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All Bible references are to the Anglicised New International Version (NIV-UK)


 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish

what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

― Genesis 50: 20


  A HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL musical with a surprising title, based on an Old Testament story, was produced in London in 1968. You may have seen the show, which is still running ― Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.


 The Joseph of the story was the eleventh son of a man called Jacob, and this boy was his favourite. He had all the charm and good nature of his mother Rachel, Jacob’s best-loved wife, who had died after giving birth to Benjamin, the youngest son. The ten older brothers resented the fact that Joseph was given favours and privileges that they wanted themselves. Their father was somewhat unwise in showing his favouritism, even presenting Joseph with a beautiful and costly embroidered coat of many colours not the sort of extravagant garment normally worn by sheep farmers and their families. Does this seem a trivial matter for young men to complain about?


‘It isn’t fair!’ This is the familiar outcry of children and of adults also who feel deprived of some favour or benefit that another person has. Unhappily, a spirit of jealousy and resentment sometimes arises in families, between brothers or sisters, and this can persist for many years into adulthood and can sour relationships for everybody involved. What happened to Joseph was an extreme example of jealous hatred, and the happiness of the whole family was destroyed for many years.


 The Dreamer

Most people these days dismiss dreams as unimportant, a sensible view. Yet in Bible times dreams were often considered significant, and there is no doubt that God through dreams conveyed information about future events to selected individuals. Joseph was evidently one of them and he had the gift of interpreting their hidden meaning, which got him into more serious trouble with his brothers. Had he been older and wiser he might have foreseen their reaction, but he was only 17. One morning he could not resist telling them of his strange dream.

 ‘We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it’ (Genesis 37: 7). The brothers sneered and probably said something like, ‘If you imagine that some day you’ll rule over all of us then you are definitely dreaming!’. Their hatred of Joseph became even more violent.

 Still not having learned to be cautious Joseph later told them of another dream. Their father also heard about it. ‘“Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me”’ (Genesis 37: 9). His brothers muttered amongst themselves and their feelings against him grew more cruel and bitter. Even Jacob became uneasy about Joseph’s dreams of greatness, and often turned the matter over in his mind.


Jacob was a very wealthy farmer whose extensive flocks needed from time to time to be moved many miles to fresh pastures, the ten older sons being in charge of the operation. As an occasion arose when they had been absent rather longer than usual, Jacob asked Joseph to go in search of them and bring him news of their well-being. They had travelled much further than usual, but Joseph found them at Dothan, a rich pastureland near a popular trade route to Egypt.

 They saw him coming. In his splendid colourful coat, he was recognised afar off, and the sight of him so stirred up their bitter antagonism that they resolved to rid themselves for ever of their father’s favourite. They would kill Joseph, hide his body, and show their father the bloodstained coat as evidence that a wild animal had attacked him. But Reuben, the oldest brother, was uneasy and persuaded the others not to commit murder. He hid Joseph in a dried-out water cistern nearby, privately intending to rescue the boy later and see him safely home to his father.

 Another brother had a different idea. Judah saw an approaching caravan of traders on their way to Egypt. ‘Why not sell this dreamer to these Ishmaelites’, he suggested, ‘rather than have his blood on our hands? After all, he is our brother.’ Reuben was out of earshot, but the others all agreed, so Joseph was sold to the merchants for 20 shekels of silver, and in Egypt he was sold again to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

 Sent to Prison

For some years Joseph served his master loyally and earned his trust. But Potiphar’s wife had taken a great fancy to the handsome young man, and when he constantly refused her immoral advances she spitefully told her husband that Joseph had tried to seduce her. Through no fault of his own Joseph was sent to prison, with no prospect of release. Yet even in captivity he earned the respect and trust of the prison governor and some of the other inmates. Joseph’s trust in God never faltered, and the time came when a remarkable event occurred which would change his life for ever.


Elevated to High Office

It was Pharaoh’s birthday, but he was far from happy. His wise men had been called to explain a dream that haunted him, but they had failed, and he was distraught.


 A servant who had once been in prison remembered Joseph’s gift of explaining dreams, so Joseph was summoned to the palace and put to the test. The Lord did not fail him, and when Joseph declared that there would be seven years of bumper crops in the land, and then seven years of crop failures and famine, the King saw the truth of the interpretation. When Joseph counselled him to appoint a capable officer to organise an intensive storage of crops during the first seven years, and sell carefully during the hungry years to prevent the starvation of many people, Pharaoh knew he could find no wiser and more capable man than Joseph. So he appointed him Prime Minister of all Egypt, second in authority only to himself.


 Corn in Egypt

As well as the Egyptians, tribes from surrounding areas benefited from Joseph’s wise administration during the famine, among them a family of 10 brothers from Canaan. He knew them immediately, but over the years of his exile, and probably now more than 30 years of age, he had so changed in appearance and manner that he was quite unrecognisable to them. They respectfully bowed before him, and his heart stirred within him as he wondered if they ever regretted the evil they had done. He resolved to treat them kindly but to put them to the test. Questioning them carefully he learned that his father, Jacob, believed him dead and could not be comforted, declaring that he would carry his grief even to the grave. Benjamin, Joseph’s younger brother, had remained at home.

 Joseph’s tactics in testing his brothers are described in detail in Genesis chapters 42 ― 44, and in chapter 45 the moving story of his making himself known to them is told. At first they were greatly shocked and alarmed, but Joseph wept great tears of joy at their reunion and said:

 ‘“Come close to me. . . . I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! … do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. . . . Tell my father about all the honour accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly”’ (Genesis 45, beginning verse 4).

 Joseph was large-hearted enough to acknowledge that the con­sequences of his brethren’s jealousy and hatred had resulted in the saving of many people from starvation and the preservation of his father’s family, which in time became the great nation of Israel.

 And surely he smiled with some amusement as he remembered his beautiful ‘dreamcoat’, which had in reality foreshadowed the costly robes of a great minister of state, second only to the Pharaoh of all Egypt.



Copyright September 2009

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