“When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” Genesis 37:4
When we look at the story of Joseph and the reason why his brothers hated him, we realize just how dangerous envy is. It was the root of their animosity—enough to have Joseph killed had not Reuben, the oldest brother, intervened (21-22). The Bible is clear in its account. Even when Joseph was approaching his brothers in Dothan to check on them, the brothers hate was so intense they wanted to kill him. Genesis 37:18 reads, “But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.”
The very brothers who were supposed to protect Joseph were the ones who came a hairbreadth away to killing him! That is what envy does. It fills a person with so much resentment that murder is just around the corner.
It is reminiscent of the story of Cain and Abel—mankind’s first set of brothers. When Cain’s offering was rejected by God, Cain’s envy of Abel led him to kill the very brother he was supposed to love and protect. I find it amazing that God spoke to Cain even before the murderous act. “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Gen.4:7). God knew the turbulence of Cain’s emotions—the turbulence of envy after God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s. Cain had the choice of allowing his envy to win, or of refusing it. Having God to say to him, “you must rule over it,” shows us that a person can choose to say NO to sin when it rears its ugly head.
It can be hard to say NO—especially if we are emotionally charged– but I believe that right then and there, God was giving Cain the opportunity to ask Him for help to overcome sin. He was giving Cain a chance to talk to Him; to process his questions with the Almighty; to see how he could do the next sacrifice correctly so it would be accepted in God’s sight. However, Cain chose to make sin win. He chose to murder Abel.
Cain’s response, “Am I brother’s keeper?” resounds in the story of Joseph where his brothers threw the young man into a cistern, sold him to slave masters, and deceived their father into thinking Joseph was dead. Shouldn’t they have been their brother’s keeper?”
Envy is dangerous. James 4:1-2 zeroes in on envy it as the reason for quarrels and fights. “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.”
Why not involve God—ask God for whatever causes you to envy? Chances are, God will pinpoint an important lack in your life that does not stem from any material possession. Chances are, He will show you an area of rejection or an area of unhealed resentment. Why not bring the turbulence of our emotions and our desires—our covetousness— to God and process these with him? Why not ask Him to speak to us—to the wounded parts in us that compare ourselves to others?
There is no reason to compare ourselves with others, really, since God created each one of us with so much love, carrying us in His heart for millennia till it was time to release us into the world. He created us having written out a destiny for us in His book (Psalm 139). A good question to ask is DO WE KNOW OUR FATHER AND HIS LOVE FOR US?
The brothers of Joseph had a wound—a love deficit from their father Joseph. They didn’t experience the same level of affection that Joseph received from Jacob. Cain, meanwhile, perceived God’s unfavorable regard of his sacrifice as a personal rejection— even if God was trying to reach out to him as a Father would a son, to help him heal his wound. If we are nursing a grudge stemming from envy, let’s ask ourselves if we know our Father and His love. He might be reaching out to us as He did with Cain and saying to our situation: “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Let’s kick envy out of our lives!
Janina Marie Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of One Voice Magazine, a teacher of world literature, and a student of the Bible. She enjoys reflecting on life’s curve balls and plateaus. She resides in the Philippines, the country known for people who smile a lot.