On occasion, I write short devotionals for other publications. What could be a better, more blessed way to start your day than in prayer and with a few brilliant words from me? (Don’t answer that.) The practice of writing such devotions is a spiritual exercise as I prayerfully consider the assigned texts in hopes of helping people experience God as they pause for a few minutes of meditation. I even taught about penning devotionals at a writing conference last month at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo.
I recently received a request to write another week of devotions for the Smyth & Helwys daily devotion guide “Reflections” (mine will appear in late September). The editor said they are walking through the narrative in Genesis, so five of my assigned days would come from one biblical chapter. I found this exciting since it would force me to focus closely on a text in my writing. Seeing my assignment as Genesis 39, I started turning in my Bible to see what I would cover.
Do you recognize that chapter number? I didn’t. So, I flipped the pages. Thirty-seven. Flip. Thirty-eight. Flip. There it was.
“Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife.”
Yes, my assignment involved writing five spiritual reflections about the attempted rape and false imprisonment of an immigrant slave. I can hardly wait for my next assignment. It’ll probably be a week on David and Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 11). Or, perhaps Jacob impregnating his daughter-in-law who was posing as a prostitute (see Genesis 38). Or, Noah getting drunk and naked (see Genesis 9). Perhaps I should just write my own devotional guide: “A Year of God’s Love & Joy in the Bible’s Worst Stories.”
It would be important for that book to be a devotional one and not one of those experiential books that are popular, like “A Year of Living Biblically” or “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” where authors attempted to live out biblical teachings. If I tried “A Year of Living the Bible’s Worst Stories,” I’m afraid I’d end up living out the role of Sisera as my wife played the part of Jael with a tent peg while I slept (see Judges 4). Oh, that would probably be another good biblical chapter for me to focus on for a week of devotionals, now that I think of it!
I accepted the assignment on Genesis 39, but I should warn you. The devotionals should probably be marked “NSFW” (“not safe for work”). And I hope you haven’t picked this for your family devotional time! My words might work well for your personal meditations, but there are some things little ears aren’t ready for — a thought I have sometimes as the parent of a six-year-old when our pastor ventures out of the happy passages into stories like Abraham pretending to be Sarah’s brother so she can sleep with a pharaoh (see Genesis 12). Oh, that’s another story for a week of good devotionals!
But, once I got over my alarm of being assigned Genesis 39, an interesting thing happened. The same thing that happens each time I write devotionals: I learned something from the biblical text.
I hope I don’t spoil my first devotional, but with the chapter chopped up into five parts, Potiphar’s wife doesn’t even appear in two sections — which is good for both Joseph and me. Despite the chapter heading — which was added to the text much later, perhaps by uninspired people — the story is not all about Potiphar’s wife. Yet, we too often fly past the first six verses without her so we can get to the juicy — even sexy — part. Writing that devotional helped remind me of the need to slow down, pay attention to the details.
The fact is the Bible is messy and often NSFW. Yet, it seems we often focus on the high points, the few popular stories (you know, happy tales for kids like a big flood killing lots of people, David throwing rocks and killing someone or the walls of Jericho falling and killing lots of people). Meanwhile, thousands of verses and millions of little details sit there overlooked and underexamined.
It’s often been said, the Bible might be the most-owned and least-read book.
As I learned recently in Genesis 39, you never know how God may speak to you when you stop and study a passage more carefully. We can even learn from the brutally-honest stories about horrible things like lying, rape and murder — sometimes committed by the “good” guys! Rather than degrading “the good book,” these stories actually help us see the sacred in the profane world in which we live.
Brian Kaylor is editor & president of Word&Way.