Original Sin : Envy in Genesis
Once God finishes forming the universe, the Book of Genesis focuses almost entirely on envy.
Humans are, from the beginning, envious of God’s powers, as shown in Adam and Eve’s desire for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Human’s are envious of what they mistakenly believe to be God’s preferential treatment of one human over another, as in the story of Cain and Abel.
Cain believes that God has not liked his offering as much as he likes Abel’s , despite the fact that God attempts to explain to him that the problem is not with the offering but within his heart, saying “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it”.
When Abram and Sarai travel to Egypt, Abram knows he will be killed by envious men because his wife is beautiful.
Abram seems to be the first biblical personage to recognise envy for the destructive force it is and to act to prevent it. When he and his nephew Lot begin to compete over land, he sees the danger immediately and suggests a solution that will save them both from further envy.
However, Abram does not seem to foresee or prevent the envy of Sarai for Hagar once Hagar gives birth to Ishmael.
Sibling rivalry is promoted by the parents of Jacob and Esau. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Jacob’s envy prompts him to steal both his brother’s birthright and his blessing from Isaac.
Esau’s resentment of the thefts prompt him to threaten to kill Jacob, causing Jacob to flee his home.
Isaac recognises the potential for sexual envy, just as Abraham did, when he stays in Gerar. Here he tells his wife Rebekah to pretend she is his sister so he will not be killed.
He also recognises the danger of property envy when he digs wells and the herders of Gerar demand that they are theirs. He does not fight them, he simply moves on.
So Isaac, like Abraham, is able both to recognise the dangers of envy and to find a workable solution for it.
Eventually he also makes peace with his brother Esau, negating that man’s envious rage too.
Sibling rivalry is also apparent when the sisters Leah and Rachel compete for the love of Jacob. When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became envious of her sister. Leah.
After 20 years of faithful service to Laban, Jacob inspires Laban’s son’s envy with his success in breeding a bigger and stronger flock. Eventually Jacob and Laban resolve the issue of the envy by making a pact.
Yet Jacob’s desire for peace is not passed on to his sons. After the rape of their sister, Dinah, they resolve the issue with battle and bloodshed.
Jacob’s sons are so envious of their father’s preferential treatment of Joseph that they effectively sell him into slavery.
Joseph suffers greatly from the envsy of others. First his brothers, then Potiphar’s wife, and so on it goes.
The envy of sibling rivalry, started by the parents and grandparents occurs yet again when Jacob blesses two or Jacob’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, giving the firstborn blessing intentionally to the younger boy.
Is envy the fatal flaw of humans and the real meaning of “the fall”?
NOTE: It has been brought to my attention that it may be a mistake is to think of “jealousy” and “envy” as synonyms.
A little linguistic research tells me that they are not.
It seems that the more traditional definition of “jealous” is “fiercely protective of one’s rights or possessions”, whereas the definition of “envy” is “desire for something belonging to someone else”.
So, when God says he is jealous, he means that he is fiercely protective of his rights, his creation and of course, his people.
However, when Genesis characters behave in dubious ways as outlined above, it would be more correct to say they are envious, wanting something that is not rightfully their own.
I have edited the first draft to replace “jealousy” with “envy” and I thank those who pointed this out.