Grades 3-6 Lesson for Sunday School:
Through the Bible
Joseph: Part 1
The Coat of Many Colors
Author’s Notes: This week we are beginning a new series on the life of Joseph (son of Jacob), in the Old Testament. We’ll start right out with the familiar story of Joseph’s coat of many colors; and how dangerous jealousy and hatred can be.
Do you live in a family with more than one child? If you do, you might be able to identify with the family in our lesson today. But for now, I’d like you to just imagine this scene with me:
Imagine that you are part of a big family. You have eleven brothers! That means there are a lot of you that have to share things. Now imagine that your dad has made it clear that one of your brothers is by far his favorite. While there are five of you older brothers sharing one bedroom, and five in another, your two youngest brothers are the only ones in their room, and their room is twice the size of yours. And the older of the two has a king size bed. When you eat dinner, you and the other nine oldest sit at one table, while the two youngest sit at a special table with your mom and dad. And if you happened to look closely, the older of the two seems to get twice as much food as everyone else. He definitely gets twice as much dessert.
Then, when that brother turned sixteen, not only did your dad take him to get his driver’s license, he then took him to a car dealership and bought him the fastest, fanciest car on the lot. None of you older brothers ever got a car, let alone a fast, fancy one. Dad had told you that if you wanted a car, you’d have to get a job and earn the money to buy it yourself. He hadn’t even taken you to get your license. He made one of your older brothers take you, instead.
Would you feel happy for your younger brother who was given such a wonderful gift? Or would the words, “it’s not fair!” come to mind? Have you ever thought you were not being treated fairly? How did it make you feel? Jealous? Angry? Maybe even hateful?
Something very similar happened to a family in the Old Testament. A man named Jacob had twelve sons, by four different wives. He loved one of his wives more than the others, and her oldest son, Joseph, was the apple of Jacob’s eye. Jacob made no attempt to hide his favoritism. And the jealousy and hatred that came from it resulted in a great tragedy for Jacob and his beloved son.
Jealousy often leads to hatred. And hatred can be a very dangerous emotion if not dealt with quickly. When it’s allowed to build up in the heart, awful things can happen. And in this week’s lesson, we’re going to see what happened to Joseph when his brothers’ hatred for him was allowed to run its course.
Our memory verse for today is good advice from Jesus, Himself, about how we should react when we are not treated fairly, perhaps like Joseph’s brothers; or when someone does something hateful to us, as we’ll see happened to Joseph.
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you” Luke 6:27
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for our new study on the life of Joseph. Help us to learn from his obedience, as well as his mistakes. Give us ears to hear Your Word today, in Jesus name. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors (Genesis 37:1-25a)
(introduction to Joseph)
Way back in the book of Genesis, God has recorded for us the calling out of a special group of people that He would one day use to bring His own Son into the world. These were the Hebrew people, or the Jews. A man named Abraham was called out of the country he lived in to go live in the land of Canaan, which God promised to him and his descendants. He was the first of the Hebrew nation.
Abraham had a son named Isaac. And Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. God chose Jacob to be the one to receive the blessings of his father, passed down from Abraham, his grandfather. Because Jacob (the younger brother) received this blessing, his older brother, Esau, became so angry that Jacob had to leave home. While he was away, he met and fell in love with a woman named Rachel. But he was tricked into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah.
Their father, knowing Jacob still loved Rachel, allowed him to marry her, as well, in exchange for many years of service. But when Leah began having children while Rachel did not, Rachel gave her maid to Jacob – to give him children in her place. So Leah did the same. And this meant Jacob had four wives. But regardless of who had given Jacob more children, it was always Rachel that he loved.
And that fact was never more evident than when Jacob decided to return home to Canaan. He was afraid, even though many years had now gone by, that his brother Esau would still be angry. So he divided up his wives and children, sending the two maids with their children first. Then Leah with her children. But he kept Rachel and her son, Joseph, all the way at the back so no harm would come to them.
Do you think the other wives noticed? Do you think Jacob’s other sons noticed? How do you think you might feel if a robber was outside your home, and your dad wanted you to go out first while he kept your brother hidden safely inside? Joseph’s brothers clearly understood where they ranked in their dad’s eyes. Everyone was below Joseph.
Then tragedy struck for Jacob and Joseph, as his beloved Rachel died during the journey home, while giving birth to Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin. Now all that Jacob had left of Rachel was her sons.
In today’s scripture passage, we’re going to find that Joseph is now seventeen years old. And Jacob’s open favoritism is taking a toll on the older brothers. Let’s look at the passage, and see how Joseph handled the position his father had given him as favorite son.
1And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.
2These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.
Now the scripture does not tell us whether it was Joseph’s responsibility to report to his father on what his brothers were doing. But regardless of his intentions, Joseph certainly wouldn’t have been making any friends of his brothers by bringing bad reports about them to their father. Many children these days would label Joseph a “tattle-tale.”
Do you suppose Joseph’s brothers liked having him around? Why or why not? Do you think they always felt like they had to watch what they did or said since Joseph might go back to their father and tell on them? Well, it gets worse. Let’s look at Jacob’s reaction to his favorite son.
3Now 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.
4And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.
You might be wondering what the big deal was about a coat with lots of colors. The point was that Jacob gave Joseph something that set him apart from all of his other sons. And some Bible scholars believe that his brothers would have seen the gift “as an indication that Joseph would assume family leadership.”* And you can just guess how the brothers would have felt about that! In fact, verse 4 told us that they hated his so much that they couldn’t even speak nicely to him.
Have you ever been so mad at someone that you couldn’t even force yourself to smile at them or say something that didn’t come out hateful? After years of seeing Joseph get special treatment, this gift seemed to put them over the edge. Their jealousy over his place in the family had led to such a deep hatred in their hearts that they couldn’t be at all friendly to him.
Then, instead of trying to make things better, Joseph only managed to make them worse. He had two dreams that, instead of keeping to himself or perhaps just sharing with his father, he shared with his brothers; who were the last people that would have wanted to hear what Joseph had to say.
5And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.
6And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed:
7For, 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.
At that time, many people put great significance in dreams. They often thought that they were a kind of window into the future. So you can just imagine how Joseph’s brothers reacted to his dream…
8And 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.
Joseph’s brothers did not need an interpreter to tell them what his dream meant. They clearly understood that Joseph was implying that he would one day rule over them. And he may have even been wearing his special coat while he told them about it. Do you remember what that coat might have meant? That Jacob would give control of the family to Joseph one day.
How did Joseph’s dream, and his sharing it with them make his brothers feel? It made them hate him even more. So the next time Joseph had a dream, do you think he thought about keeping it to himself? Let’s see.
9And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.
10And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?
Not only did his brothers react with disbelief and disgust at such a notion, but Joseph’s father did, too. The thought that a father would bow to his son would have been unthinkable in that culture. But once Jacob had time to reconsider the dream, he did not stay angry. Listen to the reactions of his brothers and father in verse 11.
11And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.
A few weeks from now, when we come to the close of our series on Joseph, we’ll look back at this dream, and see that his father’s sense of its significance was right. But that’s a story for another lesson. For now, we’re going to leave Jacob at home, and follow Joseph’s brothers as they headed off to work…and to smolder in their hatred towards Joseph.
(the murderous plot)
12And his brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechem.
13And Israel [or Jacob] said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I.
14And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
Do you think that Jacob was aware of how much his older sons hated Joseph? After having the experience with his own brother, Esau, that led to his having to run away to another country, wouldn’t you think that perhaps Jacob would be more wary of sending Joseph to his own hateful brothers? Perhaps Jacob didn’t realize just how deep their hatred was. Or perhaps he thought that they respected him, as their father, enough not to act on their hatred.
But 1 John 3:15 says this: “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer…” And someone once said that the only difference between hatred and murder is opportunity. Does anyone know what that might mean? It means that sometimes hatred can get so strong that if the person has an opportunity to do so, they will probably kill the person that they hate. God knows our hearts. And He said in this verse in 1 John that hating a person is just the same as murdering them, because it’s all the same thoughts and emotions in the heart.
And that’s just what Jacob sent Joseph off to face…a pack of brothers full of hatred.
15And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field: and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou?
16And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks.
17And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan.
18And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.
Just as the verse said, Joseph’s brothers had murder in their hearts. The hatred had built and built so strongly over the years that they finally felt like they couldn’t take it any more. They had to get rid to of him.
But what would their father think? They even came up with a plan for that:
19And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.
20Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.
So as Joseph slowly approached his brothers, they hatched a scheme to kill him. And what would they tell their father? That an evil beast had gotten him. In a sense, that would have been true, for hatred can be just like an evil beast churning inside someone. But that certainly is no excuse for the brothers taking the action that they chose.
Fortunately for Joseph, though, the oldest son, Reuben, had his emotions under better control than the others. It would have been his responsibility, as the oldest, if anything happened to one of the brothers…especially Joseph. So perhaps Reuben’s sense of responsibility outweighed any hatred in his heart.
21And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him.
22And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.
What was Reuben’s plan? Reuben told them that they didn’t actually need to kill Joseph. They could just throw him, alive, into a nearby pit, perhaps implying that they could just leave him there to die. Reuben thought he could get Joseph away, later, and back to their father. So he agreed to go along with the rest of the brothers, at least for now.
23And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him;
24And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.
25And they sat down to eat bread:
Does this sound like a group of men who had just plotted to kill their own brother? It sounds like a group of men who are relaxing after a job well done. Hatred can do terrible things to a heart. These men must have been completely stripped of all compassion, to be able to throw their own brother into a pit to die.
And until our next lesson, that’s where we’re going to leave Joseph, too; with this thought to bring you back again next week – things are not going to go as Reuben had planned.
Jealousy and hatred can be such destructive emotions. And life isn’t always fair. There will be times when someone else will get something that we feel like we deserve. Or there will be other times when we get a punishment that perhaps should have gone to someone else.
Many times our first reaction will be to say, “that’s not fair!” Then, if we’re not careful, those little seeds of jealousy start to grow just a little. If we spend more and more time thinking about how unfair it is, and how angry we are because we haven’t been treated like we thought we should, then hatred will begin to spread through us. Maybe slowly at first. But if we don’t take those feelings of jealousy and hatred right to God, and ask Him to forgive us, then they could grow into such an overwhelming power in our lives that we might be capable of the terrible things that Joseph’s brothers wanted to do.
So what can you do if you feel hate starting to creep into your heart? Sometimes it helps if the person who has wronged us comes to apologize. But sometimes they don’t really have anything to apologize for. The problem is just with the way we see the situation. Or if they are really at fault, sometimes they just don’t see it. So don’t wait until the person you’re angry with gets around to apologizing before you take your anger and hate to God. Take them right away, and let Him show you how to best go to that person and make things right.
Our job is not to make sure that everything is fair; our job is to do what Joseph’s brothers were not able to, live peaceably with the ones who hurt or offend us. Romans 12:18 tells us “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” We can’t control what others are going to say and do. But we can do something about the way we react.
And God promises that if we will do our part to be kind to others, He will take care of making sure that things are fair. The very next verse, Romans 12:19 says, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” God says we are to leave the avenging up to Him. Even if Joseph’s brothers were right in believing things weren’t fair, they could have left it up to God to make things right. But they chose, instead, to take things into their own hands. And if you’ve heard the old expression “two wrongs don’t make a right” you’ll know that Joseph’s brothers didn’t solve anything by deciding to get rid of their brother. They will have a lifetime of guilt hanging over their hateful heads because of their actions.
Don’t let anger or hatred get the best of you like it did these brothers. God is ready to help you take care of those hard to reach hurts. Take them to Him in prayer.
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the story of Joseph and his brothers. And for the reminder that You are always there to help us through whatever difficult things we might be facing. Help us to have the courage and desire to bring them to You, and the willingness to let You handle the things that we shouldn’t. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Fill in the Blanks
True or False
1. When going to meet his brother Esau, Jacob put Rachel and Joseph in front. (false – he put them in the back to keep them safe)
2. Jacob loved all of his children in the same way. (false – he loved Joseph most)
3. Jacob was excited to hear about Joseph’s dream. (false – he rebuked Joseph)
4. Joseph gave his father bad reports about his brothers. (true)
5. Joseph’s brothers planned to kill him and say an evil beast had gotten him. (true)
6. Reuben planned to rescue Joseph and take him back to his father. (true)
Hatred, like an evil cancer, eats away your heart;
Keeps your mind from thinking straight, and tears your life apart.
Take it to the Lord in prayer, and He’ll take it away.
But please don’t wait and let it grow…take care of it today!
Lisa DeVinney, March 2013