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Jealousy Conquers All (Part II — From the Adamsons to the Jacobsons)

January 2, 2013

For a few days we have been considering the situation between Cain and Abel, and the source of the dysfunction that was introduced to family and community dynamics — and the impact that has on fellowship with God and each other.

Jealousy did conquer Cain when God favored his brother’s offering over his own.  This jealousy manifested when he “rose up” and killed his brother, Abel.   He didn’t have to worry about “being jealous” of Abel anymore … because Abel “was” no more.  Cain “took control” of the situation but he really didn’t get as much benefit out of “taking control” as he thought he would/should.

In reading/studying this story, one term keeps coming to my mind:  “Meat and Potatoes.” (that’d be a great sermon title for any of my preacher friends!)

I have always heard that it was Abel’s attitude with his offering that led God to favor his “meat” over Cain’s “potatoes.”   In my studies of “What the Bible Says About Healthy Living” (Rex Russell, M.D.), it is quite evident that while the proteins of meats (meat products) are a necessity in a diet, it’s the veggies and the grains that “keep things running smoothly.”  God loves fruits of the fields and later in the Bible (Leviticus, I think) it warns against consuming too much meat, especially the hard fat of meat so … it was not that He favored meat over potatoes.  It really had to be Cain’s poor attitude and the bitter root of jealousy that had obviously been growing in his heart for too long that displeased God.

The fact is … “meat and potatoes” go together quite nicely.  I’m sure the whole Adamson family knew this and had greatly appreciated the work and contributions that both of their sons  had made to the family survival. 

And just as we recognize that “meat and potatoes go together”, we must also recognize and embrace that “We are dependent upon each other to overcome shortcomings.”   Like “meat and potatoes” … God has a plan whereby we complement each other.

Certainly, it would have been more pleasing to God if Cain had not to been overcome by jealousy but with a humble, pliable heart realized the benefit from his brother’s ability to please God.  It’s a classic example of the “peopleness of people” and this sense of entitlement that still plagues our families and societies today.  It’s not a “new phenomena” — it’s just one that continues to “conquer” us — a ploy/scheme/tool of God’s enemy, Satan.

Brothers set against each other” … that story is retold over and over in the Bible and throughout history.  We know that it doesn’t have to be and we even have outstanding examples of a better way to deal.

For example … in Genesis 37, we learn of another set of family dynamics. The story of the  Jacobsons (Israel) and his 12 sons … particularly  his favored son, Joseph.

Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. This is the account of Jacob’s family line.  Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.  Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate[a] robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

Ahhhh …. There it is again … that bitter root of jealousy.

Now the logical side of me says that Jacob should not have showed such favoritism to Joseph over the other boys.  It’s foolish of him and any of the rest of us to think that would not have some dysfunctional impact in the long run.  We could step back and try to rationalize by saying that the “favor” was not real but more imagined by the boys … except, verse 3 clearly says,

“Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age …”

So Jacob (Israel) had mellowed some and probably while the older boys were now strong enough and old enough to do most of the work, Jacob being older and less agile (perhaps), was able to spend more time sitting under the shade tree and playing with Joseph (the baby boy, except for the youngest, Joe’s brother Benjamin).  AND, we could also throw in the fact that Joseph was the son of Rachel (also Jacob’s favored wife over Leah, and a few other concubines who mothered the other 10) and I’m sure some of those jealous female dynamics played a great role in the “faulty grids” of their offspring.

The bottom line is that sibling rivalry was creating a boiling pot in this “blended” family.  Joseph only added more fuel and heat to the flame by touting about his dream that his brothers would one day bow down to him.  He appeared to be this cocky, little so and so … and yes, his brothers had their bellies full of him (and their daddy).

We know how the story goes from there … they plot to kill him but at the bidding of one “merciful” brother (Reuben), they decided to throw him in a deep hole or well, until a band of Ishmaelites come through on their way to a big “flea market” in Egypt.  They sell Joseph to these traveling salesmen and tell their father that he was killed by a wild animal in the wilderness.

Ever been treated like a black sheep of the family?  Ever been rejected/despised/ignored, dismissed and offended by your community or peer group?  Ever been stripped naked and sold to the descendents of your great-grandfather’s concubine, whom the family has probably gossiped about around the campfire and dinner table for decades? 

It is interesting to me that while God came to Cain and asked about Abel, thus the ever-pending question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”; He did not come and directly ask Judah or any of the others the same question?  Of course, Joseph was not dead … and we know that there was a greater story in the works.  A few chapters later in Genesis, we are told “God was with Joseph.”

But one thing that jumps out at me from this story is the “ease” by which the brothers lived out the LIE and the transgression against their brother and their father.  They connived a story about the wild animal and sat back and watched their father suffer in grief.  OH, they tried to “console” him but he would have nothing to do with it.  He was heart-broken at the loss of his son, and I can’t imagine the brothers benefitted from that one bit.   In fact, as we read more about this family, I would guess that the devastating grief suffered by their father was a consistent beating with a massive guilt-stick.

We can also assume that these dynamics that have been played out, this dishonesty and disregard for doing what is right and good, develops into more dysfunction as the stories of the Jacobsons, (decendents of the Adamsons), continue to unfold in the latter chapters of the book of Genesis. 

In context, the end of Chapter 37 tells us that Joseph was sold by the Ishmaelites to Potiphar, the captain of the Pharoah’s guards.  Genesis 38 starts out by telling us that Judah, the brother who came up with the idea to sell Joseph into slavery, decides to separate from his family and moves away.  This chapter contains the story of Judah and Tamar, the daughter-in-law that Judah impregnated while she posed as a roadside prostitute. Judah had a whole heap of dysfunction in his own family and evidently his sons had a rebellious, mean-streak, as two of them greatly offended God (so the scripture says). In these accounts of Jacob’s boys and now, Judah’s boys … I’ve not read a great deal of reverence or even reference they made toward God.   No crying out for mercy … no repentence … not even any wrestling with Him in their sleep.

In chapter 39, we learn more of Joseph’s fate and how God was with him:

As it turned out, God was with Joseph and things went very well with him. He ended up living in the home of his Egyptian master. His master recognized that God was with him, saw that God was working for good in everything he did. (verse 2 … The Message)

We know how the story proceeds in that a famine plagues the land and eventually Joseph’s brothers are sent by Jacob to Egypt to try and buy some food.  This is where an opportunity for vengeance arrives for Joseph.  He recognizes his brothers but they do not recognize him.  Indeed, he does “mess” with them a bit, all the while knowing that his plan is to get them all back together as a family.  He overhears them recognizing that their challenging encounter with this “governor”  is all due to what they did to “their brother”  so many years ago. 

Joseph knows he has the power and can destroy his brothers for what they did to him.  But instead, he devises a plan to reunite them and his father.  As one reads the story and dialogue between the brothers and Jacob (Chapter 43) when they go back to retrieve Benjamin, it’s obvious that there’s a great deal of un-forgiveness and lack of trust that has taken a deep root of bitterness in this family. (in fact, this whole lot of dysfunction can be traced back for years and years). 

Nevertheless, somehow, Joseph recognizes that God’s hand has been upon him throughout his whole life.  Rather than dwelling on the  pain and rejection he experienced from his family, “somehow” (by Divine Intervention), Joseph releases all that so that he can “affirmatively” answer Cain’s rhetorical question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Joseph saved the lives of those who sought to kill him.  He “kept” his brothers from death!

While our “peopleness” will too often lead us to blame God and others when bad things happen, or life just doesn’t go as we planned or desired, Joseph demonstrates to us that “we have obligations and responsibilities even when  those “bad” things happen.  He revealed himself to his brothers and said,

“I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt. But don’t feel badly, don’t blame yourselves for selling me. God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives.”  (The Message)

Remember, what man meant for evil, God meant for good.  It sure would have been very easy for Joseph to miss that moral  altogether.  What if he had sunk into a bitter stupor? What if he had lived his whole life depressed and blaming his brothers for what had happened? What if he had been blinded by un-forgiveness and distrust and never even gave a minute’s thought to what God was working in His life?

We see a good deal of commonality in the attitudes of Cain and Jacob’s brothers.  They were obviously conquered by the jealousy they felt toward their brother.  Abel was murdered at the hand of his brother, and we have no idea what plans God might have had for him.  We do know that despite God’s disapproval of Cain and his actions toward Abel, God showed him mercy in his banishment as he went out and started another civilization.

But here with Joseph and his kin … either the storyteller got more detailed or truly God had more Hand in the details of the Jacobsons. (Israel)   (And we know how He feels about Jacob’s offspring — all of them).  I think that the brothers, as opposed to Cain, truly did develop broken hearts and spirits for what they had done.  As opposed to Cain who did not get to live amongst his kin anymore, the Jacobson family did stay in close contact and lived with a lot of grief and anger and broken relationships over the years.  I can’t imagine there was a whole lot of “eye to eye” contact … probably more superficial existence and “avoiding” the subject, or the “elephant in the room” than true family bonding.

However, this story … is a story of GRACE.  Joseph, though viewed as arrogant and cocky in his youth by his brothers, somehow developed an attitude of humility, reverence and GRACE.  We are not told exactly how this came about … there are no details of a 12-step program whereby Joseph reconciled what should have, would have been a terrible life setback for most … but we do know that such reconciliation IS possible. 

We know that by “God being with him”  and God not being “rejected by him” that Joseph was able to recover and live a life much fuller than his brothers.  The story of Joseph shows us that by letting go of the past, and past hurts and offenses, and allowing God to “be with us” — we don’t have to know how, we don’t have to have all the details … we just have to be a willing participant in forgiving and moving on.


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