Family Feud” – Genesis 37
Pentecost 11 – August 20, 2017
Introduction: Family Feud
Family Feud is an American television game show where two families compete to name the most popular responses to survey questions in order to win cash and prizes. One member of each family squares off against the other to answer a question that 100 people have already answered in a survey. The question might be something like, “What time do you get up on Sunday morning?” The first contestant to hit a buzzer gets to answer first. Family members usually clap and say, “Good answer, good answer.” Then the host of the show – in the original version, Richard Dawson – will announce, “Survey says…” and the number of people who responded with that answer will be revealed. Then the other contestant will try to come up with an answer by more survey respondents. The family whose contestant found the answer that agreed with the most survey respondents would get a chance to uncover all the rest of the answers.
Family Feud was about two families duking it out for bragging rights with respect to those survey question responses. Usually Family Feud refers to physical and/or emotional aggression or abuse that happens within a family, but this game show has made it a fun experience between two families.
- Bible Family Feud, TNG
For the last couple of Sundays we have heard about the family discord between Esau and Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac. Jacob stole the rights of the firstborn from his older twin, then cheated him out of his father’s blessing, too. Because he feared for his life at the hand of a vengeful brother, he ran away for some 25 years, and even when he returned he wasn’t sure what kind of reception he would receive.
Today, in Genesis 37, we take the Family Feud theme to the next generation. Jacob’s 12 sons – born from 2 wives and 2 servant girls – were all grown up. But we see the dysfunction continuing. Here are some of the things that contributed to the Family Feud among the sons of Jacob.
First of all, Jacob, who was the favourite son of his own mother, had picked out a favourite among his 12 sons. Rachel was the woman he loved, but just as Jacob had deceived his father into giving him that blessing, so he was deceived by his father-in-law into marrying Rachel’s older sister Leah first. That was the cultural and family custom… to have the oldest daughter marry first. After marrying Rachel, too, Leah began having sons, but Rachel was childless. Rachel gave Jacob her servant girl to have sons on her behalf. Then Leah gave Jacob her servant girl to have sons on her behalf. Finally, as Jacob got older, Rachel was able to bear a son, Joseph, for him. That’s why Joseph was his favourite – he was born to Jacob’s beloved wife, and he was born in Jacob’s old age. (Joseph ended up having a younger brother, too, but Joseph was still Jacob’s favourite.) Jacob demonstrated that favouritism visually by giving Joseph a richly ornamented robe, a coat of many colours, the amazing technicolour dreamcoat. Showing favouritism is not a great practice if you want family harmony and sibling peace. Loving and treating your children as equally as possible is a preferable parental practice.
Another thing that contributed to the Jacob Family Feud rests squarely on Joseph’s shoulders. I think we would call this arrogance. Joseph was 17 years old and along with his older brothers was tending Jacob’s flocks. You wouldn’t expect the youngest son to be the foreman of the shepherding crew, and you’d think that by 17 Joseph would be past the “tattling on your brothers” age. But Joseph brought a bad report to his father about his brothers. What did he say? Dad, they’re feeding your sheep on the neighbour’s pasture. They’re kicking the sheep over and laughing as they watch the sheep struggle to get back on their feet. They’re riding the sheep. Whatever Joseph told dad would get the older brothers in trouble.
Besides that, Joseph was a dreamer… not ambitious, with grand plans for the future, but a guy who had dreams. These dreams would play a significant role in Joseph’s life – present and future. The dreams he had as a teenager involved his family. One dream was about sheaves of grain in the field. His sheaf suddenly rose up and those of his brothers gathered around his and bowed down to it. Another dream featured the sun and the moon and 11 stars – presumably his father, mother, and brothers – all bowing down to him.
Now, if that was your dream, you might want to keep it fairly private, but Joseph blabbed about it to his brothers and his father. This solidified, at least in his brothers’ minds, an attitude of arrogance in their younger brother, an attitude that would need to be dealt with.
c. Jealousy and hatred
So, if you noticed that your dad favoured one of your siblings, and if that sibling knew it and kind of flaunted it in front of you, how would that make you feel? That helps you understand a little more about the family dynamics that were developing among Jacob’s kids. Here are some of the responses quoted in Genesis 37:
“When his brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”
After the sheaf dream had been told they said, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
Then, after the sun, moon, and stars dream, dad even got in on the action, scolding Joseph and saying, “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” The jealousy of the brothers only increased.
So, you can see that all of these things were a recipe for disaster.
d. “Two to tangle”
They say it takes two to tango. That’s about dancing. It also takes two to tangle. It takes two people or two parties to have and to foster a disagreement. As with most sibling rivalry, or marriage break-up for that matter, it’s rarely the fault of one person. It takes two to tangle, to disagree, to fight, to be at odds with one another. When things go wrong, when there is aggression and violence, when there is separation and estrangement and divorce, when people don’t talk to one another, or when talking is always heated, when money or sex drives a wedge between husband and wife, we tend to remember the big blow up but it usually takes time for tensions to get to the boiling point. Favouritism, arrogance, jealousy and hatred plagued Jacob’s family. As much as Genesis follows the story of Jacob instead of Esau, Jacob wasn’t an angel and he was as much or more a part of the problem as his brother was. As much as Genesis follows the story of Joseph, painting him as the hero at the end, he was as much or more a part of the problem as his father and brothers were. It takes two to tangle… or in this case all twelve!
- The Story Continues…
The story continues with inevitable actions that result from arrogance and jealousy and hatred. Joseph’s brothers were again grazing their father’s flocks near Shechem. Jacob sent Joseph to see how they were, how the flocks were, and to bring back word. When Joseph was approaching them from a distance, they plotted murder against the arrogant, father’s-favourite dreamer. Convinced by the oldest brother not to kill Joseph, they stripped him of his multi-coloured coat, threw him into an empty cistern, and then sold him for 20 pieces of silver to a caravan of merchants that was passing by, headed to Egypt. That was their way of getting rid of him but not having his blood on their hands.
But speaking of blood, they slaughtered a goat, dipped Joseph’s robe into the blood, and took it back to father Jacob. Without actually making up a story at all, they presented the evidence and Jacob concluded that Joseph had been torn apart by some ferocious animal, and he said he would go down to the grave mourning for Joseph. Jacob had previously deceived his own father by cooking some goat and passing it off as wild game that brother Esau was supposed to hunt and serve. He also covered his arms and neck with goat skins to match Esau’s hairiness, and to deceive his father into giving him Esau’s blessing. Now, Jacob, himself, was deceived by the goat’s blood into thinking that Joseph’s blood covered that coat.
At the end of Genesis 37, we leave Joseph in Egypt in the service of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials. We’ll pick up the story next Sunday…
- Your Family Feud
But let’s talk about how this story applies to our lives. What tensions do you have in your family? What family feuds are there, in your nuclear family, or in your extended family? How and when do you deal with them?
I think if we are honest, we have to admit that every family has some of that family discord.
While I was in Saskatchewan a week ago, I heard about a family member who made the CBC National news in late July. Apparently there was some family discord – I don’t know exactly what it was – but this guy, who is my dad’s cousin, but who is my age, drove his bulldozer into and completely demolished his son’s house. He is awaiting court dates for attempted murder.
There might be jealousy among your siblings about who is the most successful, the most wealthy, the happiest, the most content in marriage, or who has the most well-adjusted children. You may resent things that your spouse has said or done. You may feel underappreciated by your parents for what you have accomplished in life. You may be angry at decisions that were made in your family without your input. There are just lots of things that can impact family relationships.
Yes, and then how and when do you deal with them? Do you as a family clam up and not talk about those things that cause tension? Do you leave those things to fester and percolate for months, maybe years, expecting, in vain, that time heals all wounds? Do you address them head on with raised voices, thinking that the loudest one wins? Do you blow up right away, saying things in the heat of the moment that you regret a day later?
How and when to deal with family tension is a critical tool for contentment and satisfaction in those relationships – whether everyone in your family is a Christ-follower or not. Ignoring those tensions completely, or letting them fester and percolate only to blow up weeks later is a sure-fire method of perpetuating a feud like the almost 30 year long Hatfield / McCoy disputes in Kentucky and West Virginia in the late 1800’s that led to several imprisonments and deaths.
- Jesus’ solution
Jesus and St. Paul offer some wise advice for dealing with those family feud situations. In Matthew 5, Jesus said a lot about interpersonal relationships, many of those within a family:
Far from murdering, be cautious about hatred and anger toward a brother.
When your brother has something against you, go and make peace.
Settle matters with an adversary privately rather than going to court and maybe to prison.
Far from committing adultery, be cautious about looking lustfully at one who is not your spouse.
Don’t retaliate with the Old Testament model of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but turn the other cheek, give someone your tunic and your cloak, walk the extra mile.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
In Matthew 18, Jesus shares the God-pleasing procedure for making peace when a brother has sinned against you. You don’t talk about it behind his back. You don’t give him a bad reputation by talking to everyone else in the family about what he did. First, go and talk to him about it, and reconcile just between the two of you. That’s the first step, that’s the most important step in resolving family issues. Talk about it, get it out in the open, and glorify God by getting things right between you.
In Ephesians 4, Paul addresses conflict, too. He mentions avoiding falsehood and speaking truthfully to one another. That’s a great beginning, because telling lies gets you into all kinds of trouble. Start with the truth. Then he says, “In your anger do not sin.” It is possible to have the emotion of anger, righteous anger, but while being angry to not let that anger control you and speak sinfully through your words and actions. Then Paul gives some really good advice about the timing of dealing with tensions. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” That’s something that every newlywed couple really ought to consider as an integral part of their wedding vows. “I will not go to bed while I am angry with you.” It’s important to deal with today’s issues today, and not to let the hard feelings spill over until tomorrow or the next day. That’s when, as Paul says, the devil gets a foothold. Paul adds words discouraging unwholesome talk, bitterness, brawling, slander and malice – all things that contribute to family feuds. He ends the chapter with the encouragement to forgive each other as God forgave us in Christ. That dissolves family feuds, for true forgiveness takes every disagreement back to a clean slate.
Spoiler alert, spoiler alert! I want to tell you quickly the end of the Joseph and his brothers story. Joseph does become the hero, as in the last verses of the book of Genesis, after father Jacob has died, and after the whole family has relocated temporarily to Egypt, he forgives his brothers for what they did to him. “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” The family of Jacob stayed in Egypt until the time of Moses.
Our arrogance, our jealousy and hatred, and a whole host of other sins all lead to family feud with God our Heavenly Father. But God took the initiative to resolve that family feud by sending His own Son, Jesus, who of His own accord was thrown not into a cistern but onto a cross. His robe was gambled for, His blood was shed, and He did die so that we could be reconciled to God. That self-sacrifice of Jesus is the source of our forgiveness and salvation. In the words of Joseph in Genesis 50, “God intended it for good… the saving of many lives.” God used Jesus’ death to accomplish the good of saving our lives. Let’s use that good, that blessing, that grace of God in Jesus for good and for love and for harmony in the family feuds of our lives. Amen.