Trudging along this earth we sometimes learn more from what is not said, from reading between the lines of our own life stories. Likewise, we can learn some of life’s biggest lessons from those that are far from perfect. Our own best education comes from making mistakes. When we first learn to walk, we fall nearly all the time. Each time we fall, we stand just a hair longer. Pretty soon, we have figured out the mystery of balance!
Genesis Chapter 39 gives the familiar account of Joseph serving in the house of Potipher. Most people read this and focus on Joseph. We learn the lessons of being true to what we know is right, having faith in God, in not bowing to peer pressure. He showed a dedication to fighting temptation that we should all strive to follow.
He served his master, Potipher, well and received rewards for doing so. The work ethic Joseph showed is something we should strive for. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
He served his god, though those around him practiced other faiths. Perhaps they mocked him, but that did not stop him. Oh yes, Joseph can teach us so many good things.
But is his example the only one we can learn from in this story? What of the woman that plays such a vital role? She remains nameless, known only as “Potipher’s wife”. Can you take anything from a woman of whom we know little of, other than her sins?
As is so often the case in the Scriptures, when people focus on this woman, they focus on only one thing we learn about her. In this case, the bad qualities she exhibits. She connives, she schemes, she seduces, she falsely accuses. Did she ever do anything good or was she always wicked?
First, let us put ourselves in her shoes. Let us walk with her, see a day in her life. Like most women of this time, we do not even get a name for this poor soul. How many times do we see this in historical texts and the Scriptures? Truly how must women have felt? Without your husband, you are nothing. With your husband, you are little more than his arm candy. You go from being someone’s daughter to someone’s wife to someone’s mother. No one cares if you are Jenny or Susie or Lilly. No one cares if you like to bake bread, tell stories, sew clothes. Your entire persona is as “so-and-so’s wife”. You might as well be as nameless as the wife of Potipher.
I must say, as a woman, I do not know how I would feel to lose my entire identity, my name. I do not mind being wife and mother, in fact I revel in it. When people look at me, is that all they see? Or do they see the other parts of me? I am also a teacher, a homemaker, a friend, a writer, a photographer, a student… The list goes on and on.
What else was Potipher’s wife?
The other thing we know about her is that she married someone successful. Isn’t she just lucky? Potipher’s description says it all. Today he could easily be someone like Bill Gates, Donald Trump, or Senator John Edwards. He could be any of your town’s local leaders in government or business.
Wives of successful men walk a fine line. The community watches them as though peering at a goldfish swimming in its bowl. Expectations are high for the state of the home, state of the clothes, state of… everything. They find themselves judged by the media, the neighbours, friends, colleagues, and people on the street. Every choice made hashed out over and over. That is an awful lot of pressure to deal with for one poor woman. Everyone knows them, wants to be seen with them, but how lonely they must feel.
Ever heard of a business widow? I live in the greater DC area, and a lot of men work long hours followed up by an equally long commute. Often you can find wives alone for twelve long hours. Husbands breeze in, eat dinner, and immediately start preparing for bed. Maybe the two sit down and catch an episode of American Idol together, if they are lucky. It can frustrate spouses when they see each other so little. They need to work even harder to keep their relationship strong and healthy, but where do they find the time? The energy?
I imagine Potipher’s wife felt like a business widow all those years ago. Lonely for the companionship of her husband and under the constant scrutiny of those around her probably drove her nuts at times. It would me! I start to get cranky after a week of my husband’s work and commute, and I am surely not in a fishbowl.
At least with the wonders of modern technology I can send a text to my husband during the day, and find ways to connect with him through his long hours away.
Far too often, we see what happens when a relationship falls into the trappings of neglect.
Men start to rely a little too much on what others think of them. Quickly it becomes, “The people in the office understand what I’m going through” or “The people in the office appreciate me.” Women, being more sensitive, look for someone to confide in, share their lives with. “My friends will listen to me, even if he doesn’t.”
Somewhere along the way the relationships outside of a marriage begin to mean more than the marital relationship. When your marriage takes backseat to other relationships, you know you have a serious problem.
How many marriages could we save if couples could find solutions to loneliness? How do we repair a relationship already down the dusty path of neglect?