Scripture: And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Genesis 37:22, 26-27 ESV
Observation: Joseph, naively sharing two dreams with his family that signified their submission to him, spurs in his brother feelings of jealousy and murderous thoughts. So when his father sends Joseph to find his brothers (who were herding flocks in Dothan) and bring back word of their well-being, they seize the opportunity to exact revenge on Joseph outside of Jacob’s purview. When Reuben, the oldest, learns of their plan to kill Joseph, he seeks to rescue his little brother by reasoning that it would not go well if they murdered him. Reuben instead suggests throwing Joseph into a pit (thinking he would later rescue Joseph, above verse 32).
So they strip Joseph of his multi-colored cloak (that symbolizes Jacob’s favored status) and throw him into the pit. Then, as a caravan of Ishmaelite traders approaches, Judah (who also did not want to murder his brother) reasons to the rest that there would be no gain in killing Joseph when they could sell him to the Ishmaelites (above verses 26-27). As this first segment of Joseph’s story concludes, his brothers tear Joseph’s cloak, dip it in goat’s blood, and return home to Jacob, where they share their fabrication of Joseph’s demise—which breaks Jacob’s heart.
Takeaway: There are three fascinating elements to this story. First, the Ishmaelites are descendants of Ishmael (Isaac’s half-brother). As such, God used the extended family of Jacob’s father’s line to provide the means for Joseph’s extrication and relocation to the land where the nation of Israel would carry on the mandate to be fruitful and multiply. Secondly, Judah, who will later receive the most significant blessing from Jacob that portends the salvific work of Christ (who ascends from Judah’s line), is the one who rescues his brother from the pit of death. Lastly, Joseph, who will save God’s chosen people from famine, is betrayed by those closest to him for a price (prefiguring the passion of Christ). But the main character overarching this story is God himself. For it is our sovereign Lord who orchestrates those who act for good and for evil to accomplish his purposes. And it is our gracious and merciful Father who rescues us from the consequences of sin and directs us toward our life mission through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lion of Judah.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you that you are sovereign over all aspects of our sin-marred world and that through your Son’s rescue mission, we are now set free to be fruitful and multiply your kingdom on earth. Would you please help us to trust in you during those dark seasons where we find ourselves in the pit and patiently wait on you for restoration and redirection? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling