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THE STORY OF JOSEPH AND HIS COAT OF MANY COLORS

After Jacob came back to the land of Canaan with his eleven sons,
another son was born to him, the second child of his wife Rachel, whom
Jacob loved so well. But soon after the baby came, his mother Rachel
died, and Jacob was filled with sorrow. Even to this day you can see the
place where Rachel was buried, on the road between Jerusalem and
Bethlehem. Jacob named the child whom Rachel left, Benjamin; and now
Jacob had twelve sons. Most of them were grown-up men; but Joseph was a
boy seventeen years old, and his brother Benjamin was almost a baby.

Of all his children, Jacob loved Joseph the best, because he was
Rachel’s child; because he was so much younger than most of his
brothers; and because he was good, and faithful, and thoughtful. Jacob
gave to Joseph a robe or coat of bright colors, made somewhat like a
long cloak with wide sleeves. This was a special mark of Jacob’s favor
to Joseph, and it made his older brothers envious of him.

Then, too, Joseph did what was right, while his older brothers often did
very wrong acts, of which Joseph sometimes told their father; and this
made them very angry at Joseph. But they hated him still more because of
two strange dreams he had, and of which he told them. He said one day:
“Listen to this dream that I have dreamed. I dreamed that we were out in
the field binding sheaves, when suddenly my sheaf stood up, and all your
sheaves came around it and bowed down to my sheaf!”

And they said scornfully, “Do you suppose that the dream means that you
will some time rule over us, and that we shall bow down to you?”

Then, a few days after, Joseph said, “I have dreamed again. This time, I
saw in my dream the sun, and the moon, and eleven stars, all come and
bow to me!”

And his father said to him, “I do not like you to dream such dreams.
Shall I, and your mother, and your brothers, come and bow down before
you as if you were a king?”

His brothers hated Joseph, and would not speak kindly to him; but his
father thought much of what Joseph had said.

At one time, Joseph’s ten brothers were taking care of the flock in the
fields near Shechem, which was nearly fifty miles from Hebron, where
Jacob’s tents were spread. And Jacob wished to send a message to his
sons, and he called Joseph, and said to him:

“Your brothers are near Shechem with the flock. I wish that you would go
to them, and take a message, and find if they are well, and if the
flocks are doing well; and bring me word from them.”

That was quite an errand, for a boy to go alone over the country, and
find his way, for fifty miles, and then walk home again. But Joseph was
a boy who could take care of himself, and could be trusted; so he went
forth on his journey, walking northward over the mountains, past
Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, and Bethel–though we are not sure those
cities were then built, except Jerusalem, which was already a strong
city.

When Joseph reached Shechem, he could not find his brothers, for they
had taken their flocks to another place. A man met Joseph wandering in
the field, and asked him, “Whom are you seeking?”

Joseph said, “I am looking for my brothers; the sons of Jacob. Can you
tell me where I will find them?”

And the man said, “They are at Dothan; for I heard them say that they
were going there.”

Then Joseph walked over the hills to Dothan, which was fifteen miles
further. And his brothers saw him afar off coming toward them. They knew
him by his bright garment; and one said to another: “Look, that dreamer
is coming! Come, let us kill him, and throw his body into a pit, and
tell his father that some wild beast has eaten him; and then we will see
what becomes of his dreams.”

One of his brothers, whose name was Reuben, felt more kindly toward
Joseph than the others. He said:

“Let us not kill him, but let us throw him into this pit, in the
wilderness, and leave him there to die.”

But Reuben intended, after they had gone away, to lift Joseph out of the
pit, and take him home to his father. The brothers did as Reuben told
them; they threw Joseph into the pit, which was empty. He cried, and
begged them to save him; but they would not. They calmly sat down to eat
their dinner on the grass, while their brother was calling to them from
the pit.

After the dinner, Reuben chanced to go to another part of the field; so
that he was not at hand when a company of men passed by with their
camels, going from Gilead, on the east of the river Jordan, to Egypt, to
sell spices and fragrant gum from trees to the Egyptians.

Then Judah, another of Joseph’s brothers, said, “What good will it do us
to kill our brother? Would it not be better for us to sell him to these
men, and let them carry him away? After all, he is our brother, and we
would better not kill him.”

His brothers agreed with him; so they stopped the men who were passing,
and drew up Joseph from the pit, and for twenty pieces of silver they
sold Joseph to these men; and they took him away with them down to
Egypt.

After a while, Reuben came to the pit, where they had left Joseph, and
looked into it; but Joseph was not there. Then Reuben was in great
trouble; and he came back to his brothers, saying: “The boy is not
there! What shall I do!”

Then his brothers told Reuben what they had done; and they all agreed
together to deceive their father. They killed one of the goats, and
dipped Joseph’s coat in its blood; and they brought it to their father,
and they said to him: “We found this coat out in the wilderness. Look at
it, father, and tell us if you think it was the coat of your son.”

[Illustration: _For twenty pieces of silver they sold Joseph_]

And Jacob knew it at once. He said: “It is my son’s coat. Some wild
beast has eaten him. There is no doubt that Joseph has been torn in
pieces!”

And Jacob’s heart was broken over the loss of Joseph, all the more
because he had sent Joseph alone on the journey through the wilderness.
They tried to comfort him, but he would not be comforted. He said: “I
will go down to the grave mourning for my poor lost son.”

So the old man sorrowed for his son Joseph; and all the time his wicked
brothers knew that Joseph was not dead; but they would not tell their
father the dreadful deed they had done to their brother, in selling him
as a slave.

THE DREAMS OF A KING

The men who bought Joseph from his brothers were called Ishmaelites,
because they belonged to the family of Ishmael, who, you remember, was
the son of Hagar, the servant of Sarah. These men carried Joseph
southward over the plain which lies beside the great sea on the west of
Canaan; and after many days they brought Joseph to Egypt. How strange it
must have seemed to the boy who had lived in tents to see the great
river Nile, and the cities thronged with people, and the temples, and
the mighty pyramids!

The Ishmaelites sold Joseph as a slave to a man named Potiphar, who was
an officer in the army of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Joseph was a
beautiful boy, and cheerful and willing in his spirit, and able in all
that he undertook; so that his master Potiphar became very friendly to
him, and after a time, he placed Joseph in charge of his house, and
everything in it. For some years Joseph continued in the house of
Potiphar, a slave in name, but in reality the master of all his affairs,
and ruler over his fellow-servants.

But Potiphar’s wife, who at first was very friendly to Joseph,
afterward became his enemy, because Joseph would not do wrong to please
her. She told her husband falsely, that Joseph had done a wicked deed.
Her husband believed her, and was very angry at Joseph, and put him in
the prison with those who had been sent to that place for breaking the
laws of the land. How hard it was for Joseph to be charged with a crime,
when he had done no wrong, and to be thrust into a dark prison among
wicked people!

But Joseph had faith in God, that at some time all would come out right;
and in the prison he was cheerful, and kind, and helpful, as he had
always been. The keeper of the prison saw that Joseph was not like the
other men around him, and he was kind to Joseph. In a very little while,
Joseph was placed in charge of all his fellow-prisoners, and took care
of them, just as he had taken care of everything in Potiphar’s house.
The keeper of the prison scarcely looked into the prison at all; for he
had confidence in Joseph, that he would be faithful and wise in doing
the work given to him. Joseph did right, and served God, and God blessed
Joseph in everything.

While Joseph was in the prison, two men were sent there by the king of
Egypt, because he was displeased with them. One was the king’s chief
butler, who served the king with wine; the other was the chief baker,
who served him with bread. These two men were under Joseph’s care; and
Joseph waited on them, for they were men of rank.

One morning, when Joseph came into the room where the butler and the
baker were kept, he found them looking quite sad. Joseph said to them:

“Why do you look so sad today?” Joseph was cheerful and happy in his
spirit; and he wished others to be happy also, even in prison.

And one of them said, “Each one of us dreamed last night a very strange
dream, and there is no one to tell us what our dreams mean.”

For in those times, before God gave the Bible to men, he often spoke to
men in dreams; and there were wise men who could sometimes tell what the
dreams meant.

“Tell me,” said Joseph, “what your dreams are. Perhaps my God will help
me to understand them.”

Then the chief butler told his dream. He said, “In my dream I saw a
grape-vine with three branches; and as I looked, the branches shot out
buds; and the buds became blossoms; and the blossoms turned into
clusters of ripe grapes. And I picked the grapes, and squeezed their
juice into king Pharaoh’s cup, and it became wine; and I gave it to king
Pharaoh to drink, just as I used to do when I was beside his table.”

Then Joseph said, “This is what your dream means. The three branches
mean three days. In three days, king Pharaoh shall call you out of
prison and shall put you back in your place; and you shall stand at his
table, and shall give him his wine, as you have given it before. But
when you go out of prison, please to remember me, and try to find some
way to get me, too, out of this prison. For I was stolen out of the land
of Canaan, and sold as a slave; and I have done nothing wrong to deserve
being put in this prison. Do speak to the king for me, that I may be set
free.”

Of course, the chief butler felt very happy to hear that his dream had
so pleasant a meaning. And the chief baker spoke, hoping to have an
answer as good:

“In my dream,” said the baker, “there were three baskets of white bread
on my head, one above another, and on the topmost basket were all kinds
of roasted meat and food for Pharaoh; and the birds came, and ate the
food from the baskets on my head.”

And Joseph said to the baker:

“This is the meaning of your dream, and I am sorry to tell it to you.
The three baskets are three days. In three days, by order of the king
you shall be lifted up, and hanged upon a tree; and the birds shall eat
your flesh from your bones as you are hanging in the air.”

And it came to pass just as Joseph had said. Three days after that, king
Pharaoh sent his officers to the prison. They came and took out both the
chief butler and the chief baker. The baker they hung up by his neck to
die, and left his body for the birds to pick in pieces. The chief butler
they brought back to his old place, where he waited at the king’s table,
and handed him his wine to drink.

You would have supposed that the butler would remember Joseph, who had
given him the promise of freedom, and had shown such wisdom. But in his
gladness, he forgot all about Joseph. And two full years passed by,
while Joseph was still in prison, until he was a man thirty years old.

But one night, king Pharaoh himself dreamed a dream–in fact, two dreams
in one. And in the morning he sent for all the wise men of Egypt, and
told to them his dreams; but there was not a man who could give the
meaning of them. And the king was troubled, for he felt that the dreams
had some meaning which it was important for him to know.

Then suddenly the chief butler who was by the king’s table remembered
his own dream in the prison two years before, and remembered, too, the
young man who had told its meaning so exactly. And he said:

“I do remember my faults this day. Two years ago king Pharaoh was angry
with his servants, with me and the chief baker; and he sent us to the
prison. While we were in the prison, one night each of us dreamed a
dream; and the next day a young man in the prison, a Hebrew from the
land of Canaan, told us what our dreams meant; and in three days they
came true, just as the young Hebrew had said. I think that if this young
man is in the prison still, he could tell the king the meaning of his
dreams.”

You notice that the butler spoke of Joseph as “a Hebrew.” The people of
Israel, to whom Joseph belonged, were called Hebrews as well as
Israelites. The word Hebrew means, “One who crossed over,” and it was
given to the Israelites because Abraham, their father, had come from a
land on the other side of the great river Euphrates, and had crossed
over the river on his way to Canaan.

Then king Pharaoh sent in haste to the prison for Joseph; and Joseph was
taken out, and he was dressed in new garments, and was led in to Pharaoh
in the palace. And Pharaoh said:

“I have dreamed a dream; and there is no one who can tell what it
means. And I have been told that you have power to understand dreams and
what they mean.”

And Joseph answered Pharaoh:

“The power is not in me; but God will give Pharaoh a good answer. What
is the dream that the king has dreamed?”

“In my first dream,” said Pharaoh, “I was standing by the river: and I
saw seven fat and handsome cows come up from the river to feed in the
grass. And while they were feeding, seven other cows followed them up
from the river, very thin, and poor, and lean–such miserable creatures
as I had never seen before. And the seven lean cows ate up the seven fat
cows; and after they had eaten them up, they were as lean and miserable
as before. Then I awoke.

“And I fell asleep again, and dreamed again. In my second dream, I saw
seven heads of grain growing up on one stalk, large, and strong, and
good. And then seven heads came up after them, that were thin, and poor,
and withered. And the seven thin heads swallowed up the seven good
heads; and afterward were as poor and withered as before.

“And I told these two dreams to all the wise men, and there is no one
who can explain them. Can you tell me what these dreams mean?”

And Joseph said to the king:

“The two dreams have the same meaning. God has been showing to king
Pharaoh what he will do in this land. The seven good cows mean seven
years, and the seven good heads of grain mean the same seven years. The
seven lean cows and the seven thin heads of grain also mean seven years.
The good cows and the good grain mean seven years of plenty, and the
seven thin cows and thin heads of grain mean seven poor years. There are
coming upon the land of Egypt seven years of such plenty as have never
been seen; when the fields shall bring greater crops than ever before;
and after those years shall come seven years when the fields shall bring
no crops at all. And then for seven years there shall be such need, that
the years of plenty will be forgotten, for the people will have nothing
to eat.”

“Now, let king Pharaoh find some man who is able and wise, and let him
set this man to rule over the land. And during the seven years of
plenty, let a part of the crops be put away for the years of need. If
this shall be done, then when the years of need come, there will be
plenty of food for all the people, and no one will suffer, for all will
have enough.”

And king Pharaoh said to Joseph: “Since God has shown you all this,
there is no other man as wise as you. I will appoint you to do this
work, and to rule over the land of Egypt. All the people shall be under
you; only on the throne of Egypt I will be above you.”

And Pharaoh took from his own hand the ring which held his seal, and put
on Joseph’s hand, so that he could sign for the king, and seal in the
king’s place. And he dressed Joseph in robes of fine linen, and put
around his neck a gold chain. And he made Joseph ride in a chariot which
was next in rank to his own. And they cried out before Joseph, “Bow the
knee.” And thus Joseph was ruler over all the land of Egypt.

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