Summary: Joseph and his brothers clearly didn't get along and it wreaked havoc on the family. What causes things like sibling rivalry and how can God work through our imperfect relationships? Check out these thoughts from our Family Minister Scott Jewell.
Did I ever tell you I have three sisters? Growing up, we were quite competitive in just about everything. Be it sports, games, music, acting- there was always something for us to try to outdo each other. If our family had been the one in today’s text, my sisters would likely say that I was Joseph. They saw me as mom’s preacher boy, the golden child, and I could do no wrong in my mother’s eyes. From my perspective, and probably not a very good defense, being the oldest, I had learned when mom had reached her limit, would stop doing whatever it was, and watch my sisters fall off the cliff and get in trouble. When I look back, I think each of us had times when we reflected some of the character of Joseph.
My dad had a rather unique way of handling the question, “Who’s your favorite child?” Rather than saying he didn’t keep favorites, he’d tell us we were ALL his favorite. I was his favorite (and only) son. Angie was his favorite oldest daughter. Kelly was his favorite middle daughter. Kim was his favorite youngest daughter.
Sibling rivalries like ours aren’t a healthy family dynamic. It does, however, seem to be the norm when we rely on the fleshly side of our human nature. It doesn’t seem to be just children that get caught up in it, but we see it happen with people of all ages. Just recently I was told about a veteran who had four sons. The oldest three had also gone into the military when they came of age, but the youngest was too late to be able to join as the draft ended.
For years, this left the youngest son on the outside looking in. Mom tried to be a peacemaker, talking her husband into apologizing at various times, but it was short-lived. Then mom passed away, and dad, who was in his 80s, was hospitalized due to heart problems. The boys were called in to see dad, but it wasn’t going well. The oldest had the military ingrained in him, much like his father, and felt the youngest should have no say in matters. The second tried to follow his mother’s example and reconcile the brothers. The third grew tired of the fighting, but agreed the youngest should have no say.
The sad thing was, they really didn’t know the youngest brother. None of them knew that over the years, he had become a man of faith, that he had married and raised two kids. He had come, not to discuss the estate, but because he hoped to apologize to his father and be reconciled.
To make things worse, while they were at the hospital, the third son went to the house and began to gather items of value that he wanted to make sure he would inherit but got caught on camera. The oldest son called the police and had him arrested, so he spent the night in jail. It was only a few days later that the father passed away. To hear the neighbors describe it, World War 3 had broken out among the brothers when they came to their father’s house to sort out who would receive what.
Sibling rivalry is not a pleasant thing to observe at whatever age. In fact, I was doing the math as I was studying the family of Abraham. Did you realize Jacob was 77 years old when he left home and 84 when he married? As we look at today’s text, I believe we’ll find there are a combination of factors that create such a toxic family atmosphere. The first cause I’d like to look at I call the Generational Cycle.
Now, I realize that not all these examples include sibling rivalries, but starting with Abraham, we find that each generation has a rivalry in the family that harms the relationships. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and Hagar, her servant, were at odds after Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham in her efforts to fulfill God’s promise. Abraham didn’t help the situation with his hands-off approach. The rivalry continues between Isaac and Ishmael (we still see the effect in Jewish-Arab relations). Jacob and Esau’s rivalry resulted in Jacob living in exile for 20 years. Jacob’s wives, Leah and Rachel, were sisters vying for their husband’s love, even giving him their servants as lovers in an effort to win him over. And now we come to Joseph and his brothers, where Joseph is clearly dad’s favorite and the others are very jealous.
For me, this brings to mind when God gave Moses the 10 Commandments, He included to not make false gods. In Exodus 20:5, He explains, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.” Does this mean my children will be punished for the sins that I commit? Hannah and Elizabeth can thank God that the answer is no, though there are negative effects that can continue even after my passing. Ezekiel 18:1-4 explains it this way (read text). The child isn’t paying the price of the parent’s sin in the sense that he is condemned for what his father has done, but there is a negative result. We see that in Jacob’s family.