Study Guide

Book of Genesis Sibling Rivalry

Sibling Rivalry

In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. (NRSV 4:3-5)

And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. (KJV 4:3-5)

Siblings just love the whole "but he started it!" shtick. Well, here, God started it. And the narrator gives us no explanation about why he preferred one offering over the other. Is this God being flippant?

But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, "Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac." (NRSV 21:9-10)

And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. (KJV 21:9-10)

Looks like Sarah is calling the shots concerning Ishmael and Isaac. Does this sibling rivalry have more to do with a rivalry between Mom and Dad?

When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. (NRSV 25:27-28)

And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob. (KJV 25:27-28)

Once again, the parents seem to be fueling the fire. Are all children's issues in Genesis related to their parents' actions? Are there any hands-off parents?

Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob." (NRSV 27:41)

And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob. (KJV 27:41)

Uh oh. Esau is verging toward Cain's solution here, plotting to kill his brother for stealing his blessing. How else does Esau and Jacob's story echo Cain and Abel's?

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or I shall die!" (NRSV 30:1)

And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. (KJV 30:1)

Let the baby-making contest begin. Yep, here it is: our first sister rivalry. How are the rivalries between sisters different from those between brothers? Does this baby-making rivalry hold less weight? More? Why?

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. (NRSV 37:3)

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. (KJV 37:3)

Daddy gives his favorite son a posh Brooks Brothers suit. How does he expect his other sons to react? Are Joseph's brothers to blame?

His brothers said to him, "Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?" So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. (NRSV 37:8)

And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words. (KJV 37:8)

Joseph really needs to learn when to keep his mouth shut. But it turns out his dreams are actually prophetic—within the course of Genesis, they'll come true. So is this a God-ordered sibling rivalry?

They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams." (NRSV 37:19-20)

And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams. (KJV 37:19-20)

It's kind of ironic that the most poignant example of brotherly harmony we've seen in Genesis comes in the form of a band of dudes plotting criminal acts. Against their brother.

Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers agreed. (NRSV 37:26-27)

And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content. (KJV 37:26-27)

When sibling rivalry is between more than just two siblings—as in the case of Joseph and his brothers—things get a little more complicated. Judah seems to have a sound mind. But does he do enough to save his brother?

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