The Majesty of God
Chapter Seventeen – Noble Joseph
At this point, it would be useful to make a greater use of imagination to try to figure out how Joseph came to forgive his brothers. It goes against human nature to forgive offenses in an instant. For most Christians, especially in our early days of walking with the Lord, we go through a process of being convinced to forgive. Joseph was only seventeen when he was sold into slavery and has been criticized for being so foolish as to tell his dreams to his brothers. Was he conceited? Was he trying to control? Did he just blurt it out in all innocence?
Most people seem to think that Joseph was spiritually immature, if the mark of maturity is the ability to do everything perfectly. My assessment of his character is that he was remarkably mature for his age, both emotionally and spiritually. There are a great many people much older than he was who would not have done nearly as well, but I think that, even as tender as Joseph was towards the Lord, and though he may have found it easier to forgive than most of us, he was not able to forgive instantly.
To explore some possibilities of how Joseph and other figures from the Bible may have dealt with their issues, imagination is useful for constructing possible scenarios of what took place in their lives to bring them to their decisions. The details I add seem plausible to me, given what I know of history and human nature and according to the framework provided in the Bible of these events.
I work hard at trying to not contradict what the Bible says happened. Though using my imagination may offend religious people who insist on sticking to the letter, I do not feel that it offends God for us to make use of His gifts of imagination and intuition to try to understand the Scriptures more deeply and consider how the lessons the former saints learned might be worked out through our own lives. This is one aspect of what it means to meditate on the Word. Sticking strictly to the letter is fruitful only to the memory, but meditating on the Word with one's imagination is fruitful both to the memory and to the heart.
I make no claim that the details I add to the stories are the way things really happened. I offer them only as possibilties that are more logical than many of the imaginative renderings of Bible stories that I have read, for I am annoyed by what I consider a shallow understanding of some writers concerning Bible characters and additions to the story that contradict the Bible; they did not pay close enough attention to little details in its record.
I am amazed by faulty conclusions about various figures from the Bible by pastors in the pulpit who think they have dug really deep and come up with brilliant revelations about these men and women. Sometimes I think they are really onto something, and it is tremendously refreshing, but frequently I have thought, "Well, that's just dumb! They weren't like that! What about this that happened and that thing that happened later, and what they said over in this place, and don't you know anything about history?" I have worked hard to not elicit that kind of response in the things I write, by trying to take into consideration every detail that the Bible actually does give us.
We can conclude from what the Bible tells us that Joseph was led away to Egypt with an aching heart. No doubt, his mind reviewed his history, trying to make sense of how he came to be hated by his brothers and sent off to be a slave. He was born into privilege, the son of a man who was the grandson of a great chieftain. His father was the heir to the larger share of his father's goods, as well as his position as the head of the tribe. That his father served as a shepherd for his wives was no disgrace; good men worked hard for what they wanted and to support their families. When he came into his place, though Uncle Esau was a ferocious, old brute, he did not go to war with Jacob because he had been elevated above him by their father, who was still alive.
Joseph's mother Rachel was a beauty, the daughter of a chieftain also. Their lives were complicated by Grandfather Laban's greed wherein he imposed Aunt Leah on Father, but Joseph loved his aunt and cousins (who were also his half–brothers and half–sister), as well as the sons of his father's concubines. He grew up in a big family, but he did not have to compete for attention from his parents. Of all the children, he was the one whom they doted on. Dinah got more attention and affection from them than the other children, since she was the only daughter, but Joseph still got the lion's share.
Rachel was ecstastic that she finally had a child of her own and Jacob was relieved, for his soul had suffered much anguish over his darling's unhappiness. The child was so beautiful, just like the mother, and he had his brother Esau's red hair. He wasn't hairy all over, though, and his thick hair was shiny rather than coarse like his uncle's. His skin was smooth like his father's, his eyes large and heavily lashed, his features fine and formed like Rachel's, and those eyes were so bright. Even as a newborn, intelligence shone forth and more evidence of it was seen day by day.
Joseph was a quiet child, observant and analytical. He took in information from all around him and pondered it. He grew up secure in the copious affection of his beautiful mother, as well as from his father's frequent embraces and praises. He spent a lot of time with his father, sitting at his side or trotting after him, and Dad talked to him a lot, teaching him about God and explaining all sorts of things to him.
Joseph eventually realized that his brothers' surliness towards him stemmed from jealousy that they did not receive as much attention from their father as he did. Their resentment was exhibited mostly through evil looks and nasty remarks, like blasts of cold air, for they knew better (until now) than to rough him up too much. Rachel would have leapt on them like a lionness and Dad would have been very stern with them, but Mother was dead now, and Dad was unaware of what was happening to him.
After Mother's death, he and Dad became much closer than before. Jacob took comfort in seeing Rachel's beautiful face reflected in Joseph's, not only in his features, but also in his expressions. For the most part, in spite of his brother's grudging tolerance, Joseph had a happy life. He grew up playing with Dinah, who was close to him in age. She seemed to think it natural that Dad paid more attention to him. He was being trained to lead the tribe. Joseph always displayed more interest in God than the other boys, and that was the main thing that Jacob looked for in a successor, as well as courage, honesty, fairness, and administrative ability.
Dinah's abduction was a blow to Joseph. He loved his sister and was grieved that she had been abducted and raped. He had worried about his brothers agreeing to her marriage to Shechem. It was expected prior to this, when Dinah married, her husband would live with their tribe, so that they could ensure that he treated her right. Normally, this was the custom, which was why Father had been content to live so long with Laban. Mother and Auntie Leah had felt confident about leaving their tribe to follow him back to Canaan because he earned their trust during those years.
This custom stemmed from God's command that a man was to leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife. God did not command wives to leave their family to follow their husband, as He knew that, due to fallen human nature, men were more tempted to mistreat their wives when they did not have her parents and brothers to answer to. An exception was made for Grandpa Isaac, though. If he had travelled to Haran to take a wife, he might have gotten sidetracked. He was a man of God, but the weaknesses in his sentimental character made him vulnerable to being persuaded to stay there, and that would have defeated God's plan for his life and the destiny of his tribe.
The custom was also why Rebekah's family left it to her to decide if she would leave them, rather than pressure her to not pass up the opportunity to marry a wealthy chief. It was a very bold, brave thing for Grandmother Rebekah to leave her family and travel to a foreign country to marry a man she had never met. But as God knew, Grandma was hungry to know the true God. She pondered the things she was told about Abraham and Sarah, and wondered about the God whom they loved and trusted so much that they would leave the home they grew up in, and then leave their whole family (with the exception of Sarah's brother Lot), to go to a foreign country where they would live as nomads in tents.
Rebekah's thirsting heart was dry tinder that caught fire quickly when Isaac taught her about God and what he knew of God's ways, and warmed still more when she met her famous father–in–law and he expounded things to her more perfectly. Jacob's passion for God was ignited by his mother's, and now it burned in Joseph's heart, too.
In spite of his grief over Dinah's abduction and rape, Joseph was appalled when he learned that his brothers lied to Shechem and his father, intending all along to slaughter every man in the city. It was not honourable to lie. His father had cautioned him against it, citing the trouble he got himself into through lying because he had not trusted God to work things out in His own time and in His own way.
Dad also told him about the disgrace Greatgrandpa Abraham and Grandfather Isaac and their wives had brought on themselves by lying. Dad seemed to have learned his lesson. Mother was as beautiful as Sarah and Rebekah. Dad would not have been able to get away with claiming she was his sister, considering the wide difference in their ages, but he never asked Mother to pretend she wasn't his wife, though his natural inclinations were to be cautious and sneaky rather than bold.
Joseph took very much to heart what his father taught him about being honest and his honesty got him into trouble with his brothers. When the sons of the concubines cheated their father, they were furious that he reported them for it. It had been quite a moral dilemma for him. He knew what his father expected, but these young men did not like him as it was, and he knew they would be angrier with him than ever if he told on them. And he really did not want them to get into trouble. But if he said nothing about their stealing, then it would be like he had participated in it, as well. This looked like a situation where one had to do what was right and trust God with the results.
He got himself into more trouble when he told them of his dreams. He had not intended to boast. He'd had these awesome dreams and he was really excited about them. Because he would not have been jealous, but rather very glad for his brothers if God spoke to them about great things in store for them, he did not stop to think about what their reaction might be.
It was startling to see the fires of hatred that burned in their eyes when he told them about his first dream, but Dad was intrigued. His excitement over the second one made him forget all about his brothers' reaction the first time and he rashly plunged into telling them about that one, too. But maybe, now that he thought about it, lingering in his heart was a sense of woundedness due to their rejection that prompted him to send out a subtle warning that they should be nice to him because, some day, he would have authority over them. He did not mean it as a threat, but to spare them the shame they would feel in the future when they saw that God indeed placed him over them, and inspiring awe in them at the current time would make his life easier.
As Joseph trudged on through the desert beneath the burning sun, he thought of how Dad, though he was fine with the first dream, did not take too well to the telling of that second dream. Jacob's reaction was an unexpected blow that sent him reeling. "What?! Shall your mother and I bow down to you, too?!" Joseph had cringed and thought defensively, "Well, that's what God told me!" Dad had never been mad at him before. Jacob forgave him quickly, though, so Joseph had not given it much thought. Joseph had dismissed his brothers' reactions as being carnal; it was evidence that they did not have as much desire for the things of God as he did, seeing as they could not accept God's will in all things.
Like the harsh sun boring down on him from overhead, realization now burned into Joseph's heart that he had expected too much of his brothers. If he indeed had a heart for the things of God, then he must be rigorously honest with himself about what was in his heart, and examine it to see if he had not provoked his brothers in some way as to produce such a reaction from them that they would want him dead.
He admitted that it was pretty easy to accept God's will when God's will entailed him being set up as a ruler over all his brethren, and even over his parents. Was that meant to mean only in Paradise, though? His mother was dead; perhaps he had misinterpreted the dream. No, Aunt Leah qualified as a mother. She had always been kind to him, and more so after Rachel died, even if she was not as close to him as she was to her own sons. As Jacob's first wife, she most definitely was qualified to be represented in his dream as the moon.
Aunt Leah was not happy with his dream, either. Even after just the first one, she shot him some resentful looks and spoke curtly to him, though she did not say anything about the dream directly. He considered her point of view. No, a mother would not like to think of her sons being required to bow down to their younger brother, the son of her rival for her husband's affections.
He now considered how his brothers felt about bowing down to a younger brother. He had not related to them before. He had only one younger brother, and he loved Benjamin so much that it made him ache with a sweet joy. Benjamin was so cute, always saying and doing funny things, and he had those big eyes and round cheeks. Sometimes it made Joseph laugh just to look at him, even when Ben wasn't doing or saying anything. He was a precious gift that his mother left them in her passing, all that Joseph had of her now. He always tried to be kind to Ben because he knew that his mother would want him to look after him especially well, since she could not be there to raise him.
Just the idea of not seeing Benjamin any more brought tears to Joseph's eyes. Embarrassed, he angrily brushed them away. He would not appear as a weakling to these Ishmaelites. It was bad enough that he bawled like a calf in front of them and the Midianites when he pleaded with his brothers to rescue him. Besides that, God gave him those dreams where all his brothers bowed before him. There were eleven brothers in the dreams. He would return to his family some day, and Benjamin would be there.
But how long would that take? He might miss out on Benjamin's whole childhood. And who would protect Benjamin from his brothers? Father doted on Benjamin and that was bound to make them jealous. He would dote on him all the more, now that Joseph was gone. The older ones would not dare to do anything to Benjamin in front of their Dad or Aunt Leah, but look at what they had managed to do to him when his parents weren't around.
Until now, Benjamin was too young to be worth their notice. It made Joseph's heart ache to think of Benjamin becoming a target for their malice. He remembered how he was pinched and roughly handled in private when he was a little boy, and how they growled insults at him, too soft for anyone but Joseph to hear. He learned quickly to not tattle. When confronted by their father, they said he was lying and sneered to Joseph later that he was a sissy and a rat. Their contempt was like acid. He became determined to show them that he was a man and did not need to run to his father when they were mean to him.
It looked like trying to handle things on his own had not worked out too well. He did not know what story they were going to tell his father, but it was likely that he would believe them. Jacob had only the vaguest idea of how bad things were between him and his brothers because Joseph did not tell anyone of the daily verbal jabs and rough handling when none of the servants were around. If Jacob had known how deeply they resented Joseph, he would not have put Joseph's life in danger by giving him the chieftain's coat at such a young age.
Joseph thought on that coat. It was made of many colours, as was usual among the tribes that lived in Canaan, lovngly woven by his father's own hands. It had long sleeves, though, that set it apart from other garments. Only chiefs and principal heirs wore such long sleeves because their privilege was to give orders rather than do manual work. Dad was old and finally starting to feel his age, though he had astonishing good health for a man of his years. He wanted the servants to realize that Joseph was going to be their master and for his brothers to get used to the idea, too.
Joseph did not feel that he would personally have a problem accepting it, if God said that Benjamin was going to rule the tribe, but maybe that was because he loved Benjamin so much. What if he had hated him, though? As his brothers hated him because Father gave him more attention and affection than what they had received?
Trying not to hate them, he set himself to try to see the situation from their point of view. He had to do something to get rid of the fires of resentment that burned in his heart; it felt uncomfortable and contaminating. He could not live with this fury and self-pity, and let it drag him down into bitterness, turning him into a withered husk of a man, instead of one who maintained a vital connection to God, who was his very life.
He thought back to how Father was tricked into marrying Leah. Father said he deserved that because of how he tricked his father, but he had not always felt that way. At first, he deeply resented Grandpa Laban's deception. Joseph pondered how that might have manifested itself. He knew of his mother's and his aunt's rivalry, and how they forced their maidservants on father to give them children. He supposed that Father had not always been as considerate of Aunt Leah as he was now, that he had resented her for going along with her father's deception. He thought of how betrayed Father must have felt when he woke up the next morning and saw that the woman he whispered endearments to the night before was not his beloved Rachel.
Joseph allowed that Aunt Leah must have had a hard time from Father in her younger days. Dad was a quiet man, but he had a strong personality, and he no doubt made his displeasure known to her, though he would not have beaten her or used abusive language or deprived her of any material thing that was her due. Even without her family looking on to ensure her well–being, Dad had a sense of honour that would have forbidden that, but he could let people feel it when he was offended.
One of the ways he probably let Leah know of his displeasure was by not paying much attention to her children. Joseph gathered that his father had grown up in a home where his father favoured his older brother while his mother favoured him. He guessed it must have hurt his Uncle Esau a lot that their mother largely ignored him, except to be critical of him, and it probably contributed towards Uncle Esau's wrath, in addition to how Dad had tricked him out of his birthright and blessing. Dad sure was afraid of him when they returned to Canaan, in spite of seeing guardian angels on the way there, and he never did take Uncle Esau up on his invitation to join him in Mount Seir.
Dad learned some important lessons and changed a lot over the years, but he had not yet learned from his parents' mistakes to not favour any of his children over their siblings. It had seemed okay to him withhold affection from Leah's sons, a legitimate way to let Leah know that giving him children did not make up for having deceived him. Some types of personalities just seem to get along with each other well, but Dad was particular, not affectionate to one and all, but only those whom he chose to dote on. Dad was still going with the current of his natural temperament, rather than considering how to be fair to them all and putting more effort into bonding with the rest of his kids.
Dad eventually forgave Aunt Leah for tricking him into marrying her, but he was not over the habit of treating his older sons like servants. He showed more interest in Dinah because she was a girl, and she had been a really cute, little girl. He had been proud to have a beautiful daughter. That business with Shechem dampened his joy. Beautiful women sure did attract trouble; men tended to fight over them. It was a good thing that they got her back, even in spite of the horrible lengths that his brothers went to in order to retrieve her and avenge her disgrace.
Dinah was not the same girl, though. Before she was so carefree, the darling princess of the tribe, but now she was quiet and gloomy. It made no difference to Joseph that she was no longer a virgin. As far as he was concerned, it did not diminish her value at all; she did consent to Shechem, but the servants and warriors looked on her as damaged goods. Even in spite of her beauty and wealth, most men were not interested in marrying her because they did not want to be known as a man who was married to a woman that some other man got to before him, nor risk being caught up in retribution for what Dinah's brothers did to the Hivites.
It did not seem like Dinah was interested in being married anyway. What a shame it would be if she never married anyone she was in love with, who felt the same way about her, and did not get to be a mother. Who would be her buddy now, a companion to her in her loneliness? Nobody had been closer to her than he was, the playmate of her childhood. Well, she had her mother and Benjamin, but he sure missed her and he supposed that Dinah would miss him, too.
The caravan finally halted for a rest and Joseph was allowed to sit in some shade and receive a drink of water. The Ishmaelites smiled in satisfaction and talked about the high price he was likely to fetch for them in Egypt. Some made coarse jokes about what a pretty boy he was and how he might find a loving master. Feeling sympathy for the boy, who was obviously a prince, one of the other traders told them to shut up. Joseph sat in shock at the possibility that such a fate might be in store for him.
Such things were never done in his tribe. They would be severely punished, if they were, but he knew that the idolatrous tribes around them did such things, even after seeing what happened to Sodom and Gommorah because of it, though homosexuality was not as rampant as before. He shivered and tried to push it from his mind after praying that God would keep him from being defiled, but it made it harder to forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery. Surely they must have known that they were putting him at risk of being raped. How could they hate him so much?
Valiantly, Joseph again set himself to try to see things from each brother's perspective, so that he would not be devoured by hatred, but it was like a dream where one is trying to run through mud and can't seem to make much progress. The challenge was bigger, now that he considered more of the implications of being sold into slavery to pagans who did not have as high standards as his father in regards to how slaves should be treated, but he ploughed on.
For the first time, he thought of how his father's concubines felt about being handed over to his father to share his couch. They had been young women and Father had been a very old man. The marriages gave them more prestige and luxuries than what they would have otherwise achieved for themselves, but Bilhah was not satisfied.
She wanted to be loved, to have a man in love with her and to be in love with him, which is what most women want. She wanted this man to be young and good–looking. Joseph couldn't fault her for that, either. He imagined that most people found love–making more enjoyable when it was with someone who was pleasing to the eyes. Reuben was a sentimental type of person and he felt sorry for her, and but his sympathy went too far, and she should have considered all the trouble it would make in their family. If she was going to give in to illicit passions, it would have been better had she done so with a man who was not her husband's son!
Bilhah's sons were shamed by their mother's disgraceful behavior, and reminded of it daily, as her tent was moved apart from the rest and she was ostracized by the tribe. Perhaps it was because she had committed adultery with her husband's son that she was not stoned to death, for it would have been unjust of Jacob to put her death and let her lover, Reuben, live. He probably also let her live out of consideration for Dan and Naphtali's feelings, but he did not take her to his couch anymore, and she was now merely a servant.
Already the lowest in the brothers' heirarchy, Bilhah's scandal made them sink to a yet lower level. Now they were not just the sons of the second concubine, but the sons of the unfaithful concubine. As Joseph pondered their situation, he finally came to see that the concubines' sons should have a place in his father's heart that was equal to his other sons, even if by law one son was entitled to be the chief heir. All sons and daughters need their father to love them a lot.
It was not their fault that their mothers were servants, and they needed their father's affection as much as any of his other sons. Then he considered how, if they had all been the children of one mother, it still would have been difficult for their father to equally give all his children all the attention they needed. There simply were not enough hours in the day, even if he did not have other duties to attend to.
Yes, he and Dinah and Benjamin had gotten most of Jacob's fatherly affection and attention. The rest were well clothed, housed, and educated, as befitting the sons of a chief, and they were being trained for management positions in the tribe, but Jacob spoke to them in commands. He did not confide in them, as with Joseph, nor spend as much time explaining the reasons why he did things certain ways. Joseph realized that he would feel hurt, too, if his father had treated him like he treated his brothers, but at the same time, he allowed that Jacob was only human. He had shortcomings like everybody else, and was possibly doing the best he knew.
By the time they reached Egypt, Joseph accepted that he was partly responsible for what had happened to him. It did not excuse what his brothers did, but he now had better control of his anger and was not so depressed. He decided that he would make the best of the situation. If he had to be a slave, then he would be the best slave that he could be. God was permitting this situation, after all. He trusted that it would not be permanent. Since he was going to be a leader some day, he would use this experience to learn all he could that would be useful for him to know as a leader. Yes, he would be the kind of servant that he, as a ruler, would like to have.
It was alarming, though, when he was stripped naked and put on display in the marketplace like livestock; shaming and humiliating, as well as frightening. He could not understand the people's language, but he had some idea from the lewd stares, gestures at his body, and sighs of delight what their comments meant. He tried to preserve some modesty with his hands while desperately praying to God for mercy, and he tried to not think about how God had let his sister be raped. Would God let that happen to him as punishment for his pride, as Dinah was punished for her vanity and curiosity?
No, no. He must not think like that. God never intended for that to happen to Dinah, nor did He approve of it. He is a loving Father, infinitely more loving than Jacob, his earthly father, who was very loving. Jacob would never loose a rapist on one of his children. In his tribe, even slave girls were compensated, if anyone forced them against their will. Jacob most certainly would never loose a sodomite on any of his servants, or even on an enemy. How much less would God do such a thing? He did not know why God had let Dinah get raped, but he sure hoped that He would not let it happen to him.
There seemed to be a lot of interest in his hair. People pointed and stared at it. Some muttered about it, some seem enraptured by it. Joseph could understand an attraction to his hair, as it was an unsual colour to the Egyptians, but he did not know why it made people suspicious of him. He learned later that the Egyptians considered red to be a powerful colour and that they thought he had a high level of magic in him. Some wanted magic; others were afraid that, if they bought him, he would use his magic against them.
Those who considered themselves adept in magic, and felt they could maintain the upper hand over a red–headed slave, had lewd ideas about how to tap into Joseph's magic. They looked at him with wide smiles and gleaming eyes, both men and women. Joseph could not stop himself from quivering with fear, and that shamed him, too. Most of the other slaves seemed able to take it into stride that sexual liberties might be taken with them by their masters, but Joseph's upbringing had not prepared him for such a horror.
Just as he thought he was going to have a mental breakdown, a chariot stopped in the marketplace and the crowd around the exhibition platform opened to make way for the escort of soldiers who formed two lines to admit a nobleman who, obviously, was very important. Everyone backed away from him in fear and then they dropped to the ground in obeisance. Someone cuffed Joseph on the head and growled at him to bow, so he fell to his knees on the block and lowered his head. Joseph wondered who this tall, spare, severe–looking nobleman was that everyone was so afraid of him.
The man stopped in front of Joseph and tossed a curious look at the trader in charge. The trader eagerly jumped to his feet and rhapsodized about Joseph's attributes. He pulled Joseph to his feet. Joseph tried to keep his face expressionless as the trader turned him this way and that, squeezing the muscles in his arm, prying his mouth open to show the man a set of perfect teeth.
The man observed the young slave who was superior goods even at a glance. He saw that the boy was confused and humiliated. This was obviously an entirely new experience for him. From the top of his burnished, ruddy hair to the tips of his well–shaped toes, this boy was an object of beauty, but what interested him the most was the keen intelligence that shone from his large, dark eyes.
Potipher was not a man who was attracted to boys, though, like most wealthy men who could afford to buy the prettiest faces and bodies, he had tried them out a few times. For that matter, he wasn't even all that attracted to women, though he had a very beautiful wife. It was only fitting that a man in his position should have a beautiful noblewoman for a wife, but he had many government duties to attend to, and his interests were more cerebral, rather than sensual in nature.
It suited Pharaoh well that Potipher was almost a eunuch by nature, if not by castration. Not all government officials were eunuchs, though they were given that title because of the duties they performed, and Potipher was one of the exceptions.
The idea behind having eunuchs as servants was that they were likely to give their time and attention to their duties, without the distraction of wives and children, but the loss of genitals did not entirely eliminate an interest in sex. Even when the interest in sex was not there, many eunuchs learned to be skilled at delivering sexual gratification to both sexes because of the advantages they could gain from those whom they pleasured. And some had the capacity to fall in love with a woman, or a man, even if they could not fully engage in intercourse because even their penis was often removed, which also made urination awkward. As a slave, Joseph faced this risk.
The only thing a man could be fairly certain of in using eunuchs to guard his harem was that his wives' children were his own, but sometimes even a man who was castrated could father a child, if the job was done poorly. In his position as an interrogator, Potipher had heard many interesting things that went on behind the guarded doors of harems between the women and the eunuchs, as well as between the women among themselves.
Potipher did not collect beautiful concubines like other wealthy men did. They not only did so for variety, but also so that they could gloat that the beauties in their harem were not available to other men. It made them feel powerful. He did not need a stable of concubines in order to feel powerful. His position in the government made him the most feared man in Egypt, and not needing sex as much as other men frightened people even more, for it made him quite a lot less vulnerable to manipulation. At least, it made him less vulnerable to sexual manipulation, and that was what catamites and most women used to bring men under their control.
Potipher also considered harems to be a nuisance. It contributed to contention in the home. He had a great deal of conflict to deal with every day in his job, so he liked his home to be a haven of peace and rest. And besides, when he wanted to relax, it was usually with something to read. He also liked it that he saved a lot of money by not having a harem. It was an unnecessary expense. Not that he was stinting with his wife; keeping her looking like a goddess added to his consequence, and it was a matter of pride with him to be high class in every way. His home was furnished with the finest things available.
This slave on the block certainly looked like he would be a worthy ornament for his home. He could see the hunger in the eyes of the bidders around him. It would demonstrate his power for him to buy this youth; nobody would dare bid against him, and he would be the one who walked away with this prize. But the boy had to be good for more than just standing around looking pretty.
He liked how the boy did not seem to be intimidated by him. His manner was not impudent. It was merely curious. In spite of his obvious discomfort with being nude, he had the easy grace of one who had privileges of birth. Who was his father? What was his story? How did he come to be sold as a slave? He did not seem like a criminal. As the Grand Vizier of Egypt, which meant he was also the Chief Executioner and in charge of the prison system of the whole country, Potipher had developed very good instincts about people. This young man could possibly be trained as a manager of his estates. He likely had an upbringing that would help him gracefully fit into a noble home. He nodded his head and walked away, leaving it up to his steward to settle on a price for the slave.
The price was settled, the transaction made, and a kilt was thrown at Joseph to wrap around himself. He did so with relief, but he wondered who this man was who had bought him, and what he might expect from him. He asked the trader who the man was. The trader laughed and said, "He is the Grand Vizier, the Chief Executioner!" Joseph's face showed his alarm. One of his former captors took pity on him and said, "Don't worry, boy. As long as you keep your nose clean, you have nothing to fear. He is not an unreasonable man, though he is deadly to those who oppose him."
It was a good while before Joseph saw his master again. He was set to work in the fields. It put more muscle on his body to do that kind of work. He was adequately fed, so he felt strong and healthy, but his agile mind yearned for some exercise. He amused himself by finding ways to do his work more efficiently. This was observed by the taskmaster, who was surprised to see a slave who wished to be productive, rather than using their intelligence to figure out how to avoid work.
He soon ordered the other slaves to use the same methods as Joseph and he set Joseph over some of the slaves to get them to increase their quota. Joseph, having gained insight into better management by how his brothers had reacted to him, realized that there is a right way and a wrong way to speak to people. He did not bully or whine or plead for cooperation. He was learning the language fast and making friends, and he found positive ways to motivate his co–workers into being more productive. Instead of talking about his dreams, he helped them form dreams that they could attain through better work.
The steward was pleased at how the fields were more productive and he tracked down the cause. It was that new slave. He brought Joseph in from the fields. Now that the boy was making such rapid progress in learning Egyptian, he was able to find out more about him. He discovered that Joseph was educated, and his amazing skill in mathematics was particularly useful. The steward made him one of his clerks; Joseph now had the opportunity to learn the Egyptians' writing, as well.
The steward soon learned that Joseph had many good ideas for increasing efficiency, especially since he started out from the lowest position and knew the intricacies of the work. He had a knack for getting the most out of the other slaves because of his sincere empathy with their situation. He had taken his father's servants pretty much for granted, but being a slave himself radically changed his perspective.
Potipher noticed that the red–haired slave had been moved into the house, as he expected. He would have made him a house slave right away, given his appearance, but he rightly perceived that some heavy physical work would be a useful experience and make him more appreciative of working in the house. Overseers are more efficient and more respected when they have actually done the work that they expect others to do. Potipher was a busy man, but this slave interested him, and he received regular reports from his servants about the Hebrew.
The steward worried about Potipher's inquiries about Joseph's progress. He suspected that he was working himself out of a job, but he had no choice other than to give the slave the most excellent training that he was capable of. The steward wondered about what position he would occupy when Joseph took over. His master always shrewdly questioned him about the accounts, as if he suspected that he might steal, if he did not keep a close watch on him. And, yes, he would, if he could get away with it.
He did not make it easy for Joseph to take over his job. He was the most exacting that he could be. It did not matter, though. Whatever he taught Joseph, Joseph eagerly soaked it up like a sponge and soon performed each task with a perfection that he had not seen equalled by any other, thus winning the steward's grudging admiration. If he was going to be replaced, it was better to be replaced by someone who was really top notch, but he would give this Joseph a run for his money. He would have to maintain a very high level of performance in order to get his position.
Joseph managed to do that very well. He did not seek the steward's position. He just aimed to do his very best at every task that was set before him. He found it fun to compete with himself, continually trying to improve, but he knew when it was a waste of time to try to seek further improvement in one task to the detriment of other tasks.
The only complaint Potipher received about his new slave seemed to be connected to the young man's religion. It was very different from anything the Egyptians were used to. He had no images whatsoever, and he did not bow to anyone else's gods. He usually did not make an issue of it, though. He used his intelligence to avoid confrontations, making excuses to be elsewhere when ceremonies were in progress. He was such an excellent worker that Potipher told his servants to let Joseph follow his own religion. From what he could tell, it was the boy's religion that motivated him to be such an excellent servant.
As Potipher continued to watch him, he saw that his little daughter Asenath adored the Hebrew. She followed him around at every opportunity, prattling away constantly in his ear. He had never seen her so talkative with anyone except himself. Joseph seemed to have endless patience and tact with her. Potipher wondered if this was merely because other people were around. He listened in on them when Asenath was alone with Joseph, and found that Joseph was still just as friendly. Indeed, he seemed to genuinely enjoy her company. He overheard Joseph telling her about his little brother, and Asenath asking questions about him. From this, he gathered that Joseph loved his little brother dearly and was kind to him. Asenath was probably a substitute for the little brother that he desperately missed, but he really seemed to like children for their own sake; he was patient with the slave children, too.
This now gave rise to other thoughts in Potipher's mind. He wanted the best for his daughter and his grandchildren. Among all his people, were there any who would be a better husband for his daughter than this Hebrew? The nobles in Pharaoh's court, both native Egyptian and foreign, tended to be spoiled and selfish. This man was high born among his own people, even if his nobility was not of the Egyptian strain. He declined to tell anyone who his father was, but his manners indicated that he was of noble birth. Giving orders to servants who were under him was neither difficult for him, nor did it go to his head. He had obviously given orders before.
His noble character was even more impressive. Not once was it reported to Potipher that Joseph ever took advantage of his promotions to force himself on any of the maids, nor had he acceded to any of the numerous offers that came his way. Potipher thought, at first, that he would not have minded; it would have improved the stock. Some of the servants had supposed that Joseph had no interest in women, as is sometimes the case with pretty boys, but Joseph refused all offers from males, too. In fact, those offers seemed to sicken him. The men who had propositioned him had lamented the fact that Joseph was not at all interested, and there was nothing they could do about it, for it was obvious that the master was protecting him.
Yes, having seen how much Asenath looked up to Joseph, it suited Potipher very well that Joseph was not promiscuous or perverted. He supposed that, because of his position, whoever married Asenath would treat her decently as long as he was alive and in power, but what would become of her after his death? She was his only child; she had no brothers to protect her. He wanted to marry her to a good, gentle, and generous husband who would be faithful to her, and one who would be an affectionate and attentive father to his grandchildren. He also needed a man who could manage Asenath's inheritance, one who would be prudent with it. Joseph's health, intelligence, and beauty might also be passed on to Potipher's descendents and it would certainly please his daughter to have all those attributes in a husband.
With this in mind, he did not interfere when Joseph talked to Asenath about his god. He knew Joseph talked about his religion to her because Asenath prattled to him about it, telling him Joseph says this and Joseph says that. He did not contradict her. If she was going to be his wife, it was fitting that she follow the religion of her husband. Besides, though he played along with the religion of his people, Potipher was too intelligent and too educated to take it seriously, regardless of participating in secret rituals that helped him acquire psychic power that he needed for controlling others. He went along with public demonstrations to acquire promotions and maintain his positions, and it was useful for manipulating the populace. If Joseph was so naive as to believe in a god, it did no harm in his case. His beliefs contributed much towards him having many desirable character traits.
Potipher was not totally sure about Joseph, though. Perhaps he was in love with one of the servants and wished to marry her. The fact that he did not show any particular interest in one was beside the point. He was a very private person; he refused to speak of his family, except that he had a younger brother. He was also very shrewd. If he loved one of the servant girls, he would not speak of it to anyone, as in his vulnerable position as a slave, the girl was likely to be harassed, if someone wanted to trouble him. It was time for an interview.
Joseph was summoned to Potipher's presence. Potipher spoke to him about his duties and stated his observations of how Joseph performed his duties. He told him that he was now setting him in charge of all his estates. Joseph was overwhelmed. He thought that he would be put in charge of the house while the steward was freed to go on to other duties, but to be put in charge of all the estates? He dared not ask what was to become of the steward; that was none of his business. He simply thanked his master for his confidence in him and promised that he would take very good care of his property.
Potipher replied that he was sure he would. He said that he would be moved that day to new quarters, befitting his station. He added, "And you have the freedom of my house, Joseph. If you wish to marry, you may marry any of the servants, or if you wish to merely dally, that is open to you, as well." Joseph bashfully replied that he did not wish to marry any of the slaves. Potipher concealed his relief, masking it with an amused smile as he joked, "So, you prefer to dally and keep your options open?" Joseph blushed a deeper red and said, "No, master. My God forbids fornication." Potipher laughed and rose from his chair as he said, "Well, when you decide to marry, you are free to marry anyone in my house, except for my own wife, of course." "And your daughter," Joseph added. Still smiling, Potipher replied, "I did not say that you may not marry my daughter." He looked out of a window at Asenath playing outside in the courtyard and then looked back at Joseph before exiting the room.
Joseph stood there with his mouth open at the stunning realization that his master had just offered to make him his heir. He was intelligent enough to know that if he ever dallied with the other servants, this option would no longer be open to him. He knew that his master doted on his daughter, that he loved her above any other person in the world. He had caught glimpses of Potipher from time to time when Asenath was chattering away to him in storerooms and thought that he was just making sure that she was safe. Now he realized that Potipher had been watching him to see how he interacted with her.
Marry Asenath? She was just a little girl; he had never thought of such a thing! She was such a sweet, little soul, though. Living in such close proximity to her, he could exert a lot of influence that would help preserve her sweetness, counter–balancing the influence of her vain and selfish mother. By the time she was old enough for him to marry her, Asenath could be a wonderful choice as a wife.
Asenath had some of her mother's beauty, but also her father's strong features. She was not likely to turn out to have the kind of face that wars are fought over, but he supposed she would be pleasing enough. Besides that, having to rescue one's wife from abductions could be a pain. His family had experienced quite a bit of this already with Sarah, Rebekah, and Dinah. Close companionship with a loyal wife would be very satisfying. He knew from her conversation that Asenath was an extremely intelligent, little girl, and she was sensitive. She would be the kind of wife who he could confide in about a lot of things, and then he would not be so lonely anymore.
It sure did not hurt that she was an heiress either. Marrying her not only offered a legitimate way to escape slavery, but it would also make him very wealthy and powerful. Yes, he could see how God was going to bring to pass his dreams! It was so logical. How his power and authority in Egypt would ever influence his own family in Canaan, he did not know, but God would work that out in His own way and in His own time. Wow! It really did pay off for him to be faithful to God, even in this foreign place. Who would have thought that he would ever own this mansion some day?
Joseph dove into his new duties with a zeal that was enhanced by the realization that Potipher's estates would eventually be his own property. The difficulties he experienced before in resisting the flirtation of the servant girls dropped away. So what if it was another ten years before he married? When he married, he would no longer be a slave.
Temptation came in a much more deadly form, though. Prior to his promotion, Potipher's wife did not deign to notice him. He was too lowly of a slave, regardless of his beauty. Well, she had noticed him, but she pretended that he was nothing more than a piece of furniture because it was beneath her dignity to make advances on such a low–ranking slave. That was just fine with him. He didn't need the headache of having to fend off his master's wife. But when he was promoted to steward and she saw how well he handled everything, the peril of her ignited passion came along with the pearl of Potipher's implied promise.
Not that his wife was aware, at first, of Potipher's plans. She just assumed that Joseph was promoted because of his ability for business. Normally, she would not have risked her life to commit adultery. She was, after all, married to the Chief Executioner. If he wanted to take fatal revenge, he certainly had the means to do it, and in spite of her family connections. He might not do it openly, but who would have the boldness to challenge him about their suspicions, if he had someone poison her?
She did not flatter herself that her husband loved her. He married her for her connections and because she was ornamental. He treated her with courtesy, as was expected, but it was superficial. Nothing more was expected of the upper class, but some wives received genuine affection from their husbands, at least in the first few years before their husbands got bored with them.
Potipher had always been bored with her. She was an intelligent woman, but her interests centred mostly on herself. He was a highly intellectual type of man and very driven to accomplish much. He didn't have much time for his wife. He really did not listen to her, considering her chatter trivial, though he made the right noises to give the impression he was listening. She was not fooled, but she didn't really care about that, as long as he gave her the expensive things she asked for.
On his part, Potipher was content with his relationship with his wife. He spoke only of household or family matters and social engagements; he never confided anything important to her and he was not one to pass on gossip, though he shrewdly investigated it. He correctly assessed that his wife's comments on matters of state were likely to be inane, and he did not want her to try to influence him in decisions in his work, to fancy that she was "the power behind the throne." Such pretensions would be irritating.
Lady Potipher found it frustrating that he visited her chamber seldom. At first, she did not mind, for she did not find him attractive. In time, though, since she dared not take any lovers, even Potipher would have been welcome. She did not know of any lovers that he had; he did not collect concubines. He simply was so preoccupied with dreaming up strategies that would consolidate the power of the kingdom and ensure his place in it, that he did not think much about sex. When he did fancy it, though, he liked that he had a beautiful wife to take care of his needs. He did a good enough job of making love to her, but he really did not think about her sexual needs at other times. She supposed that he figured that by doling out his bedroom visits, she would not take him for granted.
Lady Potipher very much resented his insensitivity to her, but until now, she never dared to have an affair. She really did not have much opportunity either. Men tended to steer clear of her for fear of her husband, and there had not been any servants in the house of high enough rank and dazzling enough attractions to interest her before now.
How could she not take an interest in Joseph? He was absolutely gorgeous! And he was her property. It amused her to think of how he was obliged to serve her whims because he was a slave. It mattered not that he was one of the most intelligent and talented men she had ever met; he was a slave. Intelligent, talented, skilled, handsome, healthy, and young! She was not much older than he was. Oh, this was going to be so much fun. She never thought that she would ever have the nerve to fool around on Potipher, but this was just too juicy of an opportunity to resist.
It turned out to not be as easy as she thought it would be. The young man behaved with more propriety than a eunuch. Even eunuchs sometimes did not entirely lose interest in sex, and they did what they could to pleasure a woman and get some pleasure back, but this slave completely ignored her flirting, pretending to misunderstand. It seemed that he was always desperate to avoid her company and to leave the room as soon as possible when she found excuses to talk to him. Loyalty to one's master is commendable, but he was carrying it too far. His dread of being compromised by her was downright insulting to her womanly vanity.
Lady Potipher thought she was being very subtle in her advances. Indeed, Joseph was the only one who saw her meaningful looks, at first, but her maids sensed the electric crackle in the air around their mistress when she caught sight of the steward, and they surmised that it was Joseph she was thinking of when she lolled about in her chamber with a dreamy look on her face. The maids felt sorry for Joseph, the more so as their mistress stepped up her campaign. Obviously, he did not think it was worth his life to give in to her advances.
Joseph did indeed find his mistress beautiful and tempting, but he tried to not think about it. First of all, there were God's laws to satisfy, and he depended on God for protection. He could hardly expect God to save his life, if he got himself into a big mess by committing adultery. He also had a lot of respect for his master and deep gratitude that he had saved him from the lechers in the slave market.
Potipher was indeed a very reasonable man, considering his power and wealth. He was ruthless, but not when he did not feel it was absolutely necessary to be that way. Consequently, he saved himself a lot of trouble because he did not have to continually fend off people who were outraged by injustice. In fact, quite a lot of people were loyal to him, not only because they feared him, but also because they respected him and were grateful for being treated fairly.
Joseph also resisted Lady Potipher because giving in to her would have been catastrophic to his future as Potipher's heir, even if Potipher did not find out about it. It would be an abomination to lay with a woman, and then with her daughter also. No, even if he gained his freedom, married the daughter, and inherited all the wealth, he would still have to live with himself, and eventually answer to God on Judgment Day. He could only truly enjoy life's blessings if he obtained them honourably, and when he died, he wanted to go to meet his Maker with a pure conscience. It was the only way to have real peace and true joy in life. Had he not seen enough already of how his father had complicated his life and the lives of his children by not doing things God's way?
Eventually Potipher's wife caught on that Joseph had more than concern for his life on his mind when he refused her advances. One day, when she was throwing out a subtle lure, Asenath was in the room. Of course, the child was totally oblivious that her mother was flirting as she busied herself on the floor with her toys, but she noticed how Joseph's eyes momentarily slid to Asenath's bowed head. She smiled, thinking at first that he was simply concerned that the child was not sullied by observing sexual innuendo, but after he left the room, she became very thoughtful. She was an intelligent woman, though she applied all her intelligence to supporting her own gratification.
It dawned on her that her husband did not have a male heir. Not even his casual liaisons before marriage had produced children; her father had checked this out to see if there would be any contenders for Potipher's affections and wealth before he consented to give her in marriage. Lady Potipher surmised that the reason why they did not have more children lied with her husband, and he seemed to know it, too. He did not badger her about having given him only one child and no sons.
Potipher's awareness that he was now completely sterile was probably another reason why he did not bother to take a second wife. They would not have produced any sons for him. It was better to make people think that he was content with having only a daughter, instead of a harem full of women who had no children, and then everyone would know he was sterile. Maybe they would even whisper that his wife had a child because she had cuckholded him. Lady Potipher made a point of knowing how to prevent childbirth. It would not do for her to get pregnant and have a child with light skin.
Potipher seemed to have a good deal of affection for this Hebrew slave. To test her theory, she casually mentioned to Potipher the names of various nobles whom it might be suitable to betroth to their daughter. Potipher dismissed them all, telling her that he would take care of that in due time. It was understandable that he rejected the old and the ugly, seeing as how he doted on their daughter. This created a burn of resentment in her heart; he was showing his daughter more consideration than he had shown her. He never considered how she would feel about marrying a man quite a bit older than herself, and not particularly attractive, when he spoke to her father about a proposal of marriage.
She had never regarded Asenath as more than a pet, and mostly cosseted her, except for when she had a headache, or was occupied with her grooming or her friends, or was feeling too tired for the little girl's company. But she always insisted that the servants cater to the child; she was after all, an extension of herself, seeing as she was her child. How cruel it was to realize that her own daughter was now her rival!
Lady Potipher was tormented by visions of her child growing to womanhood and taken to the bed of the man whom she lusted for. Not if she had anything to say about it! There was no way that she was going to be merely Joseph's mother–in–law! She ramped up her campaign to get Joseph into bed.
She found more occasions to get him alone in a room and there was nothing subtle now about her suggestions. Joseph found himself having to slide away from caresses and turning his head to avoid looking at charms that she boldly displayed.
Fortunately, he was always able to make a quick exit or someone came into the room, and Lady Potipher was very good at suddenly switching over to a cool, haughty demeanor that implied her only purpose for being in the room was one of business. Yes, she always came prepared with a script in her head, in case she needed to put the other occupants of the house off the scent.
Her harrassment was very wearying to Joseph. He bitterly regretted that he could not fully enjoy his work. Being Potipher's steward should have been a truly wonderful job. It gave him so much scope to be creative, to organize and make things more efficient – which he absolutely loved doing – and to see how much he could increase his master's wealth. He would have enjoyed doing that, even if he had no prospect of inheriting it, simply for the challenge of it.
God was blessing everything his hands touched. It was thrilling to see how many things came together for him. So many "fortunate" coincidences occurred that the other servants talked about the blessings of the gods on him and how things never prospered in Potipher's holdings before as much as they did now.
Potipher lost interest in hearing reports of how well everything under Joseph's hand was doing. He knew his wealth was increasing steadily, and he was content to just let Joseph handle it all. It was one less headache for him to not have to deal with any of that, and he knew that, even if Joseph had not been such an honest person, it was unlikely that he would steal, seeing as he was going to inherit everything Potipher owned. Giving Joseph added incentive to be honest was one of his motivations for offering his daughter in marriage. Potipher really did not want to have to concern himself about his property, as there were so many things that claimed his attention with all the positions he held and the jobs he had to do as the Grand Vizier.
Joseph enjoyed it that, though he was a slave, he was treated with much respect because of his position, not only by Potipher's servants, but also by anyone who wanted to contract business with him. The prospect of making a profit was incentive enough, but there was also the possibility in the back of some people's minds that this young slave was Potipher's paramour.
In the history of the world, it was common for powerful men to become enamoured of a handsome male slave, and for the slave to use it to his advantage to gain position and wealth. They weren't sure if Potipher was like that, as he was a very private person, but it was possible, and if this slave had Potipher's ear, it was a good idea to not upset him. Joseph was oblivious that those kind of conjectures were being made; he attributed the respectful behaviour of business associates to their hope of gaining economic advantage. After all, he never kept company with raunchy people who talked about the details of such things, nor had he ever been to court.
The day finally came that Lady Potipher managed to trap him. There were no men in the house when he went inside to attend to his work; they were at a festival in celebration of one of the gods, and he had no inkling that his mistress returned from it early, excusing herself due to feeling ill. She brought only a couple of the maids home to attend her. After they removed her wig, make–up (for she knew Joseph did not like gaudy face paint, in spite of how it denoted status), and clothes and dressed her in a light robe, she dismissed them to duties in the far regions of the house, saying that she knew she would feel better if she could get some sleep. She gave orders to not be disturbed.
Lady Potipher sprang from her couch as soon as the maids left her alone. She went to the window and looked for Joseph, as she knew he was not in the house. He soon would be, though. He would try to take advantage of not having her around to take care of some things in the house that needed to be attended to. She watched and waited and bit her lip impatiently, then gave a giddy giggle when she finally saw him pass through the courtyard. She fluffed her hair up and flounced to the door.
Joseph was on his way to his office when she called to him. Joseph's heart sank as he looked in her direction. The vixen was home! And on the prowl. Lady Potipher leaned weakly against the wall in a filmy robe, her saucy ringlets uncovered, and said, "Joseph, I am not feeling well and need some assistance. Come to my chambers." Her last words were almost a purr.
Joseph reluctantly entered her antechamber, but she was not there. Her voice called from the inner room. He prayed for God's help and entered. Lady Potipher was now lying on her couch. She looked at his broad, smooth, tanned shoulders with satisfaction under lowered lids. She loved his thick, ruddy hair. Though for cleanliness' sake, Potipher required all his slaves to shave, because of the novelty of his red hair, he allowed Joseph to keep his crown of flaming curls. Besides that, Potipher was demonstrating that his own power in magic was so immense that he did not feel threatened by any that Joseph had due to the colour of his hair. Joseph wore his hair smoothed into a tidy cap, the ends tucked under, and his eyes ringed with kohl, as befitting his station as an overseer. His mistress's voice sounded weak as she said, "I have such a terrible headache. I must have gotten too much sun at the festival. Come and rub my temples, Joseph." He replied, "I will summon your maids." She said, "They are busy with other tasks. Come, I am your mistress. Do as you are told."
Joseph dragged his feet over to her couch and knelt down behind her head. His hands shook as he touched her temples and began a circular motion to soothe her fake headache, feeling an awful dread. She stretched her body like a cat as she said, "That feels sooo good." Her robe was thin and left nothing to the imagination; Joseph turned his face away.
Lady Potipher looked up at him with a smile, to see his reaction to her seduction, and then frowned. He wasn't even looking! "Look at me, Joseph!" He turned his head back, the droop of his mouth betraying his misery. It pleased his mistress that she could make him do things against his will; she loved her power, even if she was not flattered by his reaction. She could change his reaction, though. She rolled over and grabbed hold of his kilt, demanding that he lie with her. She was a huntress who would not be denied her prey.
Her lush, ruby lips puckered, trying to kiss him, as she crouched on her knees on the couch, her free arm flung around his neck. It was like a nightmare. How does one refuse someone who owns them? He tried to slip away from her, but she tenaciously hung onto his kilt and ripped off her gown with her other hand. "How could he possibly resist me with all my charms displayed?" she reasoned. Even if Joseph could, which she did not think possible, he would know it would be an unforgiveable insult for him to refuse after she had bared herself to him. Joseph fretted that someone would come in and see her naked on her couch, and assume that he was seducing her.
Joseph talked fast, urging her to leave him be, telling her that it would be a sin against God to commit adultery with her, as well as a betrayal of his master's trust, reciting how Potipher had told him that he had withheld nothing from him except herself. Aha! It was as she thought; Potipher wanted to make him his heir. She insisted that nobody would ever know, and that she would do many good things for him to ensure his advancement in the world, if he would go to bed with her. Joseph wrenched away from her, deciding that, if he had to leave his clothes behind and run through the house buck naked, so be it.
Potipher's wife was stunned as she watched him run from the room. Up until now, she had tried to be understanding about his hopes for becoming her husband's heir and his fear of displeasing him, but this was just outrageous. She felt totally humiliated. She had stripped herself to display all of her charms, which she had always thought were quite considerable, but this young man had utterly, absolutely refused her.
Did he really not think she was beautiful? Did he find her African nose too wide or too small, her lips too full? Did he not admire her high cheekbones? She had always thought of her face as a fine sculpture and she knew that Potipher, who had very exacting tastes, thought so too. Did Joseph not like dark skin? Nobody had a finer form than hers. At least, she had always thought so until now.
What did Hebrews consider attractive in women? She knew that Canaanite women did not shave their heads, so she had dispensed with wearing wigs all the time and grown a charming mop of ebony ringlets, telling her husband that she preferred this style, when not in public, because it was cooler. Did Joseph think that he was so handsome that only someone whose beauty was absolutely perfect according to his fancies would suffice? Well, regardless, she would not tolerate such insolence!
With a scream of fury, she jumped from her couch, while tears of rage streaked down her face. Her maids came running and she put on a fantastic act of hysteria as she told them how Joseph had attempted to rape her. The maids might have doubted it, except that her robe was laying in shreds on the floor. It had seemed to them before that their mistress might not have minded having an affair with the steward, but maybe he liked to be rough? He must have thought that she was so enamoured of him that she would forgive him, but a noble lady should not have to put up with that. They tried to calm her down while they dressed her and washed her face and made soothing noises.
The sound of the men returning from the festival caught Lady Potipher's attention and she gave yet another stellar performance as she renewed her shrieks. They came running to her room and she held Joseph's kilt aloft as she raged that Potipher had done them all a grave injustice by bringing that Hebrew dog into the house, for he insulted all Egyptians by trying to rape his mistress. The men quickly located Joseph, who had hurried to his apartments to get dressed, and tossed him into a cellar to await his master's justice.
Potipher was furious when his wife told him that Joseph tried to seduce her, and that when she resisted, he tried to take her by force. Visions of how he would put him to torture before he snuffed out his miserable life for this betrayal poured into his mind. To think that he offered him his own daughter in marriage, to make him his heir, and he would turn around and do something like this! What a sneaking dog!
Suddenly Potipher came to his senses. It didn't add up. Joseph had too much incentive to behave himself to throw it all away for an affair with his wife. She was a beautiful woman, but would Joseph really give up his freedom and a fortune for her? Not likely, even if he was a cunning man who was just pretending respect for the sake of personal advancement. He was deeply religious towards a god that rated honour highly. No, she was lying, the sly vixen, and this was why she had grown her hair. He had no doubt that his wife tried to seduce Joseph and he refused her, but it rankled that she was so besotted with the Hebrew that, after all this time of never attempting it with anyone else, she risked his wrath to venture to commit adultery with this slave. A slave! One of his own peers would have been bad enough, but a slave!
Potipher wrestled with his jealousy over Joseph's looks and youth, and his broken hopes and dreams for Asenath, as well as the affection that he had felt for Joseph. He still wanted to rip that young, handsome body to pieces and put him to a painful, ignominious death, but Asenath was not likely to ever forgive him for that. And anyway, why should he? Joseph could not help it that he had been gifted with such devastating looks, and he had evidently resisted his wife's aggressive advances, even to the point of running from her and leaving his garment in her hand. She must have been trying to pull it off of him.
Potipher did not get to where he was by being a stupid man; his cool, analytical brain was reasserting itself and he could picture fairly accurately what had really occurred. He felt nothing but contempt for his treacherous wife. Before she was a silly, but pretty flower to him; he saw now that she was very cunning when it suited her. He had not had any inkling that she was lusting after his steward or that she was lying to him earlier when she told him that she was feeling ill. This offended his professional pride as an inquisitor. Furthermore, she was spiteful. She wanted him to torture Joseph and kill him because he refused her.
Well, he would not do it! He would defeat her hopes of this, and by not putting Joseph to death, he would be making a subtle statement to one and all that he did not believe her story, and this would shame her. Not so much that she could never go about in society again, but she would be whispered about. With his back turned, he smiled at how embarrassed she would be, and how aggravating she would find it to have to pretend that nothing was wrong while she suffered the smirks and winks.
Joseph would have to be punished, though, simply on principle. People would not fear him, if he did not punish Joseph in some way for being the object of his wife's fancies. It would also mollify his wounded vanity somewhat, if Joseph were to suffer, but he would salve his conscience by not punishing him to the full extent of the law. Most Egyptians would torture him and put him to death simply because an Egyptian woman accused him of rape, even if they believed he was innocent. They would consider it an object lesson to other slaves to not even dare think of seducing their mistress, never mind assaulting her.
No, he would not go that route. Joseph could no longer be his steward, but he really did not want to kill him. He felt that Joseph genuinely liked him and would have faithfully served him forever, if his wife had not interfered. Letting him live would punish his wife, but it was very satisfactory to him that there was more than one reason for letting Joseph live. He said nothing of this to his wife.
Potipher went to the cellar and questioned Joseph, who quietly asserted that he had not made advances on his mistress, but he did not plead for his life or vilify his mistress in any way. Joseph knew his life was in God's hands, not that of a man. Potipher coldly ordered his guard to take Joseph to the prison where political prisoners were kept and then he returned to his private rooms.
Asenath was bewildered at the events taking place in her home. Mother screamed and then the servants had gotten into an uproar. Joseph, her beloved Joseph, had been tossed into the cellar. The servants talked in whispers around her, saying that they would never have dreamed that he would be guilty of such a thing. Guilty of what? They would not tell her why he was under guard in the cellar. Some of the women said that he was stuck up, and that he had refused them because he had his sights set on something higher. What did they mean that he had refused them? What had they offered him?
Mother was the angriest of all. She positively hated him. Why the change? She had seemed quite fond of Joseph. And after Father came home and talked to Mother, he was morose. This all had to do with Joseph, whom Father had teased her that he would make a fine husband for her, but would she make a fine wife for him? It was their secret that he had suggested to her that she might marry Joseph, after Asenath told him that she wanted to marry him. She had been surprised that Father seemed to take her seriously, but then when he teased her, she wasn't so sure. He ended by saying, "Don't say anything to your mother; little girls should not be thinking about grown–up things, such as marriage. Just play with your dolls and be a good, little girl."
Asenath figured that Father wanted to just keep her his little girl for as long as he could, and Mother probably felt the same way, too, so she had not said anything to anyone, but now she had to know if there was any hope for it at all. She slipped out of her nurse's arms and hurried off to see her father. As she left her room, she heard soldiers marching and saw them taking Joseph out of the house. She ran to her father who stood alone in his chamber at a window, grimly watching them leave the courtyard.
Trembling, Asenath approached her father and slipped her hand into his as she asked, "Why are the soldiers taking Joseph away and where are they taking him?" He sighed and replied, "They are taking him to prison." She cried, "Why? What has he done?" He answered wearily, "You are too young to know about such things. Don't ask." She protested, "But you said I could marry him!" Potipher replied, "I did not actually say that you were going to marry Joseph. I said that I thought he would be a good husband for you, and that might have been so, but it really is not possible. He is, after all, only a slave. Put him from your mind."
Asenath was not to be comforted. She protested, "I will never forget Joseph! Never!" Potipher lifted her up and said, "I will have a potion made to help you sleep. You will feel better in the morning." Asenath doubted that, but she had too much respect for her father to protest further. She just sobbed quietly on his shoulder as he carried her back to her room.
Her mother intercepted them on the way, after watching Joseph's departure with satisfaction. She addressed Potipher and said scathingly, "I hope you put that Hebrew to a thousand deaths before he draws his last breath!" Potipher glared and said coldly, "Not in front of the child." Asenath looked at him in alarm. Before she could ask, he smiled reassuredly at her and said quietly, "Nothing like that is going to happen to Joseph. I promise." Reassured, she snuggled against him until he handed her over to her nurse. After giving instructions about the sleeping potion, he returned to his chambers.
His wife burst in and he dismissed the servants. Potipher asked her the reason for her rude interruption. His wife instantly sensed that her position in their home had changed; he never before spoke to her curtly or openly suggested that entering his chambers was an intrusion.
She fell to her knees, bowed her head, and said, "My lord, you were just comforting the child when you said that you were not going to punish the Hebrew further, were you not?" He replied, "I have always kept my promises to Asenath, whenever it was possible. I do not see that it is impossible to keep my promise." She lifted her head in dismay and said, "But if you do not punish him according to the fullest extent of the law, I, as your wife, will be disgraced!" Potipher's mouth twisted in a grimace of a smile as he said, "You should have thought of that before you tried to rape my slave, my dear." Her mouth dropped open and she said in shock, "How can a woman rape a man?" He said quietly, "I will leave that to your fertile imagination, but I warn you, if you ever try to make your fantasies reality, it is the last thing you will ever do. You are dismissed."
Lady Potipher trembled as she rose and left the room. She was married to a man who was too clever to be taken in for long and he would feel that she was insulting his intelligence, if she tried to protest her innocence. He might let her say whatever she liked to anyone else, but he would not permit her to lie to him, and he would indeed find a way to send her to her tomb, if she displeased him further.
From that day on, his courtesies were rendered coldly, except for when Asenath was about. Lady Potipher's requests were apt to be denied more often than granted. She dared not try her old flirtatious techniques, understanding now that her husband had never been taken in by them, but granted her requests simply because he had no grudge against her.
It irked Potipher that he had to set another steward in Joseph's place, who did not fill it as efficiently, and that he could no longer have pleasant talks with that intelligent and congenial young man after a long day. And his heart ached for his little daughter who drooped about the house, no longer interested in playing with her toys, and who had comparatively little to say to him, in sharp contrast to how she had always regaled him before with her bright chatter. He had said nothing to his wife about Joseph marrying Asenath, but he was now convinced that she guessed it. "Vain, vicious, selfish woman!" he thought bitterly, as he observed her pretending affection for their daughter, trying to please him and engage the child's affections.
Oh yes, she wanted him to spare her for their child's sake, for Asenath to find it devastating to lose her mother, in case he became displeased with her further, though she had no intention of committing adultery again. That would be certain death for sure. It had been folly to trifle with the ego of the dangerous man whom she was married to, though when she recalled Joseph's beauty, she could not blame herself. "Any other woman in the kingdom who owned such a handsome slave would have done it," she told herself. "It was just my bad luck to be married to Pharaoh's Butcher!" she lamented, forgetting that, when she married him, she had preened herself on the advantages of being the wife of such a wealthy, powerful man.
And so Lady Potipher's life became an emptier charade than ever before. She was lonely; she knew that her servants secretly despised her for what she had done, having guessed from Potipher sparing Joseph's life that he did not believe that Joseph was guilty of trying to seduce or rape the mistress. As servants will, they talked, and the tale eventually made its way outside of the house and into the ears of willing listeners.
At court, people whispered when they saw Lady Potipher enter a room and seemed to be enjoying a private joke when they addressed her. She had been so haughty, lording it over them because she knew they were afraid of her husband, but now she was known as the hussy who was refused by a slave! The small smile of amusement that played on Potipher's lips when she was snubbed indicated that nobody was in danger, as long as they did not carry things too far. She had a miserable life now, and Lady Potipher swung between hating Joseph with all her heart and sometimes longing for him with all her being, while knowing that her cravings for revenge and passion would never be satisfied. Potipher could not have devised a more exquisite torture.
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The Majesty of God, Chapter 18