Joseph Fled—Wisdom & Emotions in Action

Posted on August 2, 2011 · Posted in Parenting, Proverbs and the Gospel, Wisdom

We have been looking at how wisdom offers protection from sexual immorality and from the ways of wicked men. In the last post we saw that Joseph acted wisely when he fled from Potiphar’s wife. What caused Joseph to have this immediate, emotional, and wise response to temptation? The answer will help you train your children to live for God in a sinful world. It will help you as well. Several positive factors combine to produce this protection for Joseph. Let’s look at them.

The first factor was that Joseph was young, most likely still a teenager, when he fled from Potiphar’s wife. Why does a teenager have an advantage with regard to resisting sexual sin? Most people would think youth is a liability. The answer is that, with regard to wisdom, emotions are a good ingredient—perhaps even a necessary ingredient. And one thing that teenagers tend to have in abundance is emotion. Remember Joseph’s encounter with Potiphar’s wife. She attempted to entrap him sexually. She appealed to the immediate situation—no one else was around and she was ready for him, even demanding sex with him. How many teenagers in the church today would have resisted that scenario? Yet there was such a powerful vision of God and his honor in Joseph’s heart that he was emotionally repulsed at her advances. Notice again how he responds:

“Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. No one here has more authority than I do. He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God” (Genesis 39:8-9).

Such a powerful emotional response is not automatic. Joseph’s understanding of the need to honor God was so strong that even the ugly, violent actions of his brothers did not deter him from honoring God. No doubt it was the testimony of his father, Jacob, which made this impression on Joseph. The Jacob that Joseph knew was not so much the young, cunning entrepreneur of Jacob’s youth. No, Joseph would have known more of the man who had wrestled with the angel of God. He would have known the limping Israel, who had seen God face to face and lived. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had become the God of Joseph, even in his captivity in Egypt.

Joseph’s response was like Job’s. Job feared God and shunned evil. The same equation of wisdom driven by emotion was present in Job’s life.

The next factor that protected Joseph was his understanding of righteousness. In his response, Joseph was repulsed by the enticement Potiphar’s wife offered. He was repulsed by what was wrong. The choice between righteousness and wickedness was a choice of profound consequence. Again, he is reacting emotionally in a good way. “How could I do such a thing?” Joseph is foreshadowing the words of Moses, hundreds of years later, when Moses says, “They are not idle words for you. They are your life.”

The last factor we will consider is that Joseph knew that God was present with him. God was not an abstract idea that his father believed in. Joseph was aware of the very presence of God in his life. God was real to him. Joseph knew it was foolish even to consider sinning when he was always in the presence of God.

So, here are three dynamic factors that led to the wisdom’s protection for Joseph:

  1. A strong, emotional component of wisdom—so much so that Joseph was driven emotionally to flee from the grip of sexual temptation.
  2. Joseph was emotionally tied to the specific content of righteousness. If something was not righteous, it was morally repugnant to Joseph.
  3. Joseph was acutely aware of God’s presence.

These three factors fit perfectly with the message of Proverbs 2 and how wisdom protects those who are devoted to it. The first lesson for parents to learn is this:  you, too, must have this deeply defined, emotion connected to wisdom. If the primary form of emotion that your children see from you is anger or frustration directed at them or at life in general, you are training them to be consumed by their own lusts and desires. Godly wisdom is spurred on by a deep love for God and, correlatively, repulsed by sin. Your children need to see these emotions in you; they demonstrate the wisdom that will protect them.

Read again the first five verses of Proverbs 2. These words are emotionally charged. Sometimes we are too self-conscious to cry aloud or call out for insight. Perhaps we are embarrassed to be recognized as someone who is consumed with knowing God’s wisdom. But Solomon is clear:  if wisdom is to be had, it must be had with emotion—the same emotion we see in Joseph’s life.

1 My son, if you accept my words

and store up my commands within you,

2 turning your ear to wisdom

and applying your heart to understanding,

3 and if you call out for insight

and cry aloud for understanding,

4 and if you look for it as for silver

and search for it as for hidden treasure,

5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD

and find the knowledge of God.

That is how wisdom will protect you and your family!

We will continue this theme in the next post.

Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.