Joseph’s & His Brothers

As long as I’ve ever read the story of Joseph I’ve been able to see myself either real or aspirational as Joseph.  Joseph is the underdog who has to endure harsh treatment by his brothers. He continues to succeed in spite of his many setbacks.  He’s committed to personal purity in his denying the Potiphar’s wife. He uses his God-given gifts of interpreting dreams to achieve success.  He is eventually recognized for his giftedness and promoted. Then to top it all off he is poster-child for mercy and forgiveness as he shows unconditional love for his brothers who wronged him in the first place.


Who doesn’t love the story of Joseph?  


But what if we don’t look at the story from the viewpoint of Joseph?  What if rather than see ourselves as the symbol of virtue in Joseph, we see ourselves as the villians of the story in the brothers.


No one wants to be the brothers.  They are the villains of the story.  That would be like watching Star Wars and cheering for the Empire.  But I would argue that we are more like the brothers, especially given our current cultural climate, than we are like innocent little Joseph.


I think that the brothers model for us what happens when we take part in conflict within the confines of a group.  In other words, how we are more likely to have certain attitudes or take certain actions while in the context of a group that we might not necessarily take on as individuals.  Now this is not necessarily a bad thing. People may be more likely to protest peacefully when among a group of others committed to do the same. However, the same may be said for those who engage in violent protests or riots.  The point is that we are more likely to exhibit certain behaviors in groups then when we are acting alone as individuals.


But what I find most interesting is that we appear to be more impressionable when we subscribe to one group or another.  It seems easier to be influenced to think or act a certain way as long as it appears as though the rest of the group is thinking or acting a certain way.  I remember as a youth when asked if I wanted to go somewhere or do something the first thought in my mind was, “who else is going to be there.” If enough of the group was taking part in that activity then I would be more likely to go even if the activity itself didn’t appeal to me personally.  


I really didn’t like playing football much as a child but it was the most important sport to my group and so I suited up and endured “bull in the ring”.  I still have nightmares about that drill but that’s a subject for another blog.


So what happened to this group of brothers that they conspire to throw their little brother into a pit and later sell him into slavery while telling their father that he was mauled and eaten by wild animals?


I would contend that the brothers had been conditioned to hate Joseph’s mother, Rachel.  Rachel was the despised one simply because she was the favorite of their father, Jacob. Most of Jacob’s children were born to his first wife and Rachel’s sister, Leah.  If you read the story you’ll learn that it was never even Joseph’s intention to marry Leah in the first place and was tricked into doing so in order to eventually have Rachel’s hand in marriage.  Leah hated that she was always had to play second fiddle to Rachel. I know, this sounds really weird.


It stands to reason that the brothers picked up on this animosity towards Rachel and took on that attitude themselves.  Rachel and thus Joseph were taught to be their enemy.


The Dallas Cowboys are my enemy.  They’ve done nothing to me personally but my father and mother are fans of the Washington football team (yes, I’m one of “those people” who thinks the name should be changed but that, again, is another blog.  Judge me at your leisure. I’ll be ok). I learned to love the Washington football team. And if you love the Washington football team then you by extension you have to hate the Dallas Cowboys. There was a shirt that I remember seeing a lot as a kid that said, “I’m a fan of the Washington Redskins and whoever is playing the Cowboys!” (I know but I had to use the name in a direct quote.  Again, judge away).


Don’t we all tend to learn love and hate from those who we respect and admire?  So if my mother, Leah, hates Rachel, shouldn’t I then hate Rachel as well? And then by extension, shouldn’t I hate Joseph as well?  Joseph likely never stood a chance. Based solely on his association with Rachel, Joseph was a pariah.


We do this all of the time.  Because someone is associated with a particular group or person, we associate that that person our feelings that we already have towards that group or person.  If I find that you are a Democrat or Conservative, I attribute to you all of the negative feelings that I have towards that group. If you are an from a particular country or state then I attribute to you all of the negative feelings that I have towards that country or state.  If you are of a particular race I attribute to you all of the negative feelings that I have towards that race.


This leaves all of us vulnerable to propaganda because now I don’t have to be influenced to hate a particular person or group.  All I have know is that my group has negative feelings or attitudes towards a particular person or group.

So what do we do with this information?  We remain watchful and sober-minded when consuming information that we don’t jump to conclusions about others who may appear to be at odds with the groups we ascribe to.  That’s the least that we’ll need to do in order to be able to effectively love our neighbors.