Favoritism is Risky!
By Brian C. Thompson
It’s Risky being the Favorite! (Genesis 37)
Jacob loved all his sons, but with Joseph, born late in his father’s life, he had a special bond. He ordered a richly decorated coat to be made and then presented this to Joseph as a mark of distinction, but he had not counted on the consequences. "When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him." (Genesis 37:4 NIV).
"Late arrivals" have that extra distance between them and the rest of the family. Understandably their older, well-established siblings have much more in common with each other and it’s easy for the youngest to identify more closely with parents, than brothers. Older parents have more time and resources to spend on the last child than they had for those who came earlier, but in the case of Joseph, he didn’t help! Spilling the beans on his brothers’ misbehavior was not the way to win friends!
Then that dream! His sheaf standing upright by itself while his brothers’ sheaves prostrated themselves before it! Diplomacy was not one of young Joseph’s gifts! We read that after this "they hated him all the more." (Genesis 37:8 NIV). Then a second, even more grandiose dream, this time involving his parents. Even the doting father was outraged – although not so provoked as to write it off entirely.
The family went sour. Envy turned to resentment, resentment to hatred until they spoke openly of killing the brash young brother who made them all feel second best. Then, in a few short hours, Joseph’s life was shaken upside down under a succession of disasters. He was sold, enslaved, in exile, falsely accused, unjustly imprisoned and finally forgotten. His father did not even know he was alive. So much for being the favorite!
And that’s the point! If we look more closely we discover that disasters came to Joseph, not in spite of being a "favorite," but because of it. No question, Jacob was wrong, discriminating so openly in Joseph’s favor – no parent should make any of their children feel second-best. But if we look beneath the surface, we see it was the "special-ness" of Joseph which set his course in life.
The dreams, which he "shared" so unwisely, were real and from God – marking him out as a man especially chosen. This did not happen to any of the brothers. Is it possible their resentment was fuelled by the fear that Joseph’s dreams might come true? They said "let’s kill him…Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams." (Genesis 37:19 NIV)
As Joseph finally told his brothers, even the family enmity was woven into the plans God was making. "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." (Genesis 50:20 NIV).
It was necessary for Joseph to be in Egypt – though not essential he be a slave! The story powerfully demonstrates two truths of vital importance to every Christian who is determined to reach deep into God.
Firstly, contrary to popular theology, God does not treat everyone "the same." We cry, "That’s not fair!" but there are more important things in life than being "fair." God is not about being fair; He is about being righteous, in pursuit of which He will do different things with different people not all of which will be (especially to our limited perception) "equal."
We should not envy too easily those whom God draws especially close, because this ‘favoritism’ comes with a price-tag. If you are important to God your life will be challenged and opposed. Whenever there are signs of God‘s special attention, there is an enemy lurking nearby – eavesdropping – whose overriding obsession is to frustrate the best plans of God. When he saw Joseph, he determined to put him as far as possible from anything to do with power, importance or opportunity. Buried in a foreign prison, lost to home and family, surrounded by pagans – Satan thought he had secured his objective. One thing was certain, no one would ever hear of Joseph again!
Except for the second important lesson of course.....
No more powerful one exists in the life of the child of God than this: If God plans it, God makes it happen! Against the odds, the opposition, and the envy. Despite the injustices of life and the destructive ambitions of God’s arch-enemy, God made it happen for Joseph, and God will make it happen for you!
We live in a people-centered culture. What is important is measured by how it affects us. Spiritual and non-spiritual philosophies are based on the value of self – we are what matters. This sense of our all-importance is reflected in most of our therapies and life-coaching practices, and we need reminding that not everything in the world begins and ends with us.
Of course God wants us happy and fulfilled. But it is not his highest priority, nor should it be ours. Sooner or later we discover that being happy isn’t what makes us happy anyway! There are more important things on God’s heart and if we have to choose, it is better to be right than to be happy. God was planning generations ahead and Joseph was an essential part of it. But in the course of achieving those purposes, Joseph lost everything he valued – and then some!
We read (with the benefit of hindsight), a story comforting in its "inevitable" safe conclusion. But think how it felt to Joseph as each successive disaster broke over his head. There came a point in his life where it looked so hopeless the Bible tells us that, "the iron came into his soul." (Psalm 105:18 AV margin)
Without a shadow of a doubt someone is at that point in their life right now. They need to know these same two truths if they are to survive whatever "prison" they are in, and live to see the reason why the thunder has rolled over them for so long. It is risky being the favorite. Chances are it will take you where you do not wish to go. But it matters to God that you keep the vision and live to see it fulfilled.
There came the day when Joseph looked across the room at eleven figures kneeling before him in attitudes of utmost respect…and remembered a dream! None of them yet knew why God had done it, but history reveals the life of Joseph as essential to God’s plans for Israel, and for us. For those of the old covenant and the new.
Yes…risky being the favorite…but oh the reward!
Brian Thompson is married and lives in Kent ('garden of England') with Vi, his wife, who is a teacher. They are the proud parents of three children. Brian works as an IFA by day and is in the process of finishing up a musical and a book! You can write to Brian care of the Letters page of this magazine.