"This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of not just one nation, but a multitude of nations. . . I will give you millions of descendants who will represent many nations. Kings will be among them" (Genesis 17:4, 6).
Then, in relation to how Joseph ended up where he did -- why was he loved more than his siblings? We know Joseph was born was Jacob was in his "old age" (Verses 2-3), but it was more than that. Historically, scholars say that Jacob recognized that having a child with Joseph's mother, Rachel, was a blessing from God because she was barren for many years. "Then God remembered Rachel's policht and answered her prayers by giving her a child. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. 'God removed my shame,' she said. And she names him Joseph. . . " (Genesis 30:22-23). The name 'Joseph' means -- "may he add" in Hebrew; added to what we now know as the gene pool, this becomes a powerful symbol of procreation and God's miracles.
Second, Jacob learned early on that Joseph had a gift of prophecy revealing God's plans -- he knew this was a special gift and wanted to recognize it as such. Jacob believed that of all his sons, Joseph would be the great leader prophesized, and thus acted out his favor. The Coat of Many Colors (Genesis 37) symbolizes the difference between the typical coat (plain, used to keep warm and functional). In contrast, and causing much jealousy, Joseph received a "beautiful robe" (coat of many colors, multicolored robe, depending on translation), and was ankle length, probably more like what royalty wore (Childs, 1992).
Translation issues and commentaries -- Unlike many other stories in the Pentateuch, Genesis 50 does not appear to have the number of controversies associated with linguistic mistranslation. Since this story is part of the Patriarchal tales, the theme of family and familial potential is again central to these passages. Had Joseph not had his particular gifts, he still would have been the miracle child of Rachel, but there might not have been the animosity within the family. Indeed, part of the theme of the Patriarchal tales is that one of the most important duties/journeys of humanity is to "go forth and multiply." That idea of genetic disementaiton into the world is fraught with difficulty -- danger, threat, and absorption into other cultures. Taken historicaly, one can define the idea that Joseph's assurance that God has sent him to Egypt to sustain life, also means that the promise of life to before, is part of the Exodus into the world. Interpretaively, then, we can certainly understand that during this time period life was brutal and short. There were no guarantees, no safety nets, and certainly nothing to ensure that there would be a next generation of Israelites. The idea of "mixing" as some have viewed the edicts in Leviticus, is also apparent here in Genesis, in which the internal (Jacob's families) must look to the external (Joseph in Egypt) for ultimate survival (Alter, 1996, iii-iv).
Meaning and interpretation of passage -- the passage in question has multiple meanings, depending on whether we take it in historical context, alone as a parable, or within the larger structure of Genesis and the Pentateuch. In the historical context, for instance, it is the culmination of the Jabobian story -- his death signals the rebirth of something new; Joseph's reunification with his family, and the assumption that he will ensure the survival of the Israelites. Alone as a parable, the framework is more secular than the preceeding parts of Genesis, and on the surface focuses on the lesson of forgiveness and providence (e.g. God knows best). Within the larger structure of Genesis, the story is part of the description of how the chosen people were able to survive and move through the geopolitical mire that was part of the Moses/Egypt issue (Moberly, 2009).
One very interesting interpretation of Joseph's dreams and gifts tells us that in the word used to describe his visions (hokhman) implies not only wisdom and dream interpretation, but a strong suggestion of Near Eastern precognition mythology, and when Joseph describes his discussions with God, he uses the word 'elohim, not YHWH, which implies a more cross cultural perspective (Alter, 238).
Thus, as a symbol, Joseph is causation -- human and divine. Joephy is an interpreter, a divine voice and, like Moses and Abraham, used to impart that the faithful will believe, that the enormous distance (physical and psychological) from Joseph and his family are bridged through the act of forgiveness.
Abela, a. (2001). "Is Genesis the Introduction of the Primary History?" in: Wenin, a.,
The Book of Genesis. Leuven University/Peeters Press.
Adar, Z. (1990). The Book of Genesis: An Introduction to the Biblical World. Magnes Publishing Company.
Alter, R. (1996). Genesis: Translation and Commentary. Norton.