Reuben Sticks Up for Joseph (Genesis 42:22)

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For nearly 20 years, Joseph must’ve thought his entire family hated him. That’s the only logical conclusion you could arrive to when you’re loaded up into the back of a cart and hauled off to Egypt as your family sells you into slavery.

There’s just one problem with that conclusion: The entire family wasn’t there.

If you remember, way back in Genesis 37, the brothers’ original plan was to kill Joseph outright. It’s only because of the intervention of Reuben, the oldest, that Joseph was actually thrown into a pit and eventually sold into slavery.

The Text goes through great pains to point this out. It says that Reuben “rescued” Joseph from their hands (Genesis 37:21-22), and even went back later to get him out of the pit behind their backs.

Moreover, once Reuben finds out that they’ve sold him into slavery, he chastises the others: “The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?” (Genesis 37:30)

There’s little doubt from his actions that Reuben feels responsible for what happened to Joseph, even though he seems to be the only one that’s actively trying to protect him. He goes along with the story of Joseph’s death by wild animals, but most likely because the alternative (to Jacob) is far worse. 

Now, in Genesis 42, Reuben and his brothers are accused of being spies by Joseph, who knows exactly who his brothers are and exactly what they’ve done.

Surprisingly, all of them are in agreement that their present punishment is due to their previous transgressions: “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us” (Genesis 42:21).

To this point, Reuben wholeheartedly agrees, and reminds his brothers that he tried to stop them.

What’s often overlooked in this passage is the note that Joseph understood this entire conversation. There was a translator between Joseph and his brothers, but at least in this case, it was unnecessary. Joseph spoke their language and heard everything that they said, including their remorse.

He also, possibly for the first time, heard that Reuben was the only one who tried to stop them from selling Joseph into slavery. How that fact affected Joseph is anyone’s guess, but it no doubt gave him some hope that not everyone was against him from the start.

How would that have affected you?