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Joseph    part 1

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When did he live

1695-1585 BC




Where he did live

Israel in early life and later on in Egypt


Jacob and Rachel


Ephraim and Manasseh


Story of his life:

Joseph's parents

Joseph came from a line of very well known men in the Bible. Joseph's great grandfather was Abraham, his grandfather was Isaac and his father was Jacob. 

So, Joseph's parents were Jacob and Rachel. So how did Jacob and Rachel meet? 

Around 1760BC, after Jacob had obtained the birthright instead of his brother Esau [1], Rebekah his mother suggest that he should leave home because she feared the anger of Esau. So Jacob left home through fear of his brother, but also at the same time to ensure that he married wisely like his own father had done. So in 1709 BC Jacob left Canaan and was not to return for 20 years. Jacob journeyed alone to Haran in Padan-aram.  

When he arrived at Padan-aram he stopped at a well outside Haran which was used by shepherds to water their flocks. It was here that he met Rachel, the daughter of his uncle Laban. Rachel had come to the well to water the sheep that she looked after. She took him back to met Laban and he was subsequently invited to stay with the family. 

Laban had two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Rachel was beautiful and Jacob loved her deeply. As a result, Jacob agreed to work for seven years as dowry for his younger daughter Rachel. At  the end of the period, however, Laban gave him Leah, saying that the younger should not be given before the elder. Jacob then served another seven years for Rachel (although it seems that Jacob married Rachel shortly after Leah and then spent the seven years additional labour afterwards). Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. 

The birth of Joseph and his brothers 

When God saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. As a result, Leah had a son named Reuben. She though to herself “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now”.

She then had a second child Simeon. She then had a third son “Levi”. She thought to herself “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons”. She had a fourth son “Judah”.

Rachel became jealous of her sister and told Jacob to go to her handmaid Bilhah. Bilhah gave  Jacob a son named Dan. She then bared a second son called Naphtali.

When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her handmaid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife.

Zilpah bare Jacob a son called Gad. She then had a second son, Asher.

Following a deal involving a mandrake, Rachel agreed for Leah to lie with Jacob again. Leah then had a fifth son to Jacob, Is-sa-char. This was followed by a sixth son Ze-bu-lun. Leah then had a daughter named Dinah.

Then God remembered Rachel, he listened to her and opened here womb. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son named Joseph. 


Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob.

Jacob had 12 sons and 1 daughter. Some of these were born though his wives Rachel and Leah. But the two wives agreed for Jacob to have children also through their two servants (Bilhah and Zilpah). [2]

Jacob's later life

Laban found that he prospered as long as Jacob worked for him but Jacob found Laban a hard taskmaster. So after twenty years in the service of Laban, Jacob and his family returned to Canaan. When Jacob left Laban, Joseph was about six years of age.

Upon reaching Canaan he was met by his brother Esau with 400 men carrying spears and swords. As he saw Esau and his men coming towards him, Jacob put the handmaids and their children at the front, Leah and her children next, and then Rachel and Joseph at the back so that they would be the safest out of his family. So at this early stage already it could be seen that Joseph had become the favourite son of Jacob. Mainly because he was the son of his dearly beloved wife Rachel. Even though as we find out later there were also other reasons why he was Jacob’s favourite son.

Jacob and Esau made peace with each other and Jacob continued his journey. After a period, Jacob reached Shechem in Canaan, and this is where he settled with his family. Jacob bought part of a field from the “children of Hamor” on which to pitch his tent. However after the rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah [3] and the vengeance taken by her brothers, the area became hostile to him. God instructed him to go to Bethel to worship.

From Bethel they traveled towards Bethlehem (E-phrath). But on the way there, Rachel went into labour and she had Jacob’s twelfth son named Benjamin. Rachel died in child birth and was buried. After a time, Jacob continued with his journey and arrived in the fertile valley of Hebron where he was reunited with his father, Isaac who was still alive at the age of 180. However, it was not long that Isaac died. Following the death of his father Isaac, Jacob settled here in the region of Hebron.

The early days of Joseph

God had blessed Jacob with great riches in the form of sheep and cattle and as his sons grew to manhood, they became responsible for tending the flocks and herds. Following the death of Rachel, Joseph was drawn very close to his father. Jacob did not hide the fact that he loved Joseph the most of all the children. This made his brothers become steadily more jealous of him. Joseph loved and obeyed his father whereas his brothers were envious of him and lacked the same righteous characteristics that he displayed.

As Joseph grew he started to help his brothers with the work of tending their father’s livestock.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. Genesis 37:2  ESV

So when Joseph was seventeen years old, he was feeding the flock with his brothers. Which means about eleven years had passed between leaving Laban’s household and him now standing here in the hills of Hebron being a young shepherd. Joseph was shepherding the flock, he was therefore a shepherd. This is the first time, of many times, that Joseph life would point toward the life of Jesus who was the ultimate good shepherd.

One day Joseph brought back to his father a bad report about his brothers.

[Joseph] was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Genesis 37:2 ESV

Joseph is often condemned for this, being accused of whispering malicious tales about his brothers in his father’s ear. But this may not necessarily be true. Maybe he had reprimanded his brothers regarding their conduct, and upon finding this was not working, he decided to take up the matter with his father, in the hope that his father may correct their behavior. In other words, he was doing it for his brother’s own good. In a similar way, Jesus in John chapter three also condemned men who loved darkness, and he did this in the hope that they might change their ways if they were criticised.

The coat of many colours

Now as I mentioned before, Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons. To indicate his special love for Joseph, Jacob made him a coat of many colours. The Hebrew for coat of many colours is Ketonet passim and there is some dispute as to how it should be translated. The word Ketonet comes from the word Katha, which signifies to cover, and it means a coat or garment. It is usually used to indicate a sacrificial garment or a priestly coat. The word Passim from the words “many colours” in this passage, comes from the word pacac which signifies extremity or ends. Strongs concordance refers to it covering everything from the palm of the hands to the sole of the feet and it is referred to in plural which indicates the coat was made up of pieces. If you look at the margin note of your Bible for the word “colours” you should be able to verify this.

So it was a garment that had sleeves, and the garment went down to his wrists and to his ankles. It was a luxurious robe and was a mark of distinction. It was similar to what members of the royal family would wear later. Indeed these same Hebrew words in these verses of Genesis chapter 37 are used elsewhere to indicate a robe of royalty.

So why was Joseph given this garment designed for a person of importance when he was only the eleventh son of Jacob? The following gives the answer:

The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father's couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, so that he could not be enrolled as the oldest son; though Judah became strong among his brothers and a chief came from him, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph), 1 Chronicles 5:1-2

So it seems that the distinctive garment that Jacob prepared for his son became a indication of his office among his brothers. It was a priestly garment, that completely covered the flesh, and so testified to the character and standing of Joseph in the sight of his father.

Jesus likewise wore a distinctive gown at his crucifixion, which represented his standing in the sight of his father. His garment was so special that the soldiers cast lots for it. [4]

So Joseph put this garment on and went out amongst his brothers. His brothers would have been wearing the ordinary tunic of those times which was a garment worn next to the skin, reaching to the knees, and usually without sleeves. So it can be seen that there was a vast difference between Joseph’s coat and the other brothers garments. Both Jacob and Joseph must have known that wearing this coat would create great jealously amongst his brothers yet he still wore it amongst them. The brothers hated him and could not speak a kind word about him.

The dream of Joseph

Joseph then one night had a dream.

He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. Genesis 37:6-11 ESV

On hearing of the first dream, his brothers hated him the more. The second dream brought a rebuke from his father, who nevertheless observed the saying. Jacob apparently realised that God was behind these dreams. However in the case of Joseph’s brothers, they disliked  the interpretation and later took their revenge.

This dream of Joseph is pointing forward to Christ. Paul talks about Christ in a similar fashion in Colossians:

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1:18 ESV

Jesus was:

firstly, the Head of the Body, the church

he was secondly the Beginning

and he was third the Firstborn of the dead.

With these titles he would have preeminence over his brethren.

Christ is the head of the church (ecclesia), he is Head of the new creation and he was the first to be resurrected. All these things point to him leading his brethren towards a new kingdom.

So the dreams Joseph had were pointing towards Jesus, in a similar fashion, being a leader over his brethren. But ofcourse initially Joseph’s brethren rejected there brother’s dream. They said to him:

“Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” Genesis 37:8 ESV

They were making it clear to Joseph that they would not tolerate him reigning over them. In a similar fashion Jesus was rejected when the people said “We will not have this man to reign over us”. Or later saying “We have no king but Caesar”.

But it wasn’t just Joseph’s brothers who were involved it was also his father. His father rebuked Joseph for his second dream because he could not understand the meaning of the dream. He recognised that the sun symbolised him, the moon represented Rachel, and the eleven stars his other sons. But Rachel was dead! How could she bow down to Joseph? It teaches that for the prophecy to be fulfilled, Rachel must be resurrected, and the family to be gathered together in the future kingdom of God.

Later on Jacob was given a revelation that enabled him to see that Joseph was a type of Messiah, who would come and bring about the completion of this prophecy.

In verse eleven of Genesis chapter 37 we are told that his brethren envied him. In like manner, Mark tells us that the Jews were also full of envy for Christ.

Joseph searches for his brothers

So the coat being given to Joseph and now these two dreams, had driven Joseph’s brothers into deep hatred of their brother.

Some time later his brothers went to feed Jacob’s flock in Shechem. Jacob asked Joseph to make sure everything was going okay with his other sons. When Joseph arrived in Shechem he couldn’t find them. He was wandering in a field looking for them when a man came to him and asked him what was he looking for. He replied he was looking for his brothers. The man said that he had heard they had gone to Dothan. So Joseph headed in that direction and found his brothers.

This episode in Joseph's life is symbolic of Jesus life:

Symbolism #1

Joseph was wandering in a field in Shechem, we know from Matthew chapter 13 that the field represents the world. As Joseph had been wandering in a field looking for his brothers, in a similar way Christ was a wanderer in the world looking for his brethren.

Symbolism #2

As a man asked Joseph what was he looking for, in a similar way during Christ’s ministry men asked him what was his mission.

Symbolism #3

The word Shechem means “The Burden Bearer” and the word “Dothan” means “Two wells”. It seems that Joseph’s brothers had left Shechem for Dothan, seeking water, but when they arrived there, the wells were dry. In a similar way, the Jews had left the shelter of their "Burden Bearer" (Jesus) and had turned towards cisterns that hold no water. In other words, they seeked after the things of the world. This point is further developed when Amos tells us of the drought-stricken condition of Israel and the wanderings of the nation in search of water.

Symbolism #4

When Joseph didn’t find his brothers in Shechem he went towards Dothan. As Joseph went looking for his brethren so did the Jesus look for his true brothers even though they had temporarily forsaken God.

The plot to kill Joseph at Dothan

The well at Dothan

Dothan today is like it would have in Joseph’s day with cisterns about three metres deep on it’s perimetres. It was the practice of shepherds to dig such pits to capture rain water.

When the brothers had arrived in Dothan they expected to find ample water there, but found the pits were dry. But it seems they stayed there for a while. After some time, Joseph made his way along the valley of Dothan, and he is seen by his brethren who recognise him by the distinguishing coat he was wearing.

The very sight of him was distasteful to them. Their hatred flared into murderous intent, and they decided to rid themselves of him and his dreams. Reuben however, disagreed with their plans and talked them into imprisoning Joseph in a pit, with the intention of releasing him later on.

And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Genesis 37:24

Likewise, the Jews saw Jesus coming and conspired to kill him. And as the brothers of Joseph in verse 20 decided that they would say a evil beast had devoured him, in a similar way the Jews said that the sole responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus was with Rome. And we know from Daniel’s prophecy that Rome was represented by the fourth beast. So again we can see Jesus life paralleling the life of Joseph in every detail.

Reuben saves Joseph's life

Reuben heard about the plot and decided to save Joseph from death. We know from the previous incident with Bilhah, that Reuben was no more spiritually minded than his brothers. So his attempt to save Joseph was motivated by selfish consideration rather than thoughts for his brother. Reuben being the natural firstborn was responsible to his father for the safety of his brothers. He was already in disgrace with his father because of Bilhah, and his failure to have protected Joseph would have added to it.

Again, this parallels to Christ. Just think about it, who acted in a similar way in Christ’s time? Who acted to save Christ not because of concern for Christ but because of his own self interest?

Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea - a man of the world. He was in charge of the good conduct of the Jews. He tried to save Jesus from the mad hatred of the Jews.

Reuben said : “Let us not kill him. Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit...”

Pontius Pilate said “I will ... chastise him, and release him”.

In both cases, it was a attempt to calm the hate-crazed Jews with a type of punishment that would later lead to his release. So because of the interaction of Reuben, Joseph was saved from death.  

The next part in the series on Joseph



Genesis Chapter 25 verses 29 to 34
2 Reading : Genesis Ch.29 : 31 - 30 : 24
3 Genesis chapter 34    
4 John 19:23-24

In the next part we will look at the selling of Joseph to a passing camel caravan which was travelling to Egypt. On the arrival of Joseph in Egypt we see his rise in authority and the great temptation he was faced with. Then we go on to look at the events which lead to Joseph being thrown in prison.

We also will see what Joseph's brothers did to hide the fate of Joseph from their father.

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Last Updated: Sunday, 08 March 2015