This morning we start the Joseph stories from the Old Testament book of Genesis. Chapters 37-50 (with the exception of chapter 38), focus on the dramatic, stranger-than-fiction life of the second youngest son of Jacob.
Joseph is the apple of his father Jacob’s eye. Along with his younger brother, Benjamin, he is a son of Jacob’s old age.
Most of all, Joseph is a good boy, a young man who walks with God.
In Jacob’s dysfunctional family, this in itself is a remarkable thing.
Joseph’s older brothers are rebellious backsliders who have broken their father’s heart on a hundred levels. This makes it easy for Jacob to favor young Joseph. He is the son every father wants. But favoritism is poisonous. The results are predictable. Genesis tells us that “his brothers were jealous of him.”
The Bible says that God is a “jealous God.” But God’s “jealousy” is a good thing. It is the white-hot love which says to us: “I made you. When you went away from Me, I bought you back with My own blood. You are mine. I don’t want you to cheat on Me and chase after other loves and other loyalties.”
The “jealousy” of Jacob’s older sons is not a good thing. It is resentment, bitterness, envy. This is why they are so unhappy, so full of rage that they sell their younger brother to some slave-traders bound for far-off Egypt.
Like Cain, whose face was “downcast” every time he thought of his brother Abel, these brothers hated Joseph. Their envious eyes are unable to see God’s goodness and love toward them.
So much of our unhappiness comes from this sort of thing. We look at God’s blessings with one eye, but then with the other eye we try to keep track of whether our neighbor is getting six cents more from God than we are. It makes for a sad, divided, distracted, angry heart, and an unhappy life.
For those tormented by envy, here is an experiment. Think of someone whose “blessings” you envy. Maybe it’s a former classmate – straight A’s, successful career, married the prom queen – while you grow weary in your dead-end job or fight off bouts of loneliness. You are convinced that your old classmate is God’s darling. You are unhappy, envious, bitter. You feel like you were last in line for God’s gifts. You wish you could trade places.
But do you? In every respect? Trading places is a package deal. Would you trade places – not just your old pick-up for his BMW, but perhaps your independence for his troubled marriage? Not just your third-floor apartment for his mansion, but your simple life for his anxiety and CEO ulcers? Or turn that around. Maybe you are the stressed-out executive and you envy the simple, happy-go-lucky life of your employee who can just punch the clock and go home each night. But you do not know that he is wrestling with some hidden heartache or illness.
Are you really ready to fling down the net product of your life and tell God: “You have divided things up unfairly!”
Or in humble faith are you willing to confess: “God is good – good to me?” Only then can you be happy in what God has given to you – His very self in a cradle and on a cross – and pray also that God will help your neighbor whose trials and troubles you scarcely know. Only then can you say the table prayer and actually mean it: “Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for He IS good!”