The Folly of Favoritism
Favoritism in relationships is folly.
We see this throughout the story of God’s people in the Old Testament, but it is perhaps writ largest in the life of Joseph, for he was the object of his father Jacob’s special interest. Joseph “was the son of [Jacob’s] old age” and of his great lifetime love, Rachel. So Jacob, whom God had renamed Israel, loved this son more than the others. From this root of partiality sprang much bad fruit in this family.
Jacob expressed his favoritism through a gift, a “robe of many colors” which he himself had made. It was clearly a token of favoritism—one that Joseph obviously enjoyed wearing. This controversial coat provoked intense hostility from Joseph’s brothers. From their hostility sprang malice and murderous intent. They eventually went as far as selling their own brother into slavery and faking his death.
If the gift of a coat could incite such a response, then surely the problem was far greater than the coat itself. There must have been deep-seated sin behind the scenes. And that’s exactly what we find with Joseph’s brothers. Their issue was not so much that the coat was very valuable; it was that it set Joseph in a different class from them. In giving him this gift, Jacob had elevated Joseph above his siblings, and this gnawed away at them. The choice of a favorite always necessitates the implicit choice of a non-favorite, which is a trigger for both arrogance and pride in the one chosen as the favorite and for resentment and bitterness in those who are not. You may have seen around you, or even in your own life, the corrosive effects of either being a favorite or being passed over for that status.
Jacob should have known better for he himself had been the object of undue favoritism—his own mother had preferred him over his brother, Esau, and it had led to chaos. His relationship with Esau, like Joseph’s with his brothers, was damaged for years.
Let us not be too quick, though, to distance ourselves from the mindset and actions of Jacob or of his sons, as if we could never be guilty of something similar. We must all beware the folly of favoritism in relationships and the fury which so often accompanies it. Partiality is a common and understandable error, but it casts deep, dark, destructive shadows.
Rather than simply shake our heads at Jacob’s foolishness, let’s learn from it. Every relationship is a unique gift from God. To the degree that we show favoritism to those around us, for whatever reason it might be, we can be assured that it will fracture and devastate relationships. If, however, we cherish each friend, family member, and neighbor with obvious love and affection, we honor God and encourage the hearts of those He has placed around us.
1Jacob lived in the land of his father's sojournings, in the land of Canaan.
2These are the generations of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.1 4But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.
5Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: 7Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
9Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” 11And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.
Joseph Sold by His Brothers
12Now his brothers went to pasture their father's flock near Shechem. 13And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 14So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. 15And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16“I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.
18They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits.2 Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” 21But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. 23So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. 24And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
25Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. 28Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels3 of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.
29When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes 30and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” 31Then they took Joseph's robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son's robe or not.” 33And he identified it and said, “It is my son's robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. 35All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. 36Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.
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