The Coat of Many Colors
June 14th, 1989 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-14-89 7:30 p.m.
We welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. You’re now part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Coat of Many Colors. It is a message from the thirty-seventh chapter of the Book of Genesis.
To a casual, indifferent reader, this story is simply interesting as a romantic account of a great youth rising from the pit to the palace. It’s an old-world Horatio Alger story fascinating because of its unusual success which always characterizes a Horatio Alger story. But to somebody like us, to somebody like me, it has a far deeper meaning and a far deeper interest.
This is a story of Christ and Calvary and Easter in miniature; and I am frank to confess to you that when I read it and prepare the message, I have the same feeling in my heart, the same response in my soul, as when I read about the suffering, and the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
To my amazement, there is twice as much about Joseph as there is about Abraham. Why is this? Is Joseph greater than Abraham? No, not that; but there is twice as much about Joseph as about Abraham because the story of Joseph is the story of our holy Messiah Redeemer in miniature.
When we read of the sufferings of Joseph and of his glorious exaltation, we are reading exactly what happened to our Lord Jesus Christ. When we speak of Joseph, we speak of a blameless life. We speak of his father’s love [Genesis 37:3]. We speak of one sent for his lost brethren [Genesis 37:12-17]. We speak of one placed in the pit [Genesis 37:24], stripped of his robe [Genesis 37:23], and sold for silver [Genesis 37:26-28], and delivered to the Gentiles [Genesis 37:36]. Then we speak of his life in the dark land of Egypt [Genesis 39:1-41:]. Then we speak of his Gentile bride [Genesis 41:45], his elevation to the kingship of the land [Genesis 41:38-], and finally of the revelation of who he is to his brethren who has been saved from death through him [Genesis 45:1-28].
I repeat, when I read the story, I have that same spirit of deepening love for God, for what He’s done for me, as I do as when I read the story of the Lord. Now, look at this thirty-seventh chapter of the Book of Genesis. It starts off: "These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years of age . . . " [Genesis 37:2].
Seventeen years before this story opens of his being sold into Egypt, seventeen years before, he is a little child born to the beloved Rachel in Haran at the top of the Mesopotamian Valley [Genesis 30:22-26]. And while he is yet a small child, possibly seven years of age, there is the swift flight of Jacob and his family from Haran and from Laban, crossing the Euphrates River, crossing the deserts, finally coming to Gilead [Genesis 31:1-21]. And he could just remember when they came to Gilead, as a little boy about seven, of the terror that was brought into the life of his father, Jacob, when he was made aware that four hundred armed men under Esau was coming to meet them [Genesis 32:6-7]. And he could recall, when he was about nine, of the hurried flight from Shechem [Genesis 33:18-35:5], and the solemn vows of his father at Bethel [Genesis 35:6-15], and finally coming to Ephrath [Genesis 35:16-21], which is Bethlehem where in after years Ruth met Boaz and the beautiful romance of that story took place [Ruth 3-4]; and where in still after years David watched over his father’s sheep [1 Samuel 16:1, 4-13]; and where in after years the sainted Joseph walked with Mary, the mother of our Lord [Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 2:1-7]. There his mother died [Genesis :31]. Joseph’s mother died in that sacred, holy place; and that was the greatest loss that a boy could ever know. And now, seven or eight years after that, we have the story that we follow in chapter 37.
In the third verse we have a reflection, and a depiction, and an example of the illimitable love of his father for the boy. This is the son of Rachel whom Jacob loved and who died in Bethlehem, and the father’s great love is here. "Now Israel, Jacob, loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a coat of many colors" [Genesis 37:3]. That is a reflection of the translation of the Greek Septuagint, translating the Hebrew into the Greek language, the Greek Septuagint; and the Vulgate, the Latin Vulgate, followed the same words "made him a coat of many colors" [Genesis 37:3].
Well, when I read that in the Hebrew, there’s nothing approaching that, nothing at all. If I could translate it exactly, the word is, "He made him a tunic," a tunic; and the next Hebrew word describes it as reaching down to the feet and to the wrist. Well, when you look at that, what kind of a coat was it that Jacob made for his son, and how was it different from all the other garments that these sons of Jacob had? And how was it that it gave rise to such a vicious response?
Well, when I studied it, it became very apparent. How they dressed the peasants, the workers – they had a short jacket. It was up here to the sleeve, or up here to the elbow, or up here to the shoulder; and it was very short and had to be that because the people that wore it were laboring. They were working with the sheep, or they were working out in the field, or they were at the manual task that went along with creating a substance for the support of the home and family. So they were dressed in keeping with their work.
Now when you came to the palace of the king, he wasn’t dressed like a laborer. He was dressed in an opulent and noble and kingly way. He had a beautiful tunic: and it had long sleeves, and it was beautifully embroidered with colors, and it went down to his feet; and he walked in majesty among his people. Now that is what Israel bought for Joseph. These other children were dressed like common laborers working out in the field; but Joseph had that beautiful, kingly robe, beautifully embroidered, and a very picture of nobility and opulence.
Now verse 5 and verse 4: "When his brethren saw that the father loved him more than all the rest, they hated him" [Genesis 37:4]. They hated him. As though that were not enough, it repeats it when Joseph came before the family and spoke of how the Lord had revealed to him marvelous things in his dreams. Verse 5: "They hated him all the more." That was the reaction of the family to this lad, Joseph, seventeen years old.
Now we come to verse 12 and 14. Remember, Jacob, Israel, has the family living in Hebron, down there in the south part of Judea; and the flocks and the herds of Jacob were so blessed of God that they could not find pasture to support them. So Jacob had sent these nine brothers on a mission north to find pasture for the flock; and they came to Shechem, and there they were seeking pasture land for their sheep and their cattle [Genesis 37:12]. Well, Israel is a compassionate father like our Lord in heaven, so he wants to know how the boys are doing; and he sends Joseph to bring him a report how his brothers are doing with their flocks and with their herds [Genesis 37:13-14].
You look at him volunteer in the thirteenth verse. "And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? Come, I’ll send thee unto them.’ And he said to him, ‘Here am I’" [Genesis 37:13]. That is an exact thing that is described in the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews. In heaven, when the Lord God looked down upon us in this earth, He asked for a volunteer to save us from our sins, and Jesus volunteered with a "Here am I, send Me" [Hebrews 10:5-9].
So Joseph goes to Shechem, couldn’t find the brethren there, asked friends and neighbors and people where they could have gone, and they said to Dothan. So Joseph goes to Dothan, and finds his brethren keeping the flocks in Dothan [Genesis 37:15-17].
Now verse 18: "And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near, they conspired against him to slay him." These nine grown men, brethren, against their brother who’s seventeen. Was there ever a darker deed than that in the history of humanity? Yes, you read that story in Calvary. There’s just one, and it concerns our Lord Jesus [Matthew 26:1-27:66; Mark 14:1-15:47; Luke 22:47-23:56; John 18:1-19:42; Acts 2:22-24]. So they said, "Here comes the heir, let’s slay him" [Genesis 37:18-20].
Well, as I read it here in the thirty-seventh chapter of the Book of Genesis, the author writes it with very calm prose like a historian just recounting what happened. But I want you to know back of that calm prose that you read right here, back of that calm prose, is an agony and a pathos beyond anything that we could ever describe unless we experienced a like cruelty.
Twenty-five years later – twenty-five years later – the confession of these cruel brothers in Genesis 42:21 says, "When we saw the anguish and the agony of his soul, we never cared. We never responded. We were just eager to get rid of him, to slay him, to take him away."
"When we saw the anguish and agony of his soul" – and I can imagine every syllable of that, and you can too. The seventeen year old boy [Genesis 37:2], stripped [Genesis 37:23], planning to kill him [Genesis 37:18], finally put him in a pit to die so the blood of violence wouldn’t be on their hands [Genesis 37:21-22, 24]; and then lifting him out of the pit and selling him to the Ishmaelites [Genesis 37:25-27]. Ah, how it must have crushed the soul of this wonderful, wonderful boy. The years, I say, have passed. It’s been more than twenty-five years, but that scene of the cry and anguish and sorrow of that boy could not be obliterated from their minds. It was as fresh then as it was when they lived through it [Genesis 42:21-22].
Well, I think of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. God shall see of the travail and anguish of His soul, and we shall be saved in those tears, and hurt, and sorrow, and suffering, and death [Isaiah 53:11]; and that’s what happened here. Out of the agony, and the anguish, and the hurt, and the tears, and the sorrow of the soul of that boy Joseph came the salvation of the family [Genesis 45:1-47:31, 50:14-21].
One of the little incidents in the story in verse 25 of the thirty-seventh chapter, after they had sold him away, they sat down to eat bread. That’s kind of like the cross. Sitting down, they watched Him there and watched Him die [Matthew 27:33-56; Mark 15:22-41; Luke 23:3-; John 19:16-30]. And then selling him for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites [Genesis 37:28]. Twenty pieces of silver for a boy [Genesis 37:28], thirty pieces for a man [Matthew 26:14-16, 24-25, 47-, 27:3; Mark 14:10-11; Acts 1:16-19]. This is what Jesus has done for us.
Out of the anguish and hurt of this boy, this brother, Joseph, came one day the life and salvation of the family. They would have starved and died in the great continuing famine in the land of Canaan but came down into Egypt, and there, unknown to them, the ruler of the land was Israel’s son and their brother. This God has done for us. Out of the anguish of His soul and the suffering of His cross, our King reigns in heaven able to save us to the uttermost who come by faith to Him [Hebrews 7:25], and some day will crown us with glory and honor and eternal life in heaven [John 3:15-16, 36, 4:14, 5:24, 6:40, 47, 54, 10:27-30, 17:1-3; Acts 13:48; Romans 6:22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:50-57; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 1 Timothy 1:16, 6:12; Titus 1:1-2, 3:4-7; 1 Peter 1:13, 5:4; 1 John 2:25, 5:11-13, 20; Jude 1:21].
I tell you, sweet people, it’s a great story. Whether we read it in the life of Joseph or whether we experience it in our own souls and in our own hearts in Jesus our Lord, it’s a great salvation; and what a great gospel we have to preach and to share.
Now, Fred, we must sing us a song, and while we sing it, if there’s a family here to come and be with us in our dear church – is there a couple to give home and life to our Lord? Is there one somebody to accept Jesus as Savior? While we sing this hymn of appeal, you come and stand by me. I’ll be right here. On the first note of the first stanza, welcome. Any appeal God presses to your heart, you come, angels attending in the way and God honored in our commitment, while we stand and while we sing.
THE COAT OF MANY COLORS
To the casual indifferent reader,
this story simply interesting as a romantic account of a youth rising from the pit
to the palace, an old world Horatio Alger story, fasinating for it’s
But to the man on whose heart the
cross in carved in loving memory, for deeper interest. Calvary in miniature. Outlline sketch of the great artistic
finished work. A rehearsal of the
greatest drama the world has ever known.
Twice as much about Joseph as about
Absalom. Why? Joseph greater than Absalom?
No. Because history of Joseph is
the history of Messiah. Life of Joseph
foretold own life of Jesus. What
happened to Joseph in his cruel suffering, glorious exalting also happened to
our Lord Jesus.
e.g. his blameless
his father’s love.
sent for his lost brethren.
into the pit, stripped, robe, sold
for silver, delivered to the dark land of Egypt.
Saved the people, revealed to his brethren–saved them from
17 years before story opens, a little
child born to the beloved Rachel in Haran.
While yet a small child, possibly 7, the swift flight from Haran, Laban,
across the Euphrates, across the desert sands, to Gilead. Could just remember the panic carried by
news of Esau’s coming with 400 armed men.
Could recall, when he was about 9,
the hurried flight from Shechem–the solemn vows known at Bethel. Then the sudden halt at Ephrath–where in after
years Ruth met Boaz. David
watched his sheep. The sainted
Joseph walked beside Mary the mother of Jesus. Then his mother died.
The greatest love he had ever known.
Now 7 or 8 years with his father near Hebron.
Gen. 37:3 His father’s great love for the boy “made him a coat of many
colors.” So the LXX Vulgate, on
the basis of this translation, described as stripes of colored silk
fashioned. But the Hebrew: kethoneth
to the feet with: pas tunic: for him he made. In Aramaic is the extremities of hands, feet, contrasted with
ordinary tunic which extends no farther than the knees, no lower, or to the elbow.
Apparently a long, white linen robe,
embroidered with a narrow stripe of color round the edges. Reason
of envy of the brothers: worn only by opulent, noble, by king’s men, by those
who had no need of toil for a living.
All who labored dressed in short, dull colored garments–wade
through marsh, climbed up hills, carry wandering sheep, fight beasts of prey;
for such no flowing robe would fit. So
Joseph exempt–by the robe. Set
apart–as Jesus was set apart. Distinguished from the rest.
Joseph was different in looks,
works, deeds. Different in
behavior. A king, a prince in looks,
works, deeds, and his father dressed him like it——–
“they hated him”
Gen. 37:2 evil report of sons of
Bilhah, Zilpah. He did not share in
their wicked deeds. (so, II Chron.
18:7″) “I Hate him” said the furious Ahab of Micaiah, for he
never prophesied good unto me, but always evil.” So John 7:7 “me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the
works thereof are evil.”
“hated him yet the more”
Lonely in the midst of home. Ps. 69:4 “they hated me without a cause.”
37:12-14 Joseph”s missions.
Jacob dwelt in Hebron–where Isaac
lived nearly 200 years. Abraham before
him. Not sufficient pasture
lands–compelled to drive to distant parts.
His solicitude for them compelled him to send his beloved son
Joseph. —Sent for his lost brethren,
as Jesus to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, a love errand from God to
the world. God, not passionless like a
sphinx, expressionless face, stoney eyes, stare unmoved over desert
waters. Came seeking the lost brethren,
at the command of his father.
The volunteer. Gen.
37:13 “Here am I” Heb. 10:7.
Gen. 37:18 Joseph’s
reception:”conspired against him to slay him”. Nine grown men, brothers, against a boy,
their brother. Ever a daring deed? Yes, just one: Calvary.
The calm prose of the historians,
not dwell upon the anguish of Joseph.
37:23-25. But 25 years later the
confession of these cruel men. 42:21
“when we saw the anguish of his soul.” A lamb in jaws of the lion, anguish of soul evident in bitter
tears, cries, prayers.
Years pass but not obliterate from
their memories, but took those cries–and those tears, that scene in
Dothan–saw that anguished face in their dreams–heard the pitiful cry, pitiful
wailing in the night. The old father
who anguished for his son happier than they who knew him to be alive.
Isa 53:11 “He shall see of the
travail of his soul.” The cross of
Christ the center of human history, of scripture, story. The men around which the firmament circles:
lay to all scripture, a history and type, is fact which gives meaning to all other facts. To ignore the mission of Jesus to die for
our sins is to repeat the errors of the old philosophers who thought that the
earth and not the sun was the center of the universe, and to whom, therefore,
the heavens were in confusion.
John 1:11 “came into his own, his own….”.
Matt. 21:38 “this is the heir:
come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.
Stripped him–Ps. 22:18; Matt. 27:35; Gen 37:23
“sat down to eat bread.”
Matt. 27:36 “and sitting down they watched him
At that moment, over the ancient
road from Gilead, to the coast of the of the Mediterranean, and so on down to
Egypt, a caravan traveling, descendants
of Ishmael. Reminiscence of the events
all over again, bearing spices, balm, myrrh.
Twenty pieces of silver–prices of a
youth or thirty for a man. Judah sold
him. Deep in the scripture. Zech 11:12; Matt. 27:5-17.
Joseph betrayed by his
brothers. Jesus by friend.
Joseph sold for money. Jesus
Joseph in train of captors