Genesis 38–39: Joseph's Righteousness

Old Testament Seminary Student Study Guide, (2002), 35


Genesis 38 tells the story of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob (Israel), and his example of wickedness. We read that he married out of the covenant and did not care for his family as he should have. We also read that he broke the law of chastity with his daughter-in-law, although he didn’t know that it was her at the time.In contrast, Genesis 39 tells us how Joseph sought to do good. Even though Joseph was a faithful young man, he experienced great trials. It was possible that he would never see his family again. How would you feel in a similar situation? Far away from anyone of your faith, what would you do about your religious beliefs and practices?On one occasion, the Prophet Joseph Smith told Elder George A. Smith: “Never be discouraged … [I]f I were sunk in the lowest pit of Nova Scotia, with the Rocky Mountains piled on me, I would hang on, exercise faith, and keep up good courage, and I would come out on top” (in John Henry Evans, Joseph Smith: An American Prophet [1933], 9). As you read Genesis 39, look for how Joseph was an example of the Prophet Joseph’s statement.

Understanding the Scriptures

Genesis 39

Pharaoh (v. 1)King of Egypt 
Of the hands of (v. 1)From 
Prosperous, prosper (vv. 2–3, 23)Successful and blessed 
Hand (vv. 3–4, 6, 8, 22)Control 
Found grace (v. 4)Was favored and treated kindly 
Overseer (vv. 4–5)Leader, someone put in charge 
Save (v. 6)Except 
Goodly (v. 6)Strong 
Well favoured (v. 6)Handsome 
Lie (vv. 7, 10, 12, 14)Have sexual relations 
Committed (vv. 8, 22)Given 
Garment (vv. 12–13, 15–16)Outer clothing 
Mock (vv. 14, 17)Insult 
His lord (v. 16)Potiphar 
His wrath was kindled (v. 19)He became angry 
Looked not to (v. 23)Did not worry about 

Genesis 39:7–20—Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

President Ezra Taft Benson explained Joseph’s actions this way:

“When Joseph was in Egypt, what came first in his life—God, his job, or Potiphar’s wife? When she tried to seduce him, he responded by saying, ‘How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ (Genesis 39:9).

“Joseph was put in prison because he put God first. If we were faced with a similar choice, where would we place our first loyalty? Can we put God ahead of security, peace, passions, wealth, and the honors of men?

“When Joseph was forced to choose, he was more anxious to please God than to please his employer’s wife. When we are required to choose, are we more anxious to please God than our boss, our teacher, our neighbor, or our date?” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1988, 4; or Ensign, May 1988, 4–5).

Studying the Scriptures

Do activities A and B as you study Genesis 38–39.

Activity A iconFind a Repeated Idea

  1. 1.

    Read Genesis 39:2–3, 21, 23 and find a phrase that is similar in all four verses. (You may want to underline the phrase in your scriptures.) Why do you think it was important for Joseph to know this to be true?

  2. 2.

    What did Joseph do in Genesis 39 that allowed the phrase in verses 2–3 to still be true in verses 21, 23?

Activity B Scripture Mastery iconScripture Mastery—Genesis 39:9

  1. 1.

    What reasons did Joseph give for resisting Potiphar’s wife’s invitation to be immoral?

  2. 2.

    What impresses you most about Joseph’s statement and actions? How could you use the same ideas to resist temptation in your own life?