A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Lessons on Abuse from the Account of Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife — by our Readers

[February 24, 2023: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

I am going to simply insert the biblical account of Joseph’s torment at the hands of Potiphar’s wife (should we find a name for her?), and then I ask our readers to write this post by sharing their insights about how this true story sheds much light upon the nature, tactics, and effects of abuse. I think you will find it to be a real gold mine in this regard. Here we go:

Genesis 39:1-23  (ESV)

(1) Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.
(2) The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.
(3) His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.
(4) So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.
(5) From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field.
(6) So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.
(7) And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.”
(8) But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge.
(9) He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”
(10) And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
(11) But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house,
(12) she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.
(13) And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house,
(14) she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice.
(15) And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.”
(16) Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home,
(17) and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me.
(18) But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”
(19) As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled.
(20) And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison.
(21) But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
(22) And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it.
(23) The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.

[February 24, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to February 24, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to February 24, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to February 24, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (February 24, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


  1. speakingtruthinlove

    Observations from:

    Verse 1. Men are also victims of abuse. As a slave Joseph was vulnerable.

    Verse 2. Even in the midst of abuse / slavery God was there.

    Verses 3-6. Joseph was a godly young man and God’s blessing was on his life in spite of the fact that he was a slave. Joseph’s abuse is about to get much worse even though he is working hard, doing what is right and is honest in all he does. Abuse doesn’t happen to people because they are bad or because they deserve it. People are abused because someone who has power, control or some other advantage over them is evil enough to rape, molest and abuse.

    It may seem like God has forsaken Joseph but we can see from the text that He is still watching over him. Those who go through abuse often feel like God has left them to face their tormentors alone. I know that it easy to say that God is there when someone is being abused, but the victims likely feel alone and rejected even by God. We read later in the story that Joseph wept and pleaded with his brothers when he was still in the pit and as they sold him into slavery to the passing Ishmaelites (Genesis 42:21). This may be the most difficult question for those who have been harmed by abuse….where was God? According to this passage He is always there but He does not always intervene. The sin and evil of this world will run it’s course until God’s set time to judge it. God is there to help us overcome the abuse and to help us pick up the pieces.

    Verse 7. Potiphar’s wife desires to have sex with her husband’s slave. Think of how intimidating this would be for Joseph. One wrong move and he could be flogged or executed.

    Verse 8. Joseph is stronger than his abuser and resists her advances and commands.

    Verse 9. Joseph pleads his case, appealing to Potiphar’s trust in him and his loyalty to God. I can’t help but wonder the number of times that people have pleaded with their offenders but to no avail.

    Verse 10. Joseph endures many days [of] sexual harassment and tries to avoid being with her. My wife, Faith, said that when she was on her way home from school, as a child, she used to pray that her dad would not be home. She would try and avoid him but she could only do it for so long. Dad led her to the Lord when she was five and he started raping and molesting her when she was nine or ten years old. She was a prisoner in her own house, not a lot unlike Joseph.

    Verse 11. Potiphar’s wife plans and watches carefully for the right opportunity to force her will on this slave. She waits ’til there are no witnesses. Offenders are skilled predators who watch and plan for the right moment to attack their victim. All they need is a few moments alone or even in a crowded room, all they need is a table to hide their evil deed.

    Verse 12. She forces herself on Joseph. This is a sexual assault by someone in an authoritative position.

    Verse 13. Because he was stronger Joseph was able to get away but there would be a terrible price to pay. Even when the victim is an adult and may be able to flee, it could mean the loss of their job and consequently the loss of their home and their means to buy food and so on.

    Verses 14-18. The offender then does what almost every offender instinctively does….she blames the victim and lies about what happened. She had no love for her victim. This is about lust and selfishness. Wanting something that is not yours and willing to take it at any price.

    Verses 19-20. Perhaps the saddest part of the story is when the “bystanders” turn against the victim. Potiphar believes the lies. Bystanders and family members seem to find it easier to believe that a child or wife is lying about the abuse than to believe that the offender could really do such monstrous things.

    Verses 20-23. Out of the ashes God was still there. It may have been hard to see but He was there and He will be there for you as well if you will allow Him to work in your life.

    Just a few thoughts.

    [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thanks, Dale. This is great stuff. Very much appreciated!

  2. speakingtruthinlove

    Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog [Internet Archive link] and commented:
    Add your comment to this post that was started by Jeff Crippen.

  3. Dale’s interpretation is great. I only have a few things to add to it:
    Verse 14 — Potiphar’s wife recruits the other household servants to be her allies. She gets them to believe her lies by cunningly playing the “racist” card, appealing to their resentment against “that Hebrew” who their master had elevated to the top of the pecking order, over them.

    Verse 17 — She uses the same racist slur against Joseph when spinning the story to her husband.

    Verse 19 — Potiphar believes the abuser’s version of the story, without even taking the time to ask Joseph for his version. He showed outrage at the wrong person. Sadly, this is how many church leaders respond when an abuser lays their false accusations against the victim. Victim gets kicked out and punished. Abuser remains in the church; gets off scot free.

    Verses 21-23 — Don’t give up hope; God has many ways of vindicating victims.

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