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"Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours,” Gen. xxxvii, 3.
AT this period, Rachel, the mother of Joseph, was dead, and Benjamin, his youngest brother, was but a child. Israel, his father, was dwelling in the land of Canaan, and sinking into the decline of life. He had surmounted the keen trials which the imprudence of his daughter, Dinah-the cruelty of two of his sons, Simeon and Levi-and the iniquity of his first-born, Reuben, had occasioned to him. He felt particularly attached to Joseph, as "the son of his old age," the offspring of Rachel, now departed. And probably Joseph was already giving the early promise of those virtues which, in after life, enabled him to govern a nation and save a people and paternal affection would magnify every virtue, and heighten every accomplishment. Who, but a parent, can tell a father's joy as he fondly tells of the doings and the sayings of his son? Did you mark his sparkling eye? Did you note the eagerness of his manner? O frown not; turn not away; but reflect, with wonder, on that mysterious tie which binds the parent to his child, for purposes unspeakably valuable. The repulsive character of his other children would increase his regard; and Joseph shone the brighter by the
Joseph was very susceptible of vanity. In the circle in which he moved he was the most attractive figure. His situation was truly a dangerous one. To be caressed is what few can bear, even after they have
passed through a series of trials, and after they have obtained the stability of the rooted principle of piety; how much less before? This propensity was increased by the present which his father made him of " a coat of many colours." And here we have a specimen of the simplicity of the times. It is said, "Israel made" it, probably with his own hands. This partiality, which prudence should have restrained, produced its inevitable consequences. In the same proportion that Israel loved Joseph, his brothers envied and hated him; so that, at last, all friendship was extinguished between them, and they could not speak peaceably to him. "From Simeon, Levi, and Reuben, their father's affections. were already alienated; and Joseph had brought an evil report against Dan and Asher, Gad and Naphtali, the hand-maid's children. This also had its effect upon them; and the old man seemed to think they were as goads in his side, to imbitter the short residue of his days. Inexperienced and unsuspicious as Joseph was, he soon added more fuel to the flame. He had two remarkable dreams, which, for reasons with which we are not fully acquainted, he thought proper to divulge. Youth is apt to suppose that it does no harm when it means none; and that, when there is no insincerity in the intention, there can be no impropriety in the conduct. His first dream was, that as they were all reaping in the field, his sheaf arose, and stood erect, while the sheaf of each of his brethren bowed in homage before it. The interpretation was obvious; and when he had told his brethren the dream, they asked him if he thought to be their ruler? This supposed insult neither conciliated their regard, nor diminished their hatred. Whether it were from petulance, or a divine impression,
(probably, from the event, the latter,) he told them another dream of similar import, but of still more extensive application, and in his father's presence; namely, that "the sun, and the moon, and the eleven stars had made obeisance" to him. His father, who conceived of the matter as the idle vagrancy of the youthful imagination, was displeased with him for cultivating such day-dreams as could thus influence his sleeping hours, and rebuked him, saying, "Shall I, and thy mother, and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?" Upon farther reflection, his father was struck with the dream, and pondered what the end of these things might be. Unquestionably they preintimated Joseph's exaltation; but before he could be fitted for this, it was necessary that he should pass through much affliction. It is one thing to have power and riches; another to know how to use them. The acquisition of many things good in themselves would be fatal to many. Seldom, indeed, have we heard of any "wise men after the flesh," any " mighty," or "noble," becoming eminent for piety, who have not first had to pass through the furnace, that the gold might be refined from the dross. Adversity is the school of wisdom. Many pass through it without benefit. A few assiduous scholars come forth as gold from the fire, seven times purified. Adversity shows a man his own weakness. Surrounded with abundance, a man is scarcely sensible how few of his advantages are owing to himself. His estimate of men and things is generally false. Divested of these extrinsic advantages, he stands upon his own feet; and begins a profitable acquaintance with himself and with the world.
Keeping these remarks in mind, we begin the story of Joseph's affliction. His brethren had gone to Shechem
to tend the flock there; and Joseph was sent, by his father, to inquire after their health. They had removed to Dothan; and thither he followed them. As he drew near, they coolly proposed to kill their own brother; to conceal the body, by throwing it into a pit; and to hide their own cruelty and guilt, by reporting that a wild beast had slain him: and then, said they, "we shall see what will become of his dreams." Reuben had interest enough with his brethren to prevail upon them not to shed his blood; but not enough to make them change their sentiments. No sooner had Joseph arrived, than they stripped off his coat, and cast him into a pit, with the cruel intention of leaving him to perish. Reuben had designed to extricate him; but before he could accomplish his object, a company of Ishmaelites happened, in his absence, to pass that way; and, at the proposal of Judah, for the sake of gain, his brethren lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him for twenty pieces of silver. Scarcely any imaginable conduct could be more cruel than this of Joseph's brethren. They had banished him, apparently for ever, from his family; and had consigned him to the most unhappy condition of life. They made no allowance for his boyish forwardness, his inexperience, and untutored simplicity. On the most trivial grounds, they cherished an envy and jealousy, a malice and revenge, which moved them to the deliberate murder of their own brother, for in their purpose and intention they did commit murder; and to the infliction of the severest mental torture upon their own father, by the vile artifice with which they deceived him into the opinion that an evil beast had devoured his favourite son. It may here be observed that the curse of Jacob's life, from youth to
age, was the system of favouritism which prevailed, first in Isaac's, and then in his own family.
Joseph was carried by these merchants, heedless of his tears and youth, into Egypt; where he was sold to Potiphar, "an officer of Pharaoh, and captain of the guard." By degrees, his diligence and success in his labours attracted his master's notice; and he raised him from the more servile to more reputable employment; so that, at length, he became overseer of Potiphar's house. A peculiar blessing attended all that he did, and he was careful to prove himself worthy of the trust reposed in him. His trial had been blessed to him; and he feared, trusted, and served God: and God blessed the Egyptian, for his sake. Things were in this state when a circumstance occurred which, though highly honourable to Joseph, plunged him into the deepest misfortune. The wife of Potiphar indulged an illicit attachment for him; and shamelessly avowed it to him. In vain did he appeal from her passion to her understanding and conscience, saying, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" "She spake to Joseph day by day ;" and, on one occasion, laid hold of him. He, to avoid her importunity, left his garment in her hand and fled. Shame and mortification instantly changed (a transformation by no means uncommon) her lust into deadly hate; and she determined upon a cruel revenge. She charged him with attempting the very crime to which she had tried, in vain, to seduce him; and thus awoke the jealousy and anger of Potiphar against Joseph, so that, without farther inquiry, he cast him into the king's prison. Even there the divine blessing followed him; and he daily won upon the good opinion of the jailer. So high, indeed, did he rise in his esteem that every indulgence,