Joseph Is Sold into Slavery
Open Your Bible
Genesis 37:1-36, Job 5:2, Psalm 77:2
The ugliest moments of my life have been marked by jealousy. It is perhaps my most defining sin, and it masquerades as pride, fear, insecurity, and relationship-crushing meanness. Envy dehumanizes everyone around me; it removes their own agency as creative, talented, smart image-bearers of God. I no longer see them as their own persons, but rather as measuring sticks for my own worth. Too often, I think, I’m better than so-and-so at that, but nowhere near as good as that other person. If jealousy is my economy, cynicism and narcissism are the currency I trade. If that sounds harsh or out of proportion, it’s not. I think that jealousy and envy are the root of most conflicts between people, and unadmitted jealousy festers and slowly destroys relationships.
Envy is threaded through the Bible, a throughline of sin from Cain and Abel, Rachel and Leah, Saul and David, the pharisees who watched Jesus draw crowds to Himself, and more. In history, art, and literature, examples are rampant. In Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago cautions Othello about such envy: “Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
Joseph is the victim of his brothers’ jealousy, which robs him of his family, his home, his dignity, and almost his life. His brothers strip him of his robe and would have killed him, but sold him to a band of traders instead. It was perhaps the equivalent of death in their eyes: they expected to never see him again, and delivered the news of his death to their father Jacob.
As modern readers, we know how the story goes: Joseph trusts the Lord, and the Lord protects him. He rises to power in Egypt and eventually saves his family from famine and forgives his brothers. But the moment we read about today in Genesis 37 doesn’t have any of that goodness— only pain. And by not reading ahead, we can force ourselves to sit in the devastation wreaked by Joseph’s brothers. Jacob mourns the loss of his son and cannot be comforted. Joseph is sold again, this time to an Egyptian official. No longer in control, Joseph has lost all agency at the hands of his jealous brothers.
This is that same “green-eyed monster,” and throughout Scripture, we are warned against its fallout. Proverbs 14:30 cautions that “a tranquil heart is life to the body, but jealousy is rottenness to the bones.” Ecclesiastes 4:4 tells us that “all labor and all skillful work is due to one person’s jealousy of another. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.” And James 3:16 advises that “where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice.”
Scripture certainly doesn’t hold back about the consequences of jealousy, and neither should we. As I read about Joseph’s story, I’m aware that I should “let it read me”: Where is my jealousy hurting people that I love? Where is it corroding my heart and sowing disorder? Where is it disordering my priorities away from Christ and toward my own selfish gain? These are important questions to ask because jealousy isn’t something to be taken lightly. My prayer is that I never will.