Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, Part 1 – Genesis 37

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A perennial favorite, the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors starts in Genesis 37.

“Genesis 37?” asked Ginny. “But last week you were on 34. What’s in between?”

Shirlee was pleased that Ginny was paying attention. “Mostly genealogies, Ginny. In Chapter 35, Jacob takes his whole family to Bethel, and builds an altar, and names the place Bethel; Rachael has one more son (Benjamin) and dies; God renames Jacob “Israel”; and the rest of 35 and 36 is all genealogies.”

Mark raised his hand. “So, Shirlee . . .” He had that look in his eye. “I read it myself during the week. Seems God tells Jacob to go to Bethel, but then Jacob goes there and names it Bethel. How does God tell him to go to a place by name, when it’s not been named yet?”

Shirlee sighed. It was going to be one of those Sundays. “It’s a shame you weren’t paying attention a few weeks ago, when we discussed Genesis 13 and 14, when Abram and Lot moved to Bethel before Lot moved to Sodom. Bethel had existed for some time already.”

“Then how did Jacob name it Bethel if it was already named Bethel?”

“Maybe he put up a sign. The Bible doesn’t say. Do you want to hear about Joseph or nitpick about naming rights for cities all morning?”

Ginny glared at Mark, who decided to let this one go.

“As we start Chapter 37 of Genesis, Israel (Jacob) and his family are living in Canaan. Most of his children have grown up, but Joseph is only 17 years old. Israel loved him extra, because Joseph was the son of his old age.”

Mark’s hand was up already. “Shirlee, what about Benjamin?”

“What about him, Mark?”

“Joseph was born at least some time before Benjamin. Benny’s the youngest son, and the last one Rachel had before she died.”

“Maybe that’s why Jac- . . . er, Israel didn’t like him so much,” said John. “He killed his favorite wife.”

“Good point.”

“If you two are finished solving all the world’s great mysteries, may I continue?” Shirlee was getting testy already, and she was only on the first page. This didn’t bode well.

Jacob/Israel blesses Joseph and gives him the coat of many colors. Image: Owen Jones, 1869, courtesy

Israel made Joseph a special coat of many colors. Joseph’s brothers, seeing this fancy garment, hated Joseph because their father loved him more than them. They couldn’t even speak a nice word to him. (Genesis 37:3-4)

“What a dysfunctional family! These people are a mess,” exclaimed Ginny. “The Bible is like ‘Real Housewives of Ancient Palestine’ or something!”

“Yes, Ginny, they sure had their problems.” Shirlee paused. “But don’t we all?”

Ginny looked at her desk, embarrassed.

“Joseph was about to make things a lot worse,” added Shirlee.

Joseph had a dream one night, and just felt he had to tell his brothers. He dreamed they were all out binding bundles of wheat out in the fields, and his bundle stood up . . . then their bundles stood around his bundle and bowed down to it!

His brothers didn’t have a hard time interpreting this dream. “Oh, you think you’re going to rule over us?” And they hated Joseph even more. (Genesis 37:5-8)

Mark raised his hand. “Why, when he must have already known they hated him, would he tell them about that dream?”

“As I said, Mark, all of our families have our issues. I’m sure he didn’t like them any more than they liked him. But wait, there’s more!” Shirlee turned back to her Bible.

Joseph had another dream, and he told his father and his brothers about it. In this dream, the sun and the moon and eleven stars all bowed down to him.

His father, Israel (Jacob), rebuked him. “Do you think your mother and I, and all your brothers, will bow down to you?”

And Joseph’s brothers were angry and jealous. Israel considered what the dream might mean.(Genesis 27:9-11)

“It might mean Joseph is a conceited jerk!” exclaimed John. “Who else would tell his father and his brothers about such dreams?”

“Who else would even have such dreams,” added Mark. “We all know dreams are the products of our subconscious mind, so this must have been what Joseph wanted, for everybody to kiss his . . . feet!”

Shirlee was aghast at the rudeness. “Don’t you realize that God sent those dreams to tell Joseph his future, boys?”

“I know this story, Shirlee. If God wanted to show Joseph his future, he should have shown him the inside of a burlap bag.” Mark laughed. “This is just about Joseph’s ego.”

“Sounds like you don’t remember the whole story, Mark. But thanks for ruining the surprise for everyone else,” grumbled Shirlee.

Some time later, all eleven of Joseph’s brothers went to Shechem to feed Israel’s flocks. Israel sent Joseph to check up on them to see if everything was well. Joseph tracked them down in Dothan.

As they saw Joseph coming from a distance–that coat of many colors must have caught their eye–they discussed killing him and throwing him into a pit, and seeing what would come of those dreams of his.

Reuben, Israel’s firstborn son, convinced his brothers not to kill Joseph, but just to toss him into a pit, with an eye to bringing Joseph back to Israel later. (Genesis 37:12-22)

“I guess that’s better than joining in the killing,” mumbled John.

“It’s brave,” interjected Ginny. “If they were ready to kill Joseph, they could kill Reuben too!”

Joseph's loving brothers throw him into a pit. Image: Owen Jones, 1869, courtesy

When Joseph arrived, they stripped off his coat of many colors, and threw him into a pit. Reuben apparently wandered off somewhere as his brothers sat down to eat.

About that time, a caravan of traders came by, and one of Joseph’s brothers, Judah, suggested to the others that they sell Joseph into slavery. So they did, for 20 pieces of silver, and the traders took him into Egypt.

Reuben returned (from wherever he’d gone) and went to the pit, saw Joseph was gone, and was very upset. He asked his brothers what would happen to him, and where he should go, as he’d lost his father’s favorite child.

The brothers took Joseph’s coat and dipped it in goat’s blood, and sent it to Israel (Jacob), who assumed that his son had been eaten by an animal. He mourned his son, and he could not be comforted, and promised to grieve Joseph the rest of his life. (Genesis 37:23-35)

Jacob could not be comforted after his sons all lied to him. Image: Owen Jones, 1869, courtesy

“Did they even try to comfort him?” Ginny seemed sorry for Jacob, the man she’d once wanted so badly to see “get it”.

“Yes, dear. All his sons and daughters tried to comfort him, but the death of his son was too much to bear.”

“But they loved dear old dad so much that not one of them could tell him the truth, that Joseph was alive and well, and had been sold into slavery?”

“That’s right. All families have their issues, don’t they?”

John piped up. “So, what happened to Joseph?”

“You’ll have to wait until next week for that, John!” The cracked church bell clanked. “It’s eleven, time to head home. Have a good week!”

As always Shirlee couldn’t wait to leave this place. Something about the old church really didn’t sit well with her.

Skip ahead to Part 2 (Genesis 39-40), or continue on to The Sin of Onan (Genesis 38)!

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