Formations 07.17.2022: Sibling Rivalry

Genesis 37:2b-4, 17b-27

Cards on the table: I’m an only child. I don’t think I’m spoiled, but if you met me, you might come to a different conclusion. I hope you wouldn’t, but you can’t help but see me differently than I see me.

I understand that for some, my onliness means my parents weren’t “really” parents. There were no doubt many childrearing skills that they never had to master. They never had to determine who was responsible for the catastrophe they walked in on. They never had to lead tense negotiations between siblings who each feared they were getting the short end of the deal.

By no means am I suggesting my folks’ parenting card be revoked, but maybe there are some parenting achievements that went unlocked. Then again, what do I know? I grew up to be the parent of an only child myself!

When I approach a text like Genesis 37, I must therefore admit that I am drawn into a world that is at least a little more alien to me than it is to most of you. But I have observed how siblings relate to each other, both positively and negatively. And anybody ought to understand that it only causes problems when a parent favors one child over the others.

As we read Joseph’s story in Genesis, it quickly becomes apparent that he is his father Jacob’s favorite son. It is no less apparent that this is a reality that his older brothers find impossible to accept—and why should they accept it? Joseph only adds fuel to the fire with his air of superiority. He’s the kind of little brother that anybody would want to throw into a ditch.

Eventually the brothers’ jealousy boils over, and they begin to plot how they can be done with Joseph once and for all. A chance encounter with a merchant caravan spares Joseph’s life. Rather than killing Joseph, the brothers merely (!) sell him into slavery.

Since we know the end of the story, we understand that God’s providential hand is at work even here, arranging for Joseph to pave the way for his brothers in Egypt. For now, however, we’re left to sit and stew with the brothers and feel the weight of their actions and the toll those actions take on their family dynamics.


• What are the causes of sibling rivalry?
• What are the results when such rivalry is left unchecked?
• How much blame should Joseph bear for what happened to him?
• We know that Joseph’s story eventually makes a positive turn. How can people today endure untenable situations in hopes of something better?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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