Gen 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. Gen 37:4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.
The following was a point made in a recent sermon:
The special favor of Jacob and the coat he gives him is an interesting study. If we take this translation at face value as many do we might come to the conclusion that the brothers were somewhat justified at being upset with their father and Joseph for showing favoritism. There is no doubt that this is also a failure of Jacob that leads to problems but it also plays a big part in the Lord getting everyone where they needed to be. The question we need to ask is whether this coat was merely a fancy coat he gave Joseph because he loved him more or was there more to this than just unjustified favoritism?
Literally it means a coat that went to his wrist and ankles, thus a tunic. The word “colors” is somewhat of a commentary, not a literal translation. A coat like this would be expected to be richly ornamented so perhaps colored but this is not the primary meaning. Some of your translations probably bring this out. Gen 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, for he was a son of his old age. And he made a robe with long sleeves for him. Gen 37:3 And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of old age to him. And he made a robe reaching to the soles of his feet.
This kind of coat would be worn by someone who was not expected to be working but supervising. This might explain why Joseph felt it necessary to bring his father an unsatisfactory report of how his brothers were caring for the flocks. This has been seen as tattling but I think it is better to see Joseph as not a tattler but a truth teller doing his job. One of the things Jesus came to do was to expose Israel’s unbelief and disobedience. Some commentators want to make this passage all about Jacob’s favoritism or Joseph’s foolishness to speak this way to his brothers and bring their wrath upon him; but this misses the main point. Jesus came to tell us of his special relationship with the Father and the proper reaction is to see him as our savior not to do what the Jews did and try to deny this relationship.
So it would seem that Joseph had been given a measure of authority and prominence over his brethren. But why are we not to assume that this was just unjustified parental favoritism? It is interesting that one of the four times Joseph is mentioned is to tell us that probably the only land the Jacob owned was given to Joseph; we read of this in John 4:5; why? Because of what Reuben did in 35:22, he forfeited his birthright by sleeping with Bilhah, Gen 49:4 Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father's bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch! And we also read in 1Ch 5:1 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. 1Ch 5:2 though Judah became strong among his brothers and a chief came from him, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph). Judah got the spiritual blessing; Joseph the physical. So in essence Joseph had taken the place of the eldest son!
Thus Jacob’s favor was justified; it would be like giving the oldest son controlling rights over the farm. So the point seen in his brother’s hatred was that they hated him unjustly. They were treacherous murders and he was unlike them; he was righteous and deserved his father’s love and the position he had.
Jesus is justly the heir of all that his Father has. One before him, Adam, had been given charge of the world and his posterity and forfeited it by committing spiritual adultery, by desiring the glory that was his father’s alone and taking it for himself, just like Reuben. So in another Son down the line there came one who was able to obey the Father and was given charge to take care of his brethren.
When he came to his own and told them of his glory, instead of seeing this as their hope of salvation and glory, they were jealous and crucified him. But in that, they brought about their salvation. In their very act to get rid of Joseph they secure their eventual salvation.
This isn’t just a story of a father’s doting love in giving his favorite son a pretty coat. This is the Scriptures testifying of the One who was to come!