Genesis 37 (NRSV)
Joseph Dreams of Greatness
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2This is the story of the family of Jacob.
Here begins one of the remarkable life stories of the Bible and all literature. James Montgomery Boice has written: “He was loved and hated, favored and abused, tempted and trusted, exalted and abased. Yet at no point in the one-hundred-and-ten-year life of Joseph did he ever seem to get his eyes off God or cease to trust him. Adversity did not harden his character. Prosperity did not ruin him. He was the same in private as in public. He was a truly great man.”
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age;
Jacob’s parents, Isaac and Rebekah, played favorites with their two boys, and now Jacob plays favorites with his sons. Neither family functions happily as a result.
and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.
I have read that the Hebrew phrase here translates as “tunic of many colors” but means a long-sleeved robe. Such a robe indicated a life of privilege and status. A working man could not function in such a garment.
4But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
5Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. 7There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.”
8His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.
9He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
10But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” 11So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Luke 2:51 (NLT)
Then Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.
Joseph Is Sold by His Brothers
12Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” 14So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
He came to Shechem, 15and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16“I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’“
So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits (a dry cistern); then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
21But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” —that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.
So brother Reuben tries to save Joseph, but unwittingly places him in more danger . . .
23So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
25Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed.
. . . whereas Jacob actually saves his life.
28When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.
Matthew 26:14-15 (NLT)
Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver.
And they took Joseph to Egypt. 29When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes. 30He returned to his brothers, and said, “The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?”
31Then they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. 32They had the long robe with sleeves taken to their father, and they said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.”
A heartless way to bring the news and an unconscionable lie. Yet one cannot deny the poetic justice here. Jacob, who had once deceived his own father, is now deceived by his sons.
“Joseph’s Bloody Coat Brought to Jacob” by Velazquez Diego, 1630, now in Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial, Spain. Click HERE.
33He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. 35All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father bewailed him.
I think Jacob “refused to be comforted” because he refused to give up hope that someday, he would be reunited with Joseph.
Psalm 33:20-22 (NLT)
We put our hope in the Lord.
He is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
for our hope is in you alone.
36Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.
Egypt was a large and thriving kingdom for at least a thousand years before Joseph came. The Egyptians were wealthy and had massive natural resources. They were educated and had no real enemies at the time. When Joseph came to Egypt, some of the pyramids already looked old and the Sphinx was already carved. But in God’s eyes, the most impressive thing about Egypt was that Joseph was now there.
HERE is “Coat of Many Colors,” written and sung by Dolly Parton; a true story of how a Bible story helped her through a difficult time in her childhood.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. With Donny Osmond, Maria Friedman. 1999.
Joseph. Starring Ben Kingsley, Paul Mercurio. 1995.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.