Sunday School: Biased Love
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Lisa shared this morning's hymn with us. Thanks to Don Hershell for our Sunday School lesson.
When we meet together in person, we share our joys and concerns. Take a few moments to consider what is on your mind right now. Think of people who need hope and healing. Think also of ways that you would like to change, and ask God to help you in doing so. If you would like others to pray for these as well, you can add a comment at the bottom of this post.
Pray the following prayer as together we face the future, knowing that God goes with us.
It’s not always comfortable, God, but it is certainly good, that you go straight for the heart. You do not allow us to skate over the surface of life, filling our days with dry legality, and pretend righteousness; No, you come at us from the inside, challenging our thoughts and attitudes, our motives and perceptions; and shaping them into the fuel for change that gives us hearts like yours, and lives that are lived from the inside out.
We praise you, O God, for your uncomfortable grace, your transforming Spirit, and for the gift of lives lived with integrity and compassion from the inside out. Amen. (sacredise.com)
Because this is the first Sunday in September, we are starting a new quarter. The topic for this quarter is Love for One Another. The topic for September is struggles with love.
This week's lesson is on Genesis 37:2-11, 23-24, 28.
Why don’t we use the expression “house, sweet house”? A house is just a structure or place of residence. Without a family within, the building can never be a home. Home has much more sentiment attached to its meaning, evoking different emotions based on family life within the house. A home consists of all that goes on within that structure. It is the place where memories are made.
When we consider the family life of the patriarch Jacob in the Old Testament, “home, sweet home” is not the first phrase to cross our minds. “Family feud” seems more appropriate! The strife and hard feelings within that family are seen in today’s lesson text.
Joseph was born around the year 1916 BC. This would be near the middle of the Bronze Age, which began around 3000 BC. Other technological and societal advancements made this a time of important, though relatively slow, change.
The struggles with love involving Joseph go back years before Joseph to his father Jacob (about 2007 to 1860 BC). Jacob was raised in a home where favoritism appears to have been the primary parenting skill of his father and mother, Isaac and Rebekah. Genesis 25:28 tells us all we need to know: “Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, love Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”
Such a scenario was bound to produce family conflict. This infighting came to a head when Rebekah learned of Isaac’s desire to bless his favorite son, Esau (the older of the two). This would solidify Esau’s privileged position, which promises of abundance for the future. She disguised Jacob so that he would feel hairy like Esau in the presence of blind Isaac. The ruse worked, and the blessing intended for Esau was pronounced on Jacob (Genesis 27:1-41).
To escape Esau’s vengeance, Jacob traveled to Haran, where Rebekah’s brother Laban lived (Genesis 27:42-43). There Jacob married the two daughters of Laban, namely Leah and Rachel, and became the father of one daughter and 11 of his eventual 12 sons (29:15-30:24). Joseph was the last son born to Jacob in Haran (30:22-24). On the way back to Canaan, after residing in Haran for 20 years (31:38), Benjamin was born. He and Joseph were the only two sons of Rachel. Tragically, Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin (35:16-20).
Eventually, Jacob settled with his family in Canaan near Bethel (Genesis 35:1), a journey hundreds of miles from Haran. Perhaps he believed that he would enjoy his last years in relative calm, as opposed to all the strife he had experienced thus far. However, some of Jacob’s most heartbreaking trials were yet to come, sown from seeds in his own past.
I. A Family’s Discord (Genesis 37:2-4)
Joseph’s birth is recorded in Genesis 30:22-24. Genesis 33:1-2 mentions how Jacob placed Rachel and Joseph in the rear of the entourage as Jacob prepared to meet Esau. This preferential treatment foreshadowed the family dynamics that would contribute to the drama present in today’s text. Since Rachel was Jacob’s preferred wife and Joseph her only son so far, Jacob wanted to reduce the risk of their being harmed should Esau come seeking revenge for Jacob’s previous deceitful actions.
Jacob was a very successful shepherd (Genesis 30:25-33), and apparently he intended for Joseph to follow in his footsteps. To that end, we see Joseph learning the family operations.
Bilhah and Zilpah are called Jacob’s wives, though the actual status of each was that of an attendant and eventual concubine. Zilpah was given to Leah when she married Jacob; Bilhah was given to Rachel at the same time. According to the custom of the time, children born to a wife’s servants by her husband were counted as the wife’s own children. Therefore they were considered to be Joseph’s brothers.
The content of Joseph’s “bad report” about these brothers is unknown. It could have been something evil or simply something disrespectful or mean to their younger brother. It could even be a report of their poor work ethic or other misbehavior.
While Joseph’s tattling didn’t cultivate good brotherly feelings, (Jacob’s) Israel’s favoritism likely caused even more tension. There were likely many ways in which Jacob demonstrated his fondness for Joseph. One concrete way was by making an ornate robe only for Joseph. Something as conspicuous as an ornate robe is impossible not to notice. This article of clothing became a physical, tangible reminder not only to Joseph but also to his brothers that Jacob played favorites.
II. A Brother’s Dreams (Genesis 37:5-8)
Now comes another reason for Joseph’s brothers to have hated him: his dreams. Dreams of revelation are found primarily in Genesis and Daniel in the Old Testament. Joseph was one of the few to whom God spoke in this manner. Equally important is the fact that Joseph later demonstrated the God-given ability to interpret the dreams of others.
In this case, Joseph’s dream was of he and his brothers binding sheaves of grain in the field when suddenly Joseph’s sheaf rose above the others and his brother’s sheaves gathered around his and bowed down to it. It didn’t take a gift to see the meaning of this dream. His brothers saw that it meant Joseph would rule over them, which made them hate him all the more. Why would Joseph think it prudent to tell his brothers about a dream in which they were under his power? Maybe as a 17-year-old he didn’t have a developed sense of tact. Or maybe he already realized that it was a dream from God and so it was something his brothers needed to hear.
Afterward Joseph had another dream that he told his brothers about. In this dream, the sun and moon and 11 stars were bowing down to him. Now not only would the eleven stars, representing his 11 brothers, bows down to him. So would Jacob and Leah. Even his father rebuked him for sharing the dream. In a patriarchal society where the father held the primary authority and where birth order determined standing within a family, it was hard to believe that the next-to-youngest son, Joseph, would be the one to whom Jacob, Leah, and the 11 brothers would bow down — no matter how much Jacob loved the boy.
III. A Brother’s Disdain (Genesis 37:23-24a, 28)
As the story picks up at this point, Jacob had sent Joseph to his brothers who were tending the herds. Joseph found them in Dothan, close to one of the major trade routes to Egypt. When the brothers saw his approaching, they decided it was a good time to kill him. His brother Reuben, however, suggested instead that Joseph be thrown into the cistern.
The act of stripping Joseph out of his robe symbolically stripped him of his status as Jacob’s favorite. It likely represents moire than anything the brothers’ resentment of the favoritism Joseph received from their father.
When merchants happen by, instead of leaving him to die in the cistern, his brothers pull him out and sell him into slavery in Egypt. His sale brings them monetary profit and of provides them a way to get their revenge without actually killing him. The brothers then slaughter a goat, smear its blood on the robe and present it to their father as evidence that his favorite son is dead, killed by a wild animal. Meanwhile Joseph is taken to Egypt, presumably never to be heard from again.
When we meet in person, we discuss the scripture lesson, especially as it relates to our lives. This can include observations, questions, and connections. Take some time to think about your answers to the questions below, which come from our adult Sunday School book. These questions can be difficult to answer, and don't necessarily have one right answer. If you are reading the lesson with someone else, discuss your thoughts together. You can always share your thoughts and questions as a comment below.
Article: Who suffers from favoritism?
I knew a businessman who pressured all his children to follow in his footsteps. All but one of them entered a father-approved career field. These were blessed with is favor, but the one who chose a different way suffered many consequences.
When the father died, his estate was divided equally among his children. However, in a final act of favoritism, those who had done what the father said received their shares immediately. The other son found that his inheritance was placed in an investment account from which he received only the yearly dividends. He would never receive the full amount of his share as his siblings did.
In Jacob’s family, only Joseph was favored. In both families, everyone eventually suffered because of favoritism, whether it benefited them initially or not. And so it still is.
Today’s tragic episode impresses on us what favoritism can do and has done in families. Jacob’s showing favoritism to Joseph created hatred in his older sons that festered and was mixed with envy, finally erupting in violence. Biased love toward one son resulted in the others starving for their father’s favor and taking out their neglect on the object of his affection.
Still, God’s sovereign plan and purpose moved forward under his guiding hand. God had told Joseph’s great-grandfather, Abraham, that his family would sojourn in Egypt for 400 years (Genesis 15:13). Joseph was being sent ahead as a kind of point man for his family. Though Joseph saw only slavery ahead of him, God saw fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams and the blessing he would be to his brothers (45:4-11).
In God’s providential work through Joseph, we are reminded that God is never thwarted by the evil intentions of human beings. Though we struggle to see God at work in our trials today, he remains the unseen mover in our lives just as he was in Joseph’s life. With Paul, we remain confident that, “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Truly nothing can separate us from God’s love or prevent him from fulfilling the plans he has for us (8:35-39), even our imperfect families.
Dear Father, help us to love as you do, without neglecting some and favoring others. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.
This week's benediction is from the New King James Version.
Next week's lesson will be on Genesis 41:25-33, 37-40, 50-52.
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