Do you get the impression that Genesis is portraying the sons of Jacob as heroes from these two chapters?
Problems with the young Joseph: perhaps no tact (37:6), no ability to stay within himself (37:9); problems with Reuben: perhaps complicity (37:27), perhaps cowardice (37:22); problems with Judah: money-lover (37:2), and later, promiscuity (38:2); problems with all Joseph's brothers: hatred (37:4-5), cruelty (37:25), being liars and hypocrites (37:33,35). The failures of Judah in Gen 38 are left as an exercise....
On the other side of the coin, Jacob in this chapter, older, having buried his father (35:29), is not naive about the long-term meaning of the events that may come about in his family (37:11). His is entrenched in espousing Joseph as favorite, but it was never idolatry, since he rebuked Joseph about the dreams, twice. Parents of larger families know this routine, trying to love everybody "the same," i.e., no playing favorites, and having a total inability to react to each child always the same.
The text gives some hints of why this state of affairs obtained. Four of the twelve brothers are from Jacob's two "concubines" (the term used in 35:22 about them). Six are from Leah, and only two are from Rachel (35:22b-29). Benjamin, the youngest, is too young in this chapter to figure into the hostilities. That only leaves Joseph, as the birth-order hate object.
What a father holds precious (that which came through Rachel his first love), the children often "dis." And then it sorta gets out of hand. It's not as if the brothers started every day with a neutral view of Joseph, and every day he pushed them back into hatred. The text says they "could not" act right to him (37:4). Again, parents know this very sad situation: grown up children can get where they aren't teachable at some point, and they go on in some kind of tilt. A parent may try something (37:14), but the situation is beyond the remedy of the players who are there in it.
So in this "salvation history" story, isn't it ironic that Jacob, who did so well earlier in life of wrestling things to the point of getting things out of them, even God, being blessed by Him (32:29), has a family that is so out of control? They were good at Jacob's technique, getting things they wanted, but lost Jacob's direction.
That's part of the point of this story, which is of the activity of God, in the middle of the mixed-at-best activities of those God has chosen to work with. By the end of chapter 38, you are left with moral failure all over the map in the sons. Even well-meant things (37:14, 22) don't work. Chance: a passing caravan, actually two (37:25, 28), leaves the first-born Reuben with despair (37:30), and nothing to do but become a liar and hypocrite like his younger brothers, to their own father, over a long period of time (37:31-35).
Also, not to be lost in this story, is the fact that religion didn't make it to this generation yet. There were some consciences, but where was religion? The father is full of sentiments, and pre-occupied with grief (37:35), amidst sons all of whom (except for the youngest, Benjamin) are entrenched in lies, hypocrisy, and -- the reader gets a hint at the last verse (37:36) -- complete ignorance of what is going on.
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