Today’s Lent Project devotional is by Michele Jones. She is a member of our Leadership Team and hosts the Roswell Table Group along with her husband, Andy.
Genesis 37:12-24 – I’m not sure how many times I have read the account of Joseph being thrown into the pit by his brothers. As a child, the story was often told in some creative way involving a colorful robe or scraps of paper and was used to teach that “all things can be made right through God,” or something along those lines. That has been the takeaway for most of my life, and while certainly true (as we see restoration and redemption brought about later in the lives of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 45), something different stood out to me when I was reading through Genesis 37 today.
Insert Reuben into the story. I never paid much attention to him and really only knew of him because he was Jacob’s oldest son. He was also the one who spared Joseph’s life and suggested the whole “pit” thing instead of immediate death:
“Reuben heard the brothers talking and intervened to save him, ‘We’re not going to kill him. No murder. Go ahead and throw him in this cistern out here in the wild, but don’t hurt him.’ Reuben planned to go back later and get him out and take him back to his father.”
– Genesis 37.21-22, MSG
Upon closer look at the Scriptures, though, I began to wonder if there was more to the story. Upon further exploration, I learned that while Reuben was the oldest son and entitled to his father’s favor and fortune, he was actually a very bad boy and ended up basically being disinherited because of his indiscretions. Knowing all this, I began to question WHY he would be the one to spare Joseph’s life. After all, Joseph was one of the youngest sons and was highly favored by his father. If any of the sons had reason to want to get Joseph out of the picture, it was Reuben! Yet he pleaded Joseph’s case and begged for mercy for him from the other brothers. Why, Reuben, why?!
There is not much evidence given in Scripture about Reuben’s reasoning for sparing Joseph’s life, so I think we have to go out on a limb a bit and use our God-given imagination to understand him a bit more. When I really think about his life, I see Reuben as an example of how God can take a fallen individual and use them to bring about His perfect plan of redemption and restoration in the life of another person. Reuben had no idea his actions would lead to Joseph being placed in a position of authority with Pharaoh and ultimately laying the foundation for the 12 Tribes of Israel to flourish, yet he was willing to simply speak up for Joseph. The crazy thing is, Reuben never gained anything from it. Later in life, his father declared him unfit to rule a tribe. These strong words would have hurt: “Reuben, you’re my firstborn, my strength, first proof of my manhood, at the top in honor and at the top in power, but like a bucket of water spilled, you’ll be at the top no more, because you climbed into your father’s marriage bed, mounting that couch, and you defiled it.” (Genesis 49.3-4, The Message) Major ouch.
The big take-away I have gotten from studying Reuben’s life is that I have to be listening to God and paying attention to others around me. How many opportunities have passed me by that, if taken, would have placed me in someone else’s redemption story? Or, how many moments have happened in my life where I chose to be available and did something, even small, to connect with another person’s story? This isn’t about highlighting my part in the story… because I will most likely never know what I did (Reuben didn’t!). This is a challenge to be willing to be an unknown and unseen part of redemption and restoration. It is so easy to focus on being a huge shining light, but the reality is, God needs me to shine in the smallest and darkest places (like a pit). So that is my prayer for this Lenten season. I pray that God would continually open my eyes to the world around me and nudge me when it’s time for action!