This morning, I made a rather impromptu decision to try something that I’ve wanted to do for a while: read the entire Bible through during the month of January. I remember, back in 2007 when I took a preaching class from him, Dwight Nelson mentioning that he tries to do this to begin every year. It gives quite a bird’s eye view of Scripture.
So that’s what I set forth to do this morning, reading the first 41 chapters of Genesis. It took me about 90 minutes. And it was well worth it!
To me, reading the Bible this way is exciting, providing more to sink one’s teeth into than simply dropping in and out of a few chapters from the Old and New Testaments for 365 days, hardly able to get any momentum.
Though there are many “big picture” ideas I gleaned from my reading this morning, one of the insights that jumped out at me the most was tracking the sexual morality of the Biblical characters. To be more specific, Joseph’s amazing behavior in Genesis 39 is presented in drastic relief compared to the patriarchs – God’s patriarchs – that came before him.
To a large degree, the book of Genesis is shaped – almost exclusively so – by the sexual misdeeds of its main characters, all of whom constitute God’s chosen people. Abraham impregnates his wife’s maidservant Hagar (chap. 16); Lot does the same with his two daughters (19); Esau marries an Ishmaelite to get back at his father, in addition to practicing polygamy (28); Jacob marries sisters and impregnates both their maids (29-30); Reuben sleeps with one of those maids (35); and, of course, Judah – from whose lineage the Messiah eventually would come – has sex with his daughter-in-law, thinking she’s a prostitute (38).
This is not even to mention the intentions of Pharaoh with Sarai (12), Abimelech with Sarai (20), or Abimelech with Rebekah (26); nor is it to mention the men of Sodom with the two angels (19), or Shechem’s “violation” of Dinah (34).
By the time one gets through chapter 38 of Genesis, one is overwhelmed with the amount of sexual promiscuity recounted. It forces the reader into grappling with how to reconcile such behavior with the fact of those same people’s chosenness. How can these people both engage in such sexual promiscuity and yet be God’s chosen – and continue to be God’s chosen even after their sexual deviance?
Essentially, by the time chapter 39 rolls around, I had resigned myself to the recognition that these men lived a long time ago – and, in fact, a long time after the perfection of Eden as well. Simply put, they lived in a time of great moral darkness, a time when in “ignorance” God “winked” at their misdeed (Acts 17:30, KJV) – both because they had ceased to walk with God as Adam and Eve did and because they were still 2000 years from the full-blown light of Calvary.
So when the story of Joseph comes around in chapter 39, the reader would perhaps be excused in anticipating another defeat to the goddess of sexuality – especially when the narrative is so poignantly set up. Moses sets the scene (made even more poignant in the Hebrew, which I have read in the past when I’ve slowed down): Potiphar’s wife “cast longing eyes on Joseph” (v. 7); she spoke to him “day by day” (v. 10), inviting him to “lie with” her (something repeated three times – vv. 7, 10, 12).
Again, the reader would perhaps be excused if the battle is conceded in one’s mind. Heretofore in Genesis, God’s men have succumbed to sexual sin and yet somehow remained God’s men. God has continued to affirm His promises to them, even after their failures (22:16-18; 32:29).
But everything changes in chapter 39. One chapter after Judah cannot contain his sexual impulses, his kid-brother Joseph not only displays incredible relative morality (he was not simply trying to hedge his bets vis-a-vis his boss, Potiphar); he rises up and acts in the light of the “Audience of One” in which He was living. When no one else was looking, Joseph stuck to principle, offering one of the most poignant questions at any point in earth’s history: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (39:9).
Joseph’s singular decision stands in stark contrast to not only his forefathers, but the morality of his time. Indeed, he made a decision that “travels,” a decision timeless in scope; a decision that somehow acknowledged the Person to whom he was ultimately accountable.
What an an inspiring example! Though I’ve read it many times before, I never cease to be amazed by Joseph’s principled behavior. Somehow, some way, he, by God’s grace, chose to break the cycle of sexual promiscuity that characterized his family – during a time in which “relative” morality made concessions.
Of course, the specific temptation may not be the same, but the principle is: when the chips are on the table, and the sin is there for the taking with no one looking, will I remember the “Audience of One”?