Bible Stories about Sibling Rivalry

And What We Can Learn From Them

Bible. Kelli Mahoney

It’s sometimes hard to get along with our siblings, and sibling rivalry can go much further than a few arguments. Here are some famous people of the Bible that had plenty of trouble getting along with one another, and how they provide us lessons in overcoming sibling rivalry:

Cain vs. Abel

The Story:

In one of the ultimate examples of sibling rivalry, Cain murdered his own brother. In this case, Cain was angry and jealous. Early on, God had accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Instead, God gave Cain a warning about sin. In this case, his sin was an all-consuming jealousy against his brother.

The Lesson:

We need to realize we all bring things to the table, and that God wants us to honor one another. The lesson of Cain and Abel is also a lesson in overcoming temptation and sin. Jealousy can lead to some angry and harmful feelings (or in this case, murder).

Jacob vs. Esau

The Story:

It isn’t uncommon for siblings to fight for their parents’ attention and love, as well as how some older siblings have a desire to be more dominant over their younger siblings. In this case, God had made it clear that Esau (the older sibling) would serve Jacob and that Jacob was the chosen one. Yet their father, Isaac, chose to bless Esau and Jacob’s mother arranged for Jacob to receive the blessing by deceit. Esau was clearly his father’s favorite, due to his strength at hunting and Jacob’s greater attachment to his mother. It took over 20 years for the two brothers to reconcile.

The Lesson:

In this situation, the siblings’ parents weren’t very helpful in making sure the brothers got along. They were quite culpable in this situation, reminding us that parents have a role to play in tempering sibling rivalry. While Esau said some terrible things, and Jacob played his part in his mother’s deceit, we learn that sibling rivalry and the harsh things we say to our brothers and sisters can be overcome. While it took a long portion of their lives for them to reconcile, it is possible to grow closer as we grow up.

Joseph vs. His Brothers

The Story

Joseph’s story is rather well known and another strong example of sibling rivalry. Continuing in his father’s footsteps, Jacob showed a great deal of favoritism toward his son, Joseph, because he was born of Jacob’s favorite wife. Joseph’s brothers clearly saw that their father loved Joseph more, especially after he gave Joseph an ornamented robe. This created dissension between Joseph and his brothers to where they shunned him and then considered murdering him. They would not even call him their brother. In the end, they sold him into slavery. It didn’t help that Joseph wasn’t all that mature and even gave a bad report of his brothers to their father. When he spoke to his brothers, he somewhat taunted them about his dreams that show they would bow down to him. In the end, though, the brothers were reunited and all was forgiven, though it took many years and much tribulation to get there.

The Lesson:

One would think that Jacob would have learned not to show favoritism, but sometimes people can be a little thick-headed. So again, the parent played a part in fueling the fire of sibling rivalry. Still, this story is an example of how it takes two to have a rivalry. The other brothers weren’t very nice to Joseph and blamed him for his father’s mistake. Yet Joseph wasn’t exactly understanding, and he was a bit of a taunter and tattler. Both sides were wrong and didn’t take the time to understand one another. However, in the end, and after much trial and tribulation, the brothers reconciled.

The Prodigal Son

The Story:

A father had two sons. The elder son is well-behaved. He does what he is told and takes care of things at home. He is responsible and respects the way he was raised. The younger son is less so. He is more rebellious and soon asks his father for money so he can leave home. While out in the world, he parties, does drugs and has sex with random prostitutes. Soon the younger son, though, realizes the error of his ways...tired of all the partying. So he returns home where his father is overjoyed. He throws the younger son a party and makes it a pretty big deal. Yet the older son resents the attention, blasting his father for never honoring him after all his years of obedience. The father reminds the older son that all he has is his and at his disposal.

The Lesson:

While the story of the Prodigal Son is a parable about the Pharisees, it does provide us with actual lessons in sibling rivalry. It reminds us that we can sometimes get too far into our own heads, too self-absorbed, and we need to remember that others may be going through things, too. We need to show unconditional love and not always be so concerned about ourselves. The older brother in the story was being petty and not very welcoming to his brother that finally returned to the family. Of course, that is something to be celebrated. The father had to remind him that the brother had always been there and that he had access to everything the father had. That was, in its own way, a life-long celebration and commitment. It is also a reminder that family love needs to be unconditional. Yes, the younger brother made mistakes, he hurt them, but he is still the brother and a part of the family.