How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? “

We live in a time of great moral pollution. Even if we individually take moral purity seriously, we are surrounded by media and culture that celebrate sex as the currency of the realm. Immodesty commands our attention. Lust encourages our warped thinking. Our screen heroes and our real life national heroes are as casual about sex as about a night on the town. Our contemporary attitude toward sex creates a desolating scourge.

President Kimball has warned us that “infidelity is one of the great sins of our generation. The movies, the books, the magazine stories all seem to glamorize the faithlessness of husbands and wives. To the world nothing is holy, not even marriage vows… It reminds us of Isaiah, who said: Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil…’ (Isaiah 5:20)” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.250).

An Ancient Encounter

One of the great examples of moral ascendance was Joseph of Israel. His encounter with Potiphar’s wife is told in just six verses in the book of Genesis.

And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.

And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within.

And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out. (Genesis 39:7-12, emphasis added)

We honor Joseph’s valiance and purity. He was far from his home ward with its attendant accountability. Potiphar’s wife was alluring and powerful. Yet he resisted her without hesitation. What an example!

An Enriched Account

The Book of Jasher contains an account of the encounters between Joseph and Potiphar’s wife that is much richer and more detailed than that in the Old Testament. Whether the book that circulates today in the Church as the Book of Jasher is the same book as that referred to in Joshua and 2 Samuel is uncertain. John Taylor recommended that the book we know as the Book of Jasher be considered as history but not as revelation.

Whether the Jasher account of Joseph is perfectly historical, it is perfectly instructive. It is as dramatic as anything that has ever come from Hollywood, while being morally inspiring.

Since the account of Potiphar’s wife enticing Joseph consumes over 3,000 words in the Book of Jasher, I will re-tell and summarize the story. When I go beyond summarizing the story in the Book of Jasher, I put my comments in brackets.

Potiphar brought Joseph to manage his holdings. God prospered all that Joseph touched. Joseph had “beautiful eyes and [a] comely appearance” unlike any in the land of Egypt. Potiphar’s wife, Zelicah, found herself drawn to him. “She coveted his beauty in her heart, and her soul was fixed upon Joseph, and she enticed him day after day, and Zelicah persuaded Joseph daily, but Joseph did not lift up his eyes to behold his master’s wife” (v.16). [Joseph was exemplary. He did not even look at Zelicah!]

Zelicah flattered Joseph telling him that she had never seen such a beautiful slave. Joseph responded that the One who created him created all mankind. She replied that his eyes dazzled all the inhabitants of Egypt. He observed that when he died his eyes would frighten her. She praised him for his words. He replied that his words were beautiful when he praised God. When she praised his hair, he begged her to stop and take care of her business. Joseph was not to be won with flattery [which is one of Satan’s favorite tools for luring us into affairs].

Zelicah persisted. “She enticed him daily with her discourse to lie with her, or ever to look at her, but Joseph would not hearken to her” (v.23). So she threatened him with bondage and death. Joseph’s reply was noble: “Surely God who created man looseth the fetters of prisoners, and it is he who will deliver me from thy prison and from thy judgment” (v. 25).

When she was unable to seduce Joseph, Zelicah fell into a depression. When her friends came to visit her, they could not imagine that such a wealthy woman could be unhappy. So she made a banquet for them. She gave them fruit to cut and peel and had Joseph appear before them. “And they all cut their hands with the knives that they had in their hands, and all the citrons that were in their hands were filled with blood” (v. 29). [ Hollywood never scripted a more dramatic scene!] They could not look away from Joseph.

Zelicah challenged them. If you cut yourselves after looking at Joseph, how can I manage myself when he is constantly in my house? How can I keep from perishing? [Satan has inspired the lustful question: How can you possibly live around such a magnificent man without having sex?]

Zelicah’s misery increased. Her friends encouraged her to seduce him by any means necessary. So she attacked him. But he broke from her and ran away.

Later she asked Joseph how he could make her suffer so. She insisted that he would be the death of her. [It seems that she had turned to guilt: Joseph was responsible for her misery!] Joseph replied that he would not dishonor his master. “How then canst thou speak these words unto me, and how can I do this great evil and sin to God and to thy husband?” (v. 45). [This is reminiscent of Joseph’s words in the Genesis account.]

She ignored his counsel and continued daily to entice him. Then a holiday came. As all the people left for the festivities, she made excuses and remained in the house. She dressed herself in her most exotic clothes, put on her finest jewelry, and applied the finest makeup and perfume. Then she took up a place where she knew Joseph would pass. But as soon as he saw her, he turned away. She begged him to go about his work.

As he sat to do his work, she stood before him. In desperation she threatened him. “As the king liveth if thou wilt not perform my request thou shalt die this day, and she hastened and stretched forth her other hand and drew a sword from beneath her garments, and she placed it upon Joseph’s neck, and she said, Rise and perform my request, and if not thou diest this day” (v. 53). [Many weaker souls would have justified submitting to her threats.

Not Joseph!]

When Joseph fled, she grabbed his robe and pulled it from him as he departed. When her seduction failed, she changed into her regular clothes. She sent a messenger to gather the people of the household and she made her accusation: “See what a Hebrew your master has brought to me in the house, for he came this day to lie with me” (v. 57).

Everyone was indignant with Joseph. Potiphar was enraged. Joseph was punished with severe stripes – even though Joseph proclaimed his innocence and wise men recognized the inconsistencies in Zelicah’s story. Joseph was stuck in the prison house for 12 years! [A lesser man would have cursed God for punishing him for his virtue!]

Incredibly, Zelicah visited him in prison for three months trying to persuade him to submit to her in exchange for his freedom. Even in such desperate circumstances, Joseph would have none of it. “It is better for me to remain in this house than to hearken to thy words, to sin against God. (v. 78, Book of Jasher, Chapter XLIV).

While Hollywood makes drama out of lust and seduction, the truly great dramas celebrate something different: faithfulness and holiness. Much like Jesus, “He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them” (D&C 20:22). In a time when lust is the backdrop to almost all relationships, Joseph stands as an example to us of a pure heart. Joseph honored his covenants above pleasure, lust, threats, or convenience. He gave no place for evil.

Modern Subtlety

Today Satan attacks saints with subtle and indirect means. He gets us inappropriately close to someone who is not our spouse under the guise of missionary work, friendship, or helpfulness. He subtly builds inappropriate emotional bonds while quieting our consciences with weak rationalizations. Perhaps this is Satan’s favorite ploy with those who desire goodness and are filled with compassion. The Book of Mormon describes his strategy.

And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well – and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. (2 Nephi 28:21)

An Unchanging Standard

Ancient Joseph of Israel may be especially instructive to us. While he was raised with righteous standards, his experience in Egypt was similar in many ways to the seduction and evil we experience in our culture. Just as Zelicah relentlessly lured him toward evil, so our common talk, TV, and movies suggest that chastity is outmoded.

Modern prophets have unapologetically declared the same standard that Joseph lived by.

There are those married people who permit their eyes to wander and their hearts to become vagrant, who think it is not improper to flirt a little, to share their hearts and have desire for someone other then the wife or the husband. The Lord says in no uncertain terms: Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else’ (D&C 42:22).

And, when the Lord says all they heart, it allows for no sharing nor dividing nor depriving. … The words none else eliminate everyone and everything. The spouse then becomes preeminent in the life of the husband or wife, and neither social life nor occupational life nor political life nor any other interest nor person nor thing shall ever take precedence over the companion spouse…

Marriage presupposes total allegiance and total fidelity. Each spouse takes the partner with the understanding that he or she gives totally to the spouse all the heart, strength, loyalty, honor, and affection, with all dignity. Any divergence is sin; any sharing of the heart is transgression. As we should have an eye single to the glory of God,’ so should we have an eye, an ear, a heart single to the marriage and the spouse and family. (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p.141-143).

An Example of Deception

A good friend taught me a lot about the subtle process that Satan uses. She is an earnest married Latter-day Saint. She caught me at a social gathering to tell me of a great friendship she had developed with a man in her ward. She and he enjoyed great discussions about the gospel. Sometimes he called her from work. Occasionally they met downtown for lunch. He bought her little gifts. She told me how much she enjoyed her companionship with the man. I was worried. Then she told me how good the man was with children… and how she wished her husband would be as sensitive. Then I knew.

The devil had carefully woven her discontent about her husband together with her affection for another man. The effect was devastating to her marriage. She was trying to find some way to leave her husband while still doing all she believed was right. It is a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t situation. She does not enjoy her marriage and family. Yet she can’t find any way to have what she thinks she wants. She is trapped. She is right where the devil wants her. She is miserable.

The devil’s methods for tricking us are predictable. Trouble starts with behaviors that seem very innocent. We do good, helpful things: supporting a troubled neighbor, sharing gospel ideas with a ward member, working closely with another person on a ward activity, listening to the troubles of a co-worker. All of these kindnesses are good. But the trouble begins as a person starts to feel responsible or very close to someone who is not his or her marriage partner. An affection is growing that claims part of the heart that belongs only to the spouse

The covenant we make with God to avoid all sexual relations outside of marriage precludes not only physical, but also romantic relationships outside of marriage, even if they are only mental or emotional.

Elder Gene R. Cook has said that we do not have the right to stimulate or be stimulated by anyone who is not our spouse (“The Eternal Nature of the Law of Chastity”). That is a high standard! We do not have the right to allow or entertain sexual feelings for anyone but our spouses. In the early stages of extramarital flirting, the intoxicating feeling of someone’s affection and the sense of our innocence may blind us to the seriousness of our situation.

Stages of Unfaithfulness

The unfaithfulness moves to a more serious and dangerous stage of unfaithfulness when one or both of the people declare their relationship “special.” They would never dream of “doing anything immoral or improper.” But a person increasingly makes excuses to see the special friend. They plan their schedules to assure that they will be together. Cards, notes and gifts are exchanged.

One tell-tale indicator that a relationship has moved to a dangerous stage is worrying about what people may say about the time or affection that you are sharing with the other person. Another indicator is making excuses or telling lies to hide the time or resources spent on the other person.

This is the point when “friends” begin sharing more of their daily thoughts and feelings with each other than with their spouses.

At this point the spouse is displaced as the key recipient of heartfelt communication and emotional intimacy is given to an outsider. These are sure signs that you are doing something wrong.

By now, sacred covenants have already been violated and permanent damage lurks. The rightful place of spouse in a person’s heart is crowded by affections for another person. At this stage of unfaithfulness the person is especially likely to be finding fault with his or her spouse. The spouse is compared to the special friend: “I wish my husband were as good with children as Fred.” “I wish my wife were as alert and interesting as Mandy.”

At this stage a person is misled enough to start weaving fantastic fantasies. One form of the fantasizing may sound like “Maybe the Lord wants me to be happy with this other person – and in my case divorce would be sanctioned by Him.”

In a more malignant form, it may sound like: “Maybe the Lord will take my husband so that John and I can be together. Somehow, someday, the Lord will work this beautiful relationship out for us.”

Ouch! The Lord does not want us to drop out of His finishing school at the first sign of challenge. Also, the Lord is not a heavenly hit man who takes out selected children in order to satisfy our whims and lustful fantasies. He asks instead that we learn to love each other and overlook the inevitable faults we discover. He asks that we honor commitments and strengthen our partners. He asks that we be as good and kind to our partners as we would have them be to us. This is the Christian mandate in its most soul-stretching form.

This stage of unfaithfulness can be a full-blown addiction even if physical intimacies have not been shared. The treatment for it can be wrenching. But rationalizing that it is not a problem and that we can handle it may only delay the pain and increase the risk of further, permanent damage to the family.

The final stage of unfaithfulness begins officially with the showing of any physical affection. It is easy for “special friends” to justify a squeeze. Even a kiss seems innocent enough. The “friends” may be determined to avoid immorality at all costs. They may think that full sexual expression is not even to be considered. But intoxication with the pleasures of romance make the insistent and powerful pleading of biological urges more and more difficult to ignore. Even if a couple exercises the restraint to avoid having intercourse, the damage to family relations that comes from divided loyalties and ugly dishonesty is terrific and tragic. Trust is destroyed. Covenants, with all of their glorious promises, are wasted.

But it does not have to be that way. At any point in the process we can repent. The more time and emotion that we have invested in our fantasy, the harder it is to repent. Satan will not let go of us gladly.

We may try to kid ourselves into thinking that we can somehow honor our covenants while holding a special place in our heart for the soulmate. But we lie to ourselves and to God in believing this. We violate our covenants. The devil must roar as he observes us feeling confined by our sacred covenants while yearning for something that does not and cannot satisfy. Wickedness never was – and never will be – happiness ( Alma 41:10).

An Ounce of Prevention

Latter-day Saints should be alert to the predictable temptations that Satan uses to break up marriages. We should monitor our behavior and our feelings closely. By being alert to the danger signs we can prevent the problems that begin so innocently but end so disastrously.

There are several guidelines

1. Do not allow the seeds of lust to germinate. Do not look on another woman or man with lust. Do not entertain mental fantasies of romance or passion. Do not let your mind be poisoned with the sick encounters in soap operas, worldly literature, or any form of pornography.

2. Never make excuses to spend time alone with a person of the opposite sex who is not your spouse. Guard the level of emotional intimacy you build with a non-spouse. As Shirley Glass, a scholar on faithfulness, said, we should maintain a wall between us and those who are not friends to our marriage – who threaten it in any way. We may open a window to those who are friends of our marriage. And there should be no walls or windows between us and our spouses. We should be as one.

3. Take responsibility for the messages that you give. You do not have the right to be “cute” or flirty with anyone but your spouse. Do not use cards, gifts or charm to win the affection of anyone who is not your spouse.

4. Do not allow your heart to dwell on anyone. Push daydreaming of any person but your spouse out of your mind promptly. When you are worried about the intruder, pray for him or her and trust Heavenly Father to care for him or her. The untangling of excuses and emotional dependence can be the hardest part of overcoming the

5. If you find yourself making excuses for continuing the relationship, you are addicted. Get help. Talk with your bishop or stake president. Seek out the help of friends who will help you overcome your addiction.

6. Spend more enjoyable time with your spouse. Have weekly dates doing those things that you enjoy together. Find ways to improve your relationship. Be patient. Recognize that many of our frustrations with our spouses are built on the false assumption that they ought to be a certain way. Change your assumptions. Recognize that even the best marriages have more and less satisfying times. Be patient. Be true to your covenants. Enjoy your partner as he or she is. It is easy to believe that things will never be right with your spouse. Trust the Lord that He can heal all wounds.

7. Renew your spiritual efforts. Turn to the Lord in prayer. Ask for strength to put temptation out of your mind. Fill your empty places with service, scripture study, and love for your family.

8. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Don’t allow yourself to spend time alone with the person. Avoiding is better than resisting. Make your spouse a partner in all of your efforts to help a person of the opposite sex.

9. Keep your soul free of the soul-numbing barrenness of pornography. The greatest sin of pornography may be that it reduces the sacrament of intimacy to a random and wanton act of self-gratification. Preserve or renew your awe in the blessing of simple acts of affection.

10. Celebrate the sweet gift of companionship. The amazing message from our marriage partners is: “I’m trusting you with my life, my body, my hopes, my dreams. Please be kind and gentle.” Each of us should rejoice in the sacred gift of spousal trust. If we have squandered any part of it, we should work to re-qualify for it.

As my wise colleague James Marshall observes, “The grass is greener on the side of the fence you water.

” If we tend our own little patch, even with all its weeds and rocks, we will find a joy that passes understanding. If we sit on the fence and dream, we will lose even our allotted garden spot. And the devil knows that.

We should be prepared for Satan’s attacks. He offers love, fun and a satisfying life. But it is a lie. He wants to get us to violate our covenants. But he has no joy to deliver on his grandiose promises. He is the master of misery. That is all he has to offer.

If we have been unwise enough to have been caught in a trap, we may repent. When we honor covenants made with our Heavenly Father we are always blessed. Always. Sometimes Father’s process requires us to be patient. Sometimes He requires us to bear discomfort. But He always blesses those who obey Eternal laws. And the blessings are in incredible disproportion to the price we have paid.

To those who claim their love is dead, let them return home with all their loyalty, fidelity, honor, and cleanness, and the love that has become but embers will flare up with scintillating flame again. If love wanes or dies, it is often infidelity of thought or act that gave the lethal potion (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p.147).

The Joy of Fidelity

Fidelity may seem to be confining. It always will – unless we adopt God’s perspective.

Through the lens of spirituality we see all the commandments of God as invitations to blessings. Obedience and sacrifice, loyalty and love, fidelity and family, all appear in eternal perspective. (Dallin H. Oaks, Pure in Heart, p.123)

Those who have loved faithfully and patiently reap a harvest of joy and companionship. This sweet truth is acknowledged even by secular scholars.

… for true lovers at all points in history, a fleeting touch on the cheek from the one they adore will be worth more than six hours in 37 positions with someone they do not. (p. 85, Intimate Behavior)

Those who resist the lure and guile of Satan, those who honor covenants, those who tend the little garden of their own covenants, will enjoy sweetness in this life and rewards unmeasured in the world to come.

As usual, Satan’s lies are extravagant – but empty. In contrast God’s promises are sure. When we, like Joseph, quietly honor our covenants-even making sacrifices and fighting temptation – God will reward us with blessings unfathomable to those who have grabbed pleasure over principle.

Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart. (Psalms 32:11)

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. (Luke 6:38)


Do you notice times when you feel drawn toward someone who is not your spouse? Have you purified your heart so that you choose obedience over the ego-buzz of romance? Do you push away temptation and call on Heaven for mercy?

Are you cultivating appreciation for sweet companionship? Are you consciously grateful for the blessing of simple affection?

References and recommended reading

Glass, S. P., & Staeheli, J. C. (2004). Not “just friends”: Rebuilding trust and recovering your sanity after infidelity. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kimball, S. W. (1973). Faith precedes the miracle. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.

Thanks to Barbara K. for sharing her wise insights that enriched this chapter.

Elements of this narrative were drawn from my earlier work, The Frightful and Joyous Journey of Family Life, Bookcraft.