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The story of Joseph is one of the classic stories which portrayed sibling rivalry that was fueled by envy. Joseph’s story can be found in the book of Genesis, the same biblical book where the story of “Cain and Abel” can be found; another story that portrayed sibling rivalry. At the beginning of the story, it was pretty obvious that Joseph was loved by his father, Jacob, so much that he was given high regard over his other brothers upon which ten were older than him.
When they finally reached the boiling point, they originally plotted to kill Joseph but later decided to just sell him to a passing Ishmaelite merchant.
He was sold to the Pharaoh of Egypt who decided to make him the Pharaoh’s personal servant. This is where he was able to practice and utilize his gift from God, which was interpreting dreams. Joseph, the Favorite Son Joseph was the eleventh of twelfth sons of Jacob, who was regarded in the bible as Israel while his sons were the twelve tribes of Israel.
One day, Joseph had a dream about eleven stars, the sun, and the moon bowing before him (Genesis 37:9 Revised Standard Version). This is when his father, Jacob, realized that Joseph was blessed by God.
Ever since learning about that fact, he became overprotective of Joseph, as he knew that his other sons will try to harm him if Joseph told them his dreams and its interpretations. Joseph became his favorite son, and because of this, his other sons grew jealous of Joseph.
They started to despise him, and plotted to kill him—except for the eldest among the brothers, Reuben. Jealousy and envy has caused previous sibling rivalry stories in the book of genesis—an example would be the story of “Cain and Abel”.
However, one cannot blame the antagonists for being jealous for there is always a favor or favoritism factor in some of these stories; including the story of Joseph the dreamer. It is safe to assume that out of favoritism comes jealousy, and then from jealousy comes rivalry. The Genesis Touch A lot of themes from the book of Genesis tend to repeat themselves in the book’s thematic divisions—Creation and post-creation (Adam and Eve, with addition of Cain and Abel), Patriarch Saga (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), and The Story of Joseph the dreamer. There is bound to be theme similarities between stories that belong to each thematic division.
In the story of Joseph, the themes that can be identified are:
Faith is one of the most recurring themes in the Old Testament as well as in some parts of the New Testament. It starts from the creation story wherein God entrusted Eden to Adam and Eve. Faith was also present at the story of Abraham, whom he acted on a leap-of-faith, dedicated himself to sacrifice his son, Isaac, for God; although, it did not push through.
Like in the two stories, Faith is also present here in the story of Joseph. However, Faith here may have been slightly different as it was faithfulness of Joseph towards Israel—Jacob. He was a tattle tale: “and Joseph brought an ill report of them to their father” (Genesis 37:2). Indeed through Joseph’s faithfulness, it earned him the title of “Jacob’s favorite son”. However, this did not bode well with his brothers, as it intensified their jealousy and hatred towards him. Sibling Rivalry was always bound to happen. The theme of Sibling Rivalry has existed since the story of “Cain and Abel”.
It proliferated to other succeeding stories, including the story of Joseph. One problem of Joseph that prompted his brothers to despise him was his arrogance. Other than him being the favorite son of Jacob, he did show arrogance in some parts of the story while sharing his dreams to his brothers: “He said to them, ‘Hear this dream which I have dreamed: behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf arose and stood upright; and behold, your sheaves gathered round it, and bowed down to my sheaf” (Genesis: 36:6-7). Who would not be mad after hearing that?
This prompted them to hate him even more with his dreams and how he interprets the dreams. However, Joseph’s gift of interpreting dreams was considered as a blessing from God. Through this, a covenant between God and Joseph was created. The Covenant theme has always recurred throughout the bible. After all, it is a holy agreement between God and an individual—usually men in the Old Testament. Like in all stories before Joseph’s, a covenant was likely to be formed through the blessings that the individual will receive. It may have been like a past version of “the terms of agreement”.
Joseph’s gift frightened and angered his brothers, as they sold him to an Ishmaelite merchant instead of killing him—as Reuben suggested. The Ishmaelite then sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, who made him his personal servant. Joseph was not fully aware that he and God had a covenant ever since he received the gift of interpreting dreams. Even so, he was continuously blessed by God as he prospered and became successful. Then Potiphar’s wife kept tempting him—familiar with the creation story—to lie with her in bed; have sex with her. However, he always refused.
This prompted her to accuse him of trying to sleep with her and was thrown into prison. Then he was continuously blessed by God while he was imprisoned: “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21). These favors made Joseph realize the covenant that bounded him with God. The fall and restoration of Joseph may have occurred during his days in Egypt. The theme of fall and restoration is a theme that greatly comprises the tragedy that occurs to a person and a periodic rise right after.
For example, the fall and restoration that occurred in the story of Adam and Even was the temptation up to the point wherein God banished them. Although not much restoration happened, God decided to just banish them out of Eden and start their own life, instead of decimating them. In the story of Joseph, the fall and restoration occurred in two phases:
Upon the realization of the covenant, the second phase took place. The full restoration took place while he became the overseer that handles food distribution and storage. As his brothers went to Egypt to buy grain during the seven years of famine, he saw them and commanded them to return and fetch Benjamin, the brother closest to Joseph, with them on their way back to Egypt. After which, Benjamin was able to identify him and soon their family was reunited.
This was the full restoration that occurred after the start of the first phase and the end of the second phase. It may have been destiny that brought them together once again. Destiny is a strong word that has always been present in the Bible. It was God’s will towards a person, especially those whom He has chosen to lead; for example, like Abraham. Combining the other four themes would generate the destiny that God assigned to Joseph ever since blessing him with the gift of dream interpretation.
His destiny may have been played out in this fashion: He was given the gift of dream interpretation—the father admires his faithfulness to him and discovers his skill, warning him not to tell his brothers about it—Joseph told his brothers about a dream that intensified their jealousy and hatred towards him—most of them plotted to destroy him, sold him instead to a merchant—he became Potiphar’s servant, who later became his prisoner after being framed—butler and baker made him interpret their dreams, wherein the butler promised that he will be remembered—Pharaoh had a nightmare that he wanted to interpret, so he sent for Joseph and had it interpreted (after the butler recommended him to the Pharaoh)—Joseph interpreted it accurately and was assigned as the overseer of food distribution and storage—With this position, it gave him an opportunity to reunite with his family after disappearing for so long—then the Hebrews were offered a land in Egypt wherein they moved there from Canaan, delivering them from famine (Genesis 37-47). In this process, the four Genesis themes of Joseph’s story were combined to form and somewhat correlate with the last theme which was Destiny. It was by God’s will that his destiny was formed right from the start. Joseph the son, dreamer, servant, prisoner, interpreter, and official Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob, and he was the most favored among all of his brothers. It was mentioned that he was at age seventeen when he started experiencing these dreams that were believed to be visions of the future. For his father, this was a blessing by God which earned him more favor over his brothers.
Other than that, Joseph was loyal to Jacob who was Israel—as the story would mention. His loyalty earned him a rightful place and won his father’s favor. He was equally loyal to God as the blessed gift of dream interpretation tied them together. However, he had a minor flaw when he was at age seventeen. He was a bit arrogant, although he was unaware of it. It may have been possible that he was sharing his dream (Genesis: 36:6-7) to his brothers which he should not have, in the process disobeying their father as he was warned not to tell them any of his dreams nor his special talent. For his brothers, they found the context of the dream as an act of arrogance since it interpreted that they should bow to him.
This further fueled their hatred towards Joseph. As he was the eleventh son, it was disrespectful to mention such a thing towards the older brothers. His father loved and favored him but his brothers despised him, that they plotted to kill him but with Reuben’s intervention, he was sold to an Ishmaelite trader instead. When Joseph became the servant of Potiphar, he expressed the same kind of loyalty that he had towards his father; although, it may have also been because of the fact that he was loyal to God as well. Being God-blessed and loyal earned him Potiphar’s favor and made him the overseer of the house who was in-charge of all over that Potiphar had (Genesis 39:4).
With all of these blessing come an unfortunate circumstance: Potiphar’s seduction or temptation of Joseph. It was a test that Joseph successfully passed. However, he was framed by the wife and was put in prison. Another twist occurred when God blessed him while he was imprisoned (Genesis 39:21). His prison sentence led him to another circumstance upon which was favorable to him. The chief butler and chief baker of the Pharaoh were thrown in prison as well after disappointing the Pharaoh. This was where he was given the opportunity to interpret the dreams of others, when both the butler and the baker had dreams—which were probably visions of the future.
Both ended up looking troubled the next day, hence prompting Joseph to help: “So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, ‘Why are your faces downcast today? ’ (Genesis 40:7). In the ancient world, dreams usually need interpretation as they would convey messages that may hold great importance to the person’s life. The two had Joseph interpret their dreams, both of which came true. As the Pharaoh experienced a vision of his own in his dream, he asked his magicians and top officials to interpret it for him. None of them could not interpret the dream accurately until the butler remembered Joseph and recommended him. Joseph was then called by the Pharaoh whom accurately interpreted the dreams.
Impressed by the accuracy of Joseph’s interpretation, he assigned him as the overseer of the country—that handled resource distribution, especially food since it will be affected by the famine. Joseph, as usual, showed loyalty to his master and managed the resource distribution accordingly. Reading the story, Joseph had his ups and downs throughout this phase of his life. Joseph’s character developed, evolving and adapting, through these ups and downs until he was able to rise up. Joseph started out as a boy but ended up being a man upon which a country depended on. Adding to his personal traits, it could be said that he was forgiving as he did not exact revenge upon the brothers who mistreated him.
It could be said that a lot of blessings and unfortunate things can happen to one person. Joseph experienced his share of blessings and misfortunes throughout the story; apparently there were more blessings for God was always with him. The first one among the series of blessings and misfortunes would be a blessing wherein he was blessed with the gift of dream interpretation. It was also evidence of God’s presence in him or with him. This blessing would be immensely important for him, his family, and Egypt later on. For now, it led to his second fortune which was earning his father’s favor and guaranteed his safety through the protection of his father.
He became Jacob’s favorite because of his loyalty and blessed skill. However, this led to the first unfortunate event that sent him on a rollercoaster ride. His brothers despised him greatly and plotted to kill him; although ended up selling him instead. He was brought away to a far land, away from his family. Then as God continued to bless him, he experienced his third blessing which was being the Potiphar’s overseer of the house. His loyalty was noticed by Potiphar who gave him the position. All Joseph wanted in exchange for his service was food. Unfortunately, things did not last as he was framed by Potiphar’s wife—because he refused to sleep with her.
He was thrown into prison, which was the second misfortune he experienced. However, since God remained with him, he was blessed yet again, giving him favor from the prison keeper who attended to his care and all of the prisoners’. Then an opportunity to exercise his blessed skill arrived when two of the Pharaoh’s officials were thrown in the same prison. Lucky smiled upon him once again, giving him an opportunity to get out of prison. The rest of the events that followed were all blessings that were guised under different forms and circumstances. This proves that his relationship with God is an impregnable bond. After all, he was in covenant with God.
Joseph’s skills was put in good use, in favor of God’s plan for him and his people—his family and other Hebrews. As Joseph remained faithful and loving to God, God remained upon Joseph’s side, blessed him whichever place he ends up in and protected him from evil—temptation and harm throughout the story. It was as though they were bounded as one. However, he was also considered as a tool to deliver God’s plan to the Hebrews—who descended from Abraham and Isaac. This was probably an equivalent exchange for the blessings God has given Joseph. It was like his relationship with his father Jacob, although much stronger. A Unified Mood, Character, and theme The story encompasses a fluctuating mood that shifts from happiness to tragedy and back.
It seems that the mood is dictated by the flow of events throughout the story, the themes that it entails, and the development of the characters—even the minor ones experience development. Each factor correlates with each other, as if dictating each other within certain situations. An instance wherein the three were unified was the time when Joseph shared his dreams (Genesis 37:6-11) with his brothers, as well as his father. The way he delivered the dream and the dream’s outcome itself infuriated the brothers, who were already envious of him being their father’s favorite. This signified that they had enough of Joseph who seemed to have bossed them around.
His brothers developed a more raging spite towards Joseph which later on was seen as he was beaten and thrown in a well, then sold to a trader. Jacob also had a negative reaction to Joseph’s story as it prompted him to scold his son, but later on warns him of his brothers’ intentions. As seen in this situation, the dream caused the theme of sibling rivalry to reach its breaking point, as the brothers plotted to dispose of Joseph. They were able to develop into a character that could not tolerate the favoritism of their father towards Joseph anymore. The mood of this scene turned sour, as jealousy and anger filled the relationship between Joseph and his brothers.
His father also experienced a change in character as he became more overprotective of Joseph, scolding him for telling his dreams to his brothers. The mood shifted from an anger to care, in a heartbeat. From the example, the correlation between Theme, Mood, and Character can be seen. It may as well be possible that opposing elements would create unity between the theme, mood, and character. Take the prison scene for example. He was not distraught when he was thrown in prison for God was there to help him. He believed in God whom he shared a covenant with. The prison keeper showed favor towards him—not the typical prison keeper of the ancient times.
In prison, he was also given an opportunity to show his blessed skill to two of the Pharaoh’s officials, upon which one died. The setting clearly opposed the mood and the character—prisoners usually degrade in prison. It then enabled the unification of the two with the theme of faith, as Joseph never showed any sign of subjecting to his status. The story of Joseph was probably meant to be a lesson that taught its readers to always remain faithful to God, for He will bless those who are. That may be the message that this story wishes to convey to its readers. For every fall, a periodic rise will follow.
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. (1966). London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd, for Incorporated Catholic Truth Society.
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