Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand, and said, “Let’s not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might deliver him out of their hand, to restore him to his father.Genesis 37:21-22 (WEB)
To remind you where we are, Joseph was not popular among his brothers. In fact, the Bible makes clear that they hated him to point of not be able to speak to him kindly. Having shared with them some controversial dreams, their resolve against him has only been strengthened. Searching for them in the wilderness, an opportunity has presented itself to them to finally be rid of him for good. Putting it bluntly, they plan to kill him.
Reuben to the Rescue?
Reuben, hearing the plan to murder Joseph, delivers him out of their hand. It may sound as though Reuben has had a bout of conscience but in fact, his motives are purely self-serving.
Instead of shedding Joseph’s blood, an obvious crime, he convinces them to simply throw him into the pit and let him die “naturally!” To the brothers, this apparently seems less unsavoury than actually doing the deed itself. However, would God see them as guiltless for this? I hardly think so.
James, in his letter, says:
So any person who knows what is right to do but does not do it, to him it is sin.James 4:17 (Amp)
If we know what is right, and yet refuse to do it, that is sin – plain and simple. For the brothers here, it is not as though they have stumbled across a Joseph who has accidentally fallen into a pit, and refused to rescue him… that would be sin enough! Instead, they plan to throw him in there themselves. Whichever way you shake it, to fulfil such a plan is no different from shedding his blood themselves.
We see from the final words of verse 22 that Reuben was not actually concerned about Joseph at all. His motives for rescuing him were purely selfish. He wanted to sneak back later on and pull Joseph out, claiming to be the one who had rescued him and gaining favour with his father.
I wonder if Jacob must take a slice of the blame here. Imagine being in a family where you felt you had to go to such lengths to obtain a father’s favour. Clearly Reuben’s actions are very wrong, but so was the favouritism which drove him to it.
In the pit
When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him; 24 and they took him, and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty. There was no water in it.Genesis 37:23-24 (WEB)
I wonder, as Joseph approached his brothers that day, if he had any idea what was coming. Even a naïve dreamer (if that’s what he was) must have known their feelings towards him. Perhaps he simply thought the best of them, and never expected them to act in this shocking way.
They strip him of his coat of many colours, and this, in their minds, would have been like ripping off Jacob’s favouritism from him. The coat would have been a sign of leadership too, and likewise they are saying, “You are not above us!” Throwing him into the pit is to throw him beneath them once and for all.
The text makes a point of saying that the pit (or water cistern) is empty. Why is this important – apart from the obvious consequences for Joseph? I want to address that at a later date – so stay tuned! Suffice it to say that I do not believe any detail is in the Bible for no reason.
Water cisterns were no small holes in the ground. The picture above shows the size and scale of some of these pits. We do not know how long Joseph was in there, but from the bottom he would have seen little but sky.
The Bible does not seem to reference Joseph prying all that much, but I can only imagine that as he sat or lay at the bottom of this pit, that he was praying earnestly for rescue. “Get me out of this pit, please God!” he might have said, and would we have prayed any differently? Yet God does answer his prayer (as we will see next time) but not into freedom, rather instead into slavery.
Similarly, if God had rescued Joseph completely in this situation, he would never have found himself in Egypt and in that place God had called him to. Joseph, if he was praying to escape the pit, was praying against God’s will and against his own dreams. That is something to pause on. When we pray, we pray from our human viewpoint and not from God’s stance. Could it be that some of our prayers of rescue are not answered because they would contradict God’s plans and our dreams? I’ll leave that with you…
Let our prayers be led by the Holy Spirit today and every day!