"This is the story of the family of Jacob . . ." (Genesis 37:2).
The book of Genesis is, among other things, a collection of family histories.
And every one of them is a difficult story, filled with rivalries, betrayal, violence, sorrow, and longing . . . as well as kinship, hope, love, and responsibility. The mysterious presence of God hovers over all these ancient stories, somehow moving under, around, and through our most basic human experience.
Every family is dysfunctional in its own special way, I often say. The Genesis stories are prototypical of the history of families through hundreds of
generations down to our own time. After Abraham comes Isaac and then
Jacob (also known as Israel), the three great patriarchs of our faith, all with
their own complex family troubles. Complexity further complicated because monogamy had not yet replaced polygamy in Hebrew society.
"The story of the family of Jacob" begins like this: "Now Israel loved Joseph
more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age."
You remember how it goes, from Sunday school and the "Technicolor Dreamcoat" musical. Because of his preferential treatment, Joseph's older brothers "hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him" (37:3-4). Things
go badly very quickly and the long sequence of events begin to unfold that culminate more than 400 years later with the Exodus from slavery in Egypt.
I personally find it comforting to know that God does not expect that our
families will be models of perfection. With his long experience in dealing with human relationships, God knows that painful things happen regularly among people who had promised to love one another. Here is God's promise in Genesis, a promise confirmed in Jesus: God remains steadfast in his love for us even when we fail in our love for one another.