I clutch the cloak in my hand and fight the tears biting my eyes. That arrogant Hebrew Joseph refused me again. Just like so many other men. Why? I’m attractive. Don’t I deserve attention? My husband leaves a handsome man in charge of our home, neglects me, and expects me to be faithful? Who does Joseph think he is? I twist his cloak and smile while a plan forms in my mind.
Joseph will pay.
Potiphar’s wife is a villain in the story of Joseph’s life. He was a servant in Potiphar’s household. Because Joseph was handsome, he caught the attention of Potiphar’s wife, and she tried to get him into bed with her. When he refused and left behind his cloak, she used it to accuse him of “making sport of her,” and Joseph was thrown in jail (Genesis 39).
When I consider this story, I wonder if Potiphar’s wife had motivations beyond lust and anger that led her to sin and cause pain and trouble for Joseph. Was she lonely? Insecure? Neglected? Did Joseph’s refusal remind her of past rejections? We don’t know, but we can learn a few lessons from considering a villain’s viewpoint, back story, and deeds.
A villain’s viewpoint reminds us sin can cause us to become villains to people we hurt. Examining an offender’s complex motivations can prompt us to scrutinize our own lives for issues that tempt us. If we refuse to address our problems, we may sin and cause destruction in the lives of people around us (I Corinthians 10:12-13).
A villain’s back story helps us have compassion on the bad guys in our lives who may have histories laced with hurt, loneliness, and fear. Compassion doesn’t excuse sin. It recognizes there may be a painful tale that led to sin. It understands continued sin compounds pain and separates us from God, who will forgive us and heal us if we repent and ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:9).
A villain’s deeds demonstrate that while God may permit evildoers to enter our lives, he will use their destruction to achieve his sovereign purpose. Potiphar’s wife caused Joseph to be jailed, but in time God allowed Joseph to find favor with the warden (Genesis 39:21) and to interpret dreams for fellow prisoners (Genesis 40). Then, after Joseph interpreted a dream for Pharaoh, he put Joseph charge of all of Egypt (Genesis 41).
Remembering a villain’s viewpoint, back story, and deeds helps us keep our own sin in check, allows us view the villain as a person in need of compassion and redemption, and reminds us of God’s control of all circumstances.