One of the requirements for our HIV and AIDS course at seminary was to put together a Bible study that deals with wisdom in sexual behaviour. This was my attempt at such a study. I'd be interested in readers' comments and suggestions as to what other pertinent issues could be covered in such a study. Suggestions concerning other readings that deal with sexual ethics would also be welcomed.
Bible study material: Wisdom in sexual behaviour
Scripture reading: Genesis 39: 5-20
Target audience: Adults (25-40); both male and female; both married and single; university graduates / professionals
Purpose of study: Sexual ethics amongst young adult professionals
Summary of passage
Joseph had been sold into slavery because of the jealousy of his brothers, and had been taken into Egypt where he was purchased as a slave by Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. The passage picks up where Joseph, having portrayed evidence of God’s favour upon him, is appointed head over Potiphar’s household where he served with diligence. Having proved himself in this role, Potiphar gradually transferred total responsibility for his affairs to Joseph.
However, Joseph was not only an astute administrator, but was also handsome and had a well-built physique. These traits had come to the attention of Potiphar’s wife, who became physically attracted to Joseph. Taking advantage of their relative differences in status (bearing in mind that, despite his responsibilities, Joseph’s status was still that of slave), Potiphar’s wife made sexual advances towards Joseph, which were emphatically rebuffed. She was however quite persistent in her pursuit of Joseph, and made a grab for him when none of the other servants were around. Deciding that a good run was better than a bad stand, Joseph fled the house, leaving his cloak behind in the scuffle.
Since “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, so the old saying goes, Potiphar’s wife cried foul, accusing Joseph of attempted rape. Given that Potiphar would invariably take his wife’s word over that of a slave, and believing that Joseph had broken his trust, he had Joseph imprisoned.
Questions for reflection
What evidence can be found in this passage that Joseph was a God-fearing man who obeyed God’s laws? Comment on similar character traits that would apply today that would indicate to the world that a person is God-fearing and obedient to God’s laws. Discuss how the above character traits would apply specifically to sexual ethics and morality.
Joseph is described as being “well-built and handsome” (verse 6). When a woman is raped, some people make statements to the effect that she “asked for it” because of her attractiveness, wearing revealing clothes, being in the “wrong place at the wrong time”, etc. In this reversal of roles where the woman (Potiphar’s wife) is portrayed as the sexual predator, would Joseph’s handsomeness have been a contributing factor to Potiphar’s wife making advances towards him? Discuss and critique the fairness (or otherwise) of this statement.
Do you think that Potiphar’s wife took advantage of Joseph? If so, ignoring for the moment the constraints imposed by the master / slave relationship, what measures do you suggest that Joseph could have taken to protect himself from being taken advantage of in this manner?
Having had her advances spurned, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of rape. Because no-one else was around at the time, it boiled down to Joseph’s word against that of Potiphar’s wife. In 2006 the future South African President Jacob Zuma faced a similar accusation of rape. Although the court subsequently acquitted him, his reputation was harmed to the extent that people still talk about it five years later, with cartoonists such as Zapiro still parodying Zuma based on that alleged incident. Discuss some of the consequences of allowing oneself to be in a compromising position such as this (once again, ignoring the constraints imposed by the master / slave relationship in this passage).
Referring to the above question, Jacob Zuma is widely believed to have been guilty of the rape he was accused of, notwithstanding the findings of the court. Without getting into the merits of the particular issues around Zuma personally, discuss the obstacles that a rape victim faces in terms of being believed, and seeking justice. What role can the Church play in creating a climate that can overcome these obstacles?
If, hypothetically, Joseph had consented to having sex with Potiphar’s wife, there would still have been the issue of adultery to deal with. Discuss this in the light of today’s permissive sexual morals, including some of the risks and potential consequences (both in terms of relationship, as well as from a health perspective) that could arise from unsound sexual ethics.
Did Potiphar have a role to play in contributing to his wife’s dalliances?
What other lessons can this passage teach us today?
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