Joseph’s Colorful Coat

“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” (Gen. 37:3–4).  

- Genesis 37:1–4

With the history of Esau and his descendants concluded, Moses returns to God’s chosen line. Today’s passage begins with a short introduction, reminding us that Isaac’s younger son was living in the land of Canaan when the history of “the generations of Jacob” began (Gen. 37:1–2a). Like the other genealogical lists in Genesis, this next section is not primarily about the father named in verse 2. Instead, Moses focuses on Jacob’s twelve sons, especially Joseph.

The story of Joseph is familiar to us since it is probably among the first biblical narratives we learned as children and has even been adapted to both the stage and modern literature. We remember his maltreatment at the hands of his brothers, yet we often forget that Joseph was something of a spoiled young man. Early in his life Joseph associated himself closely with Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher, “the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah” (30:1–13; 37:2), and would come in from the fields to give his father a “bad report” about them. The Hebrew word for report in 37:2 is used elsewhere to describe false tales (Num. 13:32), and some commentators believe Joseph was stretching the truth about his brothers, if not fabricating stories about them. Even if Joseph was not guilty of either of these sins, he was acting as the perennial unpopular tattletale and likely refused to cover minor offenses with love (Prov. 10:12; 17:9; 19:11).

Jacob’s favor for Joseph, the son of his favorite wife (Gen. 30:22–24), exacerbated this difficult situation. Loving him more than his other sons, Jacob made Joseph his famous coat of many colors (37:3). Actually, the Hebrew adjective describing the coat is uncertain here. It may have been a “long-sleeved” or “ornamented” coat as the translation “many colors” comes from the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. Whatever the robe’s precise appearance, it was a regal garment that honored Joseph. Princess Tamar later wore a coat with the same Hebrew descriptor (2 Sam. 13:18).

Jacob perpetuated the sibling rivalry with his favor, and Joseph encouraged it with his attitude. Joseph’s eleven brothers hated him intensely, for they envied their sibling’s position (Gen. 37:4).

Coram Deo

John Chrysostom comments: “Envy is a terrible passion, you see, and when it affects the soul, it does not leave it before bringing it to an extremely sorry state” (Homilies on Genesis, 61.4). In due time the jealousy Joseph’s brothers have for him will morph into a desire to kill him. Envy can indeed provoke a great many sins. Do you find yourself jealous of another’s position or power this day? Repent and ask the Lord to help you be content with where He has you.

Passages for Further Study

Ps. 106:16–18
Prov. 26:24–26
Acts 17:1–9
1 Cor. 13:4–7

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