A deeper understanding into “the coat of many colours”

I am writing this post to highlight the significance of the coat of many colours which Jacob gave to his son Joseph and to bring light to the traditional teachings of this doctrine that permeates throughout religious institutions. I am not writing this post to highlight whether the institutions are deliberate in the delivery of their lessons, but rather to correct and expound upon the traditional teachings.

I was told the story of Joseph and his coat of many colours as a child within the church. The story was told with such enthusiasm and glee, that it was infectious to most of the children. My heart did not warm to this story as I saw no point to it. Yes, the energy of the storytellers sucked you in, but so what if he got a coat of many colours? No amount of enthusiasm could detract from the fact that there was no point.

Why is it important to know about the coat of many colours?

The knowledge of this doctrine is significant towards taking steps to understanding or for some, deciphering the Bible — the Word of God. A few benefits of understanding doctrines and thus the Bible are:

  • being able to connect the dots
  • understanding prophecies
  • being able to discern deceptions through less resistance to the Holy Spirit’s direction, which is in line with the Word of God — Jesus
  • finding and staying on that narrow path.

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

John 16:13

For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

Matthew 24:24

What is the meaning of many (diverse) colours?

We go to the story of Tamar in the book of 2 Samuel 13 where it tells the story of Amnon, the son of King David, who lusted after his half-sister Tamar to the point of forcefully taking her virginity. Tamar was said to wear garments of diverse colours to signify that she was the virgin daughter of a king. Here starts our understanding of the meaning of diverse (many) colours.

18. And she had a garment of divers colours upon her: for with such robes were the king’s daughters that were virgins apparelled. Then his servant brought her out, and bolted the door after her.

19.  And Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of divers colours that was on her, and laid her hand on her head, and went on crying.

2 Samuel 18-19

Here the understanding is given that the garments of kings’ virgin daughters were made of many colours. Tamar in mourning put ashes on her head and tore her clothes as was the custom, but this further signifies that she wasn’t a virgin by removing her garment of diverse colours. This understanding then allows us more insight into the following passage in the book of Judges.

28. The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots?

29. Her wise ladies answered her, yea, she returned answer to herself,

30. Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil?

Judges 5:28-30

Sisera’s mother waited for her son, expecting that he had defeated the Israelite army and returned with the virgin daughters of their leaders. Since Israel at this time had no king, these “divers colours” would be those of the princes of each tribe and leaders of tens and hundreds and thousands, and so forth in Israel.

Now, let us consider Jacob and his son Joseph.

3. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.

4. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.

Genesis 37:3-4

We see here that the brothers saw that Jacob loved Joseph more than them. This fact was indicated by Jacob giving Joseph the coat of many colours. What many churches have taught, is that the coat was a very beautiful coat and thus made his brothers jealous. This is not accurate and is a superficial interpretation by these institutions. What I propose is that the coat signifies that Joseph was to receive the birthright, being regarded as the successor to Jacob and currently the prince of the family. This can be further substantiated by continuing the passage above.

5.  And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.

6. And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed:

7. For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.

8. And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.

Genesis 37:5-8

Here we see Joseph’s dream as a confirmation that he shall indeed rule over his brothers as the appointed prince of the family. In verse 8 his brother exclaimed in question, “Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words”. They hated him because of his appointment as the head of the family after Jacob.

Traditionally, the firstborn receives the birthright, however, due to Reuben’s infidelity against Jacob, this was taken away from him.

21.  And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.

22. And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve:

Genesis 35:21-22

Here we see the birthright has been given to Joseph — the first two sons of Joseph.

1. Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but, forasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright.

2. For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph’s:)

1 Chronicles 5:1-2

5.  And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.

6. And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance.

Genesis 48:5-6

Even Jesus, the firstborn had a birthright. Expounding on this would in itself be another post and take away from the focus of this one. So I will leave that for another day.

How can we use this knowledge to interpret the Bible

Looking at several passages within the Bible we now get an understanding of what it is speaking about. The focus is on the references where “divers colours” are used.

3. For to know thee is perfect righteousness: yea, to know thy power is the root of immortality.

4. For neither did the mischievous invention of men deceive us, nor an image spotted with divers colours, the painter’s fruitless labour;

5. The sight whereof enticeth fools to lust after it, and so they desire the form of a dead image, that hath no breath.

Wisdom 15:3-5

We now see that this refers to painters’ paintings of women in a manner which had the effect of creating lust within men.

14. And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord GOD.

15.  But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by; his it was.

16. And of thy garments thou didst take, and deckedst thy high places with divers colours, and playedst the harlot thereupon: the like things shall not come, neither shall it be so.

17. Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them,

18. And tookest thy broidered garments, and coveredst them: and thou hast set mine oil and mine incense before them.

Ezekiel 16:14-18

Here we see that the men of Judah took women of many nations that interacted with them and indulged in acts of harlotry with these women. “And of thy garments thou didst take, and deckedst thy high places with divers colours, and playedst the harlot thereupon”. Taking this a step further, we can see that the leaders partook in this practice as “divers colours” refers to the virgin daughters of kings or leaders. We can further solidify our understanding by finding a contrast where verses 17 & 18 come in to play and make a clear distinction from verse 16, showing that broidered garments are considered to be different from garments of divers colours.

Conclusion

We see that the doctrines taught as trivial stories to kids, often carry deeper meanings which would otherwise provide great insight into the Bible. These innocent interpretations instead act as a barrier to understanding the Word of God. With enough of these barriers, the Bible becomes a book of musings from and for the insane.

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