Having favourites can lead to problems, especially when it is those of your own family. You would have thought Jacob would have learned his lesson in this. After all, both of his parents had a different favourite son, which had led to his having to flee for his life and live with his relatives in the north.
Of his two wives, he had an obvious favourite, but it led to his wives competing to see who could have his affections. And now he had thirteen children, twelve of whom were sons! You might think that he would have learned to stop playing favourites.
But it wasn’t to be. His favourite wife, the love of his life, Rachel, had been barren for so long that when she finally had a child, it would seem that he became the apple of his father’s eye, despite being the eleventh son! We don’t know much about Joseph’s early life, but when we get to Genesis 37, he is seventeen and seems to be well aware of his father’s feelings for him.
When we first read about Joseph, he was helping to shepherd the sheep with his brothers, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher, who were all older than he was. When they returned home, he brought his father a bad report about his brothers. The Hebrew word which relates to this bad report is usually used in the sense of an untrue report. We find that Jacob not only believed him, but rewarded him!
“Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons because he was a son born to him late in life, and he made a special tunic for him. When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated Joseph and were not able to speak to him kindly” (Genesis 35:3-4 NET).
We don’t know much about this special tunic. Some translations have it being a multi-coloured coat, and perhaps it was, although this comes from the Septuagint and Vulgate translations and not from the Hebrew text. Whatever type of coat it was, it seems that it was not suitable for a working man and might have even been an indication that Jacob intended Joseph to be his heir or become head of the tribe. One writer pointed out that the Hebrew construction of verse 2 may indicate that Joseph used to be a shepherd and that this record was his final time serving in that capacity, that once he was given this coat he was not expected to watch the sheep.
Add to this the dreams he not only had but seemed to enjoy telling, which always centered around his brothers bowing down to him. “Then his brothers asked him, ‘Do you really think you will rule over us or have dominion over us?’ They hated him even more because of his dream and because of what he said” (Genesis 35:8).
The turning point came when Jacob sent Joseph to check up on his brothers who were grazing the sheep some distance away. When Joseph finally caught up with them, his brothers were ready to kill him. Reuben, the eldest, intervened so that they would only capture Joseph and hold him in a dry cistern. When some Midianite merchants came by, they decided there was more profit in selling their brother, so Joseph was sold as a slave for 20 pieces of silver.
Can you imagine such extreme feelings toward your brother? Can you imagine hating someone so much that you would want to kill them? Can you imagine selling your own brother as a slave? Such feelings are the opposite of what we are to have within our families and especially within the family of God.
Despite how bad things were going for Joseph, one thing he would very soon learn was that God was still in control. When things go wrong in our lives, we, too, need to remember that God is in control and can work good out of the worst of situations (Romans 8:28). We need to learn to trust God.
Readings for next week:
31 August – Genesis 41:37-57
1 September – Genesis 42
2 September – Genesis 43
3 September – Genesis 44
4 September – Genesis 45