Monday, August 09, 2010

Jacob’s Love for Joseph - Genesis 37:1-4


Now Jacob lived in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan. These are the records of the generations of Jacob. Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.

As we start our study of this 37th chapter of Genesis, we find Jacob in the land of Canaan. The author starts to relate to us the “records of the generations of Jacob” but immediately focuses on Joseph, who at this time is seventeen years old. Unfortunately, we have no way of relating this point in time to our chronological timetable that we last looked at the time we were studying Genesis 35:28.

We are told that Joseph was taking care of Jacob’s flocks and he was doing it with his brothers. The text takes care to mention that he was doing this “as a youth” implying perhaps this was not a normal situation. In addition, Joseph, the son of Jacob via Rachel, was working as a shepherd boy with his stepbrothers, the sons of Jacob through both Bilhah and Zilpah.

Now there is no indication that all of them did not get along together. Obviously, Joseph knew the difference between himself (a son of Jacob’s beloved Rachel) and his stepbrothers, sons of his mother and ‘aunt’ Leah’s handmaidens. We can only wonder whether or not this gave him a sense of superiority. Perhaps he was just naturally more industrious than the others and he noticed that some of them were not behaving according to the way Joseph would have expected his father Jacob would want them to. So he brings home a bad report about them. We neither know what it was they were doing that was not deemed appropriate, nor do we know if Joseph made the whole thing up. Everything is possible.

It is difficult to ascertain whether the next sentence is in the appropriate chronological order or not with respect to when Jacob had made Joseph his “coat of many colors”. Was it prior to his tattling on his brothers or after that? We do not know. At face value, if we had to opt for one choice or another, we would argue that following the text and assuming some chronological order to the writing, it was afterward. However, the fact that Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than all his sons may well have been evident long before Joseph’s report to Jacob about his brothers. If so, it is possible that Joseph felt it his duty to report on his brothers, as he was his father’s favorite son and thus took upon himself the role of being his father’s eyes and ears.

What we do know is that his brothers could see Jacob loved Joseph more than them. And as one would expect, his brothers hated Joseph as a result. So much so, that they could not have a friendly conversation with him.

So, what do we make of all this? I believe there are lessons here for us as parents and grandparents with respect to how we treat all of our children and grandchildren. For me, with respect to my children it has always been a conscious decision to show them all the love I possibly can show, all the time. Yes, there are differences that come into play that would attract us to one more than to another, but we must see those as simply characteristics of who they are, not reasons to love them in varying amounts. Some of these could include their gender, their age, their availability, their choices, their personality similarity to us, and so much more. But we love them equally and totally. I believe that is what God does with all of us.

Secondly, as parents in the sandwich generation (having parents that are still living and having children), we need to be careful that we referee any preference our own parents may show towards one or more of our children over any other of our children. This happens not intentionally but more due to the values of the older generation. It takes a wise son or daughter to guard their children from it well and to encourage their parents to refrain from showing such differences without alienating them. But hey, no one ever said it was going to be easy being a parent and a child.

Finally, I think there is something here that children and grandchildren need to be aware of as well. If we detect some “special treatment” from our parents, we need to be careful how we deal with it. We need to be sure that it does not interfere, as far as our own actions and attitudes and words are concerned, with our own relationship towards our siblings. There is also a lesson here to us who are “specially treated” in that we need to understand the “human feelings and responses”of those who feel they are not treated or loved as specially as we are. We need to cut them some slack and show them our love goes beyond the love that they feel others may be showing them. Lastly, we may also have a responsibility to gently and indirectly encourage and remind those who show this special love or treatment towards us that they have other children and other grandchildren. Many an adult is moved to the correct action by the words of a child, regardless of the ‘child’s’ age.

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