T HERE were many reasons why Jacob should love his son Joseph more than all his other sons, but there was one special reason above all. The little lad's mother had been more to him than any one else in all the wide world, and when she died, leaving Joseph and a new-born baby brother, Benjamin, all the love in the father's heart turned to his two little sons. The elder brothers were strong, grown-up men, quite able to look after themselves; it was on Joseph that all his father's tenderness, all his hopes, were fixed.
At first the other brothers took no notice of their father's preference; but as Joseph grew older they began to feel uneasy and envious, especially when Jacob made a beautiful coat for the boy, a coat of many pieces of cloth all of different colours joined together. So gay and beautiful a coat it was, that every one who saw him wearing it said, "This must be the son of a great chief."
But if the gay coat made them angry, they were more angry still when Joseph began to dream strange dreams and to tell them to his brothers. He must be full of wicked pride, they said, or how could he dream such dreams. There, in a cornfield, so Joseph said, his sheaf had stood upright, while all their sheaves had bowed down before it; and another time in his dream he had seen the sun and moon and eleven stars all doing reverence to him.
Joseph Telling His Dreams
Was he indeed going to rule over all of them? It was more than his brothers could bear, and they began to hate him with all their hearts.
It was hard for Joseph, because he had not meant to boast when he told them of his dreams. If he was proud of his coat of many colours, it was only because it was a gift from his father. He was a straight-forward, good-natured boy, clever and brave, and ready to take his turn in watching the flocks or helping his brothers with their work in the field.
But it grew day by day more difficult to keep the peace between them, and the only quiet times were when the elder brothers went farther afield to find new pasture for their flocks.
It was at one of these times when the brothers had been gone for some time that Jacob called Joseph to him and bade him go and find his brothers, and bring back news if they were safe and well.
Joseph was now a lad of about seventeen, and this would be the first journey he had taken by himself; so he was eager to show that he was to be trusted, and set out most cheerfully.
After some days he arrived at Shechem, where his father had told him he would find his brothers, but there were no signs of them there. Unwilling to return home without news, Joseph wandered about until he met a man, who directed him to a place farther on; and at last he caught sight of their tents in a field far ahead, and he hurried forward with a light heart to greet them.
It was a clear day and the shepherds' keen eyes could see far along the winding road that stretched out towards Shechem. So, long before Joseph arrived they saw his figure in the distance hastening towards them.
Perhaps it was the gay colour of his coat that first told them who it was, and perhaps it was the coat that reminded them of their hate and their envious feelings, and brought to their memory again those prideful dreams.
"Behold, this dreamer cometh," they said to one another. "Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams."
With dark looks of hate they watched the gay figure coming so joyfully to meet them, and only one heart felt any pity for the boy. Reuben, the eldest brother, made up his mind quickly that he would save him if possible. Only he must set to work cunningly, for those other brothers were very determined men. What was the use of killing him outright? he suggested; why not put him into the pit close by and leave him there to die? (for he meant to come back and save Joseph after the others had gone).
Never dreaming of evil Joseph came on, and now he ran to them and began to give them his father's message. But the rough hands held out to him were not held out in welcome. The brothers seized the boy and savagely tore off his coat, as if the very sight of it hurt their eyes, and then they hurried him towards the pit which Reuben had pointed out.
Then Joseph knew that they meant to kill him. He knew that if they threw him into one of those deep narrow pits there was no chance of climbing up its steep sides, even if he were not immediately drowned in the water which often gathered there. Was he never to see his father and little brother again? nevermore to spend happy days in the green fields under the blue sky? It was useless to cry out or beg for pity, and Reuben was not there to help him. The pit was reached, strong hands pushed him forward, and into the blackness he fell, down, down, until with a terrible thud he reached the bottom. There was no water to break his fall, for the pit was dry.
There!—that was done! The cruel brothers went off to a little distance and began sullenly to eat their midday meal. But scarcely had they begun when they saw a company of travellers coming towards them, a long train of camels laden with spices, on their way down to Egypt.
Here was a splendid opportunity of making some money out of their evil plan. Instead of leaving Joseph to starve in the pit, they would fetch him out and sell him to these merchants, who would most likely give a good price for such a strong young slave.
Perhaps for a moment, when Joseph heard their voices at the pit's mouth, and when they drew him up and lifted him out into the sunshine again, he thought they were sorry and meant to be kind to him, but that thought soon vanished.
The Midianite merchants were waiting, and very soon a rope was bound round his hands and he was tied to the saddle of the man who had bought him, and he knew now that they had drawn him up from the pit only to sell him as a slave.
They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites.
Meanwhile Reuben had been keeping out of sight, waiting to return and rescue Joseph as soon as it was safe to do so. Very cautiously he at last stole back. But alas! when he reached the pit he found that it was empty. What had happened? In his distress he forgot his caution; he no longer cared to hide his intentions from his brothers.
"The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?" he cried to them in bitter sorrow, when at last he found them.
With angry, sullen looks they told him that Joseph was now far away on his road to Egypt. He must keep their secret. There was but one thing to be done. Joseph's coat lay there, just as they had torn it off him: they would dip the coat in goat's blood and carry it to their father.
The poor, gay-coloured little coat, all bloodstained and torn, was brought and laid out before Jacob's eyes.
"This have we found," said the brothers: "know now whether it be thy son's coat or no."
Did he not indeed know that coat of many colours? Had not his heart been filled, many a time, with pride and love as he watched his boy wearing it with the gallant air of a young chieftain.
"It is my son's coat," he cried, with a bitter cry of grief; "an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces."