The Coat of Many Colors
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: these we always remember as the three fathers of the Jews the patriarchs. Isaac was the son of Abraham, and Jacob the son of Isaac.
Jacob had another name: Israel. That is why the Jewish people are sometimes called "The Children of Israel." All the Jews remember Jacob as their ancestor.
We remember Jacob as the last of the great desert chieftains of the Jews. He left the desert and brought his camels, his flocks of sheep and goats, and all his many possessions into the Land of Canaan. This land is called Israel today. When Jacob settled there, it became the land of the Jews. That was more than three thousand years ago.
Jacob had a very large family. There were his wife, his sons and daughters, and their husbands and wives and children. And there were his servants and their wives and children, too. All were considered a part of the family.
It was a large family, indeed. Jacob had twelve sons. Their names were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin.
Their names are listed according to their ages. So we see that Reuben was the oldest and Benjamin the youngest. Now listen to the wonderful story of Joseph, the second youngest of Jacob's sons.
When Joseph was seventeen years old he was Jacob's favorite among the twelve sons. He was handsome and he was good. His father, Jacob, had made him a coat of many colors.
When Joseph's brothers saw this beautiful coat, they became jealous. They knew how much more Jacob loved him than he did them.
Joseph told his brothers about two dreams he In one dream he and his brothers were binding sheaves of wheat in the field. That is, they were tying the long stalks of wheat into bundles.
Joseph's bundle of wheat stood upright. The other bundles of wheat bowed to it. Joseph's brothers thought he was showing them how much better and important he was than they were. This made them even more angry at him.
In the second dream, the sun and the moon and eleven stars all bowed down to Joseph. When he told his brothers this they said he would like to rule even his father and mother. They felt that the sun and moon in the dream stood for their father and mother.
Once again, their anger toward Joseph grew. Now they were more jealous than ever.
Not long after that, Joseph's brothers were grazing their flocks some miles from their home. Jacob sent Joseph to see if all was well with them. When they saw Joseph coming, they decided to kill him.
But Reuben, the oldest brother, did not want Joseph to be killed. He begged his brothers not to do it, but to put him in a deep well, instead. Then Reuben planned to return later and release Joseph.
But while Reuben was gone, the other brothers saw a camel caravan coming, bound for Egypt. They sold Joseph to the leader of the caravan for twenty pieces of silver. Now Joseph was a slave.
When Reuben returned and found Joseph had been sold into slavery, he was heartbroken. But there was nothing he could do. The brothers killed a goat and poured its blood on Joseph's coat of many colors. Then they went home and showed it to Jacob, their father. They told him Joseph had been killed by a wild beast.
And Jacob wept for Joseph whom he loved best of all his children.
In the land of Egypt Joseph was sold as a slave to an Egyptian named Potiphar. Potiphar was wealthy and the captain of the King of Egypt's guard.
As time passed, Potiphar was more and more impressed by Joseph's wisdom. He turned over to him the management of his home and property.
From a mere slave, Joseph became an important person in the Land of Egypt.
Joseph had grown into a wise and handsome man. Potiphar's wife became jealous of Joseph's success. She was a very vain woman.
She wanted Joseph to admire her beauty. But Joseph would not betray the trust Potiphar had placed in him.
In her anger, Potiphar's wife accused Joseph of turning against his master. Joseph could not prove this was untrue, so Potiphar had him thrown into prison.
But even in prison Joseph's wisdom and beauty charmed the prison guards. They came to value Joseph greatly.
He was the kind of man people turned to for help and advice. When the King of Egypt's chief butler and baker were thrown into prison, they became Joseph's friends.
One night the chief butler and the chief baker each dreamed a dream. They asked Joseph whether he could tell them what the dreams meant.
All Joseph's hardships had made him modest and gentle. He said that perhaps God would help him understand the dreams.
Then he told the butler that in three days he would be released from prison and restored to his high place. But he told the poor baker that in three days he would be hanged.
What he told them came to pass. In three days the butler was released and restored to his place in the King's court. But on the same day the baker was hanged.
The King of Egypt was called Pharaoh. At this time Egypt was the most powerful nation on earth. But Pharaoh had dreams like other people dreams which troubled him.
He dreamed he stood on the bank of the River Nile. Out of the river came seven fat cows and they began to graze. Then seven lean, wretched cows came out of the river and they swallowed up the seven fat cows.
Then Pharaoh had a second dream. In this dream he saw a tall stalk of wheat, and on it were seven fat, healthy kernels.
Then a thin, wretched stalk of wheat sprang up from the ground. There were seven dry kernels on this thin stalk, and they devoured the seven fat, healthy kernels.
Pharaoh was very troubled by these two dreams, and he called in his wisest magicians to tell him what they meant. In those days magicians were important men in Egypt. But none of Pharaoh's magicians knew what the dreams meant.
Then the King's butler remembered how Joseph had explained his dream in prison. He told Pharaoh about this and Pharaoh asked that Joseph be brought to him.
Joseph was taken from prison, washed, given clean clothes and brought Pharaoh.
The King told Joseph his dream.
"Can you explain it to me?" he asked.
"God will give me the power to understand it," Joseph answered.
He told Pharaoh that the fat cows and healthy kernels of wheat stood for seven years of good harvests in Egypt, with plenty of food. The lean cows and the lean kernels of wheat were seven years of poor crops and famine, when no food would grow in Egypt. Joseph told Pharaoh this was a warning to Egypt, so there would be time to prepare.
Pharaoh and has magicians were amazed at what Joseph had told them. They believed him and asked him what to do.
He told them that for seven years food must be set aside and stored. Then, when the seven years of famine came, there would be enough food and the people would not starve. He said Pharaoh must find a man wise enough to take charge of all this.
Pharaoh decided Joseph was the wisest man in Egypt, and he appointed him to take charge of the storing of food. Only the King himself had more power now than Joseph.
For seven years Joseph built great warehouses and filled them with food. He did this in every city in Egypt, and the people loved him. They knew that he would save them from death by hunger.
When the seven good, rich years were over, the seven dry, bare years began. The fields dried up. Nothing grew. There was no rain. Even the grass died and the cattle starved for want of food.
But in Egypt, because of Joseph's wisdom, there was food enough. In Egypt alone there was no hunger.
In the Land of Canaan where Jacob, Joseph's father, still lived with Joseph's eleven brothers, there was famine and hunger. It was known everywhere that there was food in Egypt, so Jacob sent ten of his sons to Egypt to buy food.
But he kept his youngest son, Benjamin, with him, because he loved him so much. He was afraid something might happen to Benjamin on the long journey into Egypt.
The ten brothers of Joseph came into Egypt and appeared before him. They said they wanted to buy food.
Joseph knew them at once, but they did not know him. He had been a boy of seventeen when they sold him as a slave. He was now thirty-seven years old.
He was not angry at them. He remembered how vain he had been with his coat of many colors. Now his heart filled with love for his brothers. He sold them the food they wanted, and he could hardly talk to them without weeping.
Yet he felt they must be punished a little. He made them leave Simeon as a prisoner in Egypt. And he told them not to come back unless they brought their youngest brother, Benjamin, with them.
When they returned to their father without Simeon, Jacob's heart was truly broken. This was the second son he had lost. He was an old man and this new loss was almost more than he could bear.
When the food was finally gone, he told the brothers they must go back to Egypt and buy more. But they said it would be useless unless they took Benjamin. The great master of Egypt's stores of food had warned them.
At first Jacob refused. But at last their hunger was such that he gave in and Benjamin went to Egypt with his brothers.
When Joseph saw Benjamin, his little brother, he had to turn away to hide his tears. Yet he felt his brothers must be punished a little more. So, after he sold them food, he hid his favorite silver cup in Benjamin's bag. Then he sent soldiers after the brothers.
When they brought the brothers back to Joseph, he told them that as Benjamin had taken his silver cup, he must stay in Egypt. He would be Joseph's slave.
The brothers pleaded with Joseph to take any one of them instead. They told him that Jacob, their old father, would die if they came back without Benjamin.
At this Joseph could hide himself from them no longer. He burst into tears and told them who he was. He told them how he loved them. He took them into his great house and gave them gifts of clothes and silver. He told them they should return to the Land of Canaan and bring Jacob and all his family to live in Egypt. He promised they would be given a wonderful place to live.
How great was Jacob's joy when the eleven brothers returned to Canaan! When they told him that his beloved son, Joseph, was alive, he could not believe his good fortune.
Then the whole family took their tents and their camels and their herds of cattle and traveled down to Egypt.
Joseph embraced his father, Jacob, and gave him many beautiful gifts. He also gave him land on which to live.
For many years after that, the Jews, the people of Jacob, or the Children of Israel as they also were called, lived contentedly in Egypt.
So ends the story of Joseph and his brothers. And there is something very important in this story to remember. Jacob had twelve sons, and at the beginning of the book we were told their names.
These twelve men, Joseph, Benjamin, and the ten others, are said to have founded the twelve tribes of Israel from whom the Jewish people are descended.
The beautiful story we just have read is not just a story. It is also a part of the history and legends of our people, the Jewish people.