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Coat of Many Colors

QUESTION: Why was Joseph given a coat of many colors?


The Coat of Many Colors given to young Joseph by his father is a well-known story that begins in Genesis 37. “When Joseph was seventeen years old, he often tended his father’s flocks with his half brothers...Now Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day he gave Joseph a special gift -- a beautiful robe.” (The KJV says “made him a coat of many colors.”) In Joseph’s day, everyone had a coat. These coats or cloaks were used to keep warm, carry belongings and even to serve as security for a loan. Most are reported to have been very plain and about knee length -- they were merely functional. In contrast, the coat Jacob gave his son was colorful, ankle length, and probably more in keeping with what royalty wore -- it was beautiful.

First, let’s look at why Joseph was loved more than his siblings. Verses 2-3 tell us that Joseph was born when Jacob was in “his old age.” But I believe there are two additional reasons Joseph favored this son. The first was that Jacob recognized Joseph’s birth to Rachel as a blessing from God. Jacob had worked many years for a man called Laban to earn the privilege of marrying Laban’s daughter Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel very much but she was barren for many years while his other wives were giving him many sons. We read in Genesis 30:22-23, “Then God remembered Rachel’s plight and answered her prayers by giving her a child. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. ‘God removed my shame,’ she said. And she named him Joseph...” The named Joseph means “may he add” in Hebrew.

Secondly, Jacob saw that Joseph had been gifted with dreams revealing God’s plans (they would be proven later to be 100% accurate). Indeed, Jacob held this son to be very special and knew God had determined Joseph to be a great leader. The coat was a token of this great love and recognition. In part, Joseph was to be very instrumental in fulfilling the covenant between God and Abraham, Joseph’s great-grandfather. This covenant was that Abraham’s seed would bring about many nations, kings and rulers would be among them. “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of not just one nation, but a multitude of nations!” (Genesis 17:4). And verse 6 says “I will give you millions of descendants who will represent many nations. Kings will be among them.”

The coat of many colors became a symbol of the favoritism between this father and son. Perhaps it also symbolized the prophecy given in Joseph’s dream that he would someday be in a position of royalty, ruling over his family and others. This gift however, further aggravated the jealousy already felt by Joseph’s ten older brothers. This fact, according to the rest of Joseph’s story, found in Genesis 37-50, was the first step of destined events that took Joseph from being sold into slavery to gaining favor from Egypt’s Pharaoh and eventually saving a nation. God had indeed allowed Joseph to not only survive many trials, but to prosper and fulfill His design.

Joseph in the Bible - Learn More!

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