Lessons from Joseph: Family Baggage

a sermon from Sunday 5th August. Read Genesis 37:1-11; James 2:1-9

What a story!  Today’s text from Genesis reads like a modern-day soap opera, even though it was probably written 3500 years ago.

Over the next 5 weeks we will follow the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob and his favourite wife, Rachel. You’ll note as we explore their stories that God achieves God’s purposes despite seemingly terrible situations and despite the fact that the people often at the heart of the story are the least likely of people to be doing great things for God.As you listened to the beginnings of this story of Jacob and his sons you’d quickly recognise that they had a few problems.  These days we talk of ‘dysfunctional’ families – Jacob and family tick all the boxes. Serious counselling was needed.

Joseph became the saviour of the nation yet it could be said he began life as a spoilt, obnoxious brat.  There is hope here for all of us.

Let’s have a closer look at this situation and see what God might be saying to us in it, for in reality even though their situation is light years away from today they are nevertheless just like us.

Jacob is the father of this family, a father like all of us with his own history, with his own baggage that he bought into his adult relationships and parenting.

You may recall that Jacob was the son of Isaac and his wife Rebekah, born late in life. He was a twin – the younger one, by seconds. It is said that he was born holding onto his brother’s heel (Gen 25:26), as if he was trying to pull him back. Thus he got his name: Jacob – the ‘heel-grabber’. Figuratively his name means ‘he who supplants’ that is he who replaces. Later in life his name would prove to be accurate for he tricked his older brother, Esau, out of his birthright and took his place.

The boys were twins – but in no way identical – the older, Esau, adventurous, outgoing, confident, exciting.  An outdoors type; a rugged individual who loved to hunt and bring home choice venison for his father.  He was his father’s pride and joy, the first-born, a chip off the old block.  Isaac loved Esau greatly.

In contrast Jacob lived in Esau’s shadow for many years, a plain, mollycoddled boy (at least in his father’s eyes).  Jacob preferred the quiet life, staying indoors he would help his mother, who loved him dearly. It seems both parents had their favourites and I guess didn’t try to hide the fact. Jacob I also imagine longed to be noticed by his father – to count for something in his Father’s eyes.

Living in the shadow of his brother Jacob grew to be a bitter, resentful and dangerous young man. So much so that he schemed to get his brother’s birthright, and the honour and recognition that went with it.

And that’s exactly what he did – he took his time, he made his plans and when the time was right he outwitted his older brother to gain the birthright – this was followed by deceiving his ailing father into thinking he was Esau thus gaining Isaac’s blessing and inheritance.

So Jacob – the heel-grabber, the supplanter, lived up to his name.

But there’s a saying ‘those who live by the sword die by the sword’ – those who deceive will in turn be deceived,

And so it was for Jacob for it was he who was deceived by Laban into marrying two sisters: Leah – who he did not desire, and Rachel his first love.

Clearly Jacob bought a lot of baggage in his adult life.

Of course it is true – each and every one of us comes with a past, a personal history that impacts our future relationships; baggage.

Some of our baggage may well be good stuff, positives that we have picked up along the way – however we also pick up plenty of baggage that weighs us down.

Unresolved issues, scars from our upbringing, regrets, burdens from previous relationships: the list could go on.

We all have them – some are more serious than others, but even the seemingly insignificant, if left unresolved, can wreck havoc in our relationships with our spouse and our children.

We know this – Jacob didn’t seem to; soon he begins to repeat the mistakes of his own parents.

  • We see this in the life of Joseph.  A favoured son, born late in Jacob’s life, the first son from his favourite wife – this child was always going to hold a special place in Jacob’s life.

Joseph grew up the spoilt younger child – all the attention Joseph received encouraged self-centeredness, insensitivity towards others, arrogance.

He became Daddy’s favourite and saw it as his responsibility to report to his father everything his older brothers got up to. (v2)

Rubbing salt into wounds Jospeh loved being the loved one.  He took delight in wearing his wonderful cloak which told everyone of his importance and special position in the family, and when the dreams came to him of his future greatness and his brothers servitude he didn’t hesitate to share them, even though he must have known the hurt his dreams would cause them.

In time, his dreams would be seen to be accurate but not before Joseph had learnt the humility necessary for true greatness.

Yes, Jacob bought a lot of baggage – previous hurts and disappointments into his marriages and his family suffer the consequences of bad decisions and inappropriate love.

  • We see this in the life of the brothers – their lives were ruled by resentment, even hatred.

We might say with some truth that we understand the brothers – we understand their resentment towards Joseph – yet they allowed their resentment to turn into hatred and jealousy which would lead them into terrible acts against their brother and deception of their father.  Such was their resentment that lives were destroyed, communities disrupted family betrayed, and consciences guilt-ridden for decades. Sadly the family of Jacob experienced dysfunction that is all too common today.  In time we will see how God has his hand on this family, of how he uses weak, insensitive, arrogant, resentful and hurting people – just like us, to achieve his purposes, but for the moment we see just the dysfunction, the brokenness, pain, and loneliness. Parents there is a strong message here for us.  We need to be aware of the baggage we bring into relationships and take appropriate action to learn from those experiences, and to ensure that those intergenerational forces that so often destroy families are themselves cut-off.

Each of us, men and women have been shaped and mis-shaped by nurture and nature, influence and inheritance and now we must allow God to re-shape us into the men and women he’d have us be.

Romans 12:1-2

This applies to each of us but I speak to parent’s first, primarily because I’m one and increasingly I am realising how important it is that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.  Parents it is imperative that we receive the healing, restoration, forgiveness of the LORD, and that we set our minds on Him – allowing Him to transform us.

In many cases this will mean that we need to acknowledge the past, warts and all, and we must break the spiritual, emotional, and cultural ties that bind us to brokenness, and that perpetuate intergenerational dysfunction. Jacob failed to learn from his own upbringing thus he repeated, even increased the mistakes of his father to the detriment of an entire new generation.
I am also speaking to all of us, men and women, married or single, parents or not. We all live in relationships and all too often we play the games that Jacob played.  It does not take much thought to recognise the ways we show favouritism to a select few, in our families, in the church, socially and at work. We allow jealousy and hurt to fester into hatred – by which many are destroyed.  We allow pride and vanity to stand in the way of healing and reconciliation.James 2:1-9

James is speaking here to the church – but it applies equally to all our relationships, with children, friends, colleagues, neighbours. James focuses on favoritism but again we know that many other attitudes are equally destructive.

In the story of Jacob and his family God is always present but often only in the background – that’s not because God does not want to be involved but the truth is that the main characters rarely make an opening for God in their lives – but we can.
We can be ruled by past hurts or present experiences or we can choose to make an opening for God, and be transformed by the renewing of our minds, our lives, and our relationships.
Arohanui Ian

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