But when his [Joseph’s] brothers saw that their father [Jacob] loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him. (Genesis 37:4)
I have trouble discussing this issue because my wife and I only had one child, but I am told by other parents that you cannot be fair in parenting. Every child must be raised differently, based on their temperament, their gifts and abilities, etc. Yet, these same parents are quick to say that while you may raise each child differently, you “still love them all the same.” Well, apparently, that was an issue for Jacob.
Jacob’s family had a history of struggles with sibling rivalry and parental favoritism. Abraham embraced Isaac and attempted to cast out Ishmael. Isaac loved Esau and ignored Jacob. Jacob received the affection of his mother, Rebecca, because he didn’t receive it from his father. This created decades of manipulation and pain. Now, as this familial pattern of dysfunction continues, Jacob refuses to see how the pain his father’s lack of tenderness affected him, and so he continued the cycle of emotional pain.
Likewise, eleven of Jacob’s sons became envious and resentful of the undo attention laid at the feet of his youngest prodigy. The other brothers had a legal complaint, as well as an emotional one. It is the oldest son, and then the other sons in order of their birth, that receive the birthright and therefore the attention of one’s father. To pick the youngest was both a private and public humiliation. It is no wonder that the brothers would respond so angrily, and Jacob, of all people, should have known better. Even if he felt that way, he should have kept it to himself for the good of the family.
Our own families often struggle with feelings of unfairness. This family’s story reminds us that we are all a bunch of humans, with our sins, our mistakes, our uncontrolled emotions. Even when we try to do our very best, it often ends up creating discord. But God is perfect. The one parent we can rely on is our Heavenly Parent. Today, lay your fears, frustrations, and failures at the feet of the God who loves perfectly. Ask God to take away the arrogance and control issues that undermine our attempts to love and lead us forward with the compassion and wisdom of Christ. When we let God lead, the dysfunctional family systems are broken, and new love and life ensues. Offer it to God and watch the joy return to your families.