Genesis 36–37: Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors

Old Testament Seminary Student Study Guide, (2002), 34–35


Genesis 36 lists the names of many of Esau’s descendants (Esau is also called “Edom” in verses 1, 43). Esau’s posterity were neighbors to Jacob (Israel) throughout the history of the Bible and were called “Edomites.”The birthright son became the leader of the family upon his father’s death. He also assumed responsibility for caring for other family members. In order to fulfill his responsibilities, he was given a double amount of land and goods in his inheritance. Because of the covenant God made with Abraham, the birthright son also had spiritual responsibilities. (For more information, see the Bible Dictionary, “birthright,” p. 625.)Usually the firstborn son received the birthright. Reuben, however, made himself unworthy of this honor (see Genesis 35:22; 1 Chronicles 5:1). As the firstborn son of Rachel, Jacob’s second wife, Joseph was given the birthright. The “coat of many colors” Jacob gave to Joseph (see Genesis 37:3) is thought to represent the fact that Joseph received the birthright (see William Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies [1978], “colour,” p. 82).Remember that although Joseph was the firstborn son of Rachel, he was the eleventh son born. Even though he was worthy, we can imagine how the ten older brothers must have felt about him receiving the birthright blessings. As you read each part of Genesis 37, think about how you would have felt if you were Joseph at that time.
Joseph held by Midianite traders

Understanding the Scriptures

Genesis 37

Lad (v. 2)Boy (meaning the boy Joseph) 
Their evil report (v. 2)A report that they (the brothers) had done evil 
Peaceably (v. 4)Kindly 
Binding sheaves (v. 7)Tying stalks of wheat into bundles 
Sheaf (v. 7)Bundle of wheat 
Made obeisance (vv. 7, 9)Bowed down 
Reign (v. 8)Rule 
Dominion (v. 8)Power 
Rebuked (v. 10)Tried to correct or scold 
Envied (v. 11)Were jealous of 
Observed (v. 11)Remembered 
Vale (v. 14)Valley 
Conspired (v. 18)Planned 
Devoured (vv. 20, 33)Eaten 
Delivered (v. 21)Saved 
Rid (v. 22)Save 
Company (v. 25)Group 
Spicery and balm and myrrh (v. 25)Precious things to sell 
Conceal (v. 26)Hide 
Content (v. 27)Agreed 
Merchantmen (v. 28)Businessmen 
Rent (vv. 29, 33–34)Tore 
Put sackcloth upon his loins (v. 34)Dressed in rough clothing (a tradition that showed his sadness) 
sheaves sun, moon, and stars

Studying the Scriptures

Do two of the following activities (A–C) as you study Genesis 37.

Activity A iconChoose a Title for a Biography

If you were writing a biography of Joseph’s life up to the end of Genesis 37, what would you title it? Explain why.

Activity B iconJoseph’s Trials

  1. 1.

    List the challenges in Genesis 37 that Joseph faced.

  2. 2.

    How do you think Joseph felt about his challenges?

  3. 3.

    How are Joseph’s challenges like the ones young people face today?

Activity C iconGain Insight from the Book of Mormon

  1. 1.

    Explain why you think Jacob “refused to be comforted” (v. 35).

  1. 2.

    Jacob kept a piece of Joseph’s coat that his sons brought to him. Later, when he learned that Joseph was still alive, he prophesied about Joseph’s descendants. Read this prophecy in Alma 46:24–25 and explain it in your own words. This prophecy not only refers to the people of the Book of Mormon but also to you if you are from the tribes of Ephraim or Manasseh (Joseph’s sons).