Coat of many colours
It has all the ingredients for a West End hit. Jealousy, family intrigue, struggle through adversity, then vindication and reconciliation. It’s a story that speaks to all. Because it’s a story based on the original story – the true myth. Joseph’s story is Jesus’ story told in advance.
Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Israel. Israel (a.k.a. Jacob) was the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham.
But Joseph was set apart from his brothers. Jacob gave him a coat of many colours (Genesis 37:3) which, in the Bible, has both priestly and royal connotations. (Exodus 28:49-40; 2 Sam 13:18) Joseph was clearly exalted before his brothers, but exalted on behalf of his brothers – that is the role for priests and kings. Lifted up yes. But lifted up for the others.
In addition to being priestly and kingly, Joseph also speaks prophetically about his royal priestliness. He tells them his dreams: all around will bow down to him, the favoured son (Genesis 37:5-7). When the brothers hear of this,
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. (Genesis 37:8).
As with David (e.g. 1 Samuel 17:28), Joseph is another Christ-figure whose actions for his brothers provoke their jealousy. We’re the same. We don’t want our Brother to step in and do it for us. We’d rather do it ourselves. And so when our Brother lifts himself up – even if it’s entirely for our benefit – we want to cut him down.
This is what his brothers do. They toy with killing him but Reuben, the firstborn, objects: “Let’s not and say we did.” So they sell him into slavery instead and give back to Jacob the coat – now stained with blood – supposedly Joseph’s. The favoured son is now dead to his father and descends to Egypt, the land of darkness and bondage.
To add to his woes, Joseph’s righteousness, far from being rewarded, plunges him further into the pit. He ends up in an Egyptian prison (Genesis 39). Yet the Bible insists that he is not suffering for his own sins. The LORD is with Joseph and causes him to prosper (Genesis 39:21-23). In fact, through the power of the Spirit (Genesis 41:38) and on the third anniversary of a third-day resurrection experience (Genesis 40:20; 41:1), Joseph is vindicated. He is lifted from the pit to the throne to be Pharaoh’s right-hand man (Genesis 41:39-45). He was thirty years old! (Genesis 41:46; cf Luke 3:23)
Tomorrow we will see how Joseph’s wisdom as ruler brings prosperity to the land. But for now let’s note how the wise and righteous rule of Joseph brings blessing even for his brothers. Genesis 42-50 details how the plunging down and lifting up of the one brother – Joseph – benefits the whole family. The brothers, wasting away through famine, must come to Egypt to find food. In perhaps the most dramatic scene of all, Joseph finally reveals himself to his needy brothers:
I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence. And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 45:3-7)
Could it really be that the near-murder of their brother had been turned by God into their own salvation? Surely their treatment of righteous Joseph should have proved their condemnation! How could it be that their wicked damning of Joseph becomes the very means by which they are saved?
In the hands of this God – the God who redeems Joseph from the pit – even great evil is turned to good. As Joseph would later say to them:
ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good (Genesis 50:20)
And so Joseph turns out to be worthy of the royal priestly coat. Just like Jesus, he is the king-priest lifted up for his brothers. And even when he is wickedly cut down it proves the salvation of those who harmed him. Jesus says these words to us today:
“Come near to me. You did sell me out. But be not angry nor grieved with yourselves. God sent me before you to save you by a great deliverance.”
How can we not therefore humble ourselves before him – knowing our own guilt? How can we not bow down to our Brother who went to the depths for us?