Children, Genesis

Sibling Rivalry

(Thinking about the Hebrew Bible reading, which you can find here.)

"You're my new favorite."

It's a joke at my house, where all three children know how loved they are, equally though differently. If someone does something spectacularly useful or helpful, they may hear those words from me. When everyone is home, there is playful jousting for superiority of wit or knowledge or simply authority. #1 Son puts Snowman in his place or playfully reprimands Light Princess, but they let him know how confident they are, too. They boost each other at the same time they tease. They can do this because they know where they stand with the adults in their lives: secure and beloved.

Joseph was –oh!– the favorite of his father, the child of Jacob's beloved wife, Rachel. That complicated family system involved multiple sons of four different mothers: two wives who were sisters and their two slave women. And we think divorce makes life confusing for children! But this kind of extended family was common, and so were the sibling rivalries that went with it. A child like Joseph, so favored by the father, threatened the patriarchal rules of inheritance and authority.

Brothers_deceiveAnd so, his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, then smeared the blood of a dead animal on the beautiful coat their father had given him. They cared more about their jealousy and sense of order in the family than they did about their father's grief.

Don't ever let anyone tell you the Bible is the source for "family values." Instead it is a book of human stories, the myths and legends of our particular heritage. It tells the truth about our tendencies, the good and the bad, in stories that seem larger than life. They are riveting tales! We can find ourselves in them.

Every church fight has someone like Joseph, so shiny that everyone else feels threatened. Every church fight has an elder who weeps over the losses. Every church fight has schemers, whether they know themselves to be that or not. So often we see ourselves as the good guys, or gals, because we believe we are acting for the best.

Are we? It's worth taking a step back to give it one more look, before we find ourselves selling things that were never ours in the first place, trying to make things appear to be what they are not, even hurting the people we love.

3 thoughts on “Sibling Rivalry”

  1. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you the Bible is the source for ‘family values.’ Instead it is a book of human stories, the myths and legends of our particular heritage.”
    I love that! It’s so true.

  2. katharine said exactly what i was going to say! amen! madeleine l’engle always talked about sneaking the bible into the closet and hunting for all the naughty bits. heh. family values indeed!

  3. My favorite comment about the Bible comes from George Buttrick. At 80 years of age he took out a 30 year mortgage in Louisville to teach Baptists how to preach! And he said, “Those folk who keep telling us to stick to the Bible wouldn’t say that if they’d ever read it.” It’s always a humbling discipline to identify with the character you like least in the story.

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