Genesis Chapter 37: Coat of Many Colors, Joseph Sold By Brethren

Mar 9th, 2010 | By | Category: Genesis, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Genesis Chapter 37:  Coat of Many Colors, Joseph Sold By Brethren

Gen. 37:1 And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.

Jacob dwelled in Canaan.

Gen. 37:2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.

The fact that Bilhah and Zilpah are called “wives” shows that concubines had a legal, if secondary, status.

Joseph, only 17 years old at the time, was feeding the flock with his brothers (sons of Bilhah and Zilpah). He acted aright when he reported their wrong conduct to his father. The implication is that Joseph was given a preferential position with these other four sons. As a steward, Joseph felt a responsibility to report the wrongdoing, but the other four considered him to be a talebearer. By their attitude, they were sowing seeds of resentment. Joseph had acted in a guileless manner, but poisoned minds misconstrued his words and actions.

Gen. 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.

Jacob loved Joseph more than his other children because Joseph “was the son of his old age.”

Since Benjamin was the last-born son, not Joseph, what does this expression mean? Based on the Hebrew, the wording can be different. Joseph “was the son of old age to Jacob”; i.e., Joseph was mature way beyond his 17 years. For example, when honoring Joseph, Pharaoh called him a “father,” meaning mature in wisdom, yet Joseph was still young—only in his thirties (Gen. 45:8). Joseph’s interpretation of dreams also showed he was advanced in his thinking.

When Jacob made Joseph “a coat of many colours,” this honor and distinction incited further jealousy in Joseph’s brethren. Old “art” in the Mideast shows robes of diverse colors, especially on the younger people. And a coat of diverse colors is painted on the wall of the Beni-Hassan tombs, which included Joseph’s tomb. Of course the coat of many colors could have had long sleeves too, as suggested by the alternate translation, but whether it did or not is immaterial. Joseph was worthy of favoritism, but Jacob could have been more discreet and thus have avoided inflaming envy.

Gen. 37:4 And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.

With the exception of Benjamin, the other brothers were so jealous that they hated Joseph and “could not speak peaceably unto him.” To “speak peaceably” meant to greet one another with ”Shalom,” as would be proper among family members. Jacob should have discerned the coldness of the other brothers toward Joseph—the lack of this courtesy, or greeting, when Joseph appeared on the scene. Although the brothers would not have displayed open animosity lest their attitude be too obvious, they did manifest a lack of respect. Jacob was either oblivious or did not want to recognize what was happening.

Gen. 37:5 And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.

Gen. 37:6 And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed:

Gen. 37:7 For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.

Gen. 37:8 And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.

When Joseph recounted the first dream to his brothers, they hated him even more. In those days, a dream was significant, and it was considered to be of either good or evil portent.

Dream No. 1: The wheat sheaves were lying down. Then Joseph’s sheaf arose and stood  upright. Presumably the sheaves of his brothers arose too but in a subservient fashion, for the brothers’ sheaves did obeisance to Joseph’s sheaf. Altogether, there were 12 sheaves, and 11 of them bowed to one sheaf. Since this dream applied to only the brothers, Joseph may have told just them and not his father. However, the second dream applied to his father as well as his brothers, so all were informed. Joseph felt the dream was important, so he guilelessly told it. Being honest and open, he was looking for some explanation. He would have realized that he was the sheaf to whom the others did obeisance, but he was puzzled as to the significance.

Antitype for Dream No. 1: The brothers represent the nation of Israel, which will bow to Jesus in the Kingdom. In a secondary sense, they will bow the knee to the Joseph class. The antitype is more apparent later in regard to Joseph’s becoming prime minister of Egypt.

Gen. 37:9 And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

Gen. 37:10 And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?

Gen. 37:11 And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.

Dream No. 2: The sun, moon, and 11 stars did obeisance to Joseph. The sun was Jacob, and the moon would have been Leah because Rachel had died and Leah was a wife of higher status than the concubine wives. Of course the 11 stars were the brothers. Joseph realized he was being honored, for they all genuflected to him. The sun, moon, and stars probably came in front of him and dipped, while he remained stationary.

Two dreams were two witnesses—and that was significant! In the second dream, obeisance was made to Joseph personally, not just to a representation (a wheat sheaf). Also, the setting was heavenly, as opposed to the earthly setting in the first dream.

Although Jacob rebuked Joseph, he “observed the saying”; that is, he pondered it, as did Mary many years later when she “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Jacob could not share this pondering with anyone now that Rachel was dead. To have told Leah would have been saying, “This son of Rachel will be over your sons.” It was puzzling to Jacob as to how this dream could ever be fulfilled. Joseph was young compared to the others, yet seemingly he would occupy a position of preeminence.

The brothers envied Joseph with malice and bitterness, although at this time, the malice was still hidden. Note: Even though 11 stars “made obeisance” to Joseph, Benjamin would have been too young to participate in the envy.

Antitype for Dream No. 2: The “sun,” that is, nominal spiritual Israel (the tares), will recognize “Joseph,” a representation of Jesus. Antitypically, the sun pictures Papacy, the moon is church canon law, and the 11 stars are the papal hierarchy—all will recognize and bow down to Jesus.

Comment: Bible comments comparing Jesus and Joseph are as follows:

1. Jesus and Joseph were both special objects of their father’s love.

2. Jesus and Joseph were both hated by their brethren.

3. The superior claims of both were rejected by their brethren.

4. The brethren of both conspired for their death.

5. Both became a blessing among the Gentiles.

Gen. 37:12 And his brethren went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem.

Gen. 37:13 And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I.

Gen. 37:14 And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.

Gen. 37:15 And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field: and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou?

Gen. 37:16 And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks.

Gen. 37:17 And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to

Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan.

Joseph’s brothers went to Shechem to feed the flock. Shechem is the locale where the Hivites were slain during soreness from circumcision following Dinah’s defilement by Shechem, son of Hamor. God had overruled at the time so that fear kept the other Canaanites from retaliating for the wrong done to the Hivites. Historically, the hatred of the Canaanites caused problems, but not at this time.

Jacob sent Joseph to find his brethren and to ascertain their condition. Joseph went willingly to Shechem. A parallel was Jesus’ willingness to come down to planet Earth at his First Advent.

When Joseph got to Shechem, he wandered around, confused, because he could not find his brethren. A “certain man” observing him asked what Joseph was looking for. Joseph explained that he was trying to find his brothers, and the stranger replied that he had overheard them say they would go to Dothan. Joseph pursued them for another 15 to 18 miles to Dothan, a place with much verdure. There he found his brothers.

Hebrew folklore contains many stories, some way out. The story of Joseph says the “certain man” was an angel—Gabriel. (And it was Gabriel at the time of the First Advent who told Mary and Joseph separately about the Son, Jesus—Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:26-31.) Hebrew folklore may be correct in regard to Joseph, for if he had not been informed of the whereabouts of his brothers, he would have gone home and the type would not have been made.

Gen. 37:18 And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.

When the ten brothers (not Benjamin) saw Joseph approaching afar off, they conspired to slay him. Joseph’s life contains incidents that are an allegory of Jesus. Joseph was rejected by his brothers, and so was Jesus. Jesus “came unto his own, and his own received him not. But [to] as many as received him, … [he gave the privilege and] power to become the sons of God” (John 1:11,12). Jesus was slain, and there was an attempt to slay Joseph.

Gen. 37:19 And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.

They wanted to get rid of “this dreamer.”

Gen. 37:20 Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.

The plot was to kill Joseph and cast his carcass into a pit. Later they would tell Jacob that a wild beast had devoured him.

Gen. 37:21 And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him.

Gen. 37:22 And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.

Reuben “delivered” Joseph out of the other brothers’ hands by persuading them not to kill him but to cast him alive into a pit. He intended to arrange matters so that Joseph would be subsequently freed and taken back to Jacob. In other words, Reuben planned to later rescue Joseph and return him to Jacob.

This incident shows the progression of evil if we harbor envy or hatred in our hearts. Such a heart condition could lead to murder. Earlier, when the brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more than he loved them, they hated Joseph. By not coming to grips with their feelings, they progressed in evil until they were ready to slay him. The lesson is that as soon as we recognize any envy or pride in our hearts or minds, we must take immediate steps to get rid of the feeling. Any root of bitterness or malice must be dealt with right away lest it grow.

It was Jacob’s privilege to honor Joseph by making him a special coat of many colors. No doubt Joseph was a very obedient son. Jacob showed favoritism to Joseph, but what was the favoritism based on? (1) Joseph was the firstborn son of Rachel, whom Jacob especially loved. (2) Joseph had good character: faith, submission, obedience to God, etc. (3) At first, Jacob was indignant over Joseph’s dream, but then he “observed the saying” (Gen. 37:11), perhaps thinking that the Abrahamic promise would go through him.

Why would the other brothers listen to Reuben? They listened because he was not only the firstborn son of Leah but also the firstborn of all Jacob’s children. By his delaying tactic, Reuben intended to “deliver him [Joseph] to his father again.”

Gen. 37:23 And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him;

The coat of many colors was a sore spot with the brothers because it was a sign of favoritism. They also did not like Joseph because of his dreams, which showed he would be greatly honored in the future. The brothers stripped Joseph of his coat, which was obnoxious to them. Later they used the coat to deceive Jacob.

Q: Is there a spiritual counterpart for this coat, a parallel with Jesus?

A: Yes, there is a remarkable parallelism. Jesus was stripped naked and hung on the Cross.

Crucifixion was the utmost humiliation. Jesus’ garments were divided, and lots were cast for them. He was also stripped of his clothes at the time of his flogging. Then a coat, a garment of royalty, was put on him, and a crown of thorns was pressed on his head. Also, a rod was placed in his hand to simulate a king with a scepter. Thus the Jews mocked Jesus after flogging him. Then, when he was blindfolded, one took the rod, hit him on the head with it, and said, “Prophesy who struck you.” After that, the “mock” robe was removed, and his own garments were put back on. The parallelism can be carried further. In the Kingdom, every knee will bow to Jesus, and Joseph later became prime minister of Egypt, directly under Pharaoh. In this case, Pharaoh pictures God, and Joseph represents Jesus.

Gen. 37:24 And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.

The brothers threw Joseph into an empty pit that had no water.

Gen. 37:25 And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.

While Joseph was in the pit, the brothers sat down to eat bread. How calloused! Genesis 42:21, a later scene in which the brothers felt guilty in thinking back on what they had done to Joseph, gives his emotional reaction at the time. “And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.” The point is that the brothers heard Joseph crying to them from the pit while they were eating and ignoring him. Then, as they were still eating, they saw a company of Ishmaelites from Gilead coming with camels laden with spices, balm, and myrrh en route to Egypt.

Gen. 37:26 And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?

Gen. 37:27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content.

Judah also displayed some sympathy for Joseph, “Let us sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites as a slave and not kill him, for he is our brother.”

Gen. 37:28 Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

Here again is a parallelism to Jesus. Jesus was sold by Judas for 30 pieces of silver. Joseph was sold by his brethren for 20 pieces of silver. The profit motive existed in both situations. Judah and Judas are the same name (as is Jude), one being in the Old Testament and the other in the New Testament. Joseph was sold as a slave.

Why is there a difference between 20 pieces of silver in the type and 30 pieces of silver in the antitype? Joseph was 17 years old, and under the Law, given later, a male from age 5 to 20 was redeemed for 20 shekels (Lev. 27:5). Jesus was sold correctly for a male who was 33 years old.

Q: Why are the terms Ishmaelites and Midianites interchanged twice in this chapter?

A: The men were descended from Ishmael, but they came from the country of Midian. At that time, Gilead, which was across Jordan, was part of Midian, which was a very large territory that included part of Sinai and Saudi Arabia and extended north to Gilead. The Midian of Moses’ day was restricted to a smaller territory. As children were born leading up to Moses’ day, the land was divided, and portions were parceled out.

Joseph was taken to Egypt. Among the tombs of Beni-hassan in Upper Egypt, one tomb, the one of Pneumhotep (Joseph), has a drawing of Joseph’s coming into Egypt. He was originally buried in Egypt, but in faith, he had requested that his bones be taken to Israel when the Israelites would return in the Exodus (Heb. 11:22). His bones were eventually interred in Shechem, which is called Nablus today (Gen. 50:25,26; Exod. 13:19; Josh. 24:32).

Gen. 37:29 And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.

Reuben returned to the pit, and when he saw that Joseph was not there, he rent his clothes. Apparently, then, Reuben was not present when the others sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites.

Reuben had wanted to return Joseph to his father, but if he had remained there eating dinner with his brothers and then, when the others were returning to Jacob, absented himself to retrieve Joseph, the brothers would have been suspicious. Therefore, his plan was to leave early, presumably to return home to Jacob, and then return to free Joseph. He was following a plan that he thought would be successful. Hence Reuben did not know that Joseph had been sold. Here we see a good characteristic of Reuben. Some other traits were unfavorable.

Gen. 37:30 And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?

Reuben was beside himself: “The child is not. Where shall I go?” As the firstborn, the oldest, Reuben would be held responsible by Jacob, and he had no answer. He returned to the other brothers, who had already left the pit.

Gen. 37:31 And they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood;

Gen. 37:32 And they sent the coat of many colours, and they brought it to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son’s coat or no.

The brothers plotted a deception. They killed a goat and dipped Joseph’s coat of many colors in the blood. Then they took the coat back to Jacob and lied: “We found this coat. Is it Joseph’s?”

Gen. 37:33 And he knew it, and said, It is my son’s coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.

Jacob knew the coat was Joseph’s and naturally assumed a wild beast had killed and eaten him.

Here was retribution, for Jacob had deceived his father Isaac to get the blessing, and now his own sons deceived him. In both cases, the deception came through the medium of a goat. (Earlier Jacob was also deceived by Laban in regard to Leah and Rachel.) But note: God did not disapprove Jacob’s desire for the spiritual birthright, for Esau was a worldly man not interested in spiritual things.

Gen. 37:34 And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.

Jacob rent his clothes in grief, put on sackcloth, and mourned for Joseph many days. Here we see Jacob’s great love for Rachel’s firstborn son, Joseph.

Gen. 37:35 And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.

The whole family tried to comfort Jacob but to no avail. Jacob wept for Joseph. He said, “I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning.” The word translated “grave” is the Hebrew sheol, also translated “hell” and “pit.” This text is an important clue in proving what hell really is, for Jacob, a man approved of God and one who will have an important position in the Kingdom, said he would go down into hell mourning.

The fire and brimstone in Scripture in regard to hell are figurative. Other texts speak of no wisdom, knowledge, or device being in hell (the tomb). Those in the tomb are completely unaware of what is happening—their memory perishes. If they are not conscious and their memory perishes, the logical conclusion is that there can be no pain in hell (Eccl. 9:10; Psa. 6:5).

In England, to “hell” potatoes meant to cover them with earth so that they would reproduce. The term had nothing to do with fire. Hades (New Testament Greek) and sheol (Old Testament Hebrew) are equivalent, both referring to the unseen state where the dead are buried below the ground in a condition of nonentity. All go there, good and bad. Upright Job went into hell (Job 14:13; 17:13). In the future, all will be awakened out of the sleep of death. In 1 and 2 Kings, even the most evil kings of Israel “slept with their fathers,” awaiting a future awakening and reckoning (1 Kings 14:20,31; 16:6,28; 22:40; 2 Kings 16:20). Jesus said that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will have authority in the Kingdom on earth, yet Jacob expected to go to hell. To avoid confusion, the translators should have translated sheol and hades consistently.

Q: Does the phrase “all his [Jacob’s] sons and … daughters” include daughter-in-laws and/or granddaughters, since only Dinah was mentioned as a daughter?

A: That could be, for Dinah was the only daughter when Jacob re-entered the Promised Land. However, it is possible that Jacob had more daughters subsequently.

Gen. 37:36 And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, and captain of the guard.

The Midianites sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and a captain of the guard, in Egypt.

(1987–1989 Study)

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  1. Thank you for this revelation

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