Favoritism. It’s Complicated.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. Genesis 37:2-3

Favoritism can be complicated. Take Jacob and his son, Joseph. Jacob didn’t make Joseph his favorite to spite other righteous sons. Many of the others had proven themselves to be troublemakers, bound up in foolishness. They had spurned their father’s ways and had left a trail of disappointment and hurt. Jacob didn’t spoil Joseph either by giving him a life of ease. He trained him to work hard and to do so with godly ethics.

I’m not defending the fact that Jacob showed favoritism. It wasn’t right. He acted unwisely and set things up for the other sons to hate their brother. From a sibling’s perspective, favoritism never works out well.

But from a parent’s perspective, the heart is a complicated thing. It can be difficult to have the same affection for each of your children. If one is bent toward evil, disrespects authority, and has no regard for family, isn’t it difficult to love that one as much as another whose heart clearly belongs to God? It can be hard to disguise the pleasure you feel over the one that is righteous. It’s equally hard to hide the pain the other one inflicts when they act out against members of your family.

This is where each mother and father needs Jesus desperately. Only He can daily heal the hurts caused by a wayward child. Only He can give the spiritual fuel necessary to love the renegade wisely. Only He can show parents how to bestow unconditional love to two kinds of children. How will the child who loves rebellion not see the delight in his parent’s eyes over the ‘good’ sibling? God is the only one who can write the relational roadmap for these dynamics.

In the long run, Jacob should have learned from his own troubled childhood. Favoritism didn’t work out well between he and Esau. Now, he repeats it again by failing to disguise his deep affection for Joseph. He will give him a coat, the kind of coat only a royal child would wear. This will fuel the other’s hatred for their brother. In spite of Jacob’s mistakes, God’s purpose for Joseph and the future of Israel will not be thwarted. That is comforting, isn’t it?

You are the God of grace and redemption. Bind our families together in righteousness so that we still stand in the last day. In Jesus’ name, Amen

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