Joseph was born into a dysfunctional family. The eleventh son of the patriarch Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel, Joseph was the son of Rachel, a favoured wife. The other wives already had sons long before Rachel conceived her first child. It had seemed she was barren, a disgrace to a woman in those days, and a cause of great hurt to Rachel in the eyes of the other wives. Then God blessed her and she conceived and gave birth to Joseph. So, with all the undercurrents, tensions and jealousy between the wives, the sons and an elderly father, Joseph grew up.
Jacob’s other sons were rowdy to say the least, vengeful, jealous and soon saw that Joseph, the ‘baby’ of the family, was the favoured one.
Genesis 37:2-4 describes Joseph, having been pasturing the flock with his half-brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah. What they had been ‘up to’ is not noted in the Bible account, but it added to the hatred they had towards him. So did the fact that his father made him a tunic of colours.
According to Wikipedia, in its discussion on the problem of translation, one possibility was that it was a royal garment. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_many_colors)
If this was true, the gift of such a robe could have stirred up much jealous. Here was the youngest member of the family, the one born of the woman their father loved deeply, and probably their mothers hated… being honoured above them.
Did it mean that their father was going to skip the firstborn and pass the patriarchy on to this young pip-squeak?
One thing seems obvious… with such a robe he wouldn’t be working with the flocks. This seems to be borne out by the later entry that his brothers were looking after their father’s flock in Shechem. Jacob (now Israel) said to Joseph to ‘go and see if all is well with your brothers and well with the flocks and bring back word to me.’ Genesis 37: 14
The brothers weren’t where they were supposed to be but Joseph, dressed in his coat of colours, located them.
The brothers saw him coming from afar off. (Guess there weren’t too many young men wandering the countryside dressed as Joseph was.) The brothers conspired to kill him.
Jealousy is a powerful emotion and these half-brothers had plenty of it. They had grown up with it as part of their lives. Their mothers were always competing for their father’s favour, the sons probably thought it was normal, and Jacob seemed a passive kind of father… noticing the misdeeds of the sons but not correcting them.
So here those jealous sons were plotting to kill the one ‘they hated and could not speak peaceably to him’. Genesis 37: 4
More next week …
Tread softly because you may be treading on someone’s dreams.