All good stories have a little conflict in them, and all conflict can usually be traced back to a root cause that sometimes has very little to do with the resulting conflict. So it is at the beginning of the story of Joseph in Genesis 37. My study today only had me read the first 4 verses of this chapter, but they say a lot about the family dynamics occurring at that time. Since it’s only 4 verses, instead of summarizing, I’ll just copy them here:
Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. (Genesis 37:1-4)
In order to understand the conflict that is being illustrated here, you must first understand what has occurred in this family up to now. A long time back Jacob had traveled to the area of Haran in order to find a wife from among his own people. He met and instantly fell in love with Rachel, but Rachel’s father, Laban, somehow tricked Jacob into marrying Rachel’s older sister Leah first. Jacob had worked for Laban for 7 years in order to marry Rachel, so when he ended up having to marry Leah, he was a little upset and demanded he get Rachel. Laban let Jacob marry her in exchange for 7 more years of work. I guess Jacob ended up getting what he wanted, but he had a lot more than he had bargained for. Because of the favoritism, the sisters ended up competing over who could give Jacob children, and in the times when they weren’t particularly having any luck with fertility, they pushed their maidservants on Jacob (this would be Bilhah and Zilpah mentioned above). So, Jacob ended up with 4 wives, 12 sons, and at least 1 daughter, when all he really ever wanted was 1 wife and whatever children she could provide. Rachel ended up having 2 children herself – Joseph and Benjamin – but she died giving birth to Benjamin. I wonder if perhaps Jacob was a little resentful towards Benjamin for being the child that, if only indirectly, caused the death of the only wife he truly loved and ever really wanted. In my mind, this may be the reason why “Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than any of his other sons…” Of course, some of this is speculation, but it is logical. He never wanted the other wives (or the sons that came with them), and he held resentment towards Benjamin, so this only left Joseph, and he showered his love on him (and gifts, too, I guess).
Knowing what is about to happen in this story, I can use my 20/20 hindsight to see that the trouble that is brewing and is starting to show in these 4 verses has its root in things that happened a long time ago, in a land far, far away. I think that as I grow in spiritual maturity, I should always remember that my actions today will almost always affect me or someone else in the future. And I also think it is good to remember that there is no law of equal return here – sometimes small things have huge paybacks, and sometimes great actions lead to very little reward – here on earth, that is. As followers of Christ, we should remember that the things we do are for Him, and that our reward will come in heaven. In fact, believing that is part of what pleases Him (see Hebrews 11:6).
Anyway, I’m interested to see what God teaches me through the upcoming story (which happens to be one of my favorites).