Taming the Unicorn
Chapter Five – Joseph's Endurance
The Bible tells us in the Old Testament how God removed the unicorn's trouble–making for Joseph because Joseph was in covenant with Him. The unicorn is mentioned in the blessing of his tribe because he let God tame it. Joseph's offspring benefited from his faithfulness to the Lord.
Purity was one of Joseph's chief characteristics, as well as diligence and honesty. Joseph served his father with diligence and honesty beyond what his brothers were willing to render. His brothers, instead of being inspired and letting his example spur them to better service, were annoyed at how he outdid them.
Joseph's reward from his father was that Jacob gave him the double portion, as if he were the firstborn son. This also meant he would inherit the rule over his brothers. The coat that his father made him, though it is rendered in the King James as being "many–coloured" has been argued to actually mean "long–sleeved." The word also means full–length and wide; such coats were worn by tribal chieftains. No doubt, it was made of many colours because that was the fashion among the inhabitants of Canaan, whether garments had long sleeves or not. The gift of the coat demonstrated that Jacob had chosen Joseph to be his successor. Joseph's dreams confirmed it, and that infuriated his brothers even more. Their jealousy nearly led them to murder him.
Instead, he was sent off to Egypt to serve as a slave, and he did so diligently, honestly, and with purity. His master, Potipher, trusted him and gave him free reign with his household and his business, as he knew Joseph would not take inappropriate liberties. All that he kept back from Joseph was his wife.
Joseph did not need to be told his master's wife was off limits. His master knew he was not a fool. The stipulation had a two–fold purpose and both of them were rewards, depending on which one Joseph favoured. I doubt the second one would have continued to be made available to him, if he had chosen the first.
In telling Joseph that only his wife was not available to him, I surmise that Potipher gave Joseph liberty to have intimate sexual relations with any of his other servants, male or female, if he so desired. This was usually the way of chief overseers anyway. He did not avail himself of this offer, which really did not need to be mentioned, if it were not that a second offer had been made to him. Joseph's refusal of the first offer qualified him for the second option, which was that Joseph could marry Potipher's daughter when she came of age and become his master's heir. Which he eventually did, though not without difficulties.
According to end notes on the subject in The Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, Joseph's wife, Asenath, was Potipher's daughter. This was the common belief of learned Jews in ancient times and was recorded in The Testament of Joseph. By the time Joseph was released from prison, Pharaoh's Chief Executioner had received a promotion and possibly was made the High Priest of the Egyptian Mysteries, which were centred in the city of On (also known as Heliopolis). Potipher was advancing in the Mysteries' degrees, but not without a corner of reservation in his heart, evident by how he admired Joseph's righteousness and favoured him.
The closeness of the name of Joseph's master and the prince of On is not a coincidence. Just as Abram became Abraham when God elevated him, Potipher became Potiphera when he was elevated, and the name of his god was incorporated into his name similar to how God inserted part of His Name into Abraham's and Sarah's.
When considering extra-Biblical sources such as The Antiquities of the Jews, I bear in mind that time, cultural prejudices, and vagaries of human nature might distort information. I'm certain that Josephus was mistaken about some things, especially the things that do not agree with the Biblical record.
His information, however, that Asenath was Potipher's daughter makes sense. If it seems far–fetched that Potipher was willing to take a slave for a son–in–law, then consider how it was that Pharaoh took a slave (one who was also a jailbird accused of attempted rape), and made him his Grand Vizier.
God showed Joseph mercy for not giving in to the attempts of Potipher's wife to seduce him. Instead of being executed, he was only thrown in jail. I doubt that Potipher believed his wife's story, though the Bible says his wrath was kindled. His wife was likely very beautiful and probably of noble blood. After all, he was an important and wealthy man, in charge of the country's prison system, executions, and the detail that slaughtered animals for Pharaoh's table.
Basically, Joseph was the slave of the head of Pharaoh's Secret Police. It is amazing where God places His people sometimes. Potipher was used to conducting gruelling interrogations. I think he was very adept at seeing through a lie.
A lot of Christians tend to forget, when reading Bible stories, that the people who lived back then were every bit as complex as people who live nowadays. It seems that they consider the people in the Bible as rather one–dimensional individuals who never contemplated subtleties. Most Christians probably have thought that Potipher believed his wife. Come on! If he believed his wife, Joseph would have been tortured and castrated and then executed, not only for revenge, but also as a warning to other slaves to not attempt to rape their mistresses.
Potipher's wife must have had very strong feelings for Joseph. A woman who is married to the chief of the executioners would otherwise have to be really stupid to get him upset over something as serious as adultery. The Bible indicates that Potipher's wife was crafty, and maybe she was jealous that her daughter was going to marry that gorgeous, hunky, Hebrew slave. The thought of being his mother–in–law, rather than his lover, did not appeal to her, and she risked making a play for him.
In spite of his affection for Joseph, Potipher was jealous that his wife preferred Joseph to him and he wanted to punish Joseph for it, but he did so with restraint. He was also furious at his wife for embarrassing him and causing a great loss. She put him in a very awkward position. He had to give up a trusted, clever, talented steward, future son–in–law, and faithful friend, because he'd offend the aristocracy and look like a weakling if he didn't. Chief executioners could not afford to look like weaklings.
The fact that he did not torture and then execute Joseph, as would have been normal in a case of a slave being accused of rape by his mistress, is a strong indication that Potipher did not believe his wife, and it was a rebuke to her. It must have made Pharaoh's court laugh at her behind her back and smirk to her face. Satan's plan to finish Joseph off through this woman and bring his prophetic dreams to nothing failed, though it did land him in a very tough school.
Yes, Joseph was placed in an accelerated learning program, because he had an even tougher assignment ahead of him than of being a diligent slave. He was destined to be the Grand Vizier of Egypt at a young age. Living daily among cut–throats was good preparation for the smooth treachery that he would encounter in Pharaoh's court. Ambitious politicians awaited him there, ready to pounce on every opportunity to promote themselves at his expense. He needed to know how to keep that job, so he could save his family's lives and the lives of millions of others.
Joseph learned shrewdness and diplomacy from having to deal with volatile, criminal tempers. God also gave him favour with the warden, and therefore some protection against the other prisoners. There must have been a lot of hooting and hollering and blowing kisses when that handsome, young man was shoved into the prison. He had to learn to face fear head on. God was with Joseph and guarded him.
Joseph was intelligent enough that he could have figured a way to get out of his chains and break out of prison. He did not lack ambition or courage. Joseph rose to the top no matter where life placed him. The warden had turned the running of the prison over to him. He had a lot of opportunity and means to effect an escape.
Joseph spoke fluent Egyptian. Though he had light skin and red hair, he could have donned a disguise and made his way back to Canaan. People with a lot less going for them have managed to escape far trickier circumstances that involved electronic surveillance, never mind the primative conditions of Joseph's time.
But Joseph allowed God to chain his intelligence, his looks, his favour, his learning, and his yearnings, though he did not understand why God wanted him to stay put. He stayed until the word of release came, because the word of the Lord that tried him (Psalm 105:19) was, "Stay."
Joseph wanted out of that prison, but his release had to be legal because his business in Egypt was not finished.
A ray of hope for his release gleamed through the darkness when Joseph was assigned to serve Pharaoh's butler and baker, and interpreted their troubling dreams. Surely, he thought, the incident had to be significant, designed by God to secure his release. It was, but for two years, it didn't look like anything was going to come of it. Then when he probably felt like his nerves were ready to snap with waiting for God to move, Pharaoh had some disturbing dreams that none of his wise men could interpret.
Pharaoh probably inquired about Joseph while waiting for him to appear in his court, after the chief butler told him of the young Hebrew who could interpret dreams. Joseph had told the chief butler he was imprisoned under false charges. It would have been natural for Pharaoh to find out what kind of intelligence his Security Chief had to offer on this Hebrew who ran everything in the prison under the warden's authority. (The warden had Joseph drag around chains, so everyone would remember he was still in charge.)
I imagine Pharaoh was surprised and amused that this prisoner, who claimed he was falsely accused, was Potipher's own slave, and Potipher had put him in jail. No doubt, the nature of the charge titillated him.
Potipher was likely embarrassed, but by now his jealousy was appeased. I think he missed Joseph. I'm sure Asenath did. I imagine her trailing after that tall, handsome Hebrew slave when she was a little girl. I see Joseph being kind and gentle, patiently listening to her prattle and answering her questions. He would have told her about his God and the history of his people. I don't doubt that her doting Daddy noted the wistful look on his little girl's face when she was around Joseph. He knew Joseph would be a sensitive, faithful husband, protective of her and shrewd with her fortune, and a good father to Potipher's grandchildren.
Asenath must have been thrilled when her father offered her to Joseph to become his wife and Joseph consented. It is painful to think of how she felt when her mother tried to seduce him, and then cried rape. How it must have horrified her to see her father have Joseph bound and hauled off to jail. I wonder if her mother repented of her selfishness when she saw the sadness on her daughter's face, and that her little girl no longer trusted her.
I see Asenath growing up as a dignified, elegant, gracious, rich, but sadly subdued, young lady. No other man interested her. Nobody could match her Joseph and make her forget him. Not able to enter much into the joys of life, she likely concentrated on her duties, acquiring as much education as possible to better fit her for the responsibilities that she would inherit along with her father's fortune.
I think Potipher's longing to bring joy again to his daughter overcame his pride. Besides, he knew Joseph was not guilty. If he had ever had any doubts, Joseph's attitude and behaviour in jail negated them. In addition to continuing to be diligent and trustworthy, Joseph had opportunity to meet Potipher coming and going from the prison. It would be Joseph who met the new prisoners and assigned them their quarters. He would have taken instructions from Potipher how the prisoners were to be treated.
Potipher had plenty of opportunity to see that Joseph did not hold a grudge, but served him as willingly as ever. Considering how irritating kings can be in their arrogance, this attribute made Joseph a safe choice as Pharaoh's next–in–command. I think Potipher recognized the hand of God in how Joseph was brought to Pharaoh's attention, and jumped at the opportunity to release Joseph in a way that would not undermine his fearful reputation. He probably gave Pharaoh a glowing report of Joseph's character.
How Asenath's face must have shone when Joseph was brought into the court, if she was there that day. The Bible says that Joseph shaved himself and changed his clothes. I imagine that the brows of the ladies of the court arched with interest as the admired the perfect shape of his shaved skull, the firm, square chin, large, long–lashed eyes, broad shoulders, and other attributes that had engaged the lust of Potipher's wife. They exchanged sly smiles at the memory of old gossip about how that lady had failed to seduce him, smiles that said that, now they had seen him for themselves, they could not blame the lady for trying.
It was a good thing for Asenath that her Daddy was the Chief Executioner. That kept a lot of women in their place where her husband was concerned. I'm sure it also helped Joseph to be faithful to his wife to not have more temptation than he could resist.
My heart soars with joy when I visualize how Asenath drank in every detail about Joseph after not seeing him all those years; and the smile that must have curved his lips when he saw her again. God is so romantic! He writes the best love stories! God hates Lust, but the Bible is full of stupendous romances between men and women. You just need to know how to figure out the details based on the hints.
It is so cool to study this stuff and get tidbits of information from other historical sources to flesh out the stories and gain a deeper understanding. It's legit to do this. The Bible refers to other records as reliable sources, though that literature is no longer available. I.e. the Book of Jasher, the Book of Enoch, etc. I doubt that the book that nowadays is purported to have been written by Enoch really was, though some portions of it may have been borrowed from the real to lend it credibility. As far as Josephus' record goes, though, I figure that since he lived closer to the days in which Biblical events occurred, he was in a better position than modern scholars to know what happened back then.
It would be interesting to see a video of Joseph's wedding with a zoom shot of his mother–in–law's face, if she was still around. If she was, I think Joseph behaved graciously and tactfully in the situation. I like to think that the woman learned some sense and Joseph forgave her, as he did his brothers. It would be consistent with his character.
In the furnace of affliction, Joseph learned to be tethered by grace to integrity. He was ready for his new responsibilities. And Asenath, having gone through her own afflictions, was ready to be the kind of wife whom a young man with Joseph's responsibilities needed.
The names Joseph called his sons indicate that God comforted him greatly through his marriage (Genesis 41:50 – 52). The first commemorated how God had made him to forget all his heartaches and toil. The second child was the seal on how God had made him fruitful in the land of his affliction.
Moses, in blessing Joseph's tribe in Deuteronomy 33:17, said, "His horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the Earth." This means that Joseph's obedience to God in staying pure worked God's order in the Earth for His glory. God put Joseph on display and used his testimony to herd the people toward the knowledge of Himself.
As they came to buy food in Egypt, the people from other nations wondered at Joseph's success. They inquired into his background and of his God who directed and blessed him. Ultimately, some of them saw that it was the God of Joseph, El Shaddai, the God who is more than enough, who was responsible for their preservation.
Beyond Joseph's generation, the record of his life has gone forth to inspire others to a life of purity and faithfulness. The horns are said to be the ten thousands of Ephraim and the thousands of Manasseh. His offspring could walk in his blessings as long as they walked in his ways; as can anyone else who does not let the unicorn horn in on their intimacy with God and their commitment to Him. We can have the horn of the unicorn as a trophy and use it to goad others into wanting to serve God, when they see in us the victory that they can have in their lives through the Anointed Lord Yeshua.
Click below to read:
Taming the Unicorn, Chapter 6