The Grasp of Potiphar’s Wife

Week Eleven: Genesis 37–41

After Joseph is sold into Egypt, he becomes a servant in Potiphar’s house. Because “the Lord was with Joseph” (Gen 39:2), Potiphar puts him in charge. In fact, he hands all he has to Joseph and doesn’t even know what he has, “save the bread he did eat.” That’s how much Potiphar trusts Joseph.

All that changes when Potiphar’s wife comes along and wants Joseph for herself. She says, “Lie with me.” (Gen 39:7) Joseph responds with a logical plea that Potiphar has blessed them with so much how could they do such a thing to him and sin against God? But the temptation is not over.

Day after day she asks Joseph to “lie by her” or “be with her”, but Joseph hearkens not. Then one day he comes into the house “to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within.” (Gen. 39:12) Potiphar’s wife grabs him by the coat and says again, “Lie with me.” Joseph fleas, leaving his coat behind and “got him out.” (Gen 39:11)

When Potiphar comes home, his wife claims Joseph tried to molest her, and Potiphar’s “wrath is kindled.” He is mad because he trusted Joseph and that trust has been betrayed. Perhaps he also feels guilty and partially blames himself but is too proud to admit it. I’m sure he gave him a strong tongue-lashing and then threw him in prison. That is the last interaction Potiphar has with Joseph. Their relationship is destroyed.

It takes Joseph meeting the chief butler to Pharoah while in prison to finally set the stage to free him. Joseph had interpreted his fellow prisoner’s dream and when the Pharoah has his nightmare about cannibal cows, the chief butler remembers poor Joseph. Two full years later. Of course, Joseph ultimately not only prevails but saves the house of Israel in the process. Still, I think there are many parables in this story to young men in our day and the greatest trial they are facing, pornography.

In 2007, the Church News ran a series of articles about pornography in which Todd Olson, a clinical social worker said, “The tsunami is coming… Let’s teach our children to swim.” ( ) At that time 80% of 15-17 year-olds had multiple exposures to hard porn and 90% of 8-16 year-olds had viewed porn online, most while doing homework. (See ) In 2010, it was estimated that 70% of men 18-24 visit pornography sites regularly. ( )

Today with increased computer usage due to COVID and mandatory online school, those numbers are only increasing. Add to that, most college courses are online and even many of those preparing for full-time missions are participating in online MTC training. Even a large percentage of adults work remotely. Like Joseph in Potiphar’s house, day by day as our loved ones log in, it is as though Potiphar’s wife calls “lie with me.”

One group of doctors referred to 2020 as a “Porn-demic.” They said, “one of the world’s largest pornographic websites… announced plans to make their premium content free in parts of the world where lockdowns were in place. As a result… they reported increases of 38-61%.” ( ) To put it in context, the porn industry’s annual revenue is more than the NFL, NBA and MLB combined. It is also more than the combined revenues of ABC, NBC and CBS. ( ) How do we as parents and loved ones of those at risk protect them against such a formidable enemy?

Well, what we DON’T do is act the way Potiphar did. By responding with wrath when we find out that someone whom we love has a problem with pornography, we push them away when they need us the most. We can imprison them alone in their addiction. Instead, we can start today by teaching our younger children and opening dialogs with our older children and spouses.

There are wonderful resources to help parents teach their younger children to be prepared, (see ) but even teaching those techniques and putting filters on your devices can only do so much. One expert explains it this way, “Technology has progressed faster than society has figured out how to deal with the collateral damage such as porn addictions…[people] have access to pornography through their smartphones at levels we have never seen.” ( ) Even when you send your sons on missions worthily and they return to a church school, they can be exposed to things they never would have before considered doing. In times of loneliness or frustration, they may become weak, and when Potiphar’s wife grabs their coat, they may not have the strength to flee.

There is no single answer of how to deal with a loved one in the grasp of Potiphar’s wife. The Addiction Recovery Program ( ) is truly inspired, but be aware that it may take months or years of attending before the principles become their own. Sister Linda Reeves, of the General Relief Society presidency said, “If pornography or other challenges do strike our families, we can petition the Lord for help and expect great guidance from the Spirit, knowing that we have done what our Father has asked us to do.” ( ) Sometimes that guidance can be letting grown children come home for a season. In other cases, it might be setting boundaries and not allowing the person struggling with addiction to tax your resources until they are willing to repent. But, as we pray for our loved ones and follow the inspiration we are given, we can have confidence we are doing all we can to appropriately love every member of our family.

Can you imagine how much happier Joseph’s story would be if when he was released from prison, Potiphar was there to support him, and Potiphar’s wife was sent to prison? Okay, so sometimes justice (and mercy) only happen after this life, but if we pray, listen and love, we will still be there beside our loved one no matter what they choose.

One thought on “The Grasp of Potiphar’s Wife

  1. What an inspired and relevant take on this troubling old story. Thank you, Christine, for addressing this pernicious problem that erodes trust and relationships today as did Joseph’s encounters with Potiphar’s wife in Egypt.

    Liked by 1 person

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