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Why Were Joseph's Brothers so Jealous of Joseph's Coat of Many Colors?

  • Josie Siler Contributing Writer
  • 2021 4 Jan
Kid with a rainbow coat looking at a rainbow in the sky

When Joseph was 17 years old, his father Jacob gave him a beautiful coat that has gone down in history as one of the most memorable pieces of clothing ever made. The story of Joseph's coat of many colors is recorded in the first book of the Bible. People throughout history have recounted the story. It has even memorialized as a musical. Why all this fuss over a colorful coat? This true story is about so much more than a coat. It’s a story of family drama, jealousy, betrayal, and a bratty kid who grows up to save his people. Joseph’s coat of many colors is the spark that ignites a powder keg of emotions with historic consequences.

What Did Joseph's Coat of Many Colors Symbolize?

In the simplest sense, Joseph’s coat of many colors symbolized favor. It was a garment given to Joseph by his father Jacob. It wasn’t a work garment like his brothers would wear, rather an elaborate work of art that was made to stand out. It spoke of nobility, not hard work. It set him apart from his brothers in a way they didn’t appreciate. Who can blame them? Nobody likes to be the odd one out or the unfavored one. They were jealous and that jealousy would soon reach a tipping point.

Why Did Jacob Give Joseph's Coat of a Many Colors?

Jacob showed much favoritism to Joseph, but why? Genesis 37:3 (ESV) tells us, “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.” That seems simple enough; Jacob loved Joseph best. But there’s a history behind that love.

Joseph was the son of Jacob and Rachel. Jacob worked for Rachel’s father Laban for seven years to earn his bride. When the wedding night came, however, Joesph found that he was married to Rachel’s sister Leah instead. Laban’s deception cost Jacob another seven years of work in order to marry Rachel too. It was no secret Jacob loved Rachel best.

“When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31). So began years of sibling rivalry. Rachel gave her servant Bilhah to Jacob to bear children on her behalf. Soon Leah stopped having babies and gave her servant Zilpah to Jacob to bear children for her. “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach.’ And she called his name Joseph, saying, ‘May the LORD add to me another son’” (Genesis 30:22-24)!

What seems simple just got complicated. Jacob’s love for Joseph is the product of a history of deception, rivalry, bitterness, anger, hatred, and true love. And Jacob’s children watched it all play out in front of them. They saw how Jacob loved Rachel more than their mothers. They saw how when Joseph was born. He was the golden child, the one Jacob would always love more because Rachel was his mother and he was born in Jacob’s old age. I’m sure they saw Jacob spoil Joseph, while they were put to work.

Jacob gave Joseph a coat of many colors to show him how much he loved him. It was the beginning of the end of Joseph, or so Jacob though.

What Happened to Joseph's Coat of Many Colors?

Joseph’s beautiful coat of many colors was destroyed. A perfect storm of events leads up to the destruction of the coat and the ultimate betrayal. We read the story in Genesis 37.

Joseph is 17 years old. He brings a bad report back to his father about his brothers. Jacob makes him a coat of many colors. His brothers hate him because their father loves him more and they would not speak kindly to him.

Joseph has a dream and tells his brothers all about it, causing them to hate him even more. The dream showed they would all bow down to Joseph one day, suggesting Joseph would rule over them. Joseph has another dream and again can’t keep it to himself, causing his brothers to become even more jealous of him.

Soon enough Jacob sends Joseph out to the fields to check on his brothers as they work. Remember, Joseph had already brought back one bad report about some of his brothers, so they weren’t thrilled to see him coming. They decided to kill him when he arrived. The oldest brother, Reuben, talked them into throwing Joseph into a pit instead of murdering him.

“So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore” (Genesis 37:24).

Before Reuben could rescue him out of the pit, the rest of the brothers sold Joseph to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. Joseph was on his way to Egypt where his life would be forever changed.

But what to tell their father? Oh, never fear. the brothers had a plan. “Then they took Joseph's robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, ‘This we have found; please identify whether it is your son's robe or not.’ And he identified it and said, ‘It is my son's robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces’” (Genesis 37:31-33).

5 Lessons from Joseph's Coat of Many Colors

There’s so much we can learn from Joseph’s coat of many colors. This story, along with the rest of Joseph’s life, is one of my favorites. At face value, it appears to be a tragic story about a bratty teenager, evil brothers, and parents who showed way too much favoritism. But ultimately it’s a story of heroic redemption and forgiveness.

Here are five lessons we can learn from the first part of Joseph’s story and his coat of many colors.

Deception Will Ruin Us

The story really begins with Laban’s deception. If Jacob never married Leah, the rivalry for children and Jacob’s love wouldn’t have taken place and Jacob’s anger at Laban wouldn’t have been kindled. In time, Jacob took Leah, Rachel, the grandchildren, and a vast amount of livestock and fled. Laban chased them down and eventually a sort of peace was made, but after returning home, Laban never saw his family again.

Deceptions may seem small at the time, but one small deception often leads to another, and another, and before we know it deception has snowballed into something with much bigger consequences than we intended. Deceptions ruin us, but the truth sets us free.

Favoritism Will Cost Us

Ultimately the favoritism Jacob showed Rachel and then Joseph cost him the very son he loved so much. If he had shown that kind of love to every member of his family, it’s hard to believe his other sons would have sold Joseph into slavery.

We can have a favorite kind of coffee or a favorite coat but having a favorite child will cost us. Do your family members know how much you loved them? Do your kids know that you love them equally and fully? We can never say, “I love you” too much!

Jealousy Will Wreck Us

Many years later when Joseph is governor over the land of Egypt, his brothers come to buy grain from him during a time of famine. While there, we hear of their regret for selling Joseph into slavery as they talk about their guilt and the disaster that has come upon them. They feel it’s a reckoning for his blood. This passage in Genesis 42:18-24 shows that they haven’t forgotten what they did to Joseph. It’s as if they’ve been waiting all of these years for their punishment to come.

No good ever comes out of jealousy. It causes us to live in fear, make assumptions, and dread whatever is or isn’t to come. We can take a lesson from Joseph’s brothers here. Instead of letting jealousy wreak us, we can ask for God’s peace to take over that space in our hearts. When we trust Him with our lives, we don’t have to fall into the pit of jealousy and strife.

Boasting Will Humble Us

I have great respect for Joseph, but not so much as a teenager. God gave him some incredible dreams that showed his future. I think of Mary the mother of Jesus. She was a teenager too when an angel appeared to her and told her she’s going to be the mother of Jesus. She treasured it in her heart. Joseph, on the other hand, blabbed it to his brothers. Now, he could have been having an honest heart to heart with them, tone of voice can’t be read, but I tend to believe Joseph was bragging. He was boasting about the power he would have over his siblings one day. This boasting (probably while wearing his fancy new coat) got him in big trouble.

When we boast with pride or selfishness, we will be humbled too. Proverbs 16:8 tells us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” If we boast in anything or anyone, let us boast in the Lord.

God Can Change Us

Joseph made a few mistakes when he was a kid. He came from a family steeped in generations of sin and drama, yet God saw something in Him. God looked at Joseph and knew that He could use him for a great purpose. God did a mighty work in Joseph’s life and transformed him into a powerful man of God, a leader with the wisdom to save countless lives.

After the death of their father, Joseph’s brothers were afraid that Joseph would seek his revenge on them. But Joseph was a changed man. His words to his brothers are some of my favorites in all of Scripture. They are ones I hold onto when life doesn’t seem fair.

“Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21).

At 17, Joseph wasn’t ready to be a leader. He had a lot of growing up to do, and that came through difficulty. God used the many trials Joseph faced to refine him, teach him, and prepare him. God does the same for us.

Joseph’s coat of many colors teaches us many lessons, but I think the biggest one is that God can change us from the inside out. What others mean for evil against us, God means for good. With Him, all things are possible!

Photo credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/tatyana_tomsickova

Josie SilerPassionate about helping people find joy for their journey, Josie Siler, a small-town Wisconsin girl, has big dreams. As a multi-award-winning author and photographer, Josie shares God’s gifts of beauty, hope, and adventure with people who are overwhelmed by life’s circumstances, encouraging them to walk in the freedom and joy found in Jesus. Josie’s publications include the compilation Breaking the Chains: Strategies for Overcoming Spiritual Bondage and numerous articles for web and magazine. As a chronic illness warrior herself, Josie ministers to others living with illness and caregivers through Broken but Priceless Ministries. When she’s not writing or taking pictures, you’ll find Josie curled up with a good book, eating chocolate, and cuddling her teddy bear dog Ruby Mae (a.k.a. The Scruffy Princess). Connect with Josie at JosieSiler.com.


This article is part of our People from the Bible Series featuring the most well-known historical names and figures from Scripture. We have compiled these articles to help you study those whom God chose to set before us as examples in His Word. May their lives and walks with God strengthen your faith and encourage your soul.

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