Joseph: Sibling Rivalry (Part One)

(Please read Genesis 37:1-11.  My remarks are based on a study of the NIV.)

Message: Family relationships need MORE grace, not less.

The book of Genesis is a record of sibling rivalries, with the winner always being the younger brother!

– The sons of Adam, Cain and Abel.

– The sons of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac.

– The sons of Isaac, Esau and Jacob.

– The sons of Jacob, the eleven vs. Joseph. To the best of my knowledge, the only one of the four rivalries to be retold in a major Broadway production is Joseph.  In fact, I had a bit part – Levi, one of the eleven brothers – in a community theater production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

According to our modern-day oracle Wikipedia, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a musical or operetta with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. This was the first Lloyd Webber and Rice musical to be performed publicly.

The show has little spoken dialogue; it is completely sung-through. Its family-friendly storyline, universal themes and catchy music have resulted in numerous productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; according to the Really Useful Group, by 2008 more than 20,000 schools and amateur theatre groups had successfully put on productions.

(Retrieved from on 7/31/15.)

1. The setting (37:1-2).

     Verse one is actually the conclusion of chapter 36; the end of the spotlight being on Jacob’s story. Like his ancestors, he lived in Canaan, but as a sojourner, not as a permanent resident.  He did not own any of the land on which he lived and worked (see Hebrews 11:3).  The story of Joseph is the beginning of the transition from Canaan to Egypt.  It’s titled, THE ACCOUNT OF JACOB.  Actually, it’s more about Joseph.

What do we know about Joseph?

– Though he’s referred to as A YOUNG MAN in this passage, Joseph wasn’t a kid: 17 years old was five years past the age of manhood.  He was NOT the “baby of the family,” Benjamin was born after him. So why did the writer refer to him in this way? This reference may imply immaturity.  His actions in chapter 37 are typical of an immature guy.

– His father had 2 wives and had fathered some of his 13+ children by means of his wives’ handmaids.

– He kept the family trade: a shepherd.

 2. The causes of sibling rivalry (37:1-11).

     The first involved Joseph: Being a tattletale (v. 2).  We’re not given the details of this incident, but we don’t need them to get the point is that Joseph’s reporting it to Jacob gave Joseph’s brothers reason to dislike him.

Tale-bearing is condemned in Scripture as a sin of the tongue, a variation on the sin of gossip.  For one example among many, I offer Proverbs 20:19: A GOSSIP BETRAYS A CONFIDENCE; SO AVOID A MAN WHO TALKS TOO MUCH.  The person who is guilty of being a tattle-tale is motivated by a desire to get someone else in trouble.  Being a tattle-tale has a divisive effect on relationships.


The second involved Jacob: Showing favoritism (vs. 3-4).  The text says that Jacob (aka Israel) LOVED JOSEPH MORE THAN ANY OF HIS OTHER SONS.

There were two reasons for Jacob’s favoritism.  In v. 2 it is written; BECAUSE HE HAD BEEN BORN TO HIM IN HIS OLD AGE.  Actually, Jacob was more middle-aged when Joseph was born and Benjamin was the last child Jacob had with Rachel.  So what does this mean?

– In 44:20 the same phrase used of Benjamin, Joseph’s younger brother.

– Perhaps it refers to Jacob’s temperament; Joseph was born at time when Jacob was of a more “grandfatherly” bent.

While there is no excuse for favoritism, the other reason Jacob felt it was because Joseph’s mother was Rachel, the love of Jacob’s life.  In 29:30; Jacob LOVED RACHEL MORE THAN LEAH.  Joseph must have reminded Jacob of his beloved wife in some special way.

One of the ways Jacob demonstrated his favoritism of Joseph was in buying him an expensive gift: a RICHLY ORNAMENTED ROBE.  The Hebrew means “a coat of extended length;” it reached to the hands and feet.

– The idea that it was multicolored is found only in the earliest versions of the Bible.

– The only other place i/t Bible this term is used is in 2 Samuel 13:18-19 in reference to the KIND OF GARMENT THE VIRGIN DAUGHTERS OF THE KING WORE.  This is not the garment of a working man, but someone of privilege and authority.  The brothers may have seen this as their father’s way of setting Joseph above them, that he was promoting Joseph!

– The point is that the garment was extravagant and left the others feeling unloved in comparison.  This preferential treatment made Joseph’s brothers jealous. The coat became the focus of their anger with Joseph, one of the most important props in the entire story of the Bible.

The third was on Joseph: boasting about his dreams (vs. 5-11). We need to remember that people in this time took dreams very seriously and had no trouble believing them to be communications from God

This made Joseph’s dreams feel threatening.

There were two dreams, variations on a theme, both of them ending with Joseph’s brothers bowing down to him.  That Joseph had 2 dreams may be significant.  In chapter 41, after Joseph had been in prison for TWO years, the king of Egypt had TWO dreams that lead Joseph’s release and rise in power.  In Genesis 41:32 Joseph explained the reason for God supplying two dreams; “THE REASON THE DREAM WAS GIVEN TO PHARAOH IN TWO FORMS IS THAT THE MATTER HAS BEEN FIRMLY DECIDED BY GOD AND GOD WILL DO IT SOON.”

Verse five makes the point that Joseph’s boasting was part of the reason his brothers hated him: JOSEPH HAD A DREAM, AND WHEN HE TOLD IT TO HIS BROTHERS, THEY HATED HIM ALL THE MORE.  The brothers were angry that Joseph had two such dreams and that he rubbed their faces in it.  Perhaps their actions were motivated, in part, to make sure that Joseph’s dreams did NOT come true.

As we know, the dreams did come true; the brothers bowed down to Joseph on four different occasions; GNS 42:6; 43:26; 44:14; 50:18. In v. 9 of that chapter, Joseph then remembered the two dreams that started all this.

When Joseph boasted to his brothers about the first dream, their angry reaction was predictable and understandable; “DO YOU INTEND TO REIGN OVER US?  WILL YOU ACTUALLY RULE US?” (37:5-8).  Verse eleven reports that the brothers were also JEALOUS of Joseph.

After the second dream of this type, Joseph boasted to his father (37:9-11).  He probably expected a more approving reaction than what he got; “WHAT IS THIS DREAM YOU HAD? WILL YOUR MOTHER AND I AND YOUR BROTHERS ACTUALLY COME AND BOW DOWN TO THE GROUND BEFORE YOU?” Jacob retored.  It sounds as if Jacob had also taken this personally.  As it turned out, Rachel was dead and the text never tells us that Jacob bowed to Joseph, so the SUN AND MOON part did not apply to Jacob and Rachel.  We are left to wonder who was indicated by these symbols.

Jacob, having been the schemer all his life, was more thoughtful than his sons: he KEPT THE MATTER IN MIND.  That being the case, it seems strange how he never questioned the brother’s story of how Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

K.A. Kitchen, writing in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, summarized the story of Joseph in this way:

“The story of Joseph is the story of a spoiled child and dreamer, sold into Egyptian slavery by jealous brothers, subjected to ups and downs, culminating in his becoming real ruler of that ancient land, and divinely placed there, to save his people and countless others in dire need from famine.”  (ISBE, Vol. 2, p. 1126.)


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