“Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. 2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 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. 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.” (Genesis 37:1–4 (ESV)
Most, if not all, students of Scripture are familiar with the story of Joseph and his brothers. We have studied this narrative from the time we were children. Books have been written and movies have been made. However, a little perspective is always in order.
To begin with, Joseph was seventeen as Genesis 37 begins. The text describes him as a boy, an adolescent or a youth. In other words, he had much to learn.
His adolescence was evidenced by his giving a bad report about his brothers to his father. While this act endeared Joseph to Jacob, it did not bring him into favor with his brothers. This act, along with Jacob’s gift to Joseph of a multi-cored tunic, created an atmosphere of hatred and ill-speaking by the older siblings.
Dr. R. C. Sproul comments that, “Early in his life Joseph associated himself closely with Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher, “the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah” (30:1–13; 37:2), and would come in from the fields to give his father a “bad report” about them. The Hebrew word for report in 37:2 is used elsewhere to describe false tales (Num. 13:32), and some commentators believe Joseph was stretching the truth about his brothers, if not fabricating stories about them. Even if Joseph was not guilty of either of these sins, he was acting as the perennial unpopular tattletale and likely refused to cover minor offenses with love (Prov. 10:12; 17:9; 19:11). Jacob’s favor for Joseph, the son of his favorite wife (Gen. 30:22–24), exacerbated this difficult situation. Loving him more than his other sons, Jacob made Joseph his famous coat of many colors (37:3). Actually, the Hebrew adjective describing the coat is uncertain here. It may have been a “long-sleeved” or “ornamented” coat as the translation “many colors” comes from the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. Whatever the robe’s precise appearance, it was a regal garment that honored Joseph. Princess Tamar later wore a coat with the same Hebrew descriptor (2 Sam. 13:18). Jacob perpetuated the sibling rivalry with his favor, and Joseph encouraged it with his attitude. Joseph’s eleven brothers hated him intensely, for they envied their sibling’s position (Gen. 37:4).”
The sibling rivalry would intensify when Joseph began having dreams (Gen. 37:5-11). However, all of these events, and many more to come, were under the providential hand of God (Rom. 8:28-29; Eph. 1:11; Gen. 50:20).
Soli deo Gloria!