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Leading Question: “Jacob’s family was a mess: Who’s fault was it?”

Theme: Jacob’s disastrous family: deception, polygamy, favoritism, reconciliation

Key biblical passage: Genesis 24-50

1. Jacob’s family: Generations of deception. Joseph’s coat could be seen as a symbol of a troubled family. Were the problems of deception and favoritism passed down genetically? If you were telling the story of Joseph to your children, what lessons would you draw, especially about the coat of many colors? To see the story in its full biblical context, it is helpful to trace the history of the “problems” that haunted Abraham and his descendants. Note the three major problems and how the three major patriarchs were involved in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:

  1. Deception
  2. Favoritism
  3. Polygamy

Note: In Genesis, the narratives rarely conclude with explicit “morals” in the style of Uncle Arthur’s Bible stories. But the pain is laid out for all to see. In the story of Jacob, for example, there is no explicit condemnation of polygamy, but the disaster of plural marriage is quite clear. In Genesis 30:8, for example, Rachel exclaims when her handmaid Bilhah gave birth to a son: “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed”’ so she named him Naphtali” (NRSV). In short, she named him “Victory over my sister”!

2. Reconciliation and flashbacks. For all the problems between Joseph and his brothers, the conclusion is a beautiful one: Reconciliation, but with a ragged edge. In Genesis 50:15-21, after the death of Jacob, the story is told of how the brothers came to Joseph with a special appeal. They feared he still might be holding a grudge. Joseph encourages them with reminders of how Providence had worked: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today” (Gen 50:20, NRSV).

Discussion: What events in Joseph’s life may have contributed to his willingness to forgive his brother, thus breaking the cycle of deception and revenge? Is there any evidence in Scripture that the response of his brothers might have triggered a softening impulse in Joseph’s heart? How can this story teach us how to turn from revenge to reconciliation?

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