To everyone there belongs a biography. There are reasons why we are as we are. If the Bible told us stories only of people who came from good backgrounds and developed into strong men and women of God, most of us would end up being very discouraged. But it doesn’t. The Bible talks about life as it really is: petty, messy, full of strained relationships, dysfunctional, unfair, and sometimes even murderously violent. That is what life was like for Joseph growing up in Jacob’s family, with its two wives and two further surrogate mothers so that there were in the family one husband and four ‘wives,’ with thirteen children distributed among them.
The family contained all the ingredients for a psychological nightmare.
We are told that Jacob loved Joseph, which is good for a father to do, but the problem was that he loved Joseph more than his other sons. Another problem was that Jacob didn’t keep his preference under control but expressed it by giving Joseph a magnificent robe, a many-colored robe that distinguished him visibly from the other brothers. Moreover, such a robe in that culture may well have been associated with authority and leadership. It would have been taken as a symbol of Jacob’s designation of Joseph as the clan leader. It had the effect of pouring gasoline on the flames of the brothers’ hatred.
Jacob of all people should have known better and should have seen that this was an unwise move. He had himself been born into a family split over who loved whom and why. Isaac, his father, loved Esau because he was his type of outdoor man, and Rebekah loved Jacob. This rivalry led to endless problems. Yet, as often happens, Jacob didn’t profit from his own experience. In consequence, he was condemned to see his preference for Joseph cause bitter and far-reaching dissension that wrought havoc with his family relationships over many years.
Some of us may have Jacob’s problem. When children are small, they do not occupy much space, though they may occupy a lot of time and attention. But gradually those of us who are parents become aware that our space and time are increasingly filled by powerful young minds, hearts, and wills – all of them different from each other and from us. Some are agreeable and others problematic, if not downright difficult. It is so easy then to favor the children that are like us and to distance ourselves from those who are unlike us. We may, of course, struggle to be fair. But we sometimes fail, if not in our own eyes then in those of our children, don’t we? And some of our parents failed too. We may have been like Joseph and felt the glow of basking in a parent’s smile and may also have suffered the consequences because our siblings were not treated in the same way. Or we may have been like Joseph’s brothers and known how hard it is not to be the favorite. As a result, we may still be dealing with resentment. Our parents may be long gone, but the family is still torn apart by old resentments, envies, and tensions. Just think, for example, of how many families you know, whether Christian or not, who are at war over family legacies.
C. S. Lewis points out in a famous essay how proud we can become as adults, even in Christian circles, when we get into the “inner ring,” and how desolated we can be when we are left out of it. These are very real things, aren’t they? All of us are affected by them. Indeed, many of us are struggling with them right now. In Jacob’s day, at a human level, his action threatened God’s plan to have a nation that faithfully witnessed to him in the world. Today such issues constantly threaten our families, our churches, and our workplaces, and they imperil our witness to the world. That is why it is important that we face what Scripture teaches and do something about them.
Jacob took a long time to grasp this. He imagined that because God had given him a special role in the Seed Project, it didn’t matter very much how he behaved. He had to learn the hard way that God has no favorites. God had to teach him that to be chosen for a special role did not mean that God would approve of Jacob’s questionable corner-cutting methods of achieving his, or even God’s, objectives for his life. Indeed, God has the right to expect better things from us, does he not? The apostle Peter explains this to us by spelling out the implications of calling on God as Father, who, unlike Jacob, is utterly impartial: (1 Peter 1:16-19).
But there is something else. There is a person we can come to if we have sinned by being partial or talebearing or hurtful in what we have said – Jesus our Savior and Lord: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). He alone can enable us to get up again and face the next day.
I hope you can join us this coming Lord’s Day as we begin to look at the things that made Joseph who he was but more importantly, that we look at the God whom Joseph trusted. My prayer is that we will learn to trust this God in this way. Maybe you could invite someone to come along with you this week. Will you also take a few moments and pray for our service?
Love you in Christ,