A famous example of a parent "playing favorites", is contained in the biblical account of the Patriarch Jacob’s dealings with his wives and with his sons. It is a story of high romance, of great tragedy and loss, yet with an amazingly happy ending.
Jacob was the favorite son of his mother Rebekah. Esau, his brother, was his father Isaac’s favorite. Things became unglued in the family after Jacob persuaded Esau, who had returned, famished, from a hunting trip, into surrendering his rights as the elder son in return for a meal.
When Esau realised that he had indeed forfeited the coveted blessing belonging to the elder son, he lost his temper and decided to murder his brother.
Taking his mother’s advice, Jacob fled for his life and took work with his uncle Laban. Rebekah mistakenly thought that Esau would get over his spat in a matter of days and that Jacob, her favorite, could then safely return home.
Instead of this, Jacob fell deeply in love with Rachel, Laban’s younger daughter, and bound himself to Laban to work for seven years in return for Rachel’s hand in marriage. The Bible touchingly records that the seven years, "seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her." (Gen. 29:20 KJV).
When the seven years were up, Laban tricked Jacob into taking Rachel’s older sister, Leah, to wife instead. So Jacob agreed to work for his father-in-law for another seven years for Rachel.
There is sadness in the account of Leah’s hope that by producing sons for Jacob, as she did, she would win her husband’s affection. It was some time before Rachel had any children. Eventually she bore two sons, Joseph and Benjamin.
The symbol of Jacob’s preference for his son Joseph was the "coat of many colors" which he made for him. Stephen L. Caiger in his book, "Bible and Spade : An Introduction to Biblical Archaeology" (Lond., OUP, 1936) says (p.61) "‘Coat of many colours’ is really a mistranslation of the Hebrew Chetoneth passim = ‘a long garment with sleeves’ … But ‘many-coloured was a true description of such garments, nevertheless."
Then there were the dreams! Joseph’s brothers might have put up with their father’s obsession with him, but when they heard about Joseph’s dreams, in which he featured as top dog – that was the last straw! They became so jealous that they sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt.
In order to deceive their father into believing that Joseph was dead, they took the coat of many colors, dipped it in goat’s blood, and showed it to him. Perhaps they failed to understand the effect of this heartless deception. Jacob refused all attempts by his remaining sons and daughters to comfort him. Without his favorite son, life had lost its meaning.
Favoritism, spawning murderous jealousy, led to this tragic outcome. Could any good come of it? Yes, it could, and did.
Joseph maintained his integrity, and his trust in God, throughout his ordeal. The musical version of the story, "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat" gets it wrong when suggesting that Potiphar’s wife was able to seduce him. She certainly tried, but she failed, and her failure resulted in more trouble for Joseph. In a reference to Joseph’s dreams, a musical number in the show has it that, "Any dream will do." Wrong again! Joseph’s dreams were God-given, which made all the difference.
The end of this amazing story tells of Joseph’s rise to a position of power and influence in Egypt. He was able, through his administrative ability, to save Egypt, the surrounding region, and his own family from the effects of a devastating famine. He was reconciled to his brothers and reunited with his aged father, who could hardly bring himself to believe that his son still lived.
There are many examples of favoritism in this story. Jacob was his mother’s favorite son; his brother Esau was their father Isaac’s favorite. Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife, and Joseph became such a favorite with his father that it resulted in his brothers plotting to kill him.
So much pain heartache in one family because of favoritism. Thank God that He has no favorites.
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