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A Coat Of Many Colors

Scripture Reading - Genesis 37:1-4

Text: "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" (Genesis 37:3).

Many of us learned this story in our early childhood. It is an intriguing story of a father who gave a very beautiful coat to his son. Remember that Israel (Jacob) had two wives Leah and Rachel, for in those days polygamy was still widely practiced. To Jacob was born twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph and Benjamin. These men are very important because from them came the twelve tribes of Israel.

Our study today involves the second from the youngest, Joseph. He was born the first son of Rachel, the favorite wife of Jacob. Joseph was born when his father was well up in years and for those reasons he was very special to him. Our lesson informs us that the special love which Jacob had for Joseph was evident to the other sons and stirred jealousy in their hearts. Because of their jealousy, everything that Joseph said or did seemed to worsen the situation. It was a high pressure situation with the pressure constantly building. Because Joseph was given a special coat of many colors, it became a daily reminder of the father's preferential treatment. Understandably, when the jealous brothers finally disposed of Joseph by selling him to a passing caravan, they used the coat as a vital object in their deception plans. They took the coat, dipped it in blood and returned it to their father to convince him that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. The beautiful coat that had once brought such joy, had now become a source of sorrow and grief.

Perhaps at this point we need to examine our thoughts with regard to the information which the Bible imparts about Joseph and his coat of many colors. Are we to assume that it should only be used as a Bible story for children, or are their valuable lessons for adults as well? Most of us probably agree that there are many lessons which people of all ages should learn. Therefore, we shall endeavor to take a careful look at this coat of many colors and the spiritual significance of it.

As we begin our study of this very special coat, it is important for us to briefly consider the significance of this garment being called a "coat." There are a number of coats which are mentioned in the Bible. The first coat that the Bible tells about were coats of skin which God made for Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3:21 we read, "Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them." There is deep spiritual significance to these coats and I shall later make a connection between them and the coat of many colors. Let me now hasten to mention some other coats which are mentioned in the scriptures. You may remember that Hannah, the mother of Samuel; made him a coat and gave it to him on an annual visit to the temple (1 Samuel 2:19). In 1 Samuel 17:5 we are told about the coat of mail which the giant Goliath wore as he confronted David. It was at the least an unusual coat made of pieces of metal shaped like fish scale and sewed to the garment so that they over lapped each other. This was probably the largest and heaviest coat mentioned in the Bible. Then in the New Testament we can read of Peter's fishing coat (John 21:7). While all these coats were of varied length and for different purposes, they all possess one thing in common; they were coverings of the body.

Since the coats mentioned covered varying amounts of the body we need to examine the coat of many colors with regard to its length for that is part of the significance. The original Hebrew word is very accurate in describing its length. The coat was a tunic or long coat that covered the entire body down to the wrists and ankles, and up to the neck. The same is true of the coats which God made for Adam and Eve. What a contrast between the fig-leaf aprons which Adam and Eve made for themselves and the long coats that God made for them. The significance is very evident with regard to the situation of Adam and Eve and should aid our understanding of the coat of many colors.

The efforts of Adam and Eve were very inadequate. The aprons covered only a small part of their bodies and so were not likely to provide any protection from the elements. Not only that, but the leaves would quickly wither and fall apart, ceasing to provide any covering at all. The coats which God made were quite the opposite for they covered them completely and since they were made of skins, they were very durable. The contrast between the "aprons" and "coats" seems to contrast the works of men against the grace of God. Our works, like those aprons; are inadequate to cover our sins as we stand in the presence of a Holy God. The only hope we possess is that God by His omnipotent powers has worked in us His grace, providing for us an enduring covering for our sin through the shed blood of His Son - Jesus Christ. God not only made the coats, but the language of the scriptures indicate that He put those garments on them as well. Even so salvation from sin is dependent upon what God has done for us, not what we profess to do for God. Declaring these truths Paul wrote "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9)

. The "Tunic" (coats) which God made Adam and Eve and which Jacob gave Joseph were all full length coats. This is intended to convey that salvation is a complete work. God does not provide for us a partial covering, leaving the remainder to be acquired by our endeavors. "His work is perfect" (Deuteronomy 32:4) and what God does is so complete that nothing can be taken from it, nor does anything need to be added (Ecclesiastes 3:14). Though we often fail, God does not! The perfection of His work of grace is accurately described by David in 2 Samuel 23:5. He said, "Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he makes it not to grow." God's work is so perfect that like the tunic covered the body, grace completely covers all our sins. Just as Jacob "gave" a coat which covered his son, even so our heavenly Father has given us the garments of salvation (Isaiah 61:10). Though the wages of our sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans. 6:23).

Having considered the length of the coat, let us now move on to observe the significance of its construction. Remember that it was described as a "coat of many colours." There is no way for us to accurately determine the number of colors that were used nor what the array of colors were. Needless to say that is not important or God would have made known such information to us. The important fact here is that there were a number of different colors present in the coat. Keep in mind that the method of dying colors and making coats was quite different from our methods today. Most likely the garment was constructed from pieces of different colored cloth. All the pieces were then sewed together to form the coat which had a variety of colors in it. Probably other coats were made from pieces of cloth which were the same color and so appeared quite different from the coat which Joseph wore.

If there is a spiritual significance to the fact that the coat had a wide array of colors, it is that the work of grace is composed of many different parts. Let us use each color to represent some vital component in our salvation from sin. Thus as we think of the colors of that coat, we will be reminded of all God has done for us.

It is evident from scripture that there are three persons in the God-head. John said, "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one" (1 John 5:7). One God, with three distinct persons in the Trinity, and each of them have an indispensable role in our salvation. Therefore when Christians are baptized, it should be administered in the name of all three. When Jesus sent out His disciples, He said; "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19). Though there are only three persons in the God-head, there are many varied works which they perform that are essential to our salvation. It seems evident that each work of grace can be designated by different colors forming the coat of many colors. For the most part we cannot designate specific works by certain colors, yet we can describe the varied workings of God which constitute the different colors.

First of all, we need to recognize that initial work of God which is declared in scripture as the "election of grace" (Romans 11:5). It should be considered as an initial work for it transpired before the world existed. As Paul declared the blessings of our gracious Father, he said they come "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love" (Ephesians 1:4). Before the world was divinely created, God knowing the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), saw that Adam would sin and plunge all humanity into sin and hopeless depravity. Since God is merciful, and would not allow all to be lost, He sovereignly chose an innumerable host of people "... out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (Revelations 5:9). These whom God the Father had chosen, He freely gave to Jesus His Son. Jesus said, "I have manifested Thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: Thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word" (John 17:6). This applies not only to the Apostles of our Lord, but to all who by grace believe through their word (John 17:20). This divine choice was not made contingent upon any work on our part but rests wholly upon the purpose of God (Romans 9:11). If we were required to do anything in order to be chosen and saved, it would require salvation to be based upon works - not grace. Grace is the free and unmerited kindness of a loving God. His choice is therefore an act of grace and can be represented by one part of the coat of many colors.

The second color may well be intended to depict the work of God as He predestinated those who He chose. Paul was quick to add that God predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. Even as election was not dependent upon us, so also predestination comes "... according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will" (Ephesians 1:11). What can we know about this doctrine of sovereign grace that is so seldom mentioned in scripture? Some of the answers are found in passages such as those before us and in Romans, chapter 8. There Paul said, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified" (Romans 8:29-30). Though many questions are left unanswered, I like what I read in these passages. It seems to convey God's personal interest in us by which He brings us into His family and guarantees that we will spend eternity in heaven as our final destination. He has previously determined our destination because of His perfect work. We were all lost, if left to self; so He chose us and by His work of salvation assures us that heaven is waiting. All the elect have a reservation in heaven (1 Peter 1:4) because God predestinated us to one day reflect the glorious image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). This can be represented by one of the beautiful colors in the coat of our salvation.

Third, we need to consider the color of redemption. If there is a color which vividly portrays redemption it must be red. It is at this point that we begin to look at the work of the Son of God - Jesus Christ. Prior to this we have considered the fact that the Father chose us and predestinated us to be conformed to Christ. Now we see that another vital part of our salvation is the redemption we have in Christ. In fact Paul having declared election (Ephesians 1:4), followed by the proclamation of predestination (Ephesians 1:5), then goes on to remind us of the wonders of grace that are ours in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6). He said of Jesus, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7). What grand subjects, redemption through the shed blood of Jesus and sins forgiven by the riches of His grace! Keep in mind that those whom the Father had given to Jesus, He died for to pay their sin debt full and free. Paul said of the resurrected Saviour, "For I delivered unto you first of all, that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scripture" (1 Corinthians 15:3). He took our sins upon Himself and on the cross He suffered the penalty for sin - death (1 Peter 2:24). It was the just (Christ) dying for the unjust (elect) (1 Peter 3:18) and by the sacrifice of Himself, He forever satisfied our sin debt and thereby perfected us (Hebrews 10:10, 12 & 14). Jesus loved us so much that He willingly died in our place and because His work is perfect, not one for whom He died will miss heaven. We have the sure words of Jesus to declare this fact. He said, "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should loose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day" (John 6:39). This He will most surely accomplish! Since His work is an essential part of our salvation, let us think if it as another color in the coat of many colors which the redeemed wear.

The fourth color in our coat should designate the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation. He is the third person of the God-Head and His role is also essential. It is the Holy Spirit who quickens us into divine life. Even though we possess physical life, we are said to be "dead in sin." In describing the work of grace imparted by the Holy Spirit, Paul said to the Ephesians; "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). Our Lord expressed it a little differently but in terms that are easily understood; He referred to it as a birth. We were first imparted physical life and were physically born. Now we have spiritual life, imparted through a spiritual birth. Jesus said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again" (John 3:6-7). To be "born again" is to experience the new birth, which is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Because we have been quickened into divine life, God abides within us. It is His indwelling presence that enables us to experience His grace. How else could the work of the Father and Son be experienced were it not through the Holy Spirit? We are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called (Jude 1), which is the effectual call of the sinner into divine life and a gracious state. Therefore by the Holy Spirit, the work of the Father and Son are divinely imparted to those who are saved.

Not only do we experience salvation through the work of God's Spirit, but through Him the saved remain saved forever; for we are sealed unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). He is also a constant source of power for all our Christian endeavors (Acts 1:8). His presence and work of grace can be thought of as a beautiful color, in the coat our Father gave us.

Many other aspects of God's work could be included in the colors of the coat. Hopefully, the coat of many colors which Jacob gave Joseph, has helped you think about your salvation. Through the works of grace that have been outlined in this sermon, we should be able to realize that our Heavenly Father has provided for us the beautiful garments of salvation and a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), which Jesus imputed to us (1 Peter 2:24). If God has been praised and you have been able to rejoice in the work of His grace, then my objectives have been achieved. As we have viewed salvation (through the colors of that ancient coat), may we live daily for the glory of our Father, Who loves us and gave us a much greater gift-Jesus, His only begotten Son. May we love Him more now than ever before and strive to live lives that will honor and praise our Heavenly Father, His Son and the Holy Spirit.

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This page last updated on June 17, 2014