The Coats Of Joseph
By bro Alvin Lin
The story of Joseph is a well-loved (riches to) rags to riches story with all the ingredients for a Hollywood blockbuster – betrayal, seduction, and power. More importantly, the story of Joseph is an assuring depiction of God’s faithfulness and providence towards His faithful throughout all circumstances in life (Gen 45:5-8; 50:20), demonstrating His ability to “do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20), and to work all things “for good to them that love God” (Rom 8:28). In this article, we shall consider how God refined Joseph in the “furnace of affliction” (Isa 48:10), in looking at his life in 3 stages represented by 3 coats.
The coat of tranquillity
This is the coat that most of us are most familiar with – the coat of many colours. At the age of 17, Joseph led a privileged life, being the favourite son of his father Jacob (Gen 37:2-3). The favouritism shown towards Joseph caused his brothers to envy him (Gen 37:11), and his telling on them (Gen 37:2) and his boasting of their bowing to him, even his father (Gen 37:5-11), served only to further fuel their hatred of him (Gen 37:4,5,8). The last straw came when he was sent to report on his brothers in Shechem (Gen 37:14), but they had left Shechem for Dothan (perhaps to skive), and so when they saw Joseph, they conspired to kill him and would have done so had Reuben not interceded on his behalf (Gen 37:17-24).
When things go well in our lives, it can cause us to be judgmental and harsh of weaker brethren (Rom 14:10). Like the Pharisee, we run the danger of priding ourselves that we are “not as other men are” (Luk 18:11), being critical of our brethren, and failing to empathize with the problems and difficulties that they may be facing. The position of privilege that Joseph was in blinded him to the challenges and weaknesses of his brothers.
The coat of tribulation
Eventually, Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites at the suggestion of Judah, and then further sold to the Egyptians (Gen 37:25-28). This is where we read of another coat that got Joseph into trouble again – the garment that Potiphar’s wife caught hold of and used to falsely accuse Joseph (Gen 39:7-19). He was cast into prison (Gen 39:20-23), and became a forgotten man (Gen 40:23). His time in prison served as his formative years, teaching him of God’s goodness (Gen 39:2,21) and training him to wait patiently on the Lord (Gen 41:1).
When we encounter difficulties in our lives, perhaps it is God’s way of teaching us patience and building up our character and faith (Rom 5:3-4). Through experiencing suffering ourselves, we learn not only to “rejoice with them that do rejoice”, but to “weep with them that weep” (Rom 12:15). The problems and difficulties that Joseph encountered transformed him and kept him grounded when he was suddenly thrust with power and wealth.
The coat of triumph
Through God’s providence, Joseph was finally called to Pharaoh’s presence to interpret his dreams (Gen 41:9-15). Joseph was always grateful for God’s grace and mercy towards Him (c.f. Gen 39:9) and gave the credit and glory to God for the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams (Gen 41:16). This is where he was given his third coat – the vestures of fine linen bestowed upon him by Pharaoh (Gen 41:42). Contrary to the saying, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, Joseph’s tribulations had purified him of the corruption and trappings of power. He was no longer the haughty, fault-finding youth that he was at 17, but he was now a matured man of God who put himself in others’ shoes (Gen 42:24; 43:30; 45:1; 50:17), and was humble enough to forgive those who had wronged him (Gen 45:5; 50:21).
How have we matured in the faith? Are we more patient and forgiving towards others? Just as Jesus told Peter, “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luk 22:32), the strong Christians “ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Rom 15:1). Rather than wanting our way or expecting to be served, we should be giving way to and serving younger Christians as we mature spiritually (Mat 20:25-28). Even though Joseph’s family made obeisance to him just as he dreamed, he was the one serving them (Gen 45:10-11; 47:12; 50:21).
The 3 coats of Joseph can be aptly summed up by Jacob’s prophecy and blessing upon Joseph – the coat of tranquillity (Gen 49:22), the coat of tribulation (Gen 49:23-24), the coat of triumph (Gen 49:25-26). There is a saying, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.” No matter what problems we are beset with in life, let us have full confidence that the Lord will always make a way out for His people, just as He did for Joseph (1Co 10:13).