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DISSIMULATION AND REVENGE.
“ The adulteress! what a theme for angry verse !"
In the preceding chapter we have seen the honourable integrity of Joseph in the situation which he held under Potiphar, and the lofty principle which he displayed under the most urgent temptations to crime. We have noticed, too, the special aggravations of that sin which his ungodly and impudent mistress solicited him to commit—a sin, than which, in point of baseness and malignity, murder itself is scarcely worse. The character of Potiphar's wife, indeed, cannot fail to excite the strongest feelings of disapproval in every mind not utterly insensible to the calls of virtue and of honour. We behold in her a woman throwing aside the native modesty of her sex; not sparing to give expression in language to thoughts which it is criminal to cherish even for an instant in secret ; breaking, as a thing of nought, the most sacred covenant which one human being can enter into with another-a covenant made under a solemn appeal to heaven, and the breach of which the God of heaven will one day most terribly avenge ;-casting aside the obligations which gratitude, as well as truth and justice, had imposed, and soliciting one far beneath her in point of station to stain the honour of her absent lord. Surely, with truth did the wise man observe, «More bitter than death is the woman whose heart is snares and nets ; whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her.”
The conduct and behaviour of Joseph, on the contrary, are worthy of everlasting remembrance. Young man though he was having the prospect of bettering his condition by her patronage—solicited by her day after day, and plied by all the varied arts of speech and of gesture which an evil woman knows so advantageously to employ-possessing, withal, the most favourable opportunities for criminal gratification, he resisted her inportunities to the uttermost-and, pondering the higher obligations which duty to his master and to his God imposed on him, he observed, “ There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath my master kept anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife ; how, then, can I do this great wickedness and sin against God ?" Yea, even when at last she lays hold upon his person, he leaves his garment in her hand. For better it is that he should go from the house naked with a good conscience, than stay in it, though clothed in purple with a bad one.
But now, this woman, disappointed in the gratification of her will, bethinks herself how she may best satisfy her revenge. Because Joseph will not yield to her base desires, she must next contrive bow if possible to make him repent of his firmness. One passion having been frustrated, it is succeeded by another. The sense of wounded pride is quick within her bosom, and lust at length gives way to malice. That garment, which, in order that he might escape from her importunities, Joseph had left behind him, she affects to regard as the token of his villany; and
so the very pledge of his innocence is converted by her into a sign of his worthlessness. (See Genesis xxxix, 13–20.) A variety of evil passions now wrought mightily within her bosom. Not only the frustration of her long-deferred hopes, but the consciousness of her own degradation-the thought, so painful to be borne, that her beauty was contemned, and all her ingenuity fruitless--the mortifying reflection that her approaches had been slighted, not by one of her own rank or station merely, but by an inferior-a servant in the house-a stranger, too, who, when he came amongst them, had nothing that he might call his own; these, and the like considerations, stung her to the quick, and set ber on resenting what she conceived to be an injury or insult to her charms.
It is not unlikely that with these feelings of rage that of fear was in some measure blended. Seeing that Joseph had “ fled forth," she might be apprehensive lest he should go to Potiphar and make a full disclosure of her baseness ; and, if so, she could expect nothing but to be driven contemptuously out of the house which her wickedness dishonoured, and cast abroad on society with the vile mark of the adulteress impressed upon her character. Thus to be exposed to her husband's wrath, and subjected to public scorn - thus to forfeit the respectability in which she had hitherto been held, and become odious in the estimation of all with whom she had hitherto associated, would doubtless add in no slight degree to the rage which had been kindled by Joseph's opposition to her importunities; and so accordingly we read, that “ She laid up Joseph's garment until her lord came home. And she spake unto him, saying, “The Hebrew servant
which thou hast brought unto us came in to mock me. And as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment with me and fled out."
We are hence taught that there is no baseness of which the human heart is not capable. This woman is first of all unchaste in thought, then impudent in look, froward in speech, and immodest in behaviour. False to her husband, she contrives how, by the advantages of secrecy and concealment, she may bring the innocent into her snare. Finding her plans and artifices unavailing, she gives way to cruelty and revenge. That these new passions may be gratified, she invents a gross and unfounded calumny—charges Joseph with the baseness of making attempts upon her virtue—holds up the very garment that was the evidence of his chastity as a testimony against him—and feigns the utmost indignation that one who was supported by Potiphar's bounty should meditate his dishonour.
The servants are accordingly called in ; with her “much fair speech" and well-dissembled looks she awakens their sympathy ; and when, at length, her lord returns, she holds up before him, too, that garment as a memorial of his servant's worthlessness !
There was such an air of likelihood about the story that Potiphar received it without suspicion. Her protestations, her indignation, her anger, her tears, so coloured the narrative, that it could not fail to make a strong impression on the mind of the astonished man. So deceitful was this woman's nature, that every possible expedient we may well suppose was adopted by her to screen her own guilt, and transfer the conviction of it to the innocent. She who had herself solicited Joseph would no doubt declaim against adultery as one of the blackest and deadliest sins-profess the utmost horror at the idea of dishonouring the marriage bed-pretend the most thorough reverence for her husband's authority and the most devoted attachment to his person-speak in terms of the most unqualified indignation concerning the insolence of the slave who had dared to cast his eyes upon her; and, appealing to Potiphar as her own protector, no less than to his feelings as an injured man, demand that Joseph, who had behaved so ungratefully, should be expelled thenceforward from the service.
Accordingly, we find that, “ when Potiphar heard her words, his wrath was kindled. And he took Joseph, and put him into the prison where the King's prisoners were bound.”
In what terms Joseph sought to vindicate himself from this unjust charge we are not told. Some have thought it probable that he chose rather to lie under the iniquitous reproach than publish the dishonour of a master who, till now, had dealt with him so kindly. Conscious of his own integrity, he was perhaps contented to bear the wrong rather than let the account of his mistress's perfidy take wing through the court of Pharaoh. It was at least enough to support him under every wrong that he had the testimony of a good conscience, and that sooner or later God, whose commandment he had kept, would use means to clear up his fame. Be this, however, as it may, Joseph was, in this matter as well as many others, a type of Jesus, who was unjustly aspersed and calumniated by those whom he sought to reclaim from the paths of error. As Joseph was charged with a crime which