Before the bar of God’s perfect righteousness, sinners cannot, in and of themselves, be accounted righteous (Rom. 3:9–20). Trusting in Christ alone so that we might be credited with His righteousness is the only way we can stand before the Father without fear of condemnation (Gal. 2:15–16). Nevertheless, even though we are not perfectly holy in our practice before we die, there are still some people who are more disciplined in following of God’s law than others. Such persons can be said to be “more righteous” than others, at least from a human perspective. The patriarch Joseph is one of these men, and looking at his life helps us understand what a life guided by the commandments of the Lord looks like.
Joseph stands out in Scripture as one in whom it is almost impossible to find any fault. The Bible is brutally honest about the character flaws of the great heroes of the faith, never ignoring the sins of Abraham, Moses, David, and the other important figures in redemptive history (see Gen. 16; Num. 20:2–13; 2 Sam. 11). In the case of Joseph, however, we have to press very hard to find anything blameworthy in him. Yet we do know that he struggled with sin, even if it is not mentioned directly. Many commentators, for example, have concluded that he was something of a spoiled child, a tattletale on his brothers, and a proud individual who gloated, at least indirectly, about the high position his dreams foretold (Gen. 37:2, 5–11). Of course, even though the Genesis narrative provides hints that Joseph was not the ideal saint in every respect, it by no means concludes that the treatment he received at the hands of his brothers was justly deserved. His brothers sinned when they sold him to the Ishmaelite slave traders, even if Joseph fueled the fires of their jealousy (vv. 12–36).
Sibling rivalry was a problem for this family from the beginning of Joseph’s life (v. 2), but their father Jacob made matters even worse with his favoritism. It was not that he did not love his other sons, it was just that he loved Joseph more, and that is why he gave his favorite son a multicolored coat, a prohibitively expensive gift in those days (v. 3). This made Joseph’s brothers hate him all the more, and it set the stage for the evil that would follow (vv. 4–36).
CORAM DEO Living before the face of God
The jealousy of Joseph’s brothers — exacerbated by Jacob’s favoritism — led to their selling him into slavery and subsequent lies that a wild animal had killed him. Though we cannot blame their sin on Jacob, the story does illustrate the negative consequences when parents favor one child over another. Parents should take care not to commit this error by actively seeking to praise the unique gifts of each of their children.
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