Vengeance, Arrogance, and Partiality

Scripture Focus: Genesis 37.34-35

34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him. 

Mark 7.20-23

20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Reflection: Vengeance, Arrogance, and Partiality

By John Tillman

There are disagreements among biblical interpreters about Joseph and how he related to his brothers. 

Some see Joseph as innocent. They argue Joseph did nothing wrong. His brothers are simply vengeful and jealous. This view’s popularity comes partly from seeing Joseph as a “type” of Christ in the Old Testament. (Where Moses shows us the conquering Christ, Joseph shows us the suffering servant.) Joseph, however, is no more sinless than Moses or anyone else. This view seems unrealistically idealistic.

Some see Joseph as a spoiled, arrogant braggart. They argue that, although Joseph was a victim, he provoked his brothers to anger and jealousy. This view is more realistic but problematic for blaming the victim.

Some blame Israel’s parenting and favoritism. They argue that Israel’s partiality humiliated his older sons and spoiled his younger. This view only shifts the blame to prior generations, absolving the descendants.

Seeing any biblical character, other than Jesus, as blameless is a bad idea. Rather than one person or group, all involved in this dysfunctional drama are blameworthy in different ways. 

Malefactors are responsible for their actions, regardless of provocation or incitement. Joseph’s brothers have no excuse even if he had been the worst braggart and spoiled brat that ever existed. 

Joseph is also not innocent. The scripture gives us an important clue about this when even Israel rebukes Joseph after being disturbed when Joseph shared his dreams. Joseph’s words and manner of sharing his dreams must have been far out of line for his doting father to take him down a peg about it. 

Finally, Israel reaps the consequences of his partiality when he mourns Joseph. It is the fruit of the seeds of division that he planted and he must sip its sour wine for years.

Were the brothers vengeful and jealous? Yes, and so are we.

Was Joseph prideful and insensitive to the effect of his privileges? Yes, and so are we.

Was Israel blind to his partiality and the harm it was causing? Yes, and so are we.

The actions of everyone involved grew from their inner sinfulness. What comes out of a person is what defiles them, not what happens to them. What we do and say is an overflow of our hearts.

May our hearts find hope and be changed by our suffering servant Jesus.

May we find in Jesus forgiveness to replace our vengeance, humility to replace our arrogance, and justice to replace our partiality.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. — Matthew 5.6

Read more about Humbling Nebuchadnezzar
Humility will save you and your nation. Pride will destroy you and your nation.

Read more about Abandon Human Vengeance
The tactics of human vengeance are escalatory. We always hit back harder than we were struck.

It’s In The Bible

Genesis 37.8
His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

Mark 7.8
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions. 

“Well, it’s right there in the Bible, so it must not be a sin. But it sure does seem like an awful dirty trick…” — Rich Mullins

Reflection: It’s in the Bible
By John Tillman

In the song quoted above, Rich Mullins is striking a chord of irony with his purposeful misreading of the meaning of scripture. Too often in our reading of the Bible we allow ourselves to imply God’s approval on the depicted actions of the heroes of faith.

The heroes of faith had moments to emulate. But the scripture does not exist for our emulation of humans. Merely emulating any great hero of faith, from the scriptures or from our lives, will lead to mere human striving not true spiritual development and transformation.

If we look carefully, we can see God actively disrupting cultural assumptions and human traditions that people in scripture accepted as normal and moral. The most obvious example of this is polygamy. 

Polygamy was never in the Bible because God approved of it. It was there because the culture approved of it. Polygamy came from male dominance, the consolidation of power, and the dehumanization of women. 

If we read carefully we can see God interfering in the cultural system, disrupting the societal beliefs that twisted his original design of family and community. 

God purposely disrupts the laws of heredity that were acceptable in the culture by choosing the younger brothers, by favoring weaker family members, and by miraculously upending the societal forces that kept down the weak.

When we see God working through the family squabbles of Jacob’s family, we aren’t seeing God’s stamp of approval, but his marked determination to fulfill his sovereign purpose despite the flaws and foibles of his children. 

God has equally difficult work ahead of him to fulfill his purpose in us. We are soaked in and blinded by our broken, post-truth world. We, like Jacob, have cultural blind spots and, like the Pharisees, believe more strongly in our culture’s list of offenses than God’s.

We need to read scripture with our eyes open to the failures of the patriarchs and the heroes of faith. It is in their failures we can most clearly recognize ourselves. And it is in God’s loving, continuous pursuit of them that we can see hope for such glorious sinners as ourselves.

We also need to read our culture—not just live in it— seeking guidance to understand what is considered acceptable to the world, but is not acceptable to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your cultural blind spots where you do not see your own faulty thinking.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lesson
The fool has said in his heart, “there is no God.” All are corrupt and commit abominable acts; there is none who does any good.  —  Psalm 53.1

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 37 (Listen – 4:56) 
Mark 7 (Listen – 4:28)

Read more about Cringing at Culture or at Christ?
It is healthy for us to remember that what we admire in biblical heroes and heroines came to them from God. We need not emulate the heroes so much as we need to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, drawing out of us the shining vestiges of God’s image that are needed.

Read more about The Focus of Christ’s Anger
Is Jesus angry…with us?
In prayer we can seek the focus of Christ’s anger in our lives. Christ’s anger is a good anger. It is an anger that calls us to turn back. It is a healing anger that grieves at our selfishness and hard-heartedness.

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