JOSEPH’S COAT OF MANY COLORS
A Sermon by Rev Frederick M. ChapinOctober 8, 1995
Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him. (Gen. 37:3&4)
When we make the effort to live a good life, we will face persecutions. Other people may openly ridicule us or be offended, when we try to do what is right. They may misinterpret our motives. They may also be upset that their way of living is not as convenient for them, because of our efforts to be honest and charitable. Our life of charity will expose, to a certain extent, the true nature of their wickedness. This will result in having resentment and bitterness towards us. And they will constantly be reminded that their way of life will end in a total waste. And this continual reminder will diminish their enjoyments. Our efforts to become a true disciple of the Lord may very well cost friendships and create bitter enemies towards us.
However, in reality, the majority of our persecutions actually will come within ourselves. We are told in the Writings for the New Church, that when we choose consistently to do what is good, evil spirits will burn with an intense hatred towards us. They will resent us, because they can not control us. Every time we choose to do something wrong or disorderly, we provide the bases for the evil spirits to indulge in their affections. Conversely, when we choose what is good, the pleasures of their lusts is dampened.
Specifically, they attack us by stirring up or arousing our selfish tendencies and attitudes. We all have dispositions, from our heredity, where we only regard ourselves and use others for our own benefit. Therefore, when evil spirits fight to remain in control of our lives, they come within the selfish desires that reject the paths that lead to heaven. Therefore, we are fighting evil spirits when we fight against our bad habits and loves. Fortunately, the life of Joseph can teach us how we can endure the persecutions that the evil will wage against us, and how we can have the eventual victory in the end.
First, Joseph brought to Jacob, his father, a critical report against his brothers. When we consistently seek to learn and apply what is true, we will recognize both the evil that surrounds us and that which is within us. We are plainly told, in the Heavenly Doctrines, that we can only recognize what is evil by knowing and accepting what is true. If we do not apply what is true to our lives, we will not be able to identify what is evil and false. So long as we justify a selfish life, we are unable to make sound judgements as to what is genuinely proper. One of the consequences of falsities is they make the truth cloudy. They prevent the truth from being seen in a clear light. So long as the truth is vague, our ability to distinguish good and evil is not as sharp. This is why when truth is plainly seen, evil reacts with hatred. It can not conceal itself as much as it once did.
Joseph represents the ability to recognize evil. And because his brothers were no longer able to enjoy their irresponsible conduct, they were bitter towards Joseph when he told Jacob of their improper actions. When we are confronted with the truth, it will expose our selfish tendencies. These tendencies react with aggression to remove the truth so we can continue to live a life of sensual pleasures.
We are told that Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son. The special relationship between Jacob and Joseph represents the conjunction between our spiritual desire to do good and our natural desire to do good. Most people want to live a decent moral life. However many want to live a proper life to avoid punishment, or to be regarded as an honest and upstanding person, so they may receive benefits and praise. Many have a desire to live a moral life strictly for the sake of self. There is very little consideration towards how one’s actions will effect others.
We must be reminded that there is nothing wrong in wanting to avoid punishment or striving to have a solid reputation. But if we are to spiritually grow, such desires must become more chaste. This is done when spiritual principles motivate our life of morality. Our regard for our personal reception of the Lord and our effect upon others will have the predominant influence over the way we live. This spirituality that is within our morality is pictured by the close bond between Jacob and Joseph.
Because Joseph was so special to Jacob, he made for Joseph a coat, or tunic, of many colors. This beautiful coat distinguished Joseph from the rest of his brothers. Therefore, this coat was a constant symbol that Joseph was Jacob’s favorite. Therefore, this coat was the instigator of Joseph’s persecution. Because of the coat, the brothers hated Joseph and held him in contempt.
This special coat pictures spiritual truth becoming manifest by the conduct of our lives. We are displaying the Lord’s truth in diverse ways. The various colors picture the endless variety of ways we show the Lord’s love towards others. We know how to be supportive, how to teach, when and how we should offer meaningful help, and even how we can charitably rebuke or chastise another that is appropriate and leads to a greater good.
Joseph then had his dreams. He dreamt that the brother’s sheaves bowed down to his sheaves, and the brother’s stars, along with the sun and moon, bowed down to his star. These dreams illustrated our ability to recognize ourselves being in control over selfish and destructive affections. We can imagine our selves having power over our tendencies to love ourselves alone and use others for our own advantage. For example, if we have a problem in controlling our temper, we can picture ourselves being able to keep our temper under control and not lashing out at others. An alcoholic can picture himself or herself rising above the bondage of drinking and living a life free from alcohol. If we enjoy indulging in thoughts and desires that are lewd, we can imagine ourselves free from such influences. We can visualize ourselves enjoying things that are pure and wholesome. When we live according to what we know to be true, we have the ability to view ourselves as being free from the thoughts, affections, and delights that we are fighting against in the present.
Of course the brothers were even more upset with Joseph when he told them of his dreams. When disorderly affections that are within us notice that we have an image of ourselves that rules over sensual desires, they will burn with an intense hatred towards that vision. They will take our coat from us. They will take away our clear understanding of how we are to personally worship the Lord and serve our neighbor, and put us in a state of confusion and despair. They will do this by mingling our understanding of truth with the falsities that justifies a sensual life, which is represented by the coat being dipped in blood.
Yet, the brothers did not destroy the coat. When we read about Joseph’s coat, we are reminded of the Lord’s garments during His crucifixion. While He was crucified, the soldiers took his outer garment and ripped it apart, but the inner garment was left intact, and they cast lots for it. Likewise, Joseph’s coat was not split apart. Our understanding of truth can be attacked and acts of violence can even be done to it, but our spiritual enemies can never destroy it. And when we remain committed to truth, even during times of confusion and doubt, we will be stronger and more enlightened in the end.
How did Joseph overcome his persecutions and temptations? He remained faithful in complying with what is right, and he endured all the afflictions that were dealt towards him. He never wavered in doing the best he could despite his situations. And by remaining faithful towards what is good, he distinguished himself as a person who could be trusted and able to perform services. He did not focus upon his slavery, false accusations, nor his imprisonment. He focused upon what he could do, and this attitude eventually rose him to a position of great power.
We must endure times of spiritual bondage, false accusations, and imprisonments before our spiritual dreams becomes a reality. It is by going through these difficult states of life that our selfish tendencies are removed from us. And we are assured that eventually we will reach a state where we will rule over our selfish allurements.
We must face some form of persecutions if we are to grow spiritually. Yet, the Lord does not allow anything to happen that is not capable of benefiting us spiritually, and this includes the temptations and the persecutions that we are required to go through. Only by enduring these attacks can we become a strong and effective disciple of the Lord. Only by fighting against our corrupt desires and pleasures can they be removed from us. We will feel the loneliness of Joseph in the deep and dark pit. We will feel his bondage and the oppression of his slavery. And we will sense his disillusionment when there is the appearance of being imprisoned for making the effort to do what is right. Yet, these troubling times will actually be opportunities to grow in the appreciation, commitment, and understanding of a life of devotion to the Lord’s teachings. As we endure these difficult times, we are allowing the Lord to prepare us to make a meaningful contribution towards the kingdom He is continually establishing in heaven and upon the earth. When we think about it, each one of Joseph’s difficulties were steps towards becoming an absolute ruler. Without any of these incidents, he never would have been placed in the position of authority. When we sense times of loneliness and bondage towards our depraved loves, we should remember the life of Joseph. If we remain faithful to what we know is true, we will eventually rule over our base desires and enter into the peace that the Lord provides. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. (Mt. 5:10)