“Joseph's Three Coats”

“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him.”

Acts 7:9

Joseph is a great example of someone who lived by faith, an example we should strive to imitate. He was a God-appointed deliverer but was rejected by his brothers. In this respect, Joseph was a lot like Jesus, which seems to be the point of Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7. One way to remember Joseph’s life is by his three coats. Most of us are aware of his first coat but we might not be sure about the other two.

Joseph’s first coat — (Genesis 37) Joseph’s story begins with him being alienated from his brothers in several ways. First, he reported his brothers’ bad behavior to their father (Gen. 37:1-2); second, he was given a special coat which marked him out as dad’s favorite (Gen. 37:3-4); third, he was given a series of dreams which indicated he would rule over his family and then told them the dreams, whic probably wasn't a great idea (Gen. 37:5-11). This had the expected result of provoking his brothers to further jealousy and hatred.

Later, his brothers plotted to kill him. Reuben restrained their hatred, opting instead to throw him into a “pit.” Then, the brothers conspired to sell Joseph into slavery (Gen. 37:18-28) and lie to their father by bringing back Joseph’s coat dipped in goat’s blood as “evidence” of his death (Gen. 37:29-36). So Joseph received and lost his first coat and ended up in a “pit.”

Joseph’s second coat — (Gen. 39-40) Joseph was sold as a slave to Potiphar, a high official in Egypt. Despite appearances, we are told that “the LORD was with him,” a phrase that is repeated throughout this story. Though nothing is said of him receiving a new coat, we know that he had one because later he lost it. Also, it is not hard to imagine Joseph receiving a new change of clothes as he was put in charge of Potiphar’s entire house (Gen. 39:1-6a). Just when things were looking up, Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him, eventually forcing faithful Joseph to run away. Potiphar’s wife snatched his coat and used it as “evidence” against him, and, once again, Joseph found himself thrown into a “pit” (Gen. 39:8-23; cf. 40:15) where we are told (again) that “the LORD was with Joseph.”

A pattern emerges: Joseph faithfully served his father, received a coat, lost it and was thrown into a pit; Joseph faithfully served Potiphar, received a coat, lost it and was thrown into a pit.

Joseph’s third coat — (Gen. 40-41) While in prison, Joseph interpreted the dream of Pharaoh’s cupbearer who was released. Two years later, Pharaoh had a pair of dreams no one could interpret until the cupbearer remembered Joseph. He interpreted the dreams, gained his freedom and was put in charge of all Egypt. And what should he receive but a new coat! (Gen. 41:42-44)

But instead of using his power and position to get revenge on his brothers and Potiphar’s wife, Joseph continued to live faithfully. In fact, during a severe famine, his brothers came to Egypt to buy food and fulfilled Joseph’s dreams by bowing down to him not knowing who he was. Finally, he revealed his identity to his brothers but refused to retaliate against them. He attributed the whole situation to God’s good will and providence: “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.” (Gen. 50:20)

How was Joseph able to exhibit such grace? Perhaps Joseph could never have worn that third coat as graciously and humbly as he did if he hadn’t worn—and lost—the first two. Our life goes through many unexpected twists and turns. But if we live by faith like Joseph, we will see God’s good purposes in the end (Rom. 8:28). Even in the most difficult times, God is with us when we trust in him. I’ll leave it to you to draw the many parallels between Joseph’s experiences of humiliation and exaltation and Jesus’s own.