Lenten Discipline Week 4: Unfairness, Jealousy, Betrayal and Pain

Hi Friends and Readers!

Welcome to Week 4 of our shared Lenten Discipline, to meditate, reflect, and pray on one of the Old Testament Wednesday Bible texts. I will share a text, a brief reflection, discussion questions, and prayer. I invite you to use this brief study with family, friends, or even on your own.

This practice is my attempt to grow spiritually during this Lenten season, rather than giving up something. My hope is that it will draw me closer to God and bring me the clarity of purpose I need in this busy season. Thank you for joining me!

ICYMI, here's Week 3Week 2, and Week 1

Lent Week 4

The Old Testament Text: Genesis 37:1-36

Gen. 37:1   Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan.  2 This is the story of the family of Jacob.

 Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father.  3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.  4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him. 

Gen. 37:5   Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.  6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed.  7 There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.”  8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. 

Gen. 37:9   He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”  10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?”  11 So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. 

Gen. 37:12   Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem.  13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.”  14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.

 He came to Shechem,  15 and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?”  16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.”  17 The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan.  18 They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him.  19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer.  20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”  21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.”  22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.  23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore;  24 and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. 

Gen. 37:25   Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt.  26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?  27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed.  28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. 

Gen. 37:29   When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes.  30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?”  31 Then they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood.  32 They had the long robe with sleeves taken to their father, and they said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.”  33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.”  34 Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days.  35 All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father bewailed him.  36 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard. 

Reflection: The story of Joseph and his brothers makes up nearly a third of the book of Genesis, and within this story we see a foreshadowing and glimpse into the message of the entire Bible. In this one story, the Bible tells the truth about the human condition, and the painful ways we treat the ones we love -- and yet the Bible also shows us God's incredible power of transformation, a foreshadowing of the way God will ultimately become incarnate in Jesus, to transform death into life.

But for now, in the midst of Lent, we must rest in this beginning of the story of Joseph. As I read these 36 verses, four words came to mind: unfairness, jealousy, betrayal, pain. In choosing these four words, I notice that I am choosing a bit to view this story from the perspective of Joseph's brothers, rather than that of Joseph himself. That is the same choice that the writer of Genesis makes, even slightly mocking Joseph for his audacious dream, in which his older brothers bow down to him.

It was unfair, was it not, that Joseph was the favored son. Notice how complex family dynamics exist even - especially - in this first book of the Bible. Joseph and his brothers have different mothers, and their sibling rivalry is deep. It wasn't fair that Joseph got his father's favor. (Can you tell I am an oldest child?) And jealousy is such a dominant part of the human existence, yet we see in this story that jealousy and unfairness - unfettered - only lead to betrayal and to pain. Reuben is painted as the kind and merciful brother, yet he too still throws Joseph into the pit. 

I wonder what this story says about how we treat those who are closest to us. Most of us love to joke about our own family dynamics. None are perfect. We disappoint each other and sometimes wonder how these people, so different from us, can be related to us! Yet family is a huge part of the Bible story. This Lent, I am encouraged by the betrayal and pain within Joseph's story to seek healing from betrayal and pain in our own families. I am encouraged to pray about family dynamics in my life, and to think about places where I may have been guilty of betrayal or creating pain for my loved ones - and seeking forgiveness. We end this reading with the wailing of Jacob, Joseph's father, and I am reminded of our duty as parents and children to comfort one another in the midst of grief and pain.

Three generations of my family: me, my mom, and my grandma, with her husband, Carl


1) Have you ever noticed that someone else was favored over you? How did it make you feel?

2) Have you ever been the favorite? How did that make you feel? How did others treat you?

3) Why do you think Joseph shared these dreams with his brothers?

4) Have you ever been betrayed by someone you loved? Have you found healing?

5) We read that Jacob bewailed Joseph, despite his other children's attempts to comfort him. Have you ever found yourself in deep grief and unable to be comforted? What is the role of grief in our lives?


O Lord, throughout these 40 days, I want to hear your voice. I want to feel the presence of your Spirit, even when I feel jealous, betrayed, or in pain. God, help me find comfort and peace, and give me the courage to seek places to ask for forgiveness from my loved ones. I want to trust in your transformative power, even after great grief and pain. In Jesus' name, AMEN


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