In Stitches: Contentious Clothing

She couldn’t believe her sister. It was just a sweater, and it hadn’t even shrunk that much in the drier. And she’d given it back, hadn’t she? Her sister probably wouldn’t have even noticed it missing in the first place, if she had kept it.

His daughter must be trying to kill him; that’s all there was to it. Why else would she try to go to the movies wearing that? He was just glad he caught her before she left.

How many times did he have to hear his mom gripe about his favorite jeans? It seemed that everything in life was changing, but the jeans still covered the important parts and were too comfortable to throw away. So what if they had a few holes?

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Maybe you’ve never had an argument over clothing before. Maybe you have. But most of us have likely watched a scene in a television show or a movie in which there was some sort of argument over clothing.

Something that is necessary for survival in the elements, something that was a gift from God to grant us modesty after the fall, (like most gifts) isn’t off-limits where Satan is concerned. Where he can stir up contention, he will.

And trust me! This isn’t a new thing. As we mentioned last week, and as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “There is nothing new…” It was even happening in Genesis.

We learn through the later chapters of Genesis that Jacob, whom God gave a new name of Israel, married two women, and favored the younger, Rachel. She was barren, while her elder sister Leah bore Jacob many sons. When they were older, God opened Rachel’s womb and she had Joseph. Playing favorites is always a dangerous game, but this is an instance where a piece of clothing, meant as a gift to a beloved child, plays a part that Jacob certainly wasn’t anticipating.

Please read Genesis 37:3-4.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider how color was added to clothing in the ancient world. In addition to the wool being shorn from the sheep, carded and cleaned, spun and woven, it would be soaked in boiling water with whatever dye would make the desired color. Various stems, leaves, roots, and blossoms might have been used, or shells or rocks ground into a powder, or even secretions from a snail or other creature.

Imagine doing that enough to make many colors! Even if, say, Jacob had saved pieces of many other dyed things (say some red from a tent, some blue from a tunic, some yellow from a headcovering, etc), he would have to save and store all of those things for some time, and then stitch the pieces together. Either way it happened, he put a lot of work into it.

And Joseph’s brothers were jealous. Not only of the coat, though that certainly didn’t help matters. But we know from the verse we already read that Jacob loved Joseph more, and it would be difficult to imagine that Jacob hid it very well. Heap onto that the fact that Joseph had dreams that indicated his family (and brothers!) would some day bow down to him. Looking back with hind’s sight, we know that they did indeed bow down before Joseph, years later, when he was in Egypt after God blessed him and used him as an instrument to save many lives in the face of a terrible famine. But first, Joseph has to be sent to Egypt.

Read Genesis 37:18-28. There’s a lot happening in this account, and while we could spend hours delving into it all. Consider, though, how quickly the brothers’ jealousy devolved into hatred, and eventually murder. Reuben is an exception, and those verses concerning him are worth further study. We’ll have to save that for another time, though.

Think of the coat of many colors, and what it represented for Joseph: his father’s favor, safety and security, a place of honor. When the brothers took the coat to use as proof of Joseph’s made-up fate (being eaten by a wild animal), they also took those things the coat represented as Joseph would be uncertain of his future and separated from his family.

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Isaiah 61:10 also speaks of a robe that instead of being removed, is placed on someone. Where are we clothed with a garment of salvation and a robe of righteousness? While the removal of Joseph’s coat symbolically represented the apparent removal of the good in his life (though not really, for God was still orchestrating things for a greater good), we are given, in our Baptism and in the faith there planted by the Holy Spirit, a robe of righteousness.

We’ll close there, but I’d love to hear, in the comments below, your thoughts on this question: What other places in Scripture use clothes as symbolic or even literal blessings?


2 thoughts on “In Stitches: Contentious Clothing

  1. The one that comes to my mind is when Paul asks Timothy to bring his cloak to him in prison. It’s such a small act, but I think it helps us see the connection of the two in this real relationship and their own real needs. And what a blessing to have a friend tend to you in your time of need for any of us!


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