|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
39:19-23 Joseph's master believed the accusation. Potiphar, it is likely, chose that prison, because it was the worst; but God designed to open the way to Joseph's honour. Joseph was owned and righted by his God. He was away from all his friends and relations; he had none to help or comfort him; but the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy. Those that have a good conscience in a prison, have a good God there. God gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison; he trusted him to manage the affairs of the prison. A good man will do good wherever he is, and will be a blessing even in bonds and banishment. Let us not forget, through Joseph, to look unto Jesus, who suffered being tempted, yet without sin; who was slandered, and persecuted, and imprisoned, but without cause; who by the cross ascended to the throne. May we be enabled to follow the same path in submitting and in suffering, to the same place of glory.
Verse 20. - And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, - literally house of enclosure; sohar, from sahar, to encircle, meaning probably a turreted, arched, or rounded building for the confinement of prisoners - a place where the king's prisoners (i.e. State offenders) were bound: and he was there in the prison. This, which some regard as having been a mild punishment (Delitzsch, Keil), since, according to Diodorus Siculus, the laws of the Egyptians were specially severe in their penalties for offences against women, is represented by a Hebrew psalmist (Psalm 105:18) as having been accompanied with bodily tortures, at least for a time; for his speedy elevation to a place of trust within the prison almost gives countenance to the idea (Kurtz, Lange, &c.) that Potiphar did not believe his wife's story, and only incarcerated Joseph for the sake of appearances. That Joseph was not immediately punished with death is not improbable (Bohlen), but exceedingly natural, since Joseph was Potiphar's favorite (Havernick).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison,.... Which was in or adjoining to his house, Genesis 40:3; of himself he had power to do this, as the captain of the guard; and as he was the chief of the executioners, as some take his office to be, it is much he did not in his passion deliver him up into their hands to put him to death at once; but it may be through the great respect he had had for Joseph, which was not wholly extinguished by this impeachment of him; and especially if he heard Joseph's apology for himself before he committed him, his passion might subside a little, though for the credit of his wife he might take this step; or however things were so overruled by the providence of God, who has the hearts of all men in his hands, that he should do what he did. The word for "prison" has the signification of roundness, and may be rendered the "round house" (t), or "round tower"; and some Jewish writers, as Mercer observes, take it to be in this form, that it was made under ground, and at the top of it was an hole which let in light, and at which they went into it. Aben Ezra is at a loss to say whether it is an Hebrew or Egyptian word, and inclines to the latter, because he thinks it is explained in the next clause:
a place where the king's prisoners were bound; such as were guilty of high treason, or however of high crimes and misdemeanours against him; and so was a prison in which men were strictly kept and used hardly, as was Joseph at first, as appears from Psalm 105:18,
and he was there in the prison; he continued there, some of the Jewish writers say (u) ten years, others twelve (w); and so long he must be, if he was but one year in Potiphar's house; for there were thirteen years between his being sold into Egypt, and his appearance before Pharaoh; he was seventeen when he was sold, and he was thirty when he stood before Pharaoh, being took out of prison, see Genesis 37:2; but it is more likely that he was a longer time in Potiphar's house, and a lesser time in prison.
(t) "rotundam turrim", Junius & Tremellius; "domum rotundi carceris", Piscator: "round house", Ainsworth; "vox Hebraea significat carcerem rotundum in modum lunae", Vatablus; so Ben Melech. (u) Pirke Eliezer, c. 39. (w) Seder Olam Rabba, c. 2. p. 5. Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 3. 2.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
20. Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison—the roundhouse, from the form of its construction, usually attached to the dwelling of such an officer as Potiphar. It was partly a subterranean dungeon (Ge 41:14), though the brick-built walls rose considerably above the surface of the ground, and were surmounted by a vaulted roof somewhat in the form of an inverted bowl. Into such a dungeon Potiphar, in the first ebullition of rage, threw Joseph and ordered him to be subjected further to as great harshness of treatment (Ps 105:18) as he dared; for the power of masters over their slaves was very properly restrained by law, and the murder of a slave was a capital crime.
a place where the king's prisoners were bound—Though prisons seem to have been an inseparable appendage of the palaces, this was not a common jail—it was the receptacle of state criminals; and, therefore, it may be presumed that more than ordinary strictness and vigilance were exercised over the prisoners. In general, however, the Egyptian, like other Oriental prisons, were used solely for the purposes of detention. Accused persons were cast into them until the charges against them could be investigated; and though the jailer was responsible for the appearance of those placed under his custody, yet, provided they were produced when called, he was never interrogated as to the way in which he had kept them.
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