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The Temptation of Judah and Joseph, Part 2

February 23, 2020 Speaker: Kristopher Schaal Series: Temptation

Topic: Expository Passage: Genesis 38-39

Genesis 38-39 | The Temptation of Judah and Joseph, Part 2

Good morning! Welcome to Sunday school! Please turn in your Bibles to Genesis 39. We are back in our series on temptation, and we are currently studying the temptations of Joseph and Judah, his brother.

Lots of people talk about Joseph’s temptation in Genesis 39 without realizing the connection between his story and the story of his brother in Genesis 38. The two stories go together! In literature, we say that Judah is a foil for Joseph.

Not only that, but the stories of these two brothers come together in a beautiful way later on. After our last study, Tom Sharky asked me, “Can you explain to me why Judah is in the line of Christ?” I cannot wait to do so! But first, we need really consider the means of Joseph’s resistance and the reasons for Judah’s failure.

Last time, we saw that Joseph was able to resist very powerful temptation because he had godly character. And remember, Christlike character is not forged overnight. No one faces temptation like Joseph faced and successfully resists it by accident! You have to train for that kind of a performance, just like an athlete trains for the Olympics!

Joseph was able to resist temptation because he had godly character. But also, Joseph was able to resist temptation because he was honest with himself.

  • He was honest with himself (39:9).

One of the best protections against sin is your conscience. For the Christian, the conscience is even more powerful because it is strengthened by the Holy Spirit! Think of your conscience as an offensive tackle in football. (For those of you who don’t like football, that’s the guy who stands on the end of the line and guards the quarterback from getting sacked.) In order for you to violate your conscience, you have to do one of two things. Either a) you can run it over by saying something like, “Ya, I know it’s sin, but I am going to do it anyways.” I would call that running your conscience over. Sometimes, the defensive end will simply run over the tackle and go sack the quarterback.

However, that is really, really hard to do! Usually, the tackle and the end are more evenly matched than that. So, your second option is to try to make some kind of a move and then run around the offensive tackle! We run around our consciences by convincing ourselves, “It’s not really sin.” Or, at least, “It’s an excusable sin.” “It’s not really that bad.”

Last time, we discussed many of the arguments Joseph could have used in order to excuse his sin. “I’ve been through so much; surely, I have a right to this little self-indulgence. After all, she obviously loves me and not her husband! Doesn’t she have a right to be happy? Wouldn’t it be unloving for me to deny her? Potiphar gets what he deserves for not being a better husband!” “I’m going to be a slave forever; surely God wouldn’t deny me this one pleasure. After all, doesn’t He want me to be happy?” “I don’t want to sleep with her, but what choice do I have?! Surely God must understand my predicament!”

Now, to you and me, those arguments sound pretty pitiful. But you have to realize, those are the same kinds of arguments Christians use every day in order to get around their consciences and explain away sin! Believe me, I’ve heard them!

So how do you protect yourself from yourself and specifically, your ability to rationalize? Here’s how: be honest with yourself. Always call sin, “sin.” Refuse to call it by some other cute name! “Oh, that was just a mistake.” No, it was sin. “She just slipped up.” No, she sinned. “I’m working through some issues right now.” How about, “I’m headlong into my sin!”

Do you want to hear some of the words the Bible uses for sin? “Evil,” “transgression,” “iniquity,” “guilt,” “offense,” “lawlessness,” “go astray,” “miss the mark,” “violate” … that’s a heavy list, isn’t it?

The point is that we need to call sin what it is. If you do so, you will protect yourself from running around your conscience.

Joseph resisted sin by refusing to call it what it was not. He also resisted sin by refusing to play with it.

  • He refused to play with sin but rather ran away (39:10).

One of the ways people go wrong with sin is by trying to play around with it. They tell themselves, “I would never cheat on my husband! But I’m really enjoying these lunch dates that I’m having with my male co-worker! After all, they’re exciting! They give me a little thrill! But we’re just friends! I would never actually do anything! Come on, do you really think I’m that stupid? That would be like jumping off the edge of the Grand Canyon or something! But I can play around lose to the edge and still be safe! Don’t worry about me! I’ll be careful. I won’t let it get out of hand.” Those are the words of a fool.

Or for a guy– “I’m not going to look at pornography tonight! I’ll just surf YouTube for a while until I get tired. I can control myself.”

The Bible says that after Potiphar’s wife started tempting Joseph, he refused even to be around her. Don’t you think that probably felt restrictive at times? I mean, what if he needed to get something done at that end of the house and she just happened to be there? Joseph said, “Nope! I can work around it! I would rather deal with the headache than be in the place of temptation!”

This leads us to one of the major, major keys to resisting temptation: avoid it at all costs! Why? Because you are not strong enough to resist it! If you hang out on the edges of temptation, you will eventually fall in. You cannot control yourself; you aren’t strong enough! So do what Joseph did, and run away!

Now I’ll grant you, avoiding temptation can create some headaches. But lest you think it’s too difficult, let me tell you about our Vice President.

How many of you have heard of “the Billy Graham Rule”? Billy Graham was famous for a rule he set for himself not to eat a meal alone with a woman who wasn’t his wife. You say, “That doesn’t sound too difficult.” Maybe not for you or me, but for someone like Billy Graham, who is doing lots of meals with people, counseling, and social events, that is a challenge! So why did he do it? Well, because he wanted to safeguard his reputation and to flee from temptation.

Vice President Mike Pence has adopted the Billy Graham rule. Now, if you thought that rule was hard for a Christian evangelist to stick to, just imagine holding to it as a politician! Vice President Mike Pence has gotten a lot of flak for his decision not to eat a meal alone with a woman who is not his wife. But he has decided that it’s more important for him to preserve his testimony and conscience than it is for him to avoid complications. And if he can do it, so can you–not that eating a meal alone with a person of the opposite gender is really a temptation for many of us in here, but my point is that you can live with your own inconvenient safeguards that help you to do what is right.

Safeguards are never convenient, are they? It would be a whole lot less restrictive if we got rid of all of the railings, and we didn’t have to wear seat belts, etc. But the whole point about safeguards is that they’re what? (“safe”)

Jesus took this idea very seriously. He said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” Now obviously, Jesus didn’t intend for us to obey this command literally. (Nobody go home and pluck out your eyes!) But Christ was making a point about the extent to which we should be willing to go in order to avoid sin!

How far will you go in order to avoid sin? Will you set up accountability? Will you pay for a filtering service? Will you go to sleep at the same time as your spouse every night? Will you read a review about that movie you are about to watch in order to make sure there aren’t any bad scenes in it? Will you throw out that novel that takes your mind places it should not go? How far will you go to avoid sin?

Joseph went to great lengths in order to avoid sin. Not only did he refuse to be with Potiphar’s wife after she started to tempt him, but when she grabbed him by the coat, he laid aside all dignity and ran from her presence, leaving his coat with her (39:11-12). Way to go Joseph!

If you are serious about resisting sexual sin, then you must flee from temptation.

However, that is not the most important thing you can do in order to resist temptation. You say, “What is the most important thing?” The most important thing for you to do in order to resist temptation is to develop a vibrant relationship with God. Joseph had a vibrant relationship with God.

  • He had a vibrant relationship with God.

You say, “How do you know that?” Look at 39:9 (39:9).

Joseph knew God. He loved God. He feared God even more than he feared men. And he resisted sin ultimately not because of what people would think, but because of what God thought. The best safeguard against sin is a vibrant relationship with Jesus.

How do you develop a vibrant relationship with Jesus? How do you get to know a person? By spending time with them and talking! We get to know God as we spend time listening to Him through the word and talking with Him through prayer! There’s slightly more to it than that, but it’s really very simple!

 The idea of choosing God over sin is codified in our hymns.

“Nearer, still nearer, Lord, to be thine,

sin with its follies I gladly resign,

all of its pleasures, pomp, and its pride;

give me but Jesus, my Lord crucified,

give me but Jesus, my Lord crucified.”[1]

“Oh, to grace how great a debtor

daily I'm constrained to be!

Let thy goodness, like a fetter,

bind my wandering heart to thee:

prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

prone to leave the God I love;

here's my heart, O take and seal it;

seal it for thy courts above.”[2]

“I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold;

I'd rather be His than have riches untold;

I'd rather have Jesus than houses or lands.

I'd rather be led by His nail pierced hand

Than to be the king of a vast domain

Or be held in sin's dread sway.

I'd rather have Jesus than anything

This world affords today.”[3]

We could go on and on.

In the Bible, the relationship between God and His people is often compared to marriage. How do you safeguard your marriage? You foster a vibrant relationship with your spouse! How do you safeguard your relationship with God? You seek a vibrant relationship with Him.

So those are the means by which Joseph resisted temptation. But now, what were the reasons for Judah’s failure?


  • He left the covenant community and replaced them with pagan friends and a pagan wife (38:1-2).

Judah’s family was far from perfect, but at least they knew the one true God! Think about how seriously Abraham avoided choosing a Canaanite wife for his son Isaac! And now Judah throws all of that by the wayside! He becomes close friends with Hirah the Adullamite, and then he marries a Canaanite woman.

This is the path to negative transformation, according to Psalm 1. “Standing in the path of sinners” leads to “sitting in the seat of the scornful.” Brothers and sisters, do not underestimate the power of a bad friend!

We often emphasize the importance of godly fellowship, but the reverse is also true. If you develop friendships with ungodly people, they will pull you down.

Now, I am not talking about redemptive relationships. We have to develop friendships with the lost in order to win them to Christ; that I know! But there’s difference between developing strategic redemptive relationships and making someone your best friend, or marrying him for that matter!

One of the most sobering examples negative friendship is found in 2 Samuel 13 (2 Samuel 13:1-6). We’ll stop there. You probably know the rest of the story, or at least you can fill in the blank. 2 Samuel 13 is a tragic, tragic episode! And it all hangs on the words, “But Amnon had a friend.” How many teenagers have ruined their lives because… “they had a friend.” How many spouses have thrown their marriages away because of the advice of a friend?

The first reason for Judah’s failure was because he developed bad friendships. Second, he had developed bad character.

  • He had developed bad character.

You say, “How do you know that Judah had bad character?” Well, there are a couple of clear signs. First, he failed to keep his word to Tamar, his daughter-in-law.

In 38:11, Judah tells Tamar to remain a widow in her father’s house until Shelah his son is grown. But then when Shelah grows up, Judah changes his mind! Do you think he just forgot? No! He just decided that keeping his word wouldn’t be in his own best interest, after all! He deliberately broke his promise! That is a sign of bad character.

But beyond that, the very fact that Tamar was able to pull off this scheme is a sign of Judah’s bad character! If you’re Tamar, you don’t dress up like a prostitute and go sit by the side of the road unless you are confident that your plan could work! Tamar knew very well that Judah was an immoral man.

What’s the point? Just like nobody resists the kind of temptation Joseph faced by accident, nobody falls into the kind of sin that Judah fell into by accident. You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to commit adultery. You have to first be struggling in your own relationship with your spouse, and then you have to let your mind wander into places that should be off limits, and then you have to cross numerous lines you should never cross in order to develop a romantic relationship, while being deceitful enough to hide that relationship from your spouse! You probably have to sin one hundred times before actually committing adultery.

The same is true of other sexual sins. One author says of pornography, “A dozen other things have gone wrong in your heart and mind by the time you actually look at porn.”[4] And that’s true of almost every sexual sin.

Judah fell into sexual sin with Tamar because he left the covenant community, developed bad friends, and then became just like one of them.


In 2008, I hiked the Grand Canyon with some of my friends. We were almost back to the rim when we had to stop because they had shut down the trail. When we asked the park ranger why, he said that a young man probably about our age had been visiting the canyon with his family. He was probably very self-confident, as young men usually are, so he decided to climb on the rocks by the edge. You can guess what happened. That man fell to his death that day.

You may say, Pastor Kris, that is hiking. Real life is totally different. No it’s not. Christians fall to tremendous depths every day because they were playing on the edges of sin. This is not a game, folks. Get as far away from sin and as close to Jesus as possible.


[1] Morris, C.H. “Nearer, Still Nearer.” Hymnary.org. Accessed February 6, 2020. https://hymnary.org/text/nearer_still_nearer_close_to_thy_heart.

[2] Robinson, Robert. “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Hymnary.org. Accessed February 6, 2020. https://hymnary.org/text/come_thou_fount_of_every_blessing.

[3] Miller, Rhea F. “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” Hymnary.org. Accessed February 6, 2020. https://hymnary.org/text/id_rather_have_jesus_than_silver_or_gold.

[4] Lambert, Heath. Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 63.