37 1 Jacob settled in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. 2 This is the account of the begettings of Jacob.
Joseph was seventeen years old and tended the flock with his brothers. While he was an assistant to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, Joseph brought an ill-report to his father about them. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph above all his sons because he was a child of his old age. Jacob had made for him an ornamented robe. 4 When his brothers saw that it was he their father loved above all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
After the genealogy of Esau, the story of Jacob’s sons begin out-of-joint. We hear first of Joseph, firstborn of Jacob’s beloved and lovely wife, Rachel, instead of Reuben the physically firstborn of Leah, Jacob’s first wife, though not his first love.
Joseph is first introduced to us as a tattletale, reporting poor shepherding to the master of animal husbandry, Jacob. [Note: The story begins at the human trickery level of Isaac’s son, Jacob, not Jacob’s honorific of Israel.
If not already clear, Joseph is the favored, spoiled, pampered, protected child. These are qualities of Israel raised beyond their bounds. Joseph has also stolen from his younger full-brother the quality of being named as “the child of Jacob’s old age,” which is the name of Benjamin. Just as Jacob stole the identity of his older brother, Esau, Joseph gains the identity of his younger brother, Benjamin.
As Jacob was the favorite of his mother, Rebekah, so he favors Joseph as an extension of his favorite wife, Rachel. Such family dynamics remain through a variety of cultures, down to our own.
It is obvious to all, particularly the other sons, that Joseph was his Daddy’s Boy. He didn’t have to wait for hand-me-downs, but has his own specially tailored tunic made just for him. [Note: Alter describes it as “a unisex garment and product of ancient haute couture” (p. 139)—out there in a shepherd’s wilderness.]
As expected with this beginning description of Joseph, he was well-and-truly hated by those of his generation. There was not a kind word spoken of Joseph (except, presumably, when in the presence of the doting patriarch, Jacob, the too-well loved Israel).
We are now prepared for the tragedy of Joseph that follows the comedy of Israel, née Jacob.