Reuben Returns (Joseph #7)

Reuben returned to the pit, and saw that Joseph wasn’t in the pit; and he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The child is no more; and I, where will I go?” 31 They took Joseph’s tunic, and killed a male goat, and dipped the tunic in the blood. 32 They took the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father, and said, “We have found this. Examine it, now, and see if it is your son’s tunic or not.”

33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s tunic. An evil animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces.” 34 Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. He said, “For I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” His father wept for him. 36 The Midianites sold him into Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, the captain of the guard.

Genesis 37:29-36 (WEB)

Reuben Returns

If you cast your mind back to an earlier part of the story, you will recall that Reuben was the one who convinced his brothers not to murder Joseph in cold blood. Instead, he talked them into leaving him in the pit and letting nature take its course. This somehow seemed more palatable to them.

Secretly however, Reuben had planned to return and rescue Joseph so that he could return him to his father, and claim the credit. This is pretty low…

Our passage today picks up the account and opens with Reuben’s return. His is more than a little dismayed to find Joseph gone!

Reuben tears his clothes as a sign of grief, or perhaps regret. It does not appear to be a sign of repentance, as he was not exactly acting out of the purest of motives. Rather he recognises that he won’t be able to “save the day” and claim the credit now. He is sorry of course, but for quite the wrong reasons.

I acknowledged my sin to you.

    I didn’t hide my iniquity.

I said, I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh,

    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

Psalm 32:5 (WEB)

Psalm 32 is one of the Penitential Psalms or Psalms of Repentance. Here in verse 5, the psalmist asked to be forgiven for the iniquity of their sin – other translations say the “sinfulness of my sin.” See my post of the same name – The Sinfulness of my Sin.

Often when we are caught in wrongdoing, we are sorry for the consequences, not the sin itself. A bank robber is sorry he got caught red-handed, but would feel no guilt had they gotten away with it. Reuben, here, is likewise sorry for the consequences of his sin, not the wrongdoing itself.

The Cover Up

There is a possible gap between verse 30 and 31, as the text moves from Reuben’s cries straight to the brothers’ cover up of events. Presumably one of them told him what had happened in his absence.

Joseph is gone, and the brothers must now deal with the obvious. What will they tell their father? Taking Joseph’s coloured coat, they kill a goat and use its blood to stain the tunic. This will be evidence enough of Joseph’s supposed fate.

Taking it to Jacob, they ask him to identify it. In the absence of a body, this is the next best thing and they do not correct him (of course) when he assumes Joseph has been killed by a wild animal.

Look at the grief they inflict on Jacob! His heart is broken and he descends into deep mourning for many days. His other sons and daughters try to comfort him, but to no avail.

Did they feel any guilt, I wonder, as they looked upon their father during this time? He was so broken that he wished to go to Sheol – the place of the dead – so that he might be with his beloved son. Would a spark of remorse have been felt by any of them? The Bible does not record it.

To what lengths people will go to cover up their sinfulness. I see it in myself at times too. I make a mistake at work and there is clear temptation to sweep it under the carpet, or to give a version of events which look less unfavourable. Surely I am not alone in feeling such temptation in those moments?

Christians must not lie however. We must be honest and truthful, even if it means admitting we’ve done wrong and facing the consequences.

The passage, and this chapter, close by telling us that Joseph (meanwhile) is taken to Egypt and sold to a man named Potiphar, who is a servant of Pharaoh and the captain of the guard. This will later turn out to be another divine appointment for Joseph – but we’ll pick that up another day.

Every blessing to you!

Opportunity Knocks (Joseph #6)

They sat down to eat bread, and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing spices and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, and let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not let our hand be on him; for he is our brother, our flesh.” His brothers listened to him. 28 Midianites who were merchants passed by, and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. The merchants brought Joseph into Egypt.

Genesis 37:25-28 (WEB)

Joseph has found his brothers in the wilderness, and they hatched and executed a plan to capture him. Tearing off his coat of colours, they throw him into a pit. Having talked themselves out of killing him directly, they now plan instead to leave him to the elements.

Verse 25 opens by telling us that they sat down to eat bread. I am not sure if there is any significance to this in particular, but it strikes me that having captured and essentially murdered their brother, food might be the last thing on their minds! It takes a callous heart to condemn someone to death, and then in the next moments enjoy a hearty meal.

Perhaps the significance lies in the timing. The text tells us that while they were eating, they look up and see a caravan of Ishmaelites heading their way. Had they dumped Joseph in the pit and moved on, they may not have run into this group at all, and the rest of our story may have been quite different.

There are no such things as coincidences with God.

Opportunity Knocks

Judah is quick to come up with an alternative ending to Joseph’s life. Rather than murder him outright, he sees an opportunity. Judah sees the chance of making a profit by selling Joseph into slavery. He also adds that why should they shed his blood, after all, Joseph is their brother. His words show perhaps little respect for Joseph himself, but for the family. They all recognise that shedding one’s own brother’s blood is not exactly a righteous thing to do.

So they haul Joseph out of the pit, sell him to the merchants and gain a bag silver in return. We learn that the merchants are heading to Egypt, and surely the brothers expected that to be the last they would ever see of this dreamer. How wrong they would one day prove to be!

God has not been directly mentioned in any of this up to now. Clearly though, He is ever present in the account. God is the source of the dreams that Joseph has had, and surely God is the one who has preserved Joseph’s life at the hand of his brothers. Likewise, God decreed events to take place in such a way that these merchants just happened to be passing at the precise moment necessary.

God has a plan! And this is no less true for you. What happened to Joseph was truly terrible, and yet it was all part of the tapestry of God’s plan. As he lay in the pit, Joseph was likely questioning his dreams and wondering what on earth was to happen to him. Even in our darkest moments, we can cling on to the promises of God and know that they will never fail.

There is a well-known verse from Jeremiah which is often quoted, although I’m not certain if the context applies to all people at all times, but here you go:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,” says Yahweh, “thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:1 (WEB)

When you know Jesus, the future is bright. That does not mean there are no dark days ahead of us, but we can rely on Him to take us through. Whatever God’s plan is for you in this life, there is an eternity in paradise to look forward to.

To finish, let me ask you what opportunities may present themselves to you today? How can you be a blessing to someone, or to share your faith with a person who needs to hear it? Don’t just wait and see if an opportunity presents itself, ask the Lord for divine appointments where you can act as a light in this world.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

The View from the Pit (Joseph #5)

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.

Selfish Motives

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!

Evil (Joseph #4)

The man said, “They have left here, for I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

Joseph went after his brothers, and found them in Dothan. 18 They saw him afar off, and before he came near to them, they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Behold, this dreamer comes. 20 Come now therefore, and let’s kill him, and cast him into one of the pits, and we will say, ‘An evil animal has devoured him.’ We will see what will become of his dreams.”

Genesis 37:17-20

After a time of searching, Joseph is directed to the town of Dothan where he finally catches up with his brothers. Suffice it to say they were not exactly thrilled to see him coming…

Coat of Many Colours

We have pointed out before that Joseph was wearing his coat of colours and this is no doubt a large part of how they saw him coming from afar. I do not want to draw an overly spiritual point out of this, but do people see you coming a mile off? Do they recognise your clothes, behaviour or attitude? Do they look forward to your approach, or does it fill them with dread as it does Jacob’s sons?

We ought to be properly dressed. Ephesians 6 instructs us to put on the armour of God, and Romans 13 tells us to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to write a fuller post on that subject another day, so won’t say a great deal more here.

However, just as Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, recognising him immediately, I want us – the church – to be immediately recognisable by those who look upon us. Let them see how we conduct ourselves, and spot our holiness, and by so doing draw them into relationship with our wonderful Lord.

The Plot and the Lie

The brothers decide they have had enough of this dreamer, and make a plan to kill him, toss him into a pit and then lie about it to cover it up. We have spoken of their hatred several times in this series so far, and now it bubbles up to a point where they intend to act on it. Surely the Lord Jesus was right when He said that to hate someone in your heart is to murder them.

It sounds absurd to say, but clearly the brothers knew this was not the right thing to do. No one who believes themselves in the right, then lies about it to cover it up. If it was all above board, then they would have had no need to lie. There is a lesson for us there too. If you find yourself “decorating” the truth, or just outright lying about something, then you likewise must know that it is wrong. When I walk into the office and find members of my staff quickly turning off their screens or hiding what they were doing, chances are they were not working!

Beyond that though, the brothers don’t just lie in the heat of the moment, but they plan to lie. Someone caught red-handed may try a bold story to get out of trouble, but it is a whole new level of deceit to plan to lie and cover up ahead of time.

They intend to pass the blame on to some “evil animal.” This is rich, as I know of no animals which are truly evil. Perhaps mistreated ones become mean or untrustworthy, but we would unlikely describe such an animal as evil. Humanity though, we were born with a sinful – evil – nature which corrupts us in every way. The only thing that can rescue us from this evil nature is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He not only cleanses us from our sin, but puts a new nature inside of us, one free of corruption. Praise His Holy Name!

What Will Become of His Dreams?

The final line of our passage today may seem a bit throwaway. “We will see what becomes of his dreams.” It is a sneer almost; the brothers believe they will never see the dreams come to pass because they will end his life right here and now.

God’s plans are not so easily thwarted though.

Next time, we will see how Joseph escapes this murderous plot. For now though, Joseph’s dreams were a sign from God that He had a great plan for this young man’s life. God has a plan for you also. There may be those who try to end your dreams in the here and now, although I pray it is not in such a gruesome way! Nothing can stop God’s plan for your life, so rejoice in that truth today. His plan may not always be comfortable, but continue to trust Him with all of your heart and He will bring you safely to your heavenly home.

Chosen To Be Holy

Ephesians #3

“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,”

Ephesians 1:4-5 (ESV)

A while ago I was forced to reassess something extremely important in the Christian faith. I had to face the challenge of the sovereignty of God. And these verses played no small part in that journey.

I once believed that although God was supreme, He did not control every single little action in the universe. I believed that our response to Him was somehow our choice – an act of our free will. The more I think about that, the more ludicrous it sounds.

The Bible teaches that God chose us, and not the other way around. As hard as that may be to get our heads around sometimes, it must be true. The alternative goes something like this, and I hope you agree it makes little sense. When I was a sinner, and had nothing to do with God whatsoever; while I was far off and living (and enjoying) my sin and sinfulness, somehow… some way… I decided to turn from that sin and come to God…

That cannot be correct.

Instead, while I was in that sin and quite happy there, God reached down and saved me from and in spite of myself. He essentially saved me against my will because no sinner willingly wants God in their lives. I had no will to escape the sin that I was in. Nor did I have the power to do so. The truth is that God chose me and He chose you as well.

These verses clearly tell us that God chose us and He did so before the foundation of the world. He chose us before creation. He chose us before we did or thought or said anything. That means that his choice had absolutely nothing to do with us. He chose us because it was His sovereign will to do so.

When we hear this truth, we often ask the question: “If He chose us, then why not choose someone else?” That is to say, if the choice is His, what about the ones who reject Him? This is a difficult question, and when we realise that God chooses some and not others, we feel it is somehow unfair. I’ve said it before, but fairness is not what we want from God, rather we want grace and mercy.

It is a miracle He chose any of us at all.

Why did He choose us? To be holy and blameless before Him.

I’ve always believed that God saved us for our own sake, and of course He does, but i’m no longer convinced it is His primary reason for doing so. Rather, I am starting to think God saved us not for us, but primarily so that He would have a spotless bride to present to His Son.

God predestined us for adoption, as the verses above say, and put simply, that means that God decided in advance to bring us into His family forever. Adoption is such a wonderful picture because legal adoptions cannot be undone, and also entitle the adoptee to everything that a natural child would have access to. Adopted children are as equal as natural ones, and the word “sons” here is important because the son (in that culture) had a greater claim than a daughter.

The point is that this adoption does not make us somehow second-class children. We are not somehow lesser children to God because we are adopted, rather instead the text makes clear that we are welcomed and celebrated in God’s family.

God specially selected you to be His very own, and He has brought you into His adopted family. I hope, like me, that makes you feel very special indeed. Even if the entire world rejects you, you can be assured that God will never reject or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

Rejoice in God’s love for you today, and know that this love will never change. You are His adopted child!