The Book of Genesis shares many realistic and sacred obstacles experienced by Jacob and Joseph. Jacob spends his early life fleeing from his family. Jacob’s son Joseph is forced to begin a new life in his early years because he is traded by his brothers. After they begin their new lives and have their goals in mind, they are betrayed and forced to find a different approach. These behaviors are looked at from modern readers as being both humanistic and non humanistic. Jacob and Joseph are similar because they both have goals, obstacles that hindered them achieving their goals, and they both used honorable and dishonorable means to reach their goals.
Inside the womb Jacob knew the obstacles he would face in order to reach his goals in life. The Lord said to Jacob’s mother Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger (Genesis 25:23, NRSV).” The elder and stronger son was Esau; he was a skillful man of hunting and favored by his father (Genesis 25:27). Jacob, the younger brother, was born into the world clutching the heel of Esau, encountering his first blocked goal: the birthright (Genesis 25:26). In Israel, the birthright was very important; it determined who would inherit the wealth and honor of the family. For Jacob’s family this was a prestigious honor because Isaac, their father had a covenant, which was a union between the Lord and man (Genesis 24:2). One day after Esau came in from the field he begs Jacob for some of the stew that he is cooking (Genesis 27:29-34). Although it was not honorable, Jacob gave Esau a cup of stew in return for his birthright. When Esau begged him for food, Jacob should have given it to him instead of being selfish and taking advantage of his brother. The fight between Jacob and Esau is also similar to Joseph and his brothers. Unlike Jacob, Joseph is favored by his father and receives a beautiful coat. This makes his brothers jealous, and they become resentful when they hear from their father that they should bow down to Joseph because of his prophetic dreams (Genesis 37:3-10). Neither sibling connection is considered honorable nor a model for society because it is their own flesh that they are betraying.
Another common act that Jacob and Joseph both encounter is the act of deceiving. Jacob swindles his father with the help of his mother, Rebekah. He disguises himself as Esau to his blind, dying father in hopes of receiving the blessing of the family. He dresses in Esau’s clothes and takes a savory meal to his father. After some speculation by Isaac, he agrees that it is indeed Esau himself, and gives him the blessing. When Esau comes back from hunting, he realizes what has happened and threatens to kill Jacob (Genesis 27:15-42). Jacob takes the covenant and flees to Paddan-aram (Genesis 28:2). While Jacob reached his goal in earning the covenant, it was shameful of him to trick his father. Many years later Jacob is deceived by his own sons when they bring him Joseph’s bloody coat. They tell Jacob that a wild animal devoured Joseph, when they actually sold him to the Ishmaelites. Jacob then spent many years mourning the death of his favorite son (Genesis 37:31-34). Perhaps this is part of Jacob’s repayment for dishonoring his father and brother. Joseph’s brothers and Jacob are both morally wrong for their betrayal. Regardless of how their families cared for them, they met their new destinations in life and found it equally important to seek their covenants. This is honorable to religious readers because it shows the faith that they believe should be in God even when all hope is gone.
Later in the story, a new obstacle appeared to Jacob when his father wanted him to marry into his Uncle Laban’s family (Genesis 28:2). Although disturbing to today’s readers, it was common for the Israelites to marry...