Jealousy is often a natural response of our sinful human nature. Yet when jealousy hits closer to home and we find ourselves jealous of a close friend or family member, it can negatively impact our relationship and rob us of our gratitude, joy, and peace. In this article, Simone Griffin shares 3 biblical examples of jealousy in family relationships and the practical lessons we can learn and apply to our own lives and relationships today.
Jealousy is one of the most complicated emotions experienced by human beings. It begins at such an early age that it’s hard to pinpoint when exactly jealous thoughts first infiltrate our minds and impact our relationships. I think of my son who showed signs of jealousy at just 15 months old when we brought his baby sister home from the hospital. He, of course, couldn’t verbalize what he was feeling. But his actions often displayed indifference and frustration toward his sister when she joined our family. As if, somehow, her presence alone meant that our love for him was in jeopardy.
Hitting Close to Home
One of the hardest things about jealousy is that it’s often attached to guilt and shame. When we experience emotions like sadness or fear, we don’t typically feel ashamed that those emotions are a part of our human experience. With jealousy, however, it can take more effort to acknowledge that it’s a natural issue of the human heart. It’s especially hard to accept feelings of jealousy when it hits close to home and we find ourselves jealous of a close friend or family member.
In His kindness, our gracious Heavenly Father has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). This includes guidance for navigating deeply rooted issues of the flesh like jealousy. In God’s Word, we can find several examples of biblical characters who struggled with feeling jealous toward their own brothers and sisters. Let’s consider what we can learn from these stories and how we can apply these lessons to our own lives and struggles.
3 BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF JEALOUSY IN FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS
1. Cain and Abel: Jealous of Someone’s Acceptance
Genesis 4:2-8 provides us with a detailed account of jealousy in family relationships:
“Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of 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 face fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.’ Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.”
There are many unknown details about why the Lord had a higher regard for one brother’s offering than the other’s. But what we can clearly see is that Cain was jealous over the fact that what his brother had to offer was approved and accepted, while he was left feeling rejected.
When Jealousy in family Relationships Rises
How often do we experience jealousy that has the same root as in this story? Perhaps it’s the coworker who continues to get recognition from a boss, when we feel that our work of equal or more value is going unnoticed. Or maybe it’s that sister in Christ with the same spiritual gift as ours. But their efforts are prospering while ours seem to be futile. Could it be that jealousy is rising up as we covet the worth that the world is assigning to their work?
When we find ourselves experiencing jealousy over someone receiving the approval or acceptance that we desire, we can lean on Scripture to redirect our hearts.
Colossians 3:23-24 calls us to this heart posture as we live and serve. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
This encourages us to continue to be diligent in doing God-honoring work, regardless of the opinions of man. We may not be tempted to physically kill our sisters in Christ when jealousy in family relationships consumes us. But we can experience the death of relationships, joy, and peace if we allow the enemy to fix our eyes on worldly affection more than spiritual growth.
2. Leah and Rachel: Jealous of Someone’s Physical Blessings
In this story, a relationship between two sisters grows complicated when they both become involved with a man named Jacob. Jacob worked to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage because she was beautiful and desirable in appearance. But because it wasn’t custom in their culture to give the younger sister’s hand in marriage before the older one, Leah and Rachel’s father made Jacob take Leah temporarily. Although he loved Rachel more and eventually took her to be his wife, Rachel wasn’t able to conceive. Leah, on the other hand, bore Jacob three sons.
Genesis 30:1-2 reveals where jealousy in family relationships enters the story.
“When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I’ll die!’ Jacob became angry with her and said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children’” (NIV)?
The Slippery Slope of Comparisons
This story gives us two relatable examples of ways we can fall into jealous feelings. Let’s consider the jealousy that Leah might have felt toward her younger sister’s natural beauty. The Bible doesn’t mention Leah’s thoughts about Rachel being more desirable. But I’d imagine that it was hard not to compare Rachel’s “lovely figure” to her “weak eyes.” Especially when a man was so adamant about suiting her sister and was openly disappointed when he was given her instead.
It’s okay to cheer other women on and admire their beauty. But harmless compliments can quickly turn into harmful comparisons if we don’t guard our hearts. Maybe jealousy and comparison creep in when another woman always looks put together, while we struggle to make fashion choices on a daily basis. Maybe we find ourselves jealous of the sister who lost all of the postpartum weight while we’re fighting the undesirable number on the scale. Or maybe, we find ourselves jealous, discontent, and feeling cheated over the fact that another woman can be effortlessly attractive by the world’s standards.
Remember Your Sanctification
When we find ourselves in this position, we can remember that our outer beauty is always fading while the beauty of our souls is being strengthened and sanctified. As we are told in Proverbs 31:30, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
So we see that it’s possible that Leah felt jealous of Rachel’s beauty. But one thing we don’t have to question is the fact that Rachel was jealous of Leah’s physical ability to carry children. The Bible tells us plain and simple that Rachel was jealous of Leah in this regard. And how could she not be? After trying to conceive to no avail, her sister seemed to be able to have babies so easily. And not just once or twice but three times, as Rachel continued to wait hopelessly.
The Danger of Covetousness
This is probably one of the most common sources of jealousy—watching another woman easily attain the blessings that you’ve been praying for. Have you watched women find their “happily ever after” as you walked through loneliness and questioned your worth in singlehood? Have you grown weary over pregnancy announcements as your heart aches for your empty womb to be filled? Or have you felt the tension of joy and longing simultaneously as a sister in Christ gets the dream house or the dream job when you can barely make ends meet?
In these situations, jealousy can transform into a similar sin that the Bible warns us about: covetousness. Covetousness is the strong desire to possess something that belongs to another person. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).
Let’s take a moment to have an honest heart check. Are we coveting our neighbor’s blessings? We can try replacing covetousness with gratitude, giving thanks to God for all of the things that He’s given us instead of focusing on what we lack or what we’re waiting for.
3. Joseph and His Brothers: Jealous of Someone’s Gift or Talent
Joseph was one of 12 brothers, and the Bible tells us that he was his father’s favorite son: “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him” (Genesis 37:3-4).
There’s no dampening Joseph’s brothers’ feelings toward him here. They hated him. Not only was he the ‘favorite child’, but he also had dreams that intensified the disdain his brothers had toward him. In one particular dream, the galaxies themselves were bowing down to Joseph. He shared the dream with his family. And Genesis 37:11 tells us that, “his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.”
A Story of Destruction
The anger and hatred in the hearts of his brothers led to an entire story of destruction, which included (but isn’t limited to) his brothers selling him into slavery and then lying about it. Similar to the story of Cain and Abel, here we see an example of jealousy in family relationships rising up as a result of one sibling being favored over the others. Just like God had a preference for Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s, Israel had a preference for Joseph, which likely left his brothers feeling insufficient. But they were also jealous of Joseph’s God-given gift of gaining insight and understanding through dreams.
I can’t help but wonder if they felt like Joseph’s gift of dreaming and interpretation threatened their own significance. I’m sure that between the 11 other men in the group, there were a variety of talents and gifts among them. But Joseph’s gift was the one that stood out and made him even more of a trophy to their father.
The Temptation Toward Resentment
We fall into this trap of being jealous of other people’s gifts too. Even within the body of Christ, we are guilty of elevating certain gifts and talents above others. For example, we might find ourselves jealous of those who are eloquent orators or those who understand theology and can teach the Word of God. Or maybe we see that sister who sings beautifully on the worship team and we begin to believe that more private gifts like cooking a meal for someone in need or serving in the kids ministry don’t matter quite as much. When we succumb to the lies of the enemy, our perception of gifts within the body of Christ becomes skewed and can lead to resentment.
On the contrary, we are given the following encouragement in relation to our gifts.
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:6-8).
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).
No Room for Comparison in the Church or Jealousy in family Relationships
From these Scriptures, we see that there is no room for comparing our God-given gifts within the Church. The same is true when we compare our gifts to other people’s in the world. God, in His Sovereignty, has intentionally given each of us the gifts that are needed in order to point to His glory and power. He can accomplish that mission through a person in the pulpit as well as a person scrubbing potties. The Lord shows no partiality when it comes to the talents we are exercising to build His kingdom.
The book of Genesis is filled with examples of people who were jealous of their own blood. In every circumstance, jealousy robbed biblical men and women of their peace and led to discontentment, destruction, and sometimes even death. God knew that jealousy would be a tragic downfall for humankind since the beginning of time. But in His mercy, He gave us His Word to warn us and show us that we fare better when we choose gratitude and contentment. May we humbly allow these stories to pierce our hearts and lead us to repentance.
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