Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Cover-up - Genesis 37:29-32

Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments. He returned to his brothers and said, "The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?" So they took Joseph's tunic, and slaughtered a male goat and dipped the tunic in the blood; and they sent the varicolored tunic and brought it to their father and said, "We found this; please examine it to see whether it is your son's tunic or not."

As Joseph heads to Egypt under Midianite escort to be sold, his eldest brother and Jacob’s firstborn, Reuben, returns to the pit and does not find him there. This begs the question “where was Reuben when his brother Judah talked the rest of them into selling him to the caravan of traders?” Good question for which we are not given an answer. It is possible that, as the eldest, he was off on an errand on behalf of the brothers and their sheep-tending business. Or perhaps Judah, knowing how Reuben felt about Joseph and the plans of the brothers to kill him, waited to share his idea until Reuben had taken a little nap after the big meal they had sat down to (vs. 25, 26).

What matters is that Reuben still planned to rescue Joseph from the pit and not finding him there, he tears his garments. The tearing of garments as a symbol of mourning was a custom of the ancient Hebrews, but also of other groups. Much has been written about it and its significance. In a very simple explanation, I believe it is a strong expression of being “totally beside oneself with grief”.

After gathering himself together, he goes to where the other brothers are and tells them of his discovery and the weight that he personally feels, being the oldest, for Joseph’s disappearance. Reuben felt he could not face his father Jacob with the news. As I watch three of our five grandchildren (the ones we live with), aged nine, seven, and five, I can see the eldest even now taking responsibility for her younger brother while the middle child goes on her merry way in life. That must be an innate sense of responsibility that God places in firstborns.

Of course, the other brothers are quick to come to his rescue with yet another deceitful act and it appears that Reuben consented. They take Joseph’s coat of many colors, kill one of their goats, and dip the coat in the animal’s blood, setting up a “terrible event of death through wild animal attack” and of course, a lie. You will remember that back in verse 23 of this chapter, they had taken Joseph’s coat from him and then in verse 24, we were told he was thrown into the pit.

The next step then is to send the bloodstained coat to father. Now scripture is interesting here as the relevant verse says they “sent” the coat and also “brought it” to Jacob. Perhaps some of the brothers stayed behind to tend the sheep while others took it to Jacob. The lie that was conceived is then uttered, “We found this; please examine it to see if it is Joseph’s.” Oh, the pain that Jacob must have felt at that moment. We do not know how many and exactly who of the brothers went back to Jacob with this news. But no matter the number or the individuals involved, any joy in seeing them was greatly overshadowed by the news they had brought him.

What is the lesson for us from these verses? The dysfunctional family that started with Abraham continues its escapades like a daytime soap opera. Hatred, jealousy, lying are all part of the characters’ lives. Redemptive qualities are sprinkled in as in the case of Reuben but are easily overtaken by the wishes of the immoral majority. Perhaps we need to consider our own contributions to the evidence of any “dysfunctional” behavior that others may see in our own family. And if we do happen to claim being the “redemptive” one in the family, we should consider whether that is only ‘intent’ and others can persuade us into doing things we should not, or whether we will stick with what is moral, honorable, just, and the truth.

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