Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Wrestling for A Blessing
On the eve of a dread and potentially deadly family reunion with his hairy twin brother (his long-estranged, vowed-to-violent-vengeance twin brother Esau), Jacob the Snatcher arranged for himself to be all alone for what might possibly be his final night on earth. But his time of quiet solitude was not to be. Instead, a mysterious nighttime intruder arrived and upended Jacob’s plans. Jacob found himself in a desperate wrestling match with the mysterious, anonymous intruder. The two wrestled through the night. At daybreak, the mysterious, anonymous intruder finally asked Jacob to let go. But Jacob refused to let his mysterious opponent go — at least not without first receiving a blessing. In response to Jacob’s request (or demand) for a blessing, his very mysterious wrestling opponent inquired, “What is your name?” Jacob told him that his name is Jacob (which means snatcher). The anonymous intruder (who seems to have been none other than God himself) then gave Jacob a few lasting mementos from that nocturnal wrestling bout — an injured hip, and thus a hobbling limp for the rest of his life, and also another name — a new name and identity: Israel, which translated means “Struggles with God.” If you’re interested in reading this story for yourself, you can find it in Genesis 32:22-31.
Envy, Hatred, & Gross Injustice
Years later, as a hobbling, limping older man, Jacob (aka Israel) resided in the Promised Land with his large family. He had twelve sons and one daughter. Of all his children, Jacob’s favorites were the two sons of his late, especially cherished wife Rachel. She had tragically died during the birth of their second son, Benjamin.
As you might be aware, family favoritism can be a very destructive dynamic. And given all the trouble that paternal favoritism had caused between himself and his twin brother Esau, you might think that Jacob the Snatcher would have learned his lesson, and would have known better than to play favorites with his own children — but sorry, no, not so. Jacob played favorites with his children, too. Jacob’s clear favorite was Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn son.
Whether he realized it or not, Jacob’s favoritism was entirely obvious to all twelve of his sons. As mentioned previously, Jacob had a total of thirteen children by multiple mothers. When young Joseph turned seventeen, Jacob gave his most favorite son a gift, a coat or a robe, a coat of many colors. This special, distinctive garment of honor provoked the envy and hatred of Joseph’s older brothers.
Had Joseph been somewhat older and wiser, he might have noticed his brothers’ growing resentment and sullen envy. But Joseph was not older and wiser. He was younger and more naïve. Indeed, Joseph was naïve enough to blab, blab, blab indiscreetly. He even casually recounted two nighttime dreams to his resentful older brothers. The symbolism in his two dreams was very easily decipherable. And an obvious, quite insulting message was altogether apparent to his brothers. In both of his dreams, all of his brothers (and even his parents) symbolically bowed low, low, low before him. Consequently, the obvious, demeaning, infuriating interpretation of Joseph’s dream provoked even more resentment. His older brothers’ hatred festered. They all loathed Daddy’s favorite son, their half-brother Joseph.
Then one day, a rather perfect opportunity for taking revenge presented itself. Joseph had been sent to go check up on them as they tended their herds. Old man Jacob had told Joseph to go observe his brothers, and then return and let him know if they were doing their jobs or not. When Joseph came along to check up on them, his brothers saw him and said, “Here comes that dreamer!” And they eagerly seized upon a perfect chance to do him harm. First they ripped off his despised coat/robe of many colors. Then they threw their obnoxious little half-brother into a nearby pit. After that, they convened an impromptu field committee to decide the precious brat’s fate. Joseph’s life appeared to hang in the balance.
The immediate question was, how much more harm would they do? Some of his brothers wanted to be done with Joseph and his vain dreams, once and for all. They meant to kill him. But their oldest brother, Rueben, who seems to have had a bit of a conscience, convinced them not to kill Joseph. Instead, Rueben suggested they should merely sell him as a slave. Coincidentally and conveniently, a caravan of Midianites happened to be passing near by. So his brothers pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him as a slave to the Midianite traders for twenty shekels of silver. As they did so, they ignored Joseph’s many pleas for compassion.
To cover up what they had done to their younger brother, the ten of them dipped Joseph’s coat/robe of many colors in a goat’s blood. They brought the bloody robe to their father Jacob and said, “Father, we found this out in the field. Is this not Joseph’s robe?” Jacob recognized it as the robe he gave to Joseph. He concluded from the blood that Joseph must have been killed by a wild animal. His heart was broken. Not only had he lost his cherished wife, Rachel, now he had also lost his favorite son, Rachel’s firstborn. He wept and could not be consoled.
Meanwhile, the Midianite traders brought Joseph down to Egypt, where they sold him to an Egyptian official named Potiphar. But although he was far from his home and had to toil as a slave, God was there with Joseph. And God made Joseph successful in everything he did. Potiphar was so pleased with Joseph’s work that he put him in charge of his entire household.
But then something bad happened. Joseph suffered yet another personal setback. Potiphar’s wife took an illicit romantic interest in Joseph. Joseph was young and handsome. She could not help but notice. Sometimes Potiphar’s wife was home alone with Joseph. She suggested that Joseph spend more time with her, somewhat closer. Joseph emphatically said no, to do so would be a big violation of his boss’ trust, and it would be wrong in God’s eyes, too. But she was very, very determined to have her way. On one occasion, when they were alone together, she reached out and grabbed ahold of his clothing. Joseph quickly turned and ran away, leaving some of his clothing dangling there in her hand. Potiphar’s wife then realized that she needed a quick alibi, so she flipped the narrative. She framed Joseph. She accused Joseph of a crime. She said Joseph had tried to do something inappropriate to her, not the other way around. Potiphar believed his wife’s story-spin, and had Joseph arrested and put in prison.
But even inside of that prison, something ~somewhat~ good happened. Genesis says that the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love, even there. The Lord gave Joseph favor in the sight of the warden, the keeper of the prison. As before and as always, Joseph stood out from everyone around him. Joseph was a model prison inmate. Eventually, the warden trusted Joseph so much that he let Joseph do his job for him. Nonetheless, Joseph was still in prison. In spite of his criminal record, Joseph knew he was actually an innocent man. He hoped to someday regain his freedom.
In a future episode, we will learn what happened to Joseph, the model prison inmate, who has been attacked by his envious older brothers, sold into slavery, and then framed by his owner’s wife.