Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him (Genesis 37:3).
We’re not quite sure what to call it.
A fair rendering of the biblical Hebrew deems it a “richly ornamented tunic” or “long sleeved robe.” A more popular designation speaks of the “coat of many colors.” Exactly what is was is hard to say, but this much is clear: Joseph’s coat galled his brothers. And if we’re honest, it would have galled us too.
You have to wonder what Jacob was thinking. What brilliant stroke of parenting insight prompted him to give this garment to only one of his sons? Did the others see it coming? There’s Joseph being measured, the length of his arms, the distance from his shoulders to his ankles. There’s the bolt of hard-to-miss cloth, lying on a table one day and then showing up around Joseph’s shoulders the next. A gift from Dad. One of a kind, not a set.
The Coats We Wish We Had
No use pretending. Joseph was the favored one. Perhaps that’s because he was born to Rachel, the woman Jacob had loved from the moment he saw her. Not only that, Joseph was born in Jacob’s old age (37:3). Of the twelve sons, Joseph was the eleventh – not quite the baby, but close enough. So Jacob doted on Joseph without shame, without apology. And in doing so he stoked the resentment of his other sons.
Every time they saw Joseph prancing around in his loud look-at-me robe they wanted to spit. They despised him, couldn’t say a kind word to him or about him. Joseph had something they didn’t have. He had the coat, but he had more than that. He held their father’s affections in a way that no one else did.
Most of us know what it’s like to be one of the eleven. We know what it’s like to want something and see someone else get it: A promotion, a marriage proposal, a positive pregnancy test, an offer on the house. We might try to be gracious, but questions ricochet in the mind and they stir up all kinds of bitterness.
What did they do that we haven’t done?
What do they possess that we lack?
What makes them more deserving than we are?
The world is full of richly ornamented garments and life is wasted when we spend our energy looking at who’s wearing what, noticing the robes we’d like to have and resenting others who are already wearing them.
Our Misdirected Anger
Genesis 37:11 tells us that Joseph’s brothers were jealous. Their jealousy is understandable and hardly comes as a surprise. But here’s where we need to be careful. Our jealousy is often anger at God. We’re saying God got it wrong. God gives blessing and gifts in the freedom of his will. When someone has something I want, they just might have it because it came to them by grace. God is working in the life of the ‘other’ just as he is at work in my own. Anger at them is misdirected.
Maybe when we get angry at the person who has the coat of many colors, the person we’re truly angry at is the one who gave them the coat to begin with.
It took a long time for Joseph’s brothers to get over their jealousy. Their resentment over the coat spilled over into their behaviors. They couldn’t speak a kind word to Joseph (37:4). They eventually ambush him and sell him as a slave. They cover up what they’ve done by smearing the hated coat with blood and telling their father that his beloved son was killed. But God worked in all of it, and eventually these brothers came to see Joseph’s life differently. They came face to face with the man Joseph had become.
Jealousy and resentment are abated when we understand that God is shaping his will in every life. The person we resent today may become someone we respect tomorrow.
What is the coat of many colors that someone else is wearing today? How can you shift your focus from what they have to who they are becoming?
Gracious God, I don’t want to spend my days obsessed with what others have. I don’t want to be bitter over the favor they receive. Drive bitterness and jealousy from my heart and replace it with awe at your life-shaping work, forming something holy by the power of your Spirit. Amen.