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Joseph And His Glorious Robe Dipped In Blood (Part 1)

By Iain Clements, 24 Apr 2018

There was a TV quiz show back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s called Telly Addicts. One of the rounds involved the teams being shown a number of props and they had to guess the TV show they came from. The first prop they were shown for maximum points was the most obscure, then getting to the most obvious for a single point. 

If we played that game with Old Testament stories, the most obvious prop you would bring out for the life of Joseph would be a multi coloured coat. Even if folk have never opened a Bible, most people are familiar with Joseph’s coat. 

As I came to study Joseph in preparation for preaching these final chapters in Genesis, his coat intrigued me. It seems to be quite important in chapter 37 - but why? The answer commonly given is that it is a sign of Jacob’s favouritism. Indeed, Moses tells us that “Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age.” 

But is that all that is going on? Is the application to us “don’t have favourites among your children?” This is obviously good and important advice! But the danger of just stopping there is that we can begin to believe that what happened to Joseph is in some way his and his fathers fault.

As if the near murderous actions of his brothers wasn’t enough, Joseph has also suffered at the hands of victim blamers amongst those who write the commentaries. Even great writers like Wenham and Waltke are quick to criticise the young Joseph. He is described as a “spoiled brat”, and criticised for “tattling, boasting and robe parading”. It can be easy to begin to think that no wonder Joseph ended up down a pit, he was such an annoying teenager! 

When we look at what’s going on from his father’s point of view, things seem a little different. Back in chapter 35 the Lord appeared to Jacob again. He has renamed him Israel. Then he made an important promise to him and gave him a command - 

“And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.”

At this point Jacob is old. He already has children - a pretty nasty bunch if the events of chapter 34 are anything to go by. But the Lord promises that he will work through a child of Jacob’s yet to be born. 

So it is not surprising that Jacob is so protective of Joseph. He is a child born after the promise the Lord has made. It is also not surprising that he gives him a robe to wear. The phrase “a robe of many colours” is notoriously difficult to translate and understand - but it is interesting that when the phrase is used again in 2 Samuel 13:18 it is of a kingly robe. In giving the robe to Joseph, Jacob is saying “I believe you are the king that the Lord has promised will come from my body.” 

As the chapter unfolds it becomes clear that Jacob is right to think that. Joseph’s dreams are not the sign of an enormous teenage ego, they are messages from the Lord. He has two of them - underlining that these do come from God. We mustn’t criticise him for sharing them, anymore than we can tell the young Samuel in the temple to go back to bed for hearing the Lord’s voice. Joseph is speaking the word of God to the people of God. 

Yet in Genesis 37 the reaction to that word is mixed. His brothers hate it. They don’t just hate Joseph - they “hated him even more for his dreams.” Their parting comment as they leave Joseph in the pit is “let us see what will become of his dreams.” They want to silence the word of God so they do away with God’s messenger and God’s king. Jacob on the other hand “kept the saying in mind”, like Mary pondering it. Recognising that the Lord may well be keeping his promise to him.