Summary: The story of how Joseph was used by God in spite of being in a dysfunctional family.
Family Feud Genesis 37: 1-4 and 12-28
I love a good Bible story, and when looking at the three scripture readings for today I could not resist going with the Old Testament story of Joseph. Perhaps most of you had the story of Joseph and The Coat of Many Colors read to you by your parents or grandparents when you were a small child. But today we are going to examine the text from the viewpoint of Joseph’s family situation and look at the background and more of the characters to see if we can learn from their mistakes.
The term “dysfunctional” is used quite often in today’s society to describe families with problems. My mother used to say that if everyone hung their problems out on a line to be seen and chosen, you would run like heck to get your own! We can certainly sympathize with the pain and suffering in Joseph’s family. It was such a dysfunctional group you couldn’t even make a television soap opera or sitcom out of it today. It just wouldn’t be believable.
Let’s begin by looking back at Joseph’s father, Jacob. Remember Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, but was tricked by her father into marrying her sister, Leah. So he waited seven more years working for this evil father-in-law and married Rachel. Then when child-bearing became a problem for Rachel she gave Jacob her maid to bear children for her. When Leah was afraid of being outnumbered by Rachel’s children then she gave her maid to Jacob, too. So Joseph was raised in an angry jealous household with four insecure unhappy women! Imagine the turmoil in this family. Joseph grew up with ten step brothers and a step sister and then lost his mom when she died while giving birth to his baby brother Benjamin (and it is supposed he heard her screams in the tent that night as she was dying.) Knowing what we know today about child psychology, think of the pain he must have carried within himself as a small boy.
Jacob was certainly no model father. Looking in other chapters of Genesis you will see that his daughter, Dinah was raped and he did nothing. (Gen 34:1-2) His sons avenged her rape by killing all the men in the city where it happened and he worried only about how badly this would affect public relations with the rest of the people around there, instead of being concerned with the fact that his sons had murdered innocent people, too. Later his oldest son, Reuben had an incestuous affair with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah (Gen 35:21) and at the time Jacob did nothing, but on his deathbed he said he would take away Reuben’s birthright because of this incident and give it to Joseph instead. (Deathbed vindictiveness shows a bitter life of unforgiveness) But this is the kind of father whom God chose to be the father of the Jewish nation! You see, perfection is not a requirement to be used of God.
Jacob’s partiality toward Joseph was just repeating the same sort of partiality he had been shown by his own mother. (Remember Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite son and Esau was his father’s favorite.) We call these generational sins, because they continue through succeeding generations down a family line and they wreak havoc if they are not somehow stopped by the grace of God.
For seventeen years as he grew up, Joseph’s brothers had all watched their father’s favoritism. The scripture we read today said it was because he was a son born to him in his old age, (and to his favorite wife), I might add. Joseph represented a piece of Rachel left for Jacob to love and cling to. So this is Jacob’s excuse for his part in the family feud. This is where we enter the story today.
Jacob has dramatically shown his special love for Joseph by making him the famous coat of many colors. It was a long-sleeved long robe all the way down to the floor with very ornate trim. (One commentator said this made it obvious that Jacob did not intend for Joseph to do any manual labor.) Joseph was brought up to believe he was destined for greatness and leadership. His brothers had the short, sleeveless version of shepherd’s garb so they could chase sheep and scamper up hillsides and get dirty, but, not Joseph. In fact when he wore his robe to go to check on his brothers it was sort of “like wearing a tuxedo to mow the lawn.” It was hardly appropriate, but we don’t know whether he wore it out of pride or just to please his father. Maybe it was a little of both.
Joseph certainly comes across as being a naïve young lad. He obeyed his father and tried to warn his brothers not to behave the way they did sometimes. He finally tattled on them and when they saw him coming now in that coat they were reminded of the discrimination and the sharp contrast between their lives and his and they hated him. Verse 4 says “they could not speak a kind word to him.”