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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Gen. 39:1–20. Ps. 104:17–22]

ON arriving in Egypt, the merchants sold Joseph to Putiphar, the captain of the royal guard. And the Lord was with Joseph, blessing him in all he did; wherefore he found favour with his master, who gave him charge of all his household. And the Lord blessed the house of the Egyptian, for Joseph’s sake, and multiplied his riches. But, after some time, Joseph was severely tried in his new home. The wife of Putiphar urged him to commit a most grievous sin. But Joseph would not consent, and said: “Behold, my master hath delivered all things to me. How, then, can I do this wicked thing, and sin against my God?” But even this decided refusal did not prevent the wicked woman from renewing her attacks on Joseph’s virtue, and every day she importuned him anew. But Joseph would not listen to her.

Now, it so happened that Joseph was, one day, alone in the house, attending to some business, when the woman took hold of the skirt of his cloak, and renewed her shameful proposal. But Joseph fled, leaving his cloak in her hands. The woman, seeing herself thus slighted, began to hate Joseph and to falsely denounce him to all the household and to her husband on his return saying: “The Hebrew servant whom thou hast brought, came to me to abuse me, and when he heard me cry, he left the garment which I held, and fled out.”

Putiphar, believing his wife too easily, was very angry and caused the innocent young man to be cast into prison.

Piety. The fate of Joseph was a hard one, being thus torn away from his home and father, and taken to the market, to be sold as a slave. But Joseph did not despond. No doubt, the wrong he had suffered made his heart ache; but he trusted in God, prayed diligently, and submitted himself to God’s will. He was a true worshipper of God. The end proved that his trust in Him was justified. By Almighty God’s providence, Joseph was bought by Putiphar, who began to love him on account of his virtues, and placed him, the least among his slaves, in a position of trust over his whole household. Therefore, St Paul says: “Godliness is profitable to all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).

Performance of the duty of our state in life. Because Joseph feared God, he served his master so faithfully and zealously that Putiphar loved and praised him, and made him his steward over everything. He who wishes to serve God must, before all things, fulfil the duties of his state of life, faithfully and conscientiously.

Holy fear of God. A deep fear of God, and a hatred of sin were the fruits of Joseph’s piety. When tempted to sin, he cried out, full of horror: “How can I do this wicked thing, and sin against my God!” He said to himself: “Mortal sin is the greatest of all evils. How could I offend the Lord my God who has so graciously created, preserved and protected me!” The fear of God is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost.

The blessing attending piety. In the same way that God blessed Laban, for Jacob’s sake, so did He bless Putiphar, for the sake of the God-fearing Joseph. Holy servants and holy children are sure to bring a blessing on a house.

Scandal. Putiphar’s wife tried to induce Joseph to sin against the Sixth Commandment. Had he listened to this bad woman, he would have lost the grace and friendship of God. She wished to do him a spiritual injury, and thereby sinned also against the Fifth Commandment.

Calumny. Putiphar’s wife calumniated Joseph, and accused him falsely to her husband, so as to revenge herself on him for having resisted her evil suggestions. By this, she was the guilty cause of the innocent Joseph being deprived of his liberty, and cast into prison.

Rash judgment. Putiphar sinned by condemning Joseph, without careful investigation of the accusation brought against him. Such a sin is called rash judgment.

Means of preserving chastity. The sin which Putiphar’s wicked wife wished to induce Joseph to commit was one against chastity. This temptation was a severe one to Joseph, considering her position and her shameless importunity. She was the mistress of the house, and he was but a poor slave. She would argue that the sin would not be a very great one; that no one need know about it, and so forth. She, furthermore, would flatter him and promise him riches, if he would consent, and threaten to do him great injury if he refused. Nevertheless, Joseph remained firm, and would not yield to the temptation. He loved the virtue of purity. He knew that impurity is the most shameful of all sins, and he carefully guarded himself against it. To do so, he used the following means: 1. He kept as much as he could out of this woman’s way. He would not have been in her house that day, had not business called him there; and when she tried to detain him, he fled. 2. Before going into the house, he armed himself against the temptation by praying to God for strength. 3. Each time this wicked woman tempted him, he thought of God who sees everything, and who has a special hatred of sins against chastity. If you wish to preserve your innocence, dear children, you must do as Joseph did. You must avoid the occasions of sin, bad companions, and all unclean thoughts. You must appeal for help to God and His holy Mother; and you must think of God’s presence, of death, and hell. You have far more powerful means of preserving your innocence than Joseph had in Egypt, for you have the holy Sacraments of Penance and of the Altar. If you receive these often and worthily, you will be able to resist all temptations. Joseph remained chaste, though he did not possess these mighty means of grace. Your sin will be far greater than his would have been, if you lose your innocence in spite of them.

APPLICATION. Joseph’s temptation was a severe one, and yet he stood firm. Have you not let yourself be led into sin by far lesser temptations? Joseph paid no heed to the threats of this wicked woman, but feared God more than her. He preferred to suffer anything, even death, rather than offend God. Repent of your sins, and say often to God: “I will die rather than offend Thee.”

Do you love purity as dearly as Joseph loved it? Would you preserve your innocence at any cost? Your innocence should be dearer to you than anything in the world, for it is the most priceless treasure you possess. Avoid, therefore, all occasions of sin, bad companions, and impure things. “My son, if sinners shall entice thee, consent not to them! If they shall say, ‘Come with us’, walk not thou with them!” (Prov. 1:10 &c.) Say every day a Hail Mary for the preservation of your innocence.








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