Summary: The causes of envy: circumstances, insecurity, spiritual vacuum. Solutions to envy: Take responsibility, find security in Christ, embrace our purpose in God's plan.
GREEN WITH ENVY, RIPE FOR TROUBLE—Genesis 37
A few years ago, a shampoo commercial on TV featured a beautiful woman, with long flowing hair, saying, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”
Why would anyone hate a person who is beautiful, or charming, or successful, or popular, or rich, or smart, or powerful? Envy. Envy is resentment of what others have, and discontentment with what we have.
Envy destroys. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.’
Envy drains away the joy of life. It undermines satisfaction with life, and it destroys self-confidence. It affects relationships with others, poisoning friendships and sabotaging partnerships. Envy can have negative effects in marriage, in the church, and in the workplace.
Yet envy tempts us all.
[Note to preacher: At this point, I told a personal story, of a time when I envied someone. A story like that might help listeners engage with their own envy, on more personal level.]
WHERE DOES ENVY COME FROM?
-ENVY ARISES OUT OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF LIFE
The circumstances in Jacob’s family were a setup for envy.
Jacob (whom God had renamed Israel, meaning “father of many”) had 11 sons at this point in his life, by four different women. Rachel was the woman Jacob truly loved, and she had given birth to only one son, the youngest, Joseph. (Later, Rachel had another son, Benjamin; she died in childbirth.)
[Note to preacher: The birth of Benjamin is in 35:16-18. If Benjamin was born before the events of chapter 37, he was too young to figure in the story. However, since Jacob speaks to Joseph of “your mother and I” in 37:10, it is more likely that the writer chose to finish the story of Jacob’s life first, so that the story of Joseph’s life could proceed uninterrupted.]
Read Genesis 37:3-4.
Of course Joseph’s brothers were jealous! Jacob’s obvious favoritism, flaunted by giving Joseph a “richly ornamented robe” (coat of many colors, or, in the title of a Broadway musical, “amazing technicolor dreamcoat”) was a setup for envy.
Joseph didn’t help the situation, as he shared his dreams of being superior to his brothers. In one dream, sheaves of grain, representing the 11 brothers, bowed down to his sheaf of grain. In the second dream, the son and moon and eleven stars, symbolizing his entire family, bowed down to Joseph. That was too much for even Jacob to accept.
Did God send those dreams to Joseph, or were they generated in Joseph’s conceited mind? Either way, Joseph did not have to tell his dreams! He was an arrogant teenager, and he set up his brothers for envy, even hatred.
Sometimes life sets us up for envy.
We may or may not have a “Joseph” in our lives, but life circumstances can be a setup for envy. There are always people who are richer, better looking, more popular, or more successful. Some might flaunt their superiority, or even provoke us in their arrogance. Everyone seems to fawn over them, anxious to please them. And yes, we might envy their assets, the attention they get, and their influence.
Envy arises out of the circumstances of life. Yet outward circumstances are not the only factor in envy…
-ENVY FEEDS ON INSECURITY
Insecurity was rooted in the history of Jacob’s family.
Jacob fell in love with Rachel, but her father, Laban, tricked him into marrying her sister Leah first. When Jacob finally married Rachel seven years later, it created a love triangle. Insecure in their relationship, Rachel and Leah were desperate to provide sons to Jacob, so they gave their maidservants to Jacob as surrogates. The sister wives were constantly seeking love and validation from Jacob, and the sons were pawns in the game.
The sibling rivalry of the brothers was extreme. Reuben was the oldest, but as a son of Leah, his firstborn status was jeopardized by the fact that his mother was not the wife Jacob loved most. In a power play, Reuben snuck into the tent of one of his surrogate stepmothers, Bilhah, to have sex with her, and put himself on an equal footing with his father. It was a sordid tale of insecurity and intrigue.
Imagine growing up in that large household, clawing for attention! As the only son of the wife Jacob loved most, Joseph became the lightning rod for all of the insecurity, ambition, and manipulation in the family. (Experts in family dynamics say that one person in the family is often the lightning rod, “the problem child,” or the center of the family drama.)
Envy feeds on insecurity.
Our insecurities may be superficial: the way we look, the abilities we wish we had, or lack of confidence in relationships. Insecurities may be reinforced by mistakes, failure, unfulfilled goals, or rejection.