The Testing Times of Faith
It sounds more like a soap opera or an episode of Desperate Housewives than a story from the Bible, doesn't it, this tale of Joseph in Potiphar's house? The characters in the story are pretty much the stock characters of popular entertainment—the good-looking, innocent young man who catches the eye of the bored housewife. Her intent is obvious. When her little scheme fails, she turns on him and tries to blame him for the whole thing. Finally there is the husband, who never suspects what his wife is up to. When she invents a story about Joseph's improper advances, the husband responds in a way that anyone might expect. He became enraged.
The way we usually understand that statement is that Potiphar was enraged at Joseph. The very next sentence in the text says that he took Joseph and put him into prison. So doesn't that mean Potiphar believed his wife's story, that Joseph had done wrong and deserved to be punished? Not necessarily. The normal punishment for the wrongdoing Joseph was accused of was not prison. It was death. So it's possible that when, as the Bible says, Potiphar "became enraged," it wasn't Joseph he was enraged at. Maybe he was enraged at his wife, because he guessed what had really happened. Enraged that she would try to lie her way out of it. Enraged that she had cleverly put him into a position of having to take her word over Joseph's. Because how would it look to have everyone know that he thought his wife was actually capable of such wickedness, that he would put more stock in the word of a slave than in the story his own wife told him? Potiphar may also have been enraged that all this meant he would lose the smartest, most trustworthy slave he had ever owned.
What enraged Potiphar? The Bible doesn't say. But there is one more possibility. Potiphar may have been enraged because he was confronted with an impossible situation. Here were two people he loved, his wife and his servant. Their stories contradicted each other. Who should he believe? What do you do when you are in that situation? Two people you work with give you differing accounts of some screw-up that you will be held responsible for. Whose story do you believe? You hear a ruckus in the living room. You walk in and your two kids come running up to you. "She hit me," one wails. "Yeah, but he pinched me first," the other one says. "He started it." What's a good parent to do?
Sometimes life has a way of confronting us with seemingly impossible situations. There is no easy solution, no alternative that is clearly right or wrong. We call them moral dilemmas. For some people they may not be dilemmas at all, but for you or me they are agonizing. To end the relationship or try to salvage it. To stay on in a dead end job that offers security or take a risk and try something new. To keep a loved one on a life support system or pull the plug. There are no easy answers. You pray and no clear direction is given. These are the testing times of faith.
The Bible tells us the Lord was with Joseph. That did not mean Joseph was protected from trouble or that he did not have to face difficult choices. It meant only what it said, that God was with Joseph, come what may. Sometimes God leads, sometimes God supports, sometimes God simply is there. Hidden and silent perhaps, but He’s there—with us.