Joseph’s coat of many colors is one of the most popular Bible stories for children. Learning as a child, you probably only focused on how it made Joseph’s brothers become green-eyed monsters.
But as an adult, revisiting this story is making me realize that there is so much more to this saga. It is an account of love, loss, favoritism, hurt, hatred and revenge. It touches issues such as parenting, sibling relationships, and of course, faith.
But it is also a story of hope, the kind of hope that only God’s eyes can see for wretched humanity.
Where in the Bible does it talk about Joseph’s coat of many colors?
The Bible verses which talk about Joseph’s coat are
- Genesis 37:3
- Genesis 37:31-35
Summary of Joseph coat of many colors story
Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob but the first biological son of Jacob’s second wife Rachel.
He loved Rachel so much more than Leah but Rachel died.
As a result he cherished Joseph and loved him more than his older sons. To show his love and favor, he got a robe for Joseph.
The brothers knew what this robe represented so they hated Joseph.
It didn’t help that some time after, Joseph had two dreams which suggested that the meaning behind the robe might actually come true.
They were verbally abusive towards Joseph and mistreated him severely.
What happened to Joseph’s coat of many colors?
Genesis 37:31-34 tells the story of what became of the robe.
After they sold Joseph into slavery, his brothers killed a goat and dipped the robe in its blood.
They brought the garment home and presented it to Jacob under the pretense that Joseph had vanished leaving only the bloody robe.
They stood back and allowed Jacob to draw his own conclusions about what happened to Joseph.
Jacob concluded that an animal killed and ate his son. We don’t know if he kept the robe or destroyed it. But we do know he mourned very deeply and would not allow anyone to console him.
Jacob would not find out that his sons lied to him until 20 years later.
What colors were in Joseph’s coat of many colors?
Scholars disagree a lot about what colors were in Joseph’s coat. Some argue that it was actually striped and only had two colors. Others say the phrase “many colors” should actually refer to the design of the garment (more on this later) rather than the colors.
Whatever the case, it is the significance of the coat that we are interested in.
So let’s talk about that….
What is the meaning of Joseph’s coat?
To our modern eyes, giving a piece of clothing is a perfectly harmless gift.
Not so in Bible times.
When Jacob gave Joseph the coat of many colors, his actions had very deep meaning.
Let me explain.
There is something you should know about clothing in Bible times. Clothing represented social status.
Keep that in mind as we go along.
Again, get rid of your modern view of a coat.
What did Joseph’s coat of many colors represent?
First, a few details about the coat of many colors.
Joseph’s coat was said to be more like a tunic made from wool or silk. The coat is believed to stretch to the wrist and to the ankles and was maybe very well ornately decorated, meaning, it had jewels sewn into it.
Only someone with a certain type of privilege would wear such a garment. Think royalty.
This piece of clothing was not worn by anyone doing active physical work or by anyone in the working class.
In fact people wearing a coat like this were those who watched those doing hard physical work.
The coat that Jacob gave to Joseph was a sign of favor. Jacob basically gave Joseph the status of a prince. Joseph was getting preferential treatment.
And there is more.
The coat of many colors indicated to Joseph’s brothers that he was more than likely going to receive the birthright.
Consider that Joseph was son #11. There were 10 sons ahead of him and the birthright belonged to the first of them, who was Reuben.
But, Reuben had sex with his father’s concubine therefore he lost his right to his birthright.
Therefore, as the first son of Jacob’s second wife, Joseph was now in line to receive the blessing. This must have made the other brothers very unhappy campers.
When we consider all of these background details we realize that Joseph’s coat of many colors was a great thing for him. For him, it represented unconditional love and favor from his father. But to his brothers it represented a lack of love, affection, and attention from their father.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the very same idea is presented. When the lost son returns, his father gives him a robe, among other things.
That robe had great significance in the context of Jewish culture of the time.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Lessons from the Parable of the Prodigal Son
Other thoughts about the meaning of Joseph’s coat of many colors
Although Jacob gave Joseph the coat out of an abundance of love and from a place of favoritism, there could be more to it, just because God works in mysterious ways.
Consider that the robe represented someone of elevated social status or royalty.
When you put this robe with Joseph’s two dreams, we can see what God was hinting at.
The coat was a partial foreshadowing of Joseph’s future as prince in Egypt. Even in Jacob’s misguided parenting, God was allowing His plan to unfold.
To Joseph’s brothers this robe represented the kind of love they never got from their father, the hatred they felt for Joseph, and the hurt they felt towards their father for never being loved as much as Joseph.
The bloodied robe was meant to avenge the love they always yearned for but never got.
For Jacob, the coat became a symbol of loss and no doubt a loss that brought back terrible memories – the loss of Rachel.
3 Parenting lessons from the story of Joseph’s coat of many colors
There are some serious lessons that parents can learn from this story.
The gifting of this coat was just the symptom of major personal and family problems on the part of Jacob.
Grief can affect parenting
The first lesson from the story of Joseph’s coat of many colors has to do with something many people don’t like to talk about: grief. How losing a loved one can severely affect us.
Joseph was the first biological son of the wife Jacob really loved, Rachel.
If you are familiar with the story, you would know that Jacob fell in love with Rachel the moment he laid eyes on her.
He worked 14 years for her dowry and those years seemed and a few days for him. But when it was time to have children, Rachel couldn’t get pregnant.
By the time Joseph was born, Jacob was considered an old man.
While Joseph was still quite young, Rachel died in child’s birth.
This broke Jacob’s heart. Till his dying day, he never recovered from her death.
Following her death, Jacob kept Joseph close to him. So close that everyone knew he loved Joseph more than he loved his other sons.
Even in her death, Jacob still favored Rachel through the way he treated Joseph.
Another thing to consider is that Jacob knew his other 10 sons. They could be murderous. After all, they did kill an entire village of men to avenge the rape of their sister Dinah.
Jacob knew that if they had the right motivation, Joseph could fall victim to their evil hearts. Losing his wife was enough. The thought of losing his son was too much.
Joseph was a small part of the beloved wife he lost and he tried to protect and nurture it. Giving Joseph the coat of many colors was a sign of how much Jacob spoiled and favored him.
Unfortunately, Jacob did not realize he had other children who needed his affection and attention and special gifts just as much.
If you are raising children alone because of losing your spouse or even losing a child, watch out for those thoughts and feelings that cause you to keep your kids too close or ignore the ones who are still alive.
Favoritism can destroy sibling relationships
The second lesson from the story of Joseph’s coat of many colors has to do with something that parents (even Christians) are unknowingly guilty of: favoritism.
It would appear that Jacob did not allow Joseph to do the kind of labor his brothers had to do. His father treated him like a prince.
Think of how Jacob sent Joseph to go search for his brothers and he got lost.
If he was out there in the fields working, he would have no need to go looking for them.
Imagine the heat and cold they had to battle as they tended the family’s livestock day and night all the time while Joseph got to stay in the cool of the day and sleeping in a warm bed at night.
And to make matters worse, Jacob used Joseph as his little spy and Joseph did not seem to have great news to tell his father about his brothers.
Why would anyone be happy with this situation? This is a classic Cinderella story with a few alterations.
His father’s favoritism aroused jealousy in the hearts of his other sons.
That jealousy turned to hatred. And they verbally mistreated Joseph terribly.
When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Genesis 37:4
Parents can stifle and even kill the God-ordained purpose of their children
This next lesson from the story of Joseph’s coat of many colors has to do with a modern type of parent trend that is popular among the middle and upper class.
Have you ever heard of helicopter parenting?
Even Christian parents are guilty of this mortal sin against the children.
It’s where a parent is so involved in the life of their child that the child does not get an opportunity to learn to think for themselves or manage their own lives.
Something similar was going on with Jacob and Joseph.
Jacob kept Joseph close. There is nothing wrong with keeping your child close. But the closeness can be too much.
Joseph had a special calling on his life. He was called to visionary leadership.
But because his father sheltered him so much, Joseph was hardly getting opportunities to develop the skills that would align with his giftedness.
Even a gifted pianist needs to practice.
Although it was far from favorable, getting sold into slavery forced Joseph to stand on his own, think on his own, and develop his skills.
God could now get the chance to give him various positions where he could flex his leadership muscles. First in Potiphar’s house then in the prison.
Believe it or not, all of those experiences were to prepare him to be the second in command in Egypt.
2 Life lessons from the story of Joseph’s coat of many colors
Joseph’s family was just like our families today.
A hot mess.
Full of drama and dysfunction.
And that’s why we can look to it for guidance.
There is much to lose when people are not humble
The first life lesson from the story of Joseph’s coat of many colors is about something that seems so rare nowadays: humility.
It’s one thing that Joseph was favored by his father and Jacob did not hide this. We like to think that Joseph was a humble, innocent 17 year old boy.
He was not.
He was Jacob’s favorite son. And he knew it. Joseph became puffed up. Prideful. Arrogant. And a bit of self-righteousness too.
Joseph was a tattletale. He was all too happy to bring back a bad report on his brothers. Maybe because he wanted to please his father.
He was not mindful of his brothers’ feelings about how differently they were treated and how they must have longed for that kind of attention from their father.
Joseph’s attitude helped to fuel the fire of jealousy that was already in his brothers’ hearts.
Joseph’s brothers were not in the right for selling him. But Joseph had his part to play in destroying the relationship with his brothers.
No matter the favor that you receive, stay humble. There is nothing to lose for the humble person.
Jealousy can make you destroy your blessing
The second life lesson from the story of Joseph’s coat of many colors is about something that can creep up on you, whether within your own heart or through the actions of someone else.
Joseph’s coat of many colors was the straw that broke the camel’s back for his brothers.
Jealousy is a very powerful emotion. It can actually drive people to commit murder.
There are many such examples in the Bible.
- Cain killed his brother Abel
- Saul literally hunted David to kill him
- The Pharisees were jealous of Jesus’ influence so they killed him
Here are a couple of quick Scriptures about the wicked power of jealously:
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:16 NIV)
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. (James 4:1-2 NIV)
The thing with jealousy is that it makes people unable to think rationally.
They become blinded by their emotions so much that they cannot accept the reality of the situation or see any positivity in it or think about the power of forgiveness instead of revenge.
This was exactly the case with Joseph and his brothers.
Joseph’s gift of dreams was not appreciated by them. They were so blinded by jealousy that they could not discern how important Joseph’s dreams were.
So, the brothers sold their blessing.
Joseph was chosen by God to save the world from starvation during a 7-year drought.
Joseph’s gift of dreams and leadership allowed him to make Egypt the strongest economic world power of his day.
This blessing more than likely belonged to his Israelite family in Canaan. But alas, God had to relocate Joseph to protect the dream. Canaan should have become the economic world power.
Joseph’s brother’s would not realize their mistake for 20 long, guilt-ridden years.
By the time they returned home, they did so in the form of their descendants 400 years later.
And then they had to fight to get back the land which they had previously occupied and which God had promised them would be flowing with milk and honey.
For the most part, jealousy can be a dangerous thing.
Watch out for those who you perceive are harboring these feelings towards you. Pray for God to reveal such people to you and ask Him to protect you from their evil plans.
2 Faith lessons from the story of Joseph’s coat of many colors
Joseph stands out as one of the giants of faith in Scripture.
He made it to the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith.
So there’s lots to learn from him about journeying with God.
God still uses the imperfect
The first and definitely most encouraging faith lesson from the story of Joseph’s coat of many colors is about the character of God.
So we have seen that Joseph was a spoiled, annoying, proud and pesky little brother.
But, regardless of how Joseph was, he had the gift of dreams and leadership.
God never took that away from him. You see, of all his 10 brothers before him, Joseph still had the purest heart. He still had the strongest sense of integrity. And he still had the makings of someone who could become a formidable warrior of faith.
Joseph was far from perfect. There was much he needed to learn. But God not only looked at his present. He also looked at Joseph’s future.
God knew that with the right kind of environment, Joseph would rise above the things which hampered his ability to grow and flourish.
Which takes me to my next point….
God prepares us for purpose, sometimes in very unpleasant ways
As I said before, Joseph was not a humble guy. But when he was sold into slavery that changed really fast.
He might have been the favored and prized child at home but slaves don’t get to be recognized or cherished, at least not in the way Joseph’s father treated him.
Joseph became a nobody in Egypt.
He was not the apple of anybody’s eye.
There was nobody to cover or protect him from the blows of other people.
At least, nobody but God.
He was now in a situation where he had to work, or else. God provided him with opportunities to develop his skills.
That wasn’t happening at home because of his father’s favoritism.
But as a slave in Egypt, he had to humble himself and do good work in order to distinguish himself.
Most importantly, Joseph learned to lean on his heavenly Father instead of on his earthly father’s unbalanced parenting. He got to develop his own spiritual life, independent of his father.
And all that was preparation for his purpose.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: 11 Encouraging Lessons from the Life of Joseph
Final words about Joseph’s coat of many colors
There is so much more than meets the eye about this story. We have learned that Joseph was more than what we thought him to be.
We have seen that Jacob had his own failures as a parent. We have seen how the power of jealousy can destroy relationships and destinies.
But we have also seen how God constantly shows up even in the face of human error. And THAT is an absolute blessing.
Teaching kids about Joseph’s coat of many colors
This Joseph’s coat of many colors story is quite a popular one for kids to learn.
And since the coat was given to Joseph when he was in his teen years, the story is perfect.
I thought I would include some resources to help you put a lesson together whether for church or home.
You definitely want to have a Joseph coat of many colors printable coloring page. This collection has 30 for you to choose from.
Then you can consider some crafts. KGM Crafts has a few fun ideas that you can check out.
And you know a music and song ties everything together, right? Check out the YouTube channel for the musical product Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for some ideas.
If you want the biblical learning to be entertaining as well, a really great way to do that is with movies. You can check out this animated movie.