In my meditation on the life of Joseph, two verses stood out for me. “… How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" (Gen. 39: 9) and “… Do this and you will live, for I fear God …” (Gen. 42: 18). To me, these two confessions most probably summed up his life’s motto: ‘I fear God.’ This fear of God was the controlling motive and principle of his life. If we were to live victoriously in this world, we too should make Joseph’s motto our own. It is remarkable that in spite of all the odds stacked against him - alone, young, inexperienced, vulnerable and without support from family or friends- he still survived and came up tops! Of course we all know that he was not completely abandoned. There was something very special that makes all the difference- the presence of God with him (Gen. 39:2; 21; 23)!
What is the overwhelming force against Joseph? It was temptation. It came from someone none other than his master’s wife. It would have been easy for him to give the excuse, “Well I had no choice but to obey, after all she is the boss’s wife!” Joseph faced extreme pressure as the seductress was relentless in tempting him. She tried to lure him ‘day after day’ (Gen. 39:10). The temptation struck at his most unguarded moment.
By some coincidence, “one day” (Gen. 39:11), and in a one in a million chance, “none of the men … was there in the house,” the temptress pounced. “She caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me’ “ (Gen. 39:12). Even though the temptations Joseph faced seemed overwhelming and irresistible, he overcame them through the fear of the Lord. By God’s grace, he fled instead of fighting it with his own strength (Gen.39:12).
This is wisdom from above (Prov.1:7; 9:10). Sometimes we need to firmly say, ‘No,’ to temptation. Sometimes we need to resist it. But at other times, the best thing to do is to run from it. The presence of Sin and its consequences should cause us to flee! So many Christians fail to do just that. Instead of resisting, they give in. Instead of fleeing, they linger around under a false illusion of strength and invincibility. In the end, sin makes a fool out of us.
Joseph made a firm resolution with God’s help. “But he refused and said … How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:8, 9). Joseph made that resolve because he knew that the temptation would lead him to do a greater evil and sin against God.
Here we see the kind of godly fear that inspires a firm resolve which eventually triumphs over evil. This is what Paul meant, “Therefore, my beloved, … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13). Just as Joseph worked out God’s redemptive plan in his life through the fear of God, so we too must work out God’s redemptive plan with fear and trembling.
Are you working out your salvation in the fear of God?
Rev. Mark Tay