“and Potiphar’s wife soon began to look at him lustfully. “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded.” Genesis 39:7 NLT
Human beings have so many struggles, don’t we, even with our own bodies, our own minds, the very things that you would think we would be able to control and understand. But even the parts that make up our whole are often temperamental and beyond our regulation. We go so far as to ascribe independent control to the bits of ourselves that don’t behave. “Oh, it’s got a mind of its own,” we say of gammy legs, of gorging stomachs, of wayward eyes, or of other parts that seem to override our best intentions. The Bible is full of men who couldn’t seem to control their passions, sexual or otherwise, and a great deal of harm was done because of it. Our hormones, it would seem, are the hardest parts of ourselves to keep in order after our tongues.
There are precious few incidences where women are overcome by their lustful urges in the Bible. Which makes it all the more strange that we are so often accused of being slaves to our hormones. It seems men have a lot more trouble keeping their testosterone under control. But here is one such rarity, Potiphar’s wife, who longs to sleep with Joseph, who in turn refuses the advances of his master’s wife, and ends up slandered and imprisoned for his integrity.
We are all tidal creatures up to a point, and we all get overtaken by our urges from time to time if we are honest, even it if is an uncontrollable urge to binge on chocolate or to snap at our loved ones. And some of this we can put down to hormones, and excuse one another our weaknesses, which after all, are common to humanity. But perhaps sexual urges are more important to control, as infidelities wreck and even cost lives. Demanding that others satisfy those urges, as Mrs Potiphar does here, is a complete negation of Joseph’s humanity. She clearly viewed him as a slave and nothing more, despite his being master of the household. We must excuse one another our minor and occasional lapses, but also become friends with the self-discipline that will save us and others from being used and abused.
I often hear people say of those who left spouses or wrecked homes, “Oh well, you can’t help who you fall in love with!” I disagree, in fact, because one can control where one is focussed. As we see in today’s verse, lust begins (as we saw with David and Bathsheba) with looking. If we train ourselves not to look, or rather, not to look with lustful hearts, then we won’t succumb to temptation. Lust and love are very different of course, but where faithfulness is concerned the remedy is the same, self-control, and keeping our attention where it should be. If we feel ourselves in danger, we must take steps to avoid the person concerned, and not allow ourselves to be ruled solely by fleshly passions which will often tear lives and hearts apart and marriages asunder. Eyes and hearts kept on God and his ways will keep us from grievously wounding him or others.
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“Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.” Exodus 32:25
People without boundaries is generally not a pretty sight. The Israelites were in dire need of some rules, and Moses was about to give them just that. No wonder, when he saw what fools they were making of themselves, that he gave them quite so many! The ten commandments were just the beginning, and these straight from the Lord.
We tend to look at the rules as constricting things that limit our freedom, but God knows that too much freedom is a dangerous thing. If we do as please we generally end up like chickens loose on a motorway, running wild and causing mayhem. Similar to small children who push all the limits just to see how far they can go, to discover where the edges of acceptability are, we start out on our spiritual journey trying out the freedom that we imagine we have. But as Paul so wisely says, everything is permissible to me, but not everything is good for me (1 Corinthians 6:12). Rules are generally there for our good, and God’s rules created for that very purpose.
We moan endlessly today about the strenuous health and safety regulations we have to negotiate to get things done, but we forget that many people died or suffered terrible accidents before we had these laws to protect us. In the same way, people say they don’t want to suffer the restrictions of living out the discipline of a religious life. “We won’t have any fun!” is their very real concern. It is not until we know and understand that God is our loving parent, wanting us to come to no harm, that we start to see that the rules are there for our own benefit.
For when we do get out of control, it is rather like getting drunk – it’s stupid as well as dangerous. We can become a mockery. Our sex lives, which the mosaic law is so incredibly fussy about, are a good example. Out of control, giving in to every whim and fancy, means that we are prone to disease, heartbreak, a lack of emotional stability, and come to an overreliance on looks and pleasure that make us open to attack, coercion and abuse. If we live promiscuously we also miss out on the rewards of a monogamous, trusting and loving relationship that stays exclusive. Marriage is often hard work, but it bears great fruit, and a lasting love is something we all want and which does us tremendous good. The Lord knows this, because he made us that way, and he understand far better than we do the kind of harm that frivolous living and selfish ways do to us.
Left to our own devices we do laughable things. We do what we have specifically been told not to. Like teenagers left alone in the house for the first time, the Israelites perhaps do the inevitable equivalent of raiding the drinks cabinet, making a golden idol to worship. It’s foolish, it makes them a laughing stock, and Moses, like the weary parent arriving home, is furious, smashing God’s commandments. But rather than grounding, the day ends in a great amount of killing, for the Levites are commanded to punish the people by the sword and over three thousand are killed. This being out of control is clearly no laughing matter.
Thankfully, in Christ, every time we find ourselves out of control, we can turn back to the Lord and start over. Thank God that his mercies are indeed fresh every morning. We may never, in this lifetime, reach a point where we stop making stupid mistakes, nor can we always refrain from breaking the rules; but we can, by prayer and discipline, create good habits and begin to learn to walk in the Lord’s ways, trusting that he truly does know best.
We find perhaps, in the end, that our greatest freedoms are found within obedience, that the sheepfold is fenced for a reason and is the safest place for our Good Shepherd to guard us from wolves, and the best starting place for herding us in the right direction.
Photo from Morguefile.com