The Fourth of July. Everything about the holiday was red, white, and blue. My face was red, the clouds were cotton white, and the sky was a brilliant blue. My redness came not from sunburn but humiliation. Denalyn had warned, “Remember, Max, the lake level is low.” The depth finder had alerted: thirty feet, then ten, then five, and then three feet. The caution buoys bobbed up and down in the water. But did I listen to Denalyn? Pay attention to the depth radar? Take note of the shallow-water markers?
Who had time for such trivialities? My three teenage daughters and their friends were counting on my navigational skills for a Saturday of entertainment. I would not disappoint. Wearing sunglasses and a big-brimmed hat, I hammered the throttle, and off we went. Zoom! Then five minutes later, boom! I had driven the boat onto a sandbar.
Passengers lurched forward. I nearly fell out. Seven sets of eyes glared at me. A lesser man might have told everyone to get out and push the boat back into deep water. Not me. Not throttle-happy Max. No sir. I was captain of the outboard, sovereign of the lake. I would debank the boat the manly way. I shoved the throttle again.
The boat didn’t budge.
“Max,” Denalyn kindly opined, “you messed up.” I raised the rudder. It was bent like a dog’s ear. This time we had no choice. We pushed until we floated. When I started the engine, the boat vibrated like a three-wheeled jalopy. Our speed peaked out at five miles per hour. As we chug-chugged across the lake and the other vacationers stared and the teenagers sulked, I asked myself, Well, Captain Max, what were you thinking?
That was the problem. I wasn’t thinking. Dumb became dumber because I treated a bad decision with a poor, impulsive choice. Forgivable in a boat. But in life?
Joseph was probably in his twenties when he crashed into, of all things, a sandbar of sexual temptation. When his brothers sold him into slavery, they likely assumed they had doomed him to hard labor and an early death. Instead, Joseph moved up the career ladder like a fireman after a cat. Potiphar, who promoted Joseph in his home, no doubt promoted Joseph among his circle of officials. He boasted about the Midas touch of this bright Hebrew boy who had made him a wealthy man.1
Joseph came to have clout. He could spend and hire, send and receive. Merchants reported to him, and other people noticed him. Most significantly, women noticed him. “Now Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man” (Gen. 39:6 NLT). A Hollywood head turner, this guy—square jaw, wavy hair, and biceps that bulged every time he carried Mrs. Potiphar’s tray. Which was often. She enjoyed the sight of him. “And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me’” (v. 7).
The first lady of the household made a play for the Hebrew slave. “Jo-eeey, how about a little sugar with my coffee?” Wink, wink. As she passed him in the hallway, she brushed up against his arm. As he brought dessert to the table, she touched his leg. By the clothes she wore, or didn’t wear, she made it clear: “I’m yours for the taking, Joseph.” She courted him “day by day” (v. 10). He had plenty of opportunities to consider the proposition. And reasons to accept it.
Wasn’t she married to his master? And wasn’t he obligated to obey the wishes of his owner, even if the wish was clandestine sex? And it would be clandestine. No one would know. What happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom, right?
Besides, a dalliance with the randy lady would give Joseph a chip in the political poker game, an ally at the top level. The end justified the means. And the means wasn’t all that unpleasant. Powerful Potiphar had his pick of women. His wife was likely a jaw-dropper. Joseph didn’t lose his manly urges when he lost his coat of many colors. A few moments in the arms of an attractive, willing lover? Joseph could use some relief.
Didn’t he deserve some? These were lonely days: rejected by his family, twice bought and sold like livestock, far from home, far from friends. And the stress of managing Potiphar’s household. Overseeing the terraced gardens and multitude of slaves. Mastering the peculiar protocol of official events. Joseph’s job was draining. He could have justified his choice.
So can you. You’ve been jilted and bruised, sold out and turned away. Stranded on the sandbar of bad health, bad credit, bad luck. Few friends and fewer solutions. The hours are long, and the nights are longer. Mrs. (or Mr.) Potiphar comes along with a sultry offer. She slides her room key in your direction.
Or a friend slides a bottle in your direction. A coworker offers some drugs. You can pay some personal bills with company cash or stave off bankruptcy by embezzling funds. Justifications and rationalizations pop up like weeds after a summer rain. No one would know. I won’t get caught. I’m only human.
Can we talk candidly for a moment? Egypt can be a cruddy place. No one disagrees with that. But Egypt can also be the petri dish for brainless decisions. Don’t make matters worse by doing something you’ll regret.
Joseph went on high alert. When Mrs. Potiphar dangled the bait, “he refused” (v. 8). He gave the temptress no time, no attention, no chitchat, no reason for hope. “He did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her” (v. 10). When her number appeared on his cell phone, he did not answer. When she texted a question, he didn’t respond. When she entered his office, he exited. He avoided her like the poison she was.
“[Potiphar] has committed all that he has to my hand,” he announced (v. 8). To lie with her would be to sin against his master. How rare this resolve. In a culture that uses phrases like “consenting adults” and “sexual rights,” we forget how immorality destroys the lives of people who aren’t in the bedroom.
Years ago a friend gave me this counsel: “Make a list of all the lives you would affect by your sexual immorality.” I did. Every so often I reread it. “Denalyn. My three daughters. My son-in-law. My yet-to-be-born grandchildren. Every person who has ever read one of my books or heard one of my sermons. My publishing team. Our church staff.” The list reminds me: one act of carnality is a poor exchange for a lifetime of lost legacy.
Max Lucado, You’ll Get through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013).
We have just completed a Bible study to guide through the life of Joseph. It consists of 6 lessons with ready-to-use questions suitable for groups. It can be purchased on Amazon and is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service.