Joseph had always been the apple of his mother’s (Rachel’s) eye, and the favourite son of his father, Jacob. To show Joseph how special he was, Jacob had a special robe made for him – a robe of many different and striking colours, which extended all the way to the wrists and ankles.
While Joseph’s brothers wore robes also, they were short-legged and short-armed robes suitable for wearing while doing hard work in the fields. The significance of Joseph’s special robe will be seen in the fact that similar robes would be worn by favoured sons in the Roman empire to come, and are still worn today by favoured sons in Persia, India and China.
Although Joseph didn’t work in the fields tending to Jacob’s sheep and harvesting the crops as his brothers and half-brothers did, he did accompany them and observed them at their work. If he saw them slacking off, or engaging in infractions of good sheep-caring and crop-harvesting practices, he would tell Jacob, who admonished his sons when next he saw them.
Joseph’s being the favoured and pampered son was bad enough for his brothers. His informing Jacob about what went on in the fields, made it worse. The hatred that Joseph’s brothers had always had for him, intensified.
You might think that Joseph would have sensed the hatred, and have behaved more sensitively. Quite the contrary.
One day when the brothers were having lunch under a tree after a tiring morning in the fields, Jacob, who as usual had been lolling about and just watching, decided this was the moment to say to them, “Brothers, would you like to hear of a dream I had last night?”
“Not particularly,” said one of the brothers, Simeon, “Instead of telling us your dream, how about getting up off your behind and doing some work like we do?” The others voiced Simeon’s sentiment.
“Brothers, I’m going to tell you of my dream because….well….. it’s a dream you should hear about. We were all in a field binding sheaves. My sheaf rose on end and stood upright. Then your sheaves bowed low before my sheaf……..”
“Then what,” said another brother, Levi.
“Then I woke up.”
“So”, said Levi, “are you trying to tell us that your sheaf was you, and the other sheaves that bowed down to your sheaf were us?”
“I’m not trying to tell you anything. It’s for you to make up your own minds what my dream meant,” said Joseph.
“Don’t get cute with us little brother,” said Simeon, “You know you think your dream means you’ll one day be a king and will have dominion over us.”
“I won’t deny this,” said Joseph.
“What should we do with little brother here?” said Simeon to the others.
“Let’s kill him and leave his body for the jackals to eat” said another brother, Zebulun.
A chorus of the voices of most of the other brothers bespoke that they thought this a good idea.
“I agree, Brothers, that we should kill little brother Joseph,” said Simeon, “But let’s not act rashly. For starters, how exactly do we kill him? And what do we tell Father when we return home this evening, and he sees there’s no little brother?”
“I go along with Brother Simeon,” said another brother, Reuben, “Father would be devastated were little brother Joseph not to return with us. Give him a chance to mend his ways, is what I say.”
After further discussion, it was agreed that Joseph wouldn’t be killed, at least for the time being.
Joseph, listening to all this, seemed not worried at all.
– Genesis 37, 1-9