The coat of Many Colors

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There is a lot packed into the story of the Coat of Many Colors

The Coat of Many Colors: An Exposition of Genesis 37:1-28 "The Coat of Many Colors" has become proverbial. Andrew Lloyd Weber made a musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is loosely based on the life of Joseph. Dolly Parton made a song about the patchwork coat her poor mother made for her to keep her warm in the winter. Her classmates mocked her for it, but Dolly was proud of it. She called it her "Coat of Many Colors." It is heartwarming to see that Dolly rose from such poverty to being a superstar. But this is Dolly's story and not Joseph's. I have all appreciation for Dolly in providing books for all the schoolchildren of her native Sevier County, Tennessee free of charge. As far as Lloyd Weber is concerned, his work is strictly a musical for entertainment purposes which distorts the life of Joseph. What we need to do is to go to the Bible to understand the significance of the coat. When we look at the Lectionary text this week from Genesis 37, we notice that they cut off verses 5-11 from the story. This, too is a distortion. When we read the entire text, we realize that Coat of Many Colors is not meant to be the focus of the story. It is only a symbol that points to a greater reality, just like baptism points to the greater reality that one is a Christian. So what we need to do is to see what the sign represents. The text says that Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob because he was the first son of his most beloved wife Rachel who had died in childbirth with Benjamin. He was actually the 11th son of Jacob. In the society of the day, the firstborn was to receive the double honor and blessing. This son was Rueben. Rueben had disgraced his father by lying with his father's concubine (wife). But it was a long way down to Joseph. By giving him the coat of many colors, Jacob was marking Joseph out as the heir of the patriarchal blessing, a blessing which Jacob had tricked Isaac and Esau into giving to him. We see Jacob's importance of the children ranked in Genesis 32 when in the face of Esau, he put the children of the concubines first in line to face the wrath of Esau, then the children of Leah, his first wife, then Joseph and Rachel. Such an arrangement was bound to cause much distress in the family. And it did. The text says that the sons of the concubines were working out in the field and were doing wrong. We don't know what wrong they were doing, but Joseph felt bound to report this to Jacob his father. Joseph was held in high esteem, whereas the sons of the concubines were of low value to Jacob. So it was more than the fact that Joseph snitched on them. This would have been bad enough. They were even more enraged by the evident fact that their father played favorites. In the section left out by the Lectionary, we get additional information which is equally important in explaining the rage of Joseph's brothers. Joseph had two dreams. Dreams were seen as omens from God, and it shall prove out in this story to be true. Not only was Joseph favored by Jacob. Now he seemed to be in Yahweh's favor as well. The two dreams emphasize the certainty of what was going to happen. They were prophetic. We notice here that Pharaoh had two dreams with one common thread. In the first dream, eleven sheaves of wheat bowed before the sheaf of Joseph. In the second dream, Jacob and Leah were included in doing obeisance before Joseph. Since when does a father bow before his sun. This would be seen as utterly shocking in that day, and does not sound good even today. Leah would also bow. This obviously enraged Leah's children and added their rage to the sons of the concubine. It is to be noted that Jacob, who was surprised, did not seem to be enraged, even though he should have been the most offended of all. It says that he observed the saying. He saw the hand of Yahweh in this. The eleven brothers who felt personally felt offended, and were offended also by what they thought was the dishonoring of their father and their mothers. Benjamin, who was numbered among the eleven and was actually Joseph's only full brother was probably too young to have much of a role in the plot. There is an irony here when we compare this to Jesus' disciples. He had twelve disciples, and one was a traitor. Jacob had twelve sons, and eleven were traitors. When we look at the word "traitor" it comes from the word "trader." Jesus would be traded to the Jews for thirty pieces of silver, and Joseph would be traded to the Ishmaelites, the kin of Jacob, for twenty pieces of silver and sold to Potiphar in Egypt. Joseph was sent by Jacob to check on the welfare of his brothers, wearing the coat of many colors, the symbol of his authority. They were in the area of Shechem, which Simeon and Levi had slain the men in an honor killing for what had happened to their sister Diana. They had the family trait of deceit which they used to hobble the Shechemites so that they would be easy to kill. Simeon and Levi were the second and thirdborn sons. This would seem to disqualify them from the honored positions in the patriarchy. So the fact they were around Shechem is probably significant to the story. After asking for directions, Joseph came upon his brothers who were enraged at seeing him. They determined to kill him. They stripped him of that coat of many colors which left Joseph naked. Instead of ruling over them, he was now dressed as a slave. They wanted to kill him, but rather than slaying him directly which would make them guilty of bloodguilt, they lowered him into a pit without water to die there of exposure. "Let's see what becomes of his dreams now!" they replied. We are told that Rueben had plans to rescue Joseph later. As the oldest, he was by society responsible in looking after his brother's welfare. The brothers showed their utter callousness by sitting down and eating their lunch as though nothing had happened. But their callousness could not set aside God's will for Joseph. Someday, they would indeed see that Joseph's dream would come true. All things work out the will of God. We think of Paul before his conversion in Acts 8. Paul was enraged and went forth to exterminate the Christians. In his attempt to do so. The Christians were scattered to all the villages where they proclaimed Jesus. His very act, done in hateful disobedience was turned into something good. The same would prove true here as well. God would use their disobedience to promote his will. What they willed for pure evil, God willed for good. And like Paul, God would show mercy on these hateful brothers. Because they waited for lunch, the Ishmaelite caravan passed by. They decided that it would be better to make a little money out of the deal and sell him as a slave. In many ways this was more cruel than killing him. He would be a slave in a foreign land. He would be reminded of this every day, a lifelong punishment and humiliation. This is the deliverance that God had planned. God made sure Rueben was not there. Rueben's attempt to deliver him by going out to get him out of the pit later was not in God's plan. To cover up their crime, they slaughtered a goat and dipped the coat of many colors in it. Jacob the deceiver was about to receive a deceit far more painful than what he did to Esau and the deceit he had suffered at the hand of his uncle Laban. Rueben, knowing later what had happened joined in the coverup. They brought the bloody coat to Jacob and let Jacob make his own conclusion. Jacob was filled with grief which would distress him for many years. The sons of Jacob had utterly dishonored their own father. When they later faced Joseph who had become second in command in Egypt, he would have had at least the ten sons executed, Benjamin being too young to be culpable. But they would receive grace. Judah, who was the 4th son, was a bad son among bad sons. His family life was a wreck. He showed deceit to Tamar his daughter in law. He then had twins of her. Yet, of all the sons, his transformation would be the most remarkable, As Dr. Warren Gage notes, the story of Joseph is really the story of Joseph and Judah. At the very heart of this story is Judah's willingness to be a hostage in the place of his younger brother Benjamin. The Lord Jesus Christ would come from Judah and not from Joseph, even though Joseph was a good son and Judah evil. Judah, whose name means "praise" was hardly praiseworthy. Judah's descendants would hardly be praiseworthy for the most part as well. We remember that on of Judah's descendants would be Judas the betrayer of another one og Judah's seed. Judah's minor role in the story as the one who came up with the idea that it would be a good idea to sell Joseph into slavery is a more important part of the story than the coat of many colors itself. When we try to apply the story, we tend to be pragmatic. The life of Jacob's family can be set forth as the way not to raise a family. Showing favoritism is deadly and destructive. This is true enough, but if one stops there, they have undersold the story. We do better when we see the hand of God in our lives. Even when we are wronged, God will work it out for good. This is the message of Romans 8:28 that "all things work out for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose." We should remember that deliverance does not always come quickly. God has a purpose in our suffering wrongfully or even suffering when we do wrong. Ultimately, we should realize that God has a great story which stretched from Genesis to Revelation. We all have a part in this great story. God is the only hero in this story. All of the "heroes" of the Bible have many faults. God chose to redeem us from these sins. We who are most unworthy have received grace in Jesus Christ. The goat shed his blood in the place of Joseph. But the Lamb of God shed His blood in our place. We need to keep this larger story in view. This means we have a part in this story. This should give us comfort in this life and hope for the life to come. So we can give praise, even when we are suffering. There is a glorious future ahead if we will only believe in Jesus Christ our Lord.
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