THE COAT OF MANY COLORS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-27-58 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Coat of Many Colors. In our preaching through the Book of Genesis we have come to the thirty-seventh chapter. And as you follow this message you can easily do it if you will open your Bible to the Book of Genesis: Genesis chapter 37. The thirty-seventh chapter begins with “Jacob dwelling land wherein his father was a stranger in the Land of Canaan.” Then the second verse, “These are the generations of Jacob, Joseph being seventeen years old was feeding the flock with his brethren, with his brethren.” Then the rest of the Book of Genesis is a recounting of the story of Joseph.
Now there is twice as much in this Bible about Joseph as there is about Abraham. Does that mean that Joseph is more important than Abraham? That Joseph is a greater character than the founding patriarch? No. It does not mean that at all.
Unquestionably Abraham outside of Moses is the greatest character in the old Bible. Abraham is the father of the faithful. Whether of Islam whether of Judaism or Christianity all go back to Abraham. Then why is it that in the providence of God and under the inspiration of the Spirit of the Lord there is twice as much about Joseph as there is about Abraham?
The reason is found in the purpose of God in forming the Bible in collecting these books through these centuries in unfolding the divine plan and the divine story. All of this is told about Joseph twice as much as recounted about Abraham because Joseph’s life is the life of our Lord. It is a dress rehearsal for the great drama that should unfold by-and-by. It is a type of the great anti-type who is yet to come. The life of Joseph is the life of the Lord Messiah. And what we find in the story of Joseph is an artist’s previous sketch outline of the great portrait that the Holy Spirit shall draw by-and-by in the blameless life of Christ our Lord.
So in the economy of God as the Spirit wrote the Holy Scriptures, as He allocated this for that and this space for that; wherever there is a type, wherever there is a picture an adumbration, a harbinger, an announcement, a rehearsal, a story, an object, an incident that pictures the Great Messiah that is yet to come, there you will find the Holy Spirit of God hovering. There you will find the Spirit of God writing at great length.
For example after we finish the life of Joseph, finish the Book of Genesis we shall immediately enter into the life of the great lawgiver Moses. When you read the life of Moses you will find page, after page, after page, after page, after page almost book after book of those meticulous minutiae that delineate that sacrificial system. Why does God take time out and the Holy Spirit inspire the sacred writer chapter after chapter in all of those things of the Levitical sacrificial system? The reason lies in the great purpose of God as He is preparing this world for and giving to us in the cross of Christ our blood-bought heaven-sent redemption.
Now the life of Joseph is just another one of those examples of the inspiration of the Spirit of the Lord as they delineate here before us in the old Bible the picture; in the New Testament the substance of the giving of Himself God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s own life and person in Jesus Christ our Lord. So as we go through the life of Joseph we are going through the life and story in history of Jesus our Savior; His blameless character, His beautiful pure life, and soul, and heart, and mind without spot, or stain, or blemish.
Sent to His brethren, hated by His brethren, sold by His brethren, delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, down in the pit and the dungeon, exalted to the great high throne, feeding the people, appearing unto his brethren, saving His family according to the flesh, we will speak of it as we go on. But all of it you will find to read a picture, a delineation, a story of the life of our Lord.
All right with those few words of introduction we begin now in the life of Joseph. The second verse, “These are the generations of Joseph, Joseph being seventeen years old.” The lad was born in Haran on the other side of the Euphrates River. He lived in Haran with his mother the beloved Rachel and his father and the family for about let’s say seven years. And when the lad was about seven years old they fled from the face of Laban.
I suppose young Joseph could remember that flight out of Haran across the Euphrates River across the waste of the sands of the desert and so finally the mountains of Gilead. I would suppose the boy could easily remember. By that time he must have been about say nine years old. I would think he could easily remember the panic that spread through the camp of the family when the news arrived that Esau was on his way furious and fast with four hundred armed men.
I would think the boy most and deep could remember that awful trial that came to the family at Shechem when his brothers in cruelty and bitterness slew every male citizen of the little city. And Jacob fled from the face of the terrible wrath and avenging anger of all the Canaanites ‘round about. And I would think the boy never, never forgot when they finally came to Bethel and there Jacob recounted the story of the angel letter. And he saw his father rebuild a fallen altar and call upon the name of the God of Bethel and renew there the covenant vows that bound Jacob and bound his son Joseph forever to the God of Abraham and Isaac.
Then just beyond, I suppose the boy must have been say ten years old when the camp was cast hurriedly at Ephrath which is the City of David where Ruth later met Boaz where the son of Jesse later tended the sheeps, the sheep and flocks of his father. There the beloved Rachel that could go on no longer and those hushed whispers around the camp as the great final decision of life and death was made. And it was death. And the boy was left bereaved bereft in sorrow in that camp where later he became a stranger, so alone and so hated. I suppose no greater sorrow could have befallen the boy than that his mother died and he about ten years of age.
The father then went on down to the vale of Hebron where Isaac had lived for so long almost two hundred years where Abraham had lived before Isaac. And now Jacob is building his home there in the vale of Hebron. And the boy is by the side of Jacob for those following say, seven years. So he has come now in the story to his seventeen years and he feeds the flock of Jacob with his brethren. Now the Scriptures say Israel loved Joseph more than all of his children because he was the son of his old age the beloved Rachel who now is dead. And he made him a coat of many colors.
That is very fascinating just to read that. “And he made him a coat of many colors.” That translation came to us from the Septuagint which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures; and from the Septuagint into the vulgate—the Latin vulgate; and then finally into the Textus Receptus and into our King James Version, “and he made him a coat of many colors.”
I have read several commentaries descriptions of this and the men are very eloquent in delineating that coat, describing it the beautiful strips of silk and fine linen of the different colors. And they have found such coats in the tombs of the buried dead of Egypt and other places. Well, let me read to you the Hebrew of that because there is a something here in that coat that had a tremendous influence in the attitude and in the spirit of those brothers.
Now the Hebrew of that is this. You listen to it, ve·'a·sah. You heard that word asah lots of times because when we were preaching in the first chapter of Genesis we spoke much about bara and asah, words translated “create” in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis but very different. Bara is to make something out of nothing. Asah, Hebrew when you say it like that is asah. Asah is to make something you already have. All right here is your asah. ve·'a·sah lo kethoneth passim; you have it translated here, “a coat of many colors.”
Now let me translate that where it is very simple. The words are just like the abc’s. Wa”is “an.” Asah is that word “to make out of something,” wa asah. Lo, “for him,” and he made for him kethoneth. This is translated “a garment.” We are going to translate it really “tunic” in a minute, kethoneth, “a garment.” Passim; all right, there is your distinguishing substantive passim. The Aramaic pas refers to the extremities of the limbs, the feet and the hands. Im wherever you come across an im in Hebrew it is plural—a seraph, a seraphim; a cherub, a cherubim—that im is just plural.
So it says here that Jacob made for Joseph a garment that reached to the ankles and to the wrists. That’s just what the Hebrew is, “reached to the extremities.” Well, what did that mean and why was that such a bitter thing for his brethren to take?
All right, when you look at it, it will be very, very evident. This is what happened: Jacob bought for Joseph a beautiful white tunic, embroidered gorgeously around the skirt and the sleeves and the edges. And that beautiful flowing robe that reached down to the ankles and down to the wrist had full sleeves; that beautiful gorgeous robe was a piece of raiment of clothing that was worn by noble men’s sons, kings’ sons; by the rich, the wealthy, the affluent, the opulent. It was worn by those who did not have to labor, to toil. They walked through the streets with a beautiful flowing tunic, a man of leadership of wealth. He did not have to work with his hands.
Now the other garments that were worn by laboring people were short at the knee. They did not go below the knees. They were either sleeveless or the sleeve was cut off above the elbow. And they wore those garments, dull colored because in labor a beautiful flowing tunic was just an impossible accouterment. So a laboring man was dressed in a short garment; and he’d wade to the morass, or he’d clamor up a high mountain, or he’d bear the sheep in his arms, or he’d fight a beast of prey. But that beautiful flowing coat was for the man who did not toil, who did not labor.
Now it is very evident that Jacob looked upon that son Joseph as the pride of his heart, the apple of his eye, the joy of his soul. And when those brethren saw that their father had bought for him that beautiful flowing tunic they said “Well, so we are going to slave, and to toil, and to labor, and to sweat, and to die. And that son is going to live like a king’s son. He’s going to be a man of parts and walk around in his flowing robes while we bear the heat and the toil of the day.” And they hated him yet the more.
Well, I think like you would suppose Jacob made a great mistake there. Any time parents, any time parents show partiality to any child trouble is ahead. I suppose that Jacob made a mistake there but Joseph was undoubtedly set apart. He was different. There was a strange something; nobility of face, of look, of stature, of demeanor, of deportment, of presence about Joseph that was like that of a born king.
He was different, he was set apart. He did not share—look in that second verse in the last part of it—he did not share in the wicked deeds of the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his half brothers. Joseph was just different; he walked. He lived different, he talked different, he was different; Joseph was set apart. And the father having loved the boy as he did the father, also made him distinguished and apart.
That’s our Lord Jesus. Why did they hate him as the psalmist said speaking of our Messiah? “And they hated Me without a cause.” [Psalm 69:4] As Jesus testified of Himself, “The world hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” [John 7:7] Why did they hate him; the leaders in religion the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the scribes, and the elders? Somehow He was over and above them. Somehow He was different. God set Him apart. God pointed Him out. The favor of the Lord was upon Him.
And when the scribes, and Sadducees, and elders, and priests, and the Sanhedrin met together they said, “Look. The whole world goes after Him. If we do not interdict it the Romans will come and take away our place first and our nation.” They were envious of Him. Isn’t that what Pilate said for he knew that for envy they had delivered Him unto death? They were envious of him. He was different. He was set apart. He was more than the rulers could take so they hated Him. They despised Him.
And they hated Joseph yet the more. He brought the evil report unto his father concerning these brothers, these sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. That reminds me of the furious Ahab who said concerning Micaiah the prophet, “I hate him.” I quote Ahab’s exact words. “I hate him because he doth prophesy of me nothing good but always evil. I hate him.” [2 Chronicles 18:7] And that’s what happened to Joseph they hated him. He never entered into the foul, dark, sour, wicked life of those brothers. He was separate and apart and he walked that way. And he talked that way. And he looked that way. And he was that way. And now to make it final the father dressed him that way; a king’s son.
Well, I say Jacob made a mistake I suppose. But in my human nature I don’t blame him. I don’t blame him. If I could have boy like Joseph and could buy him a robe made out of gold, and silver, and precious stones I’d like to do it. Oh, this boy Joseph; this lad Joseph.
All right, we are never going to get anywhere if we don’t start. So Joseph is alone there in the camp. And he’s poured from vessel to vessel, hated and despised by his brethren. Now let’s start over here in the thirteenth verse. While the lad is there in Hebron with his father—he has the younger boy Benjamin with him—and now the seventeen year-old youth Joseph. Then all of the other nine are up there in Shechem.
Now when you read here, “And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? Come I will send thee unto them. And Joseph said to him, Here am I.” [Genesis 37:13] Then said, “I Here am I. In the role of the Book it is written of Me.” [Psalm 40:7, Hebrews 10:7] The father said to the son, “I will send thee to thy brethren.” And he said, “Here am I.”
“And the father said to him, Go I pray thee see whether it be well with thy brethren and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron.” [Genesis 37:14] So God sent Him out of the courts of heaven…and he came to bitter, and cruel, and violent, and wicked Shechem.
It is very obvious why the father was anxious about those sons; he had not heard from them in weeks, and weeks, and weeks. The flocks and herds were so great that the pasture lands around Hebron could not support them. So those brethren went far, ranged far in order to find support for those flocks and herds.
And the father heard they were at Shechem. Shechem is that bitter place where Simeon and Levi slew all of the males in the city, that terrible place where Dinah was violated—you remember that terrible story—from whose face, the anger of the Canaanites, Jacob fled away. That’s the place where Jacob heard that they had finally gone to find pasture land.
So he says to his son Joseph, “Go find them. Go find them and bring me word again. I’m concerned about them; they are heavy on my heart.” And the boy gladly goes. He volunteers. And he said, “Here am I.” So the son comes, a king’s son looked like a king, talked like a king, lived like a king. He was a king. So the lad came seeking his lost brothers, and they saw him. And they said, “Look. This is the heir, let us slay him that we may seize upon the inheritance.”
“He came unto His own and His own received Him not.” [John 1:11] Look at this eighteenth verse. “And when they saw him afar off even before he came near unto them they conspired against him to slay him,” to kill him. There he is. There He is. And they had a meeting of the Sanhedrin, and the chief priests were there, and the leaders of the Sadducees and Pharisees, and the schools of Gamaliel and Hillel, Shammai, they were there. And they said “Let’s kill Him. Let’s slay Him. This is the Heir.” And they conspired against Him to slay Him. “And it came to pass,” verse 23, “and it came to pass when Joseph was come unto his brethren that they stripped Joseph.”
“And they parted my garments among them.” [Psalm 22:18] And He died naked. It’s a gracious thing the artists do to cover up the nakedness of our Lord on the cross but that’s a gracious thing that the artist does. He was stripped, He died naked.
And they stripped Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colors, his beautiful tunic, the king’s robe, “And they took him, put him into a pit”—into the grave down there to die. “And they sat down to eat bread. And sitting down they watched him there,” almost word for word, deed for deed.
In the recounting of this story here, you have just the plain unemotional prose of the writer; no embellishment, no description. It is only twenty-five years later, when those brethren are in the presence of that strange, regal ruler of the Pharaohs on the throne in the palace in Egypt that they say to one another, listen to them, listen to them. This is twenty-five years later, twenty-five years later—listen to those brethren, listen to them, “And they said one to another, we are verily guilty concerning our brother in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us and we would not hear.” [Genesis 42:21] Twenty-five years, it was as burning, as flaming, as cutting as sharp in their memory and in their souls as the day it happened. That boy, like a king’s son and those cruel men against that one boy took him and put in the pit to die.
And the boy cried; and his soul was in anguish. In their dreams they could see that tortured face. They could hear the wail of that voice in the cry of the night wind. Their father who mourned because he thought he was dead was happier than those brothers who knew that he was alive. The anguish and the torment of that memory; what they had done to their own brother. I can hear Joseph as he pleads for the sake of his father. I can hear him as he pleads by the ties of blood and of brotherhood. But they would not hear when they saw the anguish of his soul.
What is it the great fifty-third chapter of Isaiah says? “And He shall see of the anguish of His soul. He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.” [Isaiah 53:11] It is in the plan of God. God is preparing to save those brethren, cruel as they are, the whole household of Jacob, God is preparing to save it. And this is the divine plan: into that pit, sold for silver, a slave numbered among the transgressors that they might be saved and have bread to eat; might be given life.
You don’t know the Holy Word of God until first you begin to see in the heart of it and the center of it the story of it the meaning of it always is the cross of the Son of God, always leading toward that sacrificial death. “Ye shall see of the anguish of His soul and be satisfied.” Whenever you don’t place that in the center of God’s Word you make the same error the old ancient philosophers made when they thought the world was the center of the universe and not the sun. Therefore, to them the heavens were in confusion.
When you put aside God’s revelation that Christ came into the world to die for our sins; that He was the Lamb of God, He was no hero as such. He was no martyr for truth as such. He didn’t come just to give us a noble ideal. He didn’t come just to set a worthy example that we might be like Him. He came into this world to die for our condemned souls.
And the whole Book from the beginning to the end is the story of that sacrificial atonement of our Lord. And when you put that mission of Christ into the center of the Book you will understand its sacrificial system, you will understand its Levitical system, you will understand all of these types and stories of the Old Testament. And you will understand the great holy song of the angels and the saints of God in the world by and by. “And they sang a new song: Worthy art Thou. Worthy, worthy art Thou for Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us by Thy blood.” [Revelation 5:9] That is the center of the Book. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [Galatians 6:14] And they stripped Him of his regal garments and put Him in a pit—into the grave—to die. Ah, Joseph, Joseph!
Our blessed Savior and Lord Jesus, O Christ; such love, such constraining mercy appeal. Lord help us poor sinners. While we sing our song this morning, somebody you give his life to the Lord. Somebody you put his life in the church. However God shall say the word, lead the way, open the door, you come and stand by me. “Pastor I give you my hand. I give my heart to God,” a family of you come into the church. I do not make the appeal, it is of the Lord. As the Lord shall say you, “Come,” while we stand and while we sing.