After reading of Esau’s sons and descendants in chapter thirty-six, Genesis takes a turn to look at the generations of Jacob. Instead of just a listing of names, Moses tells a story, which is the foundational story of the people of God. Remember, this is written as the Hebrews are making their way back to the Promised Land, over four hundred years later. This is the story that reminds them how they ended up in Egypt in the first place and slaves for so long. It all begins with a bunch of brothers, but one in particular—Joseph.
If you’ve ever been in a church, attended Sunday School as a child, or seen the Disney movie, you know the story of Joseph the Dreamer and his robe of many colors. Unlike that of Dolly Parton, this one was a fancy one given to him by his father, because Joseph was his favorite. This along with his dreams just increased the reason for his half-brothers to hate him all the more.
Instead of going into that story, I am looking to other brothers for our gems for the day. The first is Reuben.
They [his brothers] saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 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. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.Genesis 37:18-24 ESV (Emphasis mine)
Such was the hatred for Joseph, that his own brothers wanted to kill him. I’ve heard of sibling rivalry, but this was extreme. Reminds me of Cain’s intense hatred for Abel that led to the first murder. Thankfully, Reuben, the oldest, put a stop to that craziness and gave them an alternative—throw him into a pit. While that may not have been much better, Moses makes it clear that his motivation for this was to later save the boy.
Unfortunately, for Reuben and Joseph both, Reuben must have gone to look after sheep away from his siblings just long enough for another brother to have another idea—Judah.
Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 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. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.Genesis 37:25-28 (Emphasis mine)
Reuben, in typical oldest-child fashion, tried to protect his brother, but he didn’t take a real stand against the others but thought he could outsmart them and come back later to get Joseph out of the pit. His plan failed.
Judah, out of whom would come the Savior of Israel, sets in motion the physical captivity of his people which also sets up Joseph as their first savior. Thankfully, for both Rueben and Judah, their lives would not be defined by their sin. God’s plan through Joseph’s dreams would not be thwarted.
What happened as a result of Reuben’s despair over the sale of Joseph to the Ishmaelites? The great coverup in which they all participated. They were willing to break their father’s heart with a lie, and they would carry the guilt with them for the next twenty years.
The jealousy and deceit of the sons of Jacob would be the motivation that set in motion the move of Israel’s family to Egypt, fulfilling God’s words to Abraham.
Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.Genesis 13:14
And that’s the reason, Children of Israel, you have been in Egypt for so long. A messy family story, or God’s working to prepare a people of his own? You decide.
Grace and Peace