISON FETTERS

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

On our last study, we had seen the young Joseph, son of Jacob, sold as a slave to Potiphar, Captain of Pharaoh's Guard. Potiphar had employed Joseph as overseer of his household; a post which, it appears, Joseph was filling with most remarkable success. Joseph's honest service was blessed by God, and the affairs of the house were soon given entirely into his capable hands.

I think we may, before we move further, elicit a valuable lesson from Joseph's situation at this moment in his life. Have we not, ourselves, in the course of our own life, experienced some occasions wherein all appeared to be going well? Joseph was faithfully carrying forward his duties in his new position, and God was quite obviously with him. Have we not also, perhaps, found ourselves sensing the satisfactions which accompany some definite accomplishment especially if we have prayed for blessing as we go. But just as we appeared to have arrived at the point of success in our attempt, have we not also, on occasion, had some stress-filled experience arise involving some other person who has the power to interfere with our progress?

All was not serene in Joseph's career. Joseph, in that position of trust, had just such a complication in his life, as we saw on our last programme. In Joseph's case, it would seem that the Captain's wife had fastened her eyes upon the young steward of her house, giving repeated verbal expression to her carnal lust. She had implored Joseph's sexual favours, without success.

In Act 3, Scene 8, of William Congreve's "The Mourning Bride" we find the expressive lines "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." The importuning of Potiphar's wife having been carefully and consistently rejected by Joseph, her ardour, compounded by pride, gave rise to an intense anger.

If we compared our own experience, we might attempt to explain our lot by adopting the view that Satan was making things tough for us. But we find in the occasion before us, in this Scripture, that God, the Almighty, was behind even this intense and passionate crisis. Just so, may we find that our trials, may be part of God's design to bring about eventual blessing beyond even that which we presently experience.

But at the moment, Joseph was not finding his circumstance much to his liking. Upon Potiphar's return home, his wife's account aroused his own anger. We pick up our scriptural account at Genesis 39:20, which says: "And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison."

Psalm 105:17-19 elaborates upon this account. Amid the various stanzas expressing praise to God, it states: "He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: Until the time that his word came; the word of the LORD tried him."

Now this punishment was certainly severe enough, but I have to wonder about one aspect of this incident. Was Potiphar totally unsuspecting in regard to his wife's lust-filled failings in time past? I should have thought that if a charge of attempted rape against a mere slave, was laid by the unimpeachable word of the wife of the Captain of Pharaoh's Guard, it should have resulted in instantaneous execution. Indeed, I find that I am not alone in raising this question. The Second Edition of the New Bible Commentary has this comment upon the words "His wrath was kindled": "Did Potiphar believe his wife's story or was this only a kind of 'proper' wrath? If he had fully believed her tale he would have put Joseph to death." Be that as it may, we continue at verse 21:

21. But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
22. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it.
23. The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper.

Well, that is certainly not what one might have expected. However, Joseph is obviously a person of great personal magnetism, favoured by God in all his undertakings. His experience as Steward in Potiphar's household would also have been of assistance in the prison situation, as the prison guard must have recognized. And let us not lose sight of his youth. He is as yet only about seventeen or eighteen years of age. Even in prison, Joseph does not let go of his God. God was certainly trying Joseph, with regard to his faithfulness, his honest perseverance, and his love for The LORD, in order to create a future situation which would not otherwise have been possible.

Jospeh's work must have been drawing attention among those with whom he had contact. The success attending Joseph's efforts, while in prison, would not have gone completely un-noticed by those conversant with his situation and character. God was building his life towards a marvellous climax of success, but it must have taken him to the edge of breaking at times, as the years came and went.

Joseph had to contend with dirt and grime, with heat and chafing of bonds. He had to prayerfully ponder his lot. He had been sold by his own brothers to rough, alien slave-traders. Removed from all familiar surroundings, he had to learn a new language in a strange land. Even hundreds of years later, when the Children of Israel emerged from their Egyptian bondage in this same land, they had evidently not assimilated the Egyptian tongue as their own for we read in Psalm 114:1 "When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language; Judah was his sanctuary, and Israel his dominion."

Joseph had been falsely accused by the wife of his owner of a shameful and exceedingly serious charge. He had now to endure prison. Through it all, he remained faithful and addressed his circumstance with a holy devotion.

Let us think for a moment of Joseph in his trials and apply the lesson to ourselves. We too, must at times, endure trials. For each of us, a trial is something particularly relating to our own character, and it will challenge us with some temptation to "short-circuit" the process of serving God's demands and our own desires. We frequently find that Satan offers us what seems to be a nice comfortable short-cut to our earnest hope. "Just do it my way, and you can have what you want without all that pain, effort, and patient waiting." Wasn't that the sort of offer that Satan gave to Our Lord at the beginning of His ministry?

There is something important here. God does not torture people for fun and games. His demands are all made for our own long-term benefit. He loves each one. As it says in Hebrews 12:5-6 "...My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth."

Joseph was certainly destined for a position of remarkable power and glory in what must have been perhaps the chief civilization of that day, and his experience would be symbolic of great events in subsequent history down through the ages to come. The testing permitted by The Almighty, therefore, had to search out and certify every aspect of Joseph's character, for later, when called upon to apply his power with judgment, each aspect of his character could, in such judgment, mean the power of life or death to other people. All those dependent upon the granaries of Egypt and the lives of his own brothers, patriarchs of the Tribes of Israel would depend upon his wisdom and Godly counsel, his restraint and his love. God had to permit the testing to proceed.

In the very testing process itself, patience was cultivated. As St. Paul wrote, in Romans 5:3-5:

3.And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
4. And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
5. And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
Thus, we see that Joseph, the brother who was destined to become the progenitor of the birthright tribe of Israel, must first suffer rejection, and isolation, become separated from his father Jacob, lost to his brethren, and, under a new name, another name, incognito, as it were, rise to great heights of power and glory in the earth. His two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were to become the company of nations and the great people of subsequent history whom we, of the British-Israel-World Federation see as the present-day kindred peoples of Great Britain, the British Commonwealth and the United States of America.

No other peoples meet the requirements of prophecy, even to that of becoming "lost tribes" in the thinking of the world at large.

We shall continue our studies on our next programme.

31 May, 1992

PRISON DREAMS - PART I

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

On our last study, we had seen the young Joseph, son of Jacob, sold as a slave in Egypt, and now falsely charged of a most serious crime and languishing in an Egyptian prison. Through all his trials and troubles, Joseph has remained faithful to God, as the testing of his patience extends onward through the bleak years. This passage of time in enforced incarceration is necessary for more than one reason in the Great Plan of The Almighty.

Not only must Joseph's character be tested and certified by The Almighty, but he must not be permitted to earn his freedom from Potiphar and return to his home. That might have seemed the only logical and desirable objective to him at the time, but God had a far brighter and more glorious purpose in mind.

In order to see that far-ranging objective to completion, Joseph must not leave Egypt prematurely. He must be present in that land, to become the means of salvation to his whole family. In the famine that is to come, Israel must journey to Egypt, and not Joseph to Canaan. This thought may serve to lighten our gloomy prospect as we contemplate a situation similarly oppressive in our own lives, wherever we find ourselves, for if God thus treated with one of the most acclaimed of Biblical characters, preparatory to his ultimate glory and satisfaction in every major aspect of life, may He not likewise treat with any of us?

Prison has been the lot of some of the most notable of God's servants through the ages. We can call to mind not only Joseph, but, in effect, all of Israel in Egyptian bondage. We may think also of Samson, in Judges 16:21, who, although the author of his own misery through a character failing, was nevertheless listed among the faithful in Hebrews 11:32.

Remember the Prophet Micaiah, who, in I Kings 22:27, was ordered to prison, there to endure bread of affliction and water of affliction for daring to state a true prophecy to King Ahab of Israel. Hanani the seer, in II Chronicles 16:10, was similarly treated by King Asa of Judah for rebuking that king's foolishness in relying upon the forces of Syria instead of trusting God for national safety.

Jeremiah, as recounted in Jeremiah 37:15-16, was imprisoned by the authorities for warning Zedekiah and the people against reliance upon Egypt to save Judah from the Chaldeans. In Jeremiah 38:6, we find that he was further committed to a dungeon where he sank in the mire, for his continual pronouncements of prophetic warnings.

Daniel, you may remember, was forced by the governing officials to enter the lion's den and therein to pass the night, in Daniel 6:16. John the Baptist, as we see in Matthew 14:3-12, was cast into prison by order of Herod, and was there beheaded for honestly categorising Herods marital arrangement as sin.

The Apostles, in Acts 5:18, Peter in Acts 12:5, Paul and Silas in Acts 16:23), all suffered imprisonment, and Jesus, Himself, suffered affliction in Pilate's hall, called Praetorium.

Thus, while Joseph was caused to remain in prison, on the charge of attempted rape of the wife of the Captain of Pharaoh's Guard, he would not be the only member of God's family to so endure. Let us now follow the account found in Genesis 40:

1. And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker had offended their lord the king of Egypt.
2. And Pharaoh was wroth against two of his officers, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers.
3. And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound.
4. And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a season in ward.

The Book of Jasher, while not part of the Canon of Scripture, does supply some interesting details. It elaborates on the Biblical account by adding the explanation that "Pharaoh's ministers found many flies in the wine which the butler had brought, and stones of nitre were found in the baker's bread."

Here, we might suppose that Joseph would attempt to improve his own lot through whatever influence might yet remain to these two notable prisoners, and so, it seems, Joseph proceeded to do, as the opportunity eventually presented itself.

Regarding the titles "chief of the butlers" and "chief of the bakers", we find in the New Bible Commentary, Second Edition, the thought that these two were probably high-ranking officials of the Egyptian court. The New Bible Dictionary, under the item "Cupbearer", states: "The 'butler' of Joseph's pharaoh...both in Hebrew and by function was the king's cupbearer." Further on, the same note states: "The Egyptian cupbearers...were often called 'pure of hands', and in the 13th century BC one such cupbearer is actually entitled...'cupbearer (or butler) who tastes the wine'... These officials (often foreigners) became in many cases confidants and favourites of the king and wielded political influence... ." So we see that the positions were, indeed, ones of great trust, and of high personal responsibility for the Pharaoh's well-being. Let us continue from verse 5:

5. And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison.
6. And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad.
7. And he asked Pharaoh's officers that were with him in the ward of his lord's house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly to day?
8. And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you.

By the words "there is no interpreter", we should understand that, as the Commentary states, "they had no access to the professional 'wise men'." It was, in part, resentment by his brothers over Joseph's own two earlier dreams which had brought him into this predicament. Now, Joseph, in the prison, sees a God-given opportunity, through the two dreams of these notable officers, to improve the situation for which his own earlier dreams were in part responsible. Indeed, all the dreams in Joseph's life are concertedly leading towards the divine objective of bringing Joseph before Pharaoh. Let us examine the first of those dreams presently before us, that of the Butler:

9. And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, behold, a vine was before me;
10. And in the vine were three branches: and it was as though it budded, and her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes:
11. And Pharaoh's cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand.
12. And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days:
13. Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place: and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh's cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler.
14. But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house:
15. For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.

There is great significance attached to the exact numbering of the quantities of the items in all the dreams which are recorded as pertaining to the life of Joseph. The twelve sheaves, the sun, moon and eleven stars, the three branches of a vine, and, as we shall find later, the three baskets in the Baker's dream, and Pharaoh's dream containing the sevens of cattle and of ears of corn, all hold great meaning. We might generalise, by stating that the precise numbers should never be overlooked when seeking the significance of any of the information contained in God's Word.

One note in the Commentary draws attention to the wording in an Hebrew idiom. The butler placed the cup 'upon (Heb.) Pharaoh's palm'. Egyptian cups had no handles or stems, hence were placed on the palm, and the Commentary adds that "Such undesigned details speak in favour of the truth of the record." The Commentary also notes that when Joseph speaks of being stolen, he uses a chivalrous way of describing what happened. He also avoids stating clearly that his own brothers had sold him into slavery it appears, because his credibility as an innocent person might then be questioned. The Commentary also notes how little Joseph exposes the crime of Potiphar's wife.

We shall have to leave examination of the second dream, that of the chief Baker, for our next programme.

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