“4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.” This is how the 4th verse of the reading for this morning begins, with a description of one of the basest and tragically most natural of emotions, jealousy. A man named Israel, had a checkered past but managed to live out a rather large life with four women who bore him 12 sons.
The Hebrew word for “Israel” means “one who wrestles with God” or “May God join in the struggle!” The name “Israel” was given to Jacob, after he wrestled with someone who turned out to be God. Later, the land called Israel's twelve tribes were named for his sons and two of his grandsons, taking many years before those who belonged to the separate tribes became known as “the people of Israel.”(American Bible Society Resources “Israel” Philadelphia 2017)
This is the third Sunday in a row we have studied the family of Israel and it hasn’t been a picture of familial bliss, has it? These are not the nicest people in the world and the raw emotions of the brothers of Joseph, one of the sons who was highly favored by his father, is no exception. It’s a lesson on why parents claiming a favorite child is never a good idea.
Who among us has not at some time felt jealous or green-eyed? I bet there is no one in this room who can deny having had that experience at least once? It is terrible maybe, but normal. If we accept that as a given, then we can take a look at where the source of envy is to get some perspective on it and perhaps a jot of control over it. In Joseph’s case, he was sadly set up by his father to spy on his brothers. What better way to run a business than installing a trusted mole on the inside of your operation? Joseph may have been oblivious to any sinister motive, simply doing what his father asked of him. Nevertheless, as he approached his envious brothers, he was unaware they were planning to kill him.
Only one brother, Reuben, argues against murder and suggests that Joseph be left in (an empty) pit (which had been) dug by shepherds to capture rainwater. The others agree and strip Joseph’s coat off him before tossing him into the pit. Reuben’s intent was to come back and rescue Joseph but before this can happen Joseph is sold to passing traders and taken to Egypt as a slave. (In a divine turnaround of events) Joseph is now (put) in the place where he will become a savior to the people of Israel. (Reflection and Focus Seasons of the Spirit Aug. 13, 2017)
Perhaps Reuben had a weightier conscience than the other brothers, still throwing Joseph into a pit, not good. Maybe Reuben’s envy was a little less severe than that of the other brothers, but not by a lot. Surprisingly another brother Judah, figures out some basic truths. What’s the benefit of taking the life of our own flesh and blood? Why don’t we be smart and just sell him to traders? That way their hands were clean and they make a little money - 20 pieces of silver to be exact. 20 pieces of silver. It doesn’t seem to have affected them a great deal because after they threw him in the pit, the Bible says they all sat down to eat!