Saturday, March 5, 2011

Genesis 37:26-30 Judah's Idea and Reuben's Distress

"Judah said to his brothers, 'What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?  Come, let's sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.'  His brothers agreed.  So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt."  (Genesis 37:26-28 NIV)
While the brothers ate, they noticed a caravan of Ishmaelites coming by on their way to Egypt.  Judah realizes that they can get rid of their brother, while still making a profit from the deal. Then they can avoid the difficulty of having to kill Joseph themselves.  After all, he is their half-brother.  Whether they thought about the fact that Joseph might still die as a result of his captivity is not mentioned.  Perhaps they didn't even really think this through.  All they cared about was that Joseph would be gone, with little possibility of ever returning -- and that they would not have to deal with any of his dreams ever again.

Apparently Reuben had been away during these proceedings.  Perhaps he had been some distance apart, tending to the flocks for several hours.  We already know that he intended to rescue his brother somehow and return him to their father. (v.22)  It seems that he approached the cistern without first returning to his brothers, for he is quite distressed to see that Joseph is no longer in the pit, and he does not seem to know that Joseph has been sold to the merchants.  Reuben had probably intended to sneak back to the cistern and set Joseph free.  However, Joseph is long gone, on his way down to Egypt with the Ishmaelite merchants:

  "When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes.
  He went back to his brothers and said, 'The boy isn't there!  Where can I turn now?' "
(Genesis 37:29-30 NIV)

Ever since Reuben had slept with his father's wife Bilhah, his status as the firstborn among the brothers had seemed to diminish.  Although Reuben had been able to convince his brothers to put Joseph into the pit, as soon as he is not physically present, the rest of the brothers are content to follow the lead of Judah.  This may seem surprising, since Judah was the fourth son born from Leah.  However, Simeon and Levi, the second and third sons of Leah, had also been disgraced after the murders at Shechem.  Although their father Jacob does not expound upon the apparent loss of status of Reuben, Simeon and Levi until his final blessing of the brothers in chapter 49, it is probably evident to the brothers, who now seem to begin to look to Judah for leadership.


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