These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. Genesis 37:2-5.
Family can be hard when parents play favorites. If you ask any parent if they had favorites amongst their children, most will deny it. It is a bit of a catch-22 when one is confronted with such a question. It would seem silly for a parent to openly admit that any particular child is their favorite because it fosters immediate ill-will amongst the family. Yet here in Genesis 37 there is no question that Joseph is Jacob’s favorite child because he was the son of his old age, most likely beyond the time of normal childbearing. Joseph was a unique blessing and gift from the Lord and Jacob treasured him. Either way, it is obvious to everyone that Joseph is the favored son. Joseph clearly received preferential treatment and was lavished with special gifts that the others did not receive.
If you ask siblings who is the favorite in the family, there will almost always a unanimous acknowledgement that someone amongst the siblings would get the nod as being the favored child. My family, like most, experienced this phenomenon in our family. My mom often has talked so much about one of her sons that some people were unaware there are three of us in the family, not just one. That preferential attention is obvious to everyone except to mom – no harm done – we get it, and we all have a great relationship with one another – it is what it is!
Family can be hard when siblings criticize each other. Joseph gave dad a bad report on his brothers. Regardless if Joseph’s criticism was personal or the brothers were slacking on their chores, Joseph felt the need to complain about it to dad. While dad is trying to keep everyone accountable to do their part in the family, having the youngest evaluate the productivity of the rest of the family did create tensions amongst the brothers. Clearly, Joseph could do no wrong, which bred even more contempt from his brothers.
Family can be hard when siblings are competing. Not sure how we get away from this one. This is more like a universal reality for most homes. Jacob’s family was perfectly primed for this conflict. Jacob’s obvious fawning over Joseph, the bad criticism, the elevated dreams about ruling over his brothers, became too much for the brothers and they had experienced enough of this.
Family can be hard when there is jealousy. Jealousy left unchecked breed’s nasty stuff. The brothers first decided to kill Joseph to get rid of the problem. Fortunately for Joseph, the oldest brother, Rueben who stepped in to save his life. Of course, the alternative was pretty mean – throw him in a pit, sell him to some passing traders headed for Egypt, and create the story that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. They even went as far as convincing their father he was dead! That is pretty extreme but nothing new. Jealousy will create a toxic wasteland for any family.
Family can be hard, but they are incredibly valuable. We can learn a mountain full of wisdom if parents learn how to train their children to figure out life in the same space. In todays’ world, many families are fractured and dismembered by the toxic waste of jealousy and criticism. I hope you will value each other, your differences, and learn to see the opportunity that God can use family to make us holy but not always happy.
In God’s family – Pastor Brad.