What was the significance of Joseph’s “coat of many colours?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

Any and every Sunday School child has learned about Joseph and his “coat of many colours.” However, rarely is the coat itself studied in-depth. What exactly was it? And, what interesting lesson can it teach us? As we will see, unwinding this one mystery is actually the key to unlocking and understanding several nebulous Bible passages.

We read in God’s Word, the King James Bible, in Genesis chapter 37: “[1] And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. [2] These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report. [3] 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. [4] And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.”

Notice the “coat of many colours” first appears in Scripture in verse 3. It shows up twice more in that passage: “[23] And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him;…. [32] And they sent the coat of many colours, and they brought it to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son’s coat or no. [33] And he knew it, and said, It is my son’s coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.”


Not surprisingly, scholars have professed great difficulty with the original language here. One study Bible footnote says to this point: “Genesis 37:3 The meaning of the Hebrew for this word is uncertain; also in verses 23 and 32.” Those who consider “a coat of many colours” a “doubtful” translation invite us to question it with them. Using human speculation, the world’s “wisdom,” they try to make sense of the Bible. Some people are genuinely seeking answers from the Scriptures.

Oftentimes, though, they are interested in discussing the Bible strictly from a “theological” viewpoint. They pay more attention to the original languages themselves rather than the actual teaching of those languages. Hence, they extract very little to nothing from the Bible. They are not looking for pure and sound Bible doctrine. Unfortunately, they have been trained in most Bible institutions to remove or add words to the Scriptures. They do not appreciate the doctrines that are distorted or obscured by their tampering. They have adopted the idea that Bible thoughts, rather than words, matter. They feel like they have been granted the liberty to take from—yea, “correct”—the Bible whenever they do not understand it.

Dear friends, if we are Bible believers, we are going to believe the Bible and not concern ourselves with the vain speculations of apostate modern-day translators, denominational theologians, or any other fallible humans lacking the Holy Spirit’s illumination. We have every reason to believe that the King James Bible is correct in these instances. Our 1611 translators were learned, Holy-Spirit-filled men. “A coat is many colours” is a faithful, reliable rendition of the original Hebrew Bible. We would do well to trust their judgment over any modern translator or translation. In this day of itching ears, mass apostasy, we cannot afford to question our final authority. The King James Bible that Bible-believing Christians have used for over 400 years will certainly not fail us at this late date. It is the commonplace theological system that will deceive and disappoint us because it has always been apostate!


Firstly, let us think about the phrase “coat of many colours.” What the Bible is speaking of is a rainbow cloak or mantle, an article of clothing richly embroidered or decorated with various colored patches or strips of cloth. This rainbow appearance made it a very beautiful garment. Its wearer stood out in a crowd. No doubt it was very expensive (such rare dyes being used to make it). By looking at other Bible passages, comparing verse with verse, we can understand the importance of this rainbow of colors and this “coat of many colours.”

In Ezekiel chapter 1, the Prophet Ezekiel saw a glimpse of God’s throne in the third heaven: “[1] Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. [2] In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity, [3] The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.

“[4] And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. [5] Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. [6] And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. [7] And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass. [8] And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. [9] Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. [10] As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle….”

“[26] And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. [27] And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about. [28] As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.”

When Ezekiel saw God’s throne, he noticed an “amber” color (verses 4 and 27). Verse 28 says this “amber” (or yellow) light was actually a “bow” (that is, a rainbow). He saw a yellow rainbow around God’s throne—that glow was the “appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.” Several hundred years later, the Apostle John saw glimpse of God’s throne. What color did he see? Well, let us just say that it was not amber!

Revelation chapter 4: “[1] After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. [2] And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. [3] And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. [4] And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.” John sees an “emerald” (green) rainbow around God’s throne! God’s glory has a greenish appearance here!

Based on these two passages, there is only one sound conclusion. The color of the light around God’s throne changes through time. In Ezekiel’s day, it was amber (yellow). Some 600 years later, John saw it as emerald (green). Various colored rainbows encircle God’s throne depending on the time in history. While we often think of a bright white light, a more accurate description would be a flashing rainbow light. Someone once likened it to a “kaleidoscope of colors.” The language of Ezekiel is flames flickering, fires of various colors, maybe like strobe lights flashing, pulsating lights, and the like.

This explains why Psalm 104 says what it does: “[1] Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. [2] Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:….” God covers Himself “with light as with a garment.” Assorted colors of light surround His throne. Now we understand what 1 Timothy 6:14-16 means: “[14] That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: [15] Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; [16] Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.” The “light which no man can approach unto” is the “light” of Psalm 104—the light of Ezekiel chapter 1 and Revelation chapter 4.

Working backward, we read in Genesis 2:25: “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” Adam and Eve were originally physically naked. Yet, they were “not ashamed.” Then, in chapter 3, we read of them eating the forbidden fruit. There is man’s Fall into sin. Now, Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness. Why?

Genesis chapter 3: “[7] And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. [8] And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.” Originally, Adam and Eve were physically naked but they were not ashamed because the light of God’s righteousness covered their bodies. Once they sinned, they lost that clothing of light, and their nakedness led to them being ashamed. They attempted to cover themselves with fig leaves—replacing God’s righteousness with their own human efforts/religion (Genesis 3:7).

When someone is justified, made righteous before God through Jesus Christ’s shed blood, they receive the spiritual clothing that Adam and Eve once had. Now, as Christians, our fallen physical bodies do not reflect an outward light as Adam and Eve did. While God shed animal blood to cover Adam and Eve’s sin, He had to cover them physically too. Genesis 3:21 says: “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” There was a physical covering (animal skins) and there was a spiritual covering (animal blood). That blood typified, or represented, the blood of Christ that would be shed on Calvary many centuries later.

Speaking of national Israel’s future redemption, Isaiah 61:10 says: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” When God’s righteousness is applied to one’s account, the event is likened unto putting on a “robe of righteousness.” God is clothing someone “with the garments of salvation.” All of those who are on God’s side have His righteousness. They reflect His glory. This reminds us of something else—another special set of clothing that mirrored God’s glory.

Lucifer, who became known as Satan after his fall, was a spirit being (cherub) in the third heaven. This beautiful, wise creature wore a garment of precious stones. Notice in Ezekiel chapter 28: “[11] Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, [12] Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. [13] Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. [14] Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. [15] Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.”

We want to pay special attention to the various precious stones that decorated Lucifer’s body: “…every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold” (verse 13). Verse 14 says Lucifer was the “anointed cherub that covereth.” According to Ezekiel chapter 1 (what we read earlier), Ezekiel chapter 10, and Revelation chapter 4 (what we read earlier too), four cherubim (“living creatures”) surround God’s throne. Before Lucifer’s fall, there were five cherubim. Lucifer’s body formed some type of canopy over that throne. The multi-colored precious stones served as prisms or mirrors. Lucifer’s body reflected the glory (various colored lights) that radiated from God. Surely, all these colors formed a beautiful rainbow. Of course, Lucifer became prideful and lost that position, wanting to be worshipped instead of worshipping God. You can read Ezekiel 28:11-19, Isaiah 14:12-15, and 1 Timothy 3:6 for more information. Time and space do not permit us to quote and expound those verses here.


Joseph’s “coat of many colours” (Genesis 37:3) was a representation of God’s “light of many colours.” It was a depiction of God’s glory found in the third heaven. It is God’s righteousness emanating from Him! Furthermore, Joseph and Jesus Christ have many similarities—some 150 various analogous traits! As a type of Christ, Joseph reflected God’s glory. Christ, the antitype, also reflects God’s glory. After all, Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, fully God and fully Man. He shines forth God’s glory as well!

Colossians 1:15 says Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God.” Also, Colossians 2:9: “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”

Read Hebrews 1:1-3, paying special attention to what verse 3 says about Jesus Christ: “[1] God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, [2] Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; [3] Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:….”


As an interesting side-note, we see the Hebrew expression twice more in the Bible—2 Samuel 13:18-19. “And she had a garment of divers colours upon her: for with such robes were the king’s daughters that were virgins apparelled. Then his servant brought her out, and bolted the door after her. And Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of divers colours that was on her, and laid her hand on her head, and went on crying.” Here, King David’s daughter Tamar, and her sisters, wore a “garment of divers colours” (same as “coat of many colours”) to signify their virginity or pureness. Once she was sexually assaulted (raped) by her brother, however, she tore that garment. Poor Tamar! Her glory had departed; she was now defiled and ashamed!

Also see:
» Why are the heavens not clean in God’s sight?
» Are we created in the image of God?
» Does God give us “points” for trying to be good?