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.
I never realized that we had a specific age at which the story of Joseph and the jealousy of his brothers began, but here we learn that he was seventeen years old, not quite a boy but neither a full man, living at the critical juncture where most adolescents establish what sort of person they are going to be. And at this young age he becomes the main character of our biblical narrative. From here on out we have our focus shift from Jacob to him.
It says in these verses he was with his half-brothers born of Bilhah and Zilpah, but not of Leah, when he gave a report of the evil they were up to. Later, when he was sold by his brothers, Reuben the son of Leah would be present also, but I wonder whether the sons of the handmaids were more astray than the others. The record does not say what the nature of their offence was at this time, but it is not the only time that they will get into mischief while they are supposed to be caring for the flocks.
Verses 3 and 4 make clear the brothers’ jealousy of Joseph. His father loved him most of all his sons, and it was publicly apparent to them all. In fact, Jacob set Joseph apart with his special gift: a coat of many colors. Joseph was literally wearing the favor of his father for all to see. And the brothers’ hostility to him became so pronounced that they could not conceal it, unable to even speak peacefully to him.
Yet this was not all. As we will see in tomorrow’s verses, there was also the matter of Joseph’s visions, and the prophecy that his brothers would bow before him. Fresh fuel would be heaped upon their anger, until at last they were willing to consider serious harm to Joseph.