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COMPLETE LESSON SET: Joseph's Coat of Many Colors, from FUMC, Ann Arbor, MI

Joseph's Coat

Summary of all workshops in this Rotation:

--for 4th-6th grade

  • Video: View portions of the video, Joseph King of Dreams.
  • Games: Play a game that involves answering questions, singing, acting, drawing, and sculpting – a Cranium®/Trivial Pursuit type of game. Learn story details.
  • Art (Woodworking): Create “peace houses.” Talk about what makes for peace in families and among friends.

--for 1st- 3rd grade

  • Cooking: Make “dirt” from crushed Oreo® cookies. Learn about how to handle “crushing” experiences. (Portions of this lesson were from a free cooking lesson that use to be available from Potter’s Publishing, unfortunately they closed their site on 1/1/2020)
  • Puppets: Use handle-bag puppets to retell the story of Joseph and his brothers.
  • Drama: Focus on learning the story sequence by hearing about the story characters and their feelings and by enacting the story. [Note: the book Crazy Clothesline Characters is needed for the script.]

--And older workshops used in 2003 but not updated for 2010

  • Art: Tie-dyed t-shirts. We didn't use this one again because of the cost of buying everyone a t-shirt. And we'd just done another project recently with t-shirts.
  • Music: Explore the story through song and movement.

Scripture References:

Genesis 37:1-36, 39:1-6b

Key Verse:

“We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him.” Romans 8:28a (CEV)

Workshop Objectives — After completing this Rotation, participants will be able to:

  • Name that the story is found in the first book of the Old Testament, Genesis. 
  • (3rd grade and up) Locate the story in the Bible.  Identify Genesis as a book of Law.
  • Retell the story in their own words – identifying story characters and their feelings.
  • Analyze how jealousy erupted in Joseph’s family and led to the brother’s selling Joseph into slavery.
  • Recognize that in our lives God’s activity may be hidden. We may not always see it, but he does have a plan for each of us.
  • Discover how we should face difficulties: describe God as with you in all situations.

Story Background:

We will spend two Rotations over the next two months on the Old Testament account of Joseph. The first Rotation focuses mostly on Genesis 37 – Joseph, his brothers and the infamous coat. It is a familiar story of family struggles: favoritism, bragging, sibling rivalry, and brothers gone bad. We’ll only catch a glimpse of it this month (and won’t really see it until we cover the second Rotation on Joseph) but it is also the story of God having a greater plan. Things can look pretty bad, but God is never far away. Recalling Joseph’s story can help us get through our own difficult times.

As you read the portions of Genesis for this first Rotation, ponder these questions: Have you experienced what seemed like a terrible situation that ended up being a blessing? How did this show you that God is ultimately in control of your life?

The Favorite Son/Sibling Rivalry
Our story is about Jacob and his large family. Jacob had four wives and four sets of children – a total of twelve sons and one daughter. We learn that Joseph was clearly the favorite in the family, at least in his father’s eyes. From his brothers however, he invokes anger. Joseph apparently tattles on his brothers. Verse 2 tells us:

…he was always telling his father all sorts of bad things about his brothers.

Then there is the ultimate instance of favoritism: As a symbol of his love, Jacob makes Joseph a “fancy coat.” Traditionally, this is translated as a “coat of many colors.” However, the actual meaning of the original Hebrew is unclear. More than likely this “fancy coat” was embroidered and had long sleeves – hardly a garment for working as a shepherd! It surely made quite an impression. The response it caused among Joseph’s brothers was jealousy and hatred.

The Dreamer
Things got worse when Joseph told his brothers about two dreams he had. One dream showed their bundles of wheat bowing down to his bundle of wheat. Another dream had the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowing to his star. To the brothers, this sounded like Joseph was trying to take over the whole family!

“Do you really think you are going to be king and rule over us,” they asked? Now they hated Joseph more than ever because of what he had said about his dream (verse 8).

God had used dreams in the past to communicate with Old Testament people. In those days dreams were seen as prophecies of what was to come. Even Jacob had experienced God speaking to him in dreams (see Genesis 28:10-15 and Genesis 31:11-13). God was sending Joseph a message in these dreams – God had a plan for Joseph. Because we have the benefit of being able to read ahead in the story, we know that in fact, many years later the brothers will bow down to an unrecognized Joseph when they travel to Egypt to buy grain. But for now, the dreams only cause anger from his brothers. The family members become separated by feelings of anger, jealousy, and hate.

Brothers take action
Unfortunately it is all too easy for feelings to take control of us. The brothers now plot how to get rid of Joseph. Their chance comes when Joseph is sent to check on his brothers, who are some distance away with the flock. Joseph is obviously not afraid of his brothers, as he could have easily used the excuse of not being able to find them for they had moved from Shechem to Dothan. One has to wonder if Joseph knew how his brothers felt. But find them he does, and the brothers see Joseph coming. His coat must have made him easy to spot!

They said to one another, “Look, here comes the hero of those dreams! Let’s kill him and throw him into a pit and say that some wild animal ate him. Then we’ll see what happens to those dreams” (verses 18-20).

Reuben, the oldest brother, objects to the idea of killing Joseph; he suggests they throw him into a pit. This pit would have been essentially a dry well, or cistern carved out of solid rock. While Joseph would surely die down there, it wouldn’t be by their actually murdering him. We find in verse 22 that Reuben has an ulterior motive in suggesting his plan – he intends to come back later and rescue Joseph! Reuben apparently had a small amount of compassion. He also might have felt that as oldest, he would be held responsible for Joseph’s well being.

Unaware of the murderous thoughts of his brothers, Joseph arrives on the scene. His brothers grab him, strip off his special coat and throw him into a pit. Then they sit down to eat! They obviously lack conscience if they can casually eat after what they’ve done. Interestingly, Reuben is not there. We are not told why. Perhaps he was off watching the sheep. At any rate, Reuben misses what happens next.

Sold into slavery
In verses 25-28, we read:

As Joseph’s brothers sat down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead… So Judah said, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and hide his body? Let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not harm him”…

When the Midianite merchants came by, Joseph’s brothers took him out of the well, and for twenty pieces of silver they sold him to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt.

The terms “Ishmaelites” and “Midianites” refer to the same people. That slave traders were passing by at that moment is an unremarkable event – the area would have been on the trade route between lands to the north and east, and Egypt in the south. It is another example however, of God intervening in Joseph’s life. God has plans for Joseph, even at this dark point in his life.

The Cover Up
Meanwhile, Reuben returns and finds Joseph gone. He was furious and full of grief. And what will they tell their father Jacob? The brothers cover up their deed by smearing Joseph’s coat in goat’s blood. They take it to Jacob, pretending to have found it.

After this, they took the coat to their father and said, “We found this! Look at it carefully and see if it belongs to your son.” Jacob knew it was Joseph’s coat and said, “It’s my son’s coat! Joseph has been torn to pieces and eaten by some wild animal” (verses 32-33).

Jacob is taken in by the deception. He mourns for Joseph for a long time. One has to wonder if the brothers considered the reaction of their aged father.

What happened to Joseph?
The traders have sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials. (A pharaoh is a title given to the king of Egypt.) Again, it is part of God’s plan that Joseph should end up where he did. It is not obviously apparent, God is not even mentioned in chapter 37 of Genesis, but Joseph maintains faith in God. As we read in Genesis 39:2-3:

So Joseph lived in the home of Potiphar, his Egyptian owner. Soon Potiphar realized that the LORD was helping Joseph to be successful in whatever he did.

Years will pass (and several chapters in Genesis) before God’s purposes will be fully known.
As Joseph will say to his brothers years later:

You tried to harm me, but God made it turn out for the best, so that he could save all these people, as he is now doing (Genesis 50:20).

What advice about our life can we take away from this scripture?

  • Joseph’s story becomes a source of spiritual encouragement: despite his low points, Joseph never lost faith in God. Can we do likewise?
  • God’s activity may be hidden to us. It may seem like God is ignoring us! Rest assured that God is with you in all situations.
  • It took time, but eventually Joseph was able to discover that God used each step of the way, the good and the bad, to complete a plan for Joseph’s life. We may not always see it, but God does have a plan for each of us.
  • Are we able to keep our faith during tough times? Are we able to implicitly feel the statement made by our key Bible verse from Romans 8:28…

We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him.

This key Bible verse is the one in which we encourage the students to learn by heart – which is different than memorizing. Memorizing is like learning facts for a test; this is a different sort of learning. We say we are keeping God’s word in our heart. There may come a time when you are feeling low, and everything is going bad, and then from your heart come these words. And you’ll say, oh, yeah – God made a promise with me!


Scripture quoted is taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1995 by American Bible Society. Used by permission.

Other resources:
Visit Carol's blog – where we encourage parents to continue the learning at home.


(Conflict of Interest Disclosure: None, Carol does not make any money from her blog. Any ads you may see are placed by Wordpress.)


This set of workshops were written by folks from:
First United Methodist Church
Ann Arbor, MI 

If you use this material, even in a modified form, please include the following reference:
Hulbert, Carol. "Joseph’s Coat: Bible Background." Jan. 2010. Place URL where lesson found inside angle brackets<>.

Copyright 2003 and 2010 First United Methodist Church, Ann Arbor, MI.
Permission to copy materials granted for non-commercial use provided credit is given and all cited references remain with this material.

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Last edited by Luanne Payne
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