Clothing in Genesis – 2

This article is a continuation of one begun in the August issue. Our brother skillfully takes us through Genesis showing us principles and lessons linked with garments.

Joseph’s coat of many colors, Gen. 37

Perhaps of all the clothing mentioned in Genesis, Joseph’s coat is the most interesting, for it played a major part in his early life story Whatever view be taken as to the features of this garment, whether it was varied in colors, or whether it was, as most now think, one which reached to the toes and had long sleeves, there can be no doubt that the reason it was bestowed upon him was to manifest his father’s love of him. Not only was Joseph dear to his father because of his mother, but possibly also because, due to the incest of Reuben, the portion of the firstborn was to be inherited by him. His brethren envied him and could not tolerate the sight of him in his special garb. When they sold him, they took the coat off him and returned it dipped in blood to his father. Thus, what was an expression of love from a devoted father, became for him what almost cost him his life. Indeed, as far as Jacob was concerned, when he saw it stained with blood, he concluded that Joseph was surely dead.

All who read this story can, see in it a beautiful picture of the Lord Himself. He too was loved by His Father; He too was rejected by his brethren, and He too was sold, stripped, and slain. Without in any way despising this primary view of the story, there are other lessons to be learned from it. All true believers are loved by the Father. He bestows upon them a character the worldlings never wear. Like Joseph, they make claims that even the religious sinner cannot tolerate. Had Joseph refused to wear the coat, he might well have escaped the cruel treatment of his brethren. Likewise, if saints do not manifest the characteristics of those loved by God, they may escape cruel hatred of a Christless world. Joseph not only wore his coat, but also told his dreams. The believer not only is one who is loved by God in a special sense, but also one who bears testimony as to what is in store for him in the future.

Already the use of Esau’s garment to deceive Isaac has been noticed. Now, deception is again linked with a garment, for the coat dipped in blood was shown to Jacob, who assumed that the wearer was devoured by an evil beast. These sons did not mind the anguish they caused in the heart of their father. Not one of them was bold enough to tell the truth, the whole ten of them being united in the deception. The religious world is slow to admit its part in the persecution of the true saints. Whether we think of the sufferings of the early church, or the Inquisitions of the 13th century, or some of the sufferings of recent times, the hand of the religious world was involved in them. As long as Christ is rejected, those linked with Him will in some measure suffer reproach for His name. We need grace to wear the evidence of God’s favor in our contacts with the sons of men. We must never throw off those features in our character which distinguish us from the worldlings about us, even though it may be costly for us to wear them.

Rent garments, Gen 37 & 44.

A notable action in O.T. times to express grief and distress was by rending garments. The first to do this was Reuben when he discovered that Joseph was not in the pit where he had earlier put him. He hastily concluded that he had been murdered by his brothers. This would imply that Reuben had no part in the deal with the Midianites and that he was absent when it took place. In his distress he tore his own clothes as a manifestation of his grief and despair. However, when he heard that Joseph was sold to the Midianites, a race of people who descended from Abraham, he was somewhat relieved and acquiesced with his brethren in their plan to deceive their father. Had his torn garment been seen by Jacob, it would have been understood by him as the expression of sorrow at the finding of the blood-stained coat.

When Jacob had examined the coat and was assured that it was indeed Joseph’s, he too rent his clothes. This natural demonstration of feelings of grief which were beyond words to express seemed to instantly occur, so the rending was not something commanded or premeditated. At a later time, the rending of garments became somewhat formal, so that Joel exhorted the people in his day, “rend your hearts, not your garments” (ch. 2:13).

The day came when these men who had sold Joseph and deceived their father were so distressed that they too rent their garments. When the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, they were in despair and knew not which way to turn. They had virtually sentenced Benjamin to death and themselves to become slaves in Egypt when they answered the steward who blamed them for stealing Joseph’s cup. They were reaping what they had earlier own when they deceived their father. The rent clothes, the token of their grief, was no mere formality, but a genuine expression of their despair. Not one of them had the slightest idea of what the outcome eventually would prove to be.

The lesson that their experience teaches should not be lightly passed over. If the consequences of doing wrong and bringing grief to others were fully weighed, then all who are tempted to do such evils, would not only hesitate, but refrain from doing them.

Tamar’s changed clothes, Gen 38

Of all the strange stories in Genesis that of Tamar is the most amazing. Her immorality and strange experiences would likely never have appeared in Scripture had she not been in the direct line which led to Christ. She is one of the unworthy women whose names appear in Matthew 1. She had a sad life, her husband died before she had borne him any family. In keeping with the law of levirate marriage, afterwards established by Moses (Duet 25:5,6), his brother was responsible to take her and rear a son to perpetuate the name of the deceased. Two brothers of her husband failed in this duty and also died. A third one, who was promised to her when he was grown up, had not been granted to her. Her plan to overcome this disappointment was to act the part of an harlot and become a mother through her father-in-law. In order to do this, she had to remove the attire of her widowhood and dress in the garb of an harlot. Judah judged her to be what her attire displayed – a harlot, and unknowingly fulfilled the duty his sons had failed to do. The result was that she became the mother of Perez, an ancestor of Boaz.

Without going further into this story, its lesson is not difficult to perceive. What we manifest outwardly is what others conceive us to be. Tamar was not a harlot, but her attire proclaimed that she was one. Saints have no right to change their true character even if it is done to bring about what they judge to be right. If, as in many other cases, God overrules evil and fulfils His purpose, this in no way justifies it.

Joseph’s cloak and Potiphar’s wife, Gen 39.

Whatever Joseph may have feared regarding his lot in Egypt, its severity was diminished by the overruling hand of God. His character had so impressed Potiphar that he made him chief of his household. Though only a slave, he was treated with respect and entrusted with all his master’s goods. However, whatever joy he had in his high post was marred by the constant temptation of his master’s wife. The standard of morality was never high in Egypt, so that even in high circles, the sin of adultery was not considered to be loathsome. Joseph resisted her overtures, and refused to respond to her demands. On one occasion, when there was no one about, she made a daring attempt to have him lie with her. He escaped, but lost his cloak in doing so. The symbol of his innocence was used by her as a proof of his guilt. Her husband believed her story and put Joseph in prison. Being a slave in Egypt was bad enough, but being a prisoner in stocks was many times worse.

The lesson of this story is obvious. All agree that Joseph was better to lose his cloak than his character. He is the outstanding example in the O.T. of one suffering for righteousness sake. In these times when immorality is viewed by the world as no longer a serious sin, we ought to remind our hearts that God has not changed in His thoughts of it. There is another spiritual lesson to be learned from this story. Just as Potiphar’s wife desired the unlawful relationship with Joseph, so the world at times would seek to entice the Christian to enter into its pleasures and sins. Fellowship, especially with the religious world, is viewed in Scriptures as spiritual adultery. The child of God may possess talents which could entertain the unsaved and make sinners happy on the way to hell, but he was not given these for that purpose, and should shun all enticements to use them for a wrong purpose.

Joseph’s prison garments, Gen 41

It must have been somewhat surprising to Joseph that an officer from Pharaoh arrived in the prison and summoned him to the palace. He could not appear before the king in the garb of a prisoner, so he shaved and changed into suitable garments. It was like “life from the dead”. An end to his humiliation had come, and the perplexity of his painful experiences was over. For many years he had worn the evidence of his lot, but with attire the like of which he had never worn before, he was ushered into the presence of him who was then the greatest ruler on earth.

The “God of resurrection” can at times give His servants deliverance which, though not literally a resurrection of the body, still resembles it. He who has the keys of death, has also the keys of difficult circumstances. The world’s food supply was not in Pharaoh’s power, great and mighty as he was. The approaching change in the harvests of that land, always famous for growing wheat, was the instrument used by God to exalt Joseph. Likewise, to this day, much that seems due to natural causes is instrumental in the fulfillment of His wise purposes.

Joseph dressed in fine linen, Gen 41

Good as the clothes were which Joseph wore when brought from prison, they were not thought to be good enough for him to wear when exalted to rule the land of Egypt. Had he been given a servant’s post, he would have been thankful, but to be placed next to Pharaoh, to ride in his chariot wearing royal robes, to have a gold chain round his neck and the king’s ring on his finger, must have surpassed his wildest dreams. His exaltation was not merely something that he personally enjoyed, but was publicly displayed. All who contacted him were immediately aware that he was of supreme importance. As he sat in his chariot, he could recall the time when he was dressed in his ornate coat, when he was stripped by Potiphar’s wife, when he wore prison garments, when he was dressed to appear before Pharaoh and when, for the first time, he was arrayed in royal apparel.

Those acquainted with the N.T. cannot fail to see in Joseph’s experiences a beautiful type of the Lord Himself. Although that is the most obvious way of looking at the story, yet it has in it instructions for all who seek to serve the Lord. His ways with us are often a puzzle to our minds, and at time we are amazed at our humiliations. We have to remember that all is not finished, for the day will come when we will be associated with Christ in His kingdom, and when we will walk with Him in white. Not only will our clothing be changed, but our bodies too will be fashioned like unto His glorious body. Meanwhile, it is our privilege, even in our present humble conditions, to wear the beauty of the Lord, and to “show forth the virtues of Him, who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).