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Old Testament - Lesson 11

Lesson 11 – “How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?”
Taught by Jeff Stone March 14, 2010

Potiphar's WifeIntroduction:
Notice the title of this lesson, “How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?” This is in reference to Joseph’s answer to Potiphar’s wife when she attempts to seduce him. He says, “There is none greater in this house [Potiphar’s house] than I; neither hath he [Potiphar] kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9)”

In this lesson we learn about men of moral character such as Joseph and a comparison to those who are not of high moral character. We will also learn of Joseph’s attitude and how it can be an example to inspire us to be more faithful. We’ll gain some insight into the attitude of the old cliche about turning life’s lemons into lemonade.

Scriptures Covered in This Lesson:

Handouts for this lesson:

Short Historical Recap:

  • Jacob has had 11 of his 12 sons plus a daughter (Dinah)
  • Jacob and Laban have some struggles but finally work things out
  • Jacob and Esau (Edom) have reunited and reconciled their differences
  • Dinah is kidnapped and raped; Jacob’s sons kill the men of the town where it happened
  • Jacob’s family flees to Bethel
  • Jacob is told by a messenger that his name will become Israel
  • Jacob/Israel moves to Bethlehem
  • Rachel dies while giving birth to Benjamin, the 12th son of Israel
  • Israel thinks his son, Joseph, is dead (he was actually sold into Egypt as a slave)
  • Israel’s father (Isaac) passes away at age 180
  • Israel and his twin brother Esau bury Isaac with Abraham, Sarah and Rebekah in the cave of Machpelah, near Hebron

The Story of Joseph:
As we read about Joseph, we find out that he was favored by Israel because, although he was the eleventh-born son, he was the first-born son of Rachel who was Israel’s favorite wife. Because of this favoritism, he was “hated” by his brothers. The verses in Genesis 37 show several events that caused him to be hated more and more as each event unfolded.

  1. The first event, of course, was Israel’s open-ness about his favoritism (Genesis 37:3).
  2. Second was Israel’s gift of the beautiful coat to Joseph (Genesis 37:3).
  3. The next event was two dreams that Joseph had showing his family “bowing” to him (Genesis 37:5–11)

This three events, along with others, led his brothers to point where they wanted to kill him. Luckily Reuben had enough sense to stop the murder. He talked his brothers into throwing Joseph into a pit. He was then sold to the Egyptians as a slave. The brothers took Joseph’s coat and put the blood of an animal they killed on it. This was to trick their father, Israel, into believing that Joseph had been devoured by wild animals (Genesis 37:12–35).

He was sold to Potiphar who was the Captain of the guard (Genesis 37:36). Joseph quickly found favor in the site of his master (Genesis 39:1–6). In fact, in Genesis 39: 6, it states that Potiphar trusted Joseph so much that he was completely unaware of what he possessed. Joseph was the controller of all. Potiphar only new about “…the bread which he did eat.”

It wasn’t long before Joseph’s business savvy, management skills, and good looks became a temptation to Potiphar’s wife. She pursued him several times, and each time he, of course, resisted. Finally, one day, there was no one in the house when Joseph came in, and Potiphar’s wife grabbed his garment and tried to force herself on Joseph. He slipped out of his garment and “…got him out” (Genesis 39:7–15).

At this point, Potiphar’s wife called to the guards and made up a lie about what had happened. She later told that same lie to her husband, that Joseph came on to her, and when she screamed, he ran off leaving his garment behind. This lie landed Joseph in Prison, but he, of course, found favor with the guard, and the guard put him in charge of all the prisoners (Genesis 39:16–23). This is where the story stops for this lesson. Below is a look at some of the things we can learn from this account.

Morality vs. Immorality:
In the above story, we see a man of incredible moral character (Joseph). We see that when he was cornered by evil, he immediately fled. He didn’t think about it; he just left. He is, unfortunately, punished for his moral character by being thrown in jail. However, look at the example of Reuben.

In Genesis 35:22, we find that Reuben has an affair with his step mother Bilhah (who is Rachel’s handmaiden). Because of this, he lost his birthright, which later on we find was given to Joseph, and Joseph’s son Ephraim would later become the birthright holder for all of Israel.

When looking at it from this perspective, it becomes an easy choice to choose what is right. Spending a little time in prison vs. the loss of the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. Prison seems a small price to pay to be counted as one of God’s own.


Joseph was a master at making the proverbial “lemonade” from the proverbial “lemons” he was given in life. He had a rough life, yet he never lost his faith and never lost site of what is important. First he was hated by his brothers; then he was sold as a slave, but he became very well respected and successful in Egypt.

As soon as he was in a position of status and trust, it is destroyed by the lie of his master’s wife, and he is thrown in prison for it. However, rather than complain about the bitterness of the lemon, he made lemonade and soon became very well trusted by the prison guard because his attitude allowed the Lord to be “with him.” (Genesis 39:23).

Often people choose to become victims of their circumstances. They say that they were dealt a bad hand in life, but I challenge that statement. I say that the problem is not that they were dealt a bad hand; the problem is that they don’t know how to play cards. I believe as James Allen says in his book As a Man Thinketh, that “Circumstance does not create the man; it reveals him to himself.”

Hartman RectorElder Hartman Rector Jr. said it well, when he said, “[The] ability to turn everything into something good appears to be a godly characteristic. Our Heavenly Father always seems able to do this.

Everything, no matter how dire, becomes a victory to the Lord. Joseph, although a slave and wholly undeserving of this fate, nevertheless remained faithful to the Lord and continued to live the commandments and made something very good of his degrading circumstances.

People like this cannot be defeated”

(in Conference Report, Oct. 1972, 170; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, 130).

I think that the final sentence of Elder Rector’s comment perfectly sums up the truth of this principle. “People like this cannot be defeated.” It is my testimony that we can ALWAYS find the positive in ALL situations, if we choose to do so and if we rely on the Lord for guidance. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.