Why Reuben Saves Joseph (Genesis 37:22)

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There are so many allusions to Christ from the story of Joseph that it would take a team of religious scholars to analyze them all (and they have).

To save space, I’ll just mention a few of them here:

  • Joseph is sold into the hands of the traders for 20 shekels of silver (Jesus was sold for 30 pieces of silver).
  • Reuben wants to “return Joseph to his father,” just like Jesus does with us.
  • The blood on the garment the brothers present to their father and the blood shed on the Cross presented to our Father.
  • Joseph shares a prison with two criminals. Jesus was on a Cross between two thieves.
  • Joseph rises from prison to become ruler over Egypt. Jesus rises from the grave to become Lord of all.

Those are all worth digging into on your own time, but the salvation of Joseph begins with an unlikely figure: Reuben. 

This is the same son that had the affair with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine. Now, in Genesis 37, he’s trying to manipulate the situation to return Joseph back to his father. Why?

There are two possible reasons we can point to. First, when Reuben returns to the pit to rescue Joseph and finds it empty (Genesis 37:30), his response is “the boy is gone; as for me, where am I to go?” From those words, it’s possible that Reuben tried to save Joseph purely because, as the older brother, he knew his responsibility was in keeping him safe.

Genesis 42:22 points to a second reason. After Joseph rises to power in Egypt, he’s responsible for the food distribution throughout the land. In that role, he reunites with his brothers, who understandably assume that their brother is dead.

Joseph initially refuses to sell them food and accuses them of theft. When this happens, Reuben scolds his brothers: “Did I not tell you, ‘Do not sin against [Joseph]; and you would not listen? Now justice for his blood is required.”

Reuben was a grown, mature man by the time Joseph is sold into slavery. It’s entirely possible that he knew the ramifications of murdering their brother out of spite and wanted to protect not just Joseph, but all of them, from any kind of punishment. At the very least, that signals a faint belief in God’s justice.

Despite the belief that he failed, Reuben actually did save Joseph. His actions put in motion a series of events that eventually led to Joseph’s rise to power and the protection of his family for centuries.