The second half of the book of Genesis is largely concerned with families. We have family trees laid out over whole chapters, and the stories trace the events in the lives of these people from long ago. And honestly? They sound like incredibly dramatic people.
I know a lot of folks have a hard time getting around the fancy Biblical language, particularly if you have one of the more flowery (or old) translations, but if you can get down to what’s really going on, it’s basically a soap opera.
I mean, Jacob sells his birthright to his brother in exchange for dinner? My brother and I spent our teenage years creating elaborate bargains as we both tried to get out of mowing the yard, so on one level I get making goofy trades with your siblings. On another level, we were just arguing about yardwork, not our entire futures! (And last weekend, we were laughing about the lengths we both went to, which seem really funny now that we have our own homes.)
Then, later in the chapter, Joseph’s brothers literally sell him into slavery. Most of this story winds up being about how Joseph copes, how he interprets dreams and becomes a valuable member of the household where he’s a captive. But it starts as the story of some guys who are really horrible to their little brother, and I think this is one of those stories that only seems okay if you don’t think about it too hard. If you do stop and consider it- you could definitely see this on some daytime TV.
And I’m gonna be honest here- I sympathize with the brothers a little bit. Not about the slavery thing, that’s obviously unconscionable. But teenage Joseph does not come across as a real likeable guy. I mean, Dad likes him best, so there’s clearly some jealousy there. And I do think that’s normal. I’d be really sad if I thought my parents liked my brother better than me.
Plus, Joseph has to go telling them about that dream that (he says) prophesies them bowing down to him. Had they not invented humility yet? It’s kind of a jerk move to lord it over your older brothers that you’re the favorite son, plus God has given you these cool gifts, and someday you’ll be nice enough to let your brothers serve you! I would also not be too pleased.
I often find myself saying that people have always been people, and they probably always will be. Genesis is a large part of my proof for that. There will always be siblings who argue. There will always be people who treat each other poorly. But there will be people like Jacob, who works patiently for years so that he can marry the woman he loves. And there will be people like Joseph, who start out sort of painful and grow up and become better people- and like the brothers, who probably learned a lot about humility and forgiveness.
And just like people don’t change, God’s presence doesn’t change either. He is with Joseph, interpreting dreams and, I assume, providing the reason and will to live. He is with Jacob and Rachel on their wedding day. Even when the stories are about the families, God is always present, blessing and sustaining. And even when it’s all about us, God is there.