29 “When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes 30 and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” 31 Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 And he identified it and said, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. 36 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.” (Genesis 37:29–36 (ESV)
Today’s text does not reveal to us exactly where Rueben was when Joseph’s other brothers sold him into slavery to the Midianites (Gen. 37:25-28). Reuben had intended to rescue his younger brother from the pit (Gen. 37:22). When Reuben realized that Joseph was no longer in the pit, he was genuinely grieved. He tore his clothes, a sign of mourning, and asked his brothers, ““The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” Reuben did not know what to do or where to go in order to rescue his younger brother.
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “Although he (Reuben) was absent at the time of the sale, he would be held responsible for the treachery, and so joined in the cover-up (vv. 30–35). His grief manifested how much he had actually wanted to rescue Joseph (see Gen. 42:22).”
Whatever genuine grief Reuben may have had gave way to the conspiracy of lies he and his brothers conspired to tell to their father Jacob. Jacob the deceiver of his own father Isaac now becomes the deceived at the hands of his own sons. The deceiver of his own father Isaac (27:18–29) was now deceived by his own sons’ lie. What goes around comes around. Sin’s punishment is often long delayed but ultimately delivered (Gal. 6:6-8).
Jacob was inconsolable. He expressed no hope beyond the reality of physical death (I Thess.4:13-18). Moses’ usage of the word Sheol is the first OT use of this term for the abode of the dead (in Gen. 35:20 the “tomb” is used to refer to an earthly burial plot). It is a general Hebrew word meaning the place of the dead (used 65 times in the OT), referring to either the body in its decaying form or the soul in its conscious afterlife.
Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “Finding Joseph absent, Reuben rends his clothes, a sign of mourning and a prediction of his father’s reaction to this news. Many commentators say this shows Reuben loved Jacob and was concerned for his emotional state. His brothers, on the other hand, hide their crime by slaughtering a goat and dipping Joseph’s treasured coat in its blood (v. 31). As typical, one misdeed leads to another. Matthew Henry comments: “When the devil has taught men to commit one sin, he then teaches them to conceal it with another…but he who covers his sin shall not prosper long.” Indeed, the sin of Joseph’s brothers will one day find them out (Gen. 44; Num. 32:23). Jacob is inconsolable at the loss of his favorite son, and he believes that he will not see Joseph again before his death (Gen. 37:33–36). Ironically, Jacob’s sons use a goat to deceive him about Joseph’s fate just as he, as a son, once tricked his father Isaac with a goat as well (27:1–29). Most likely, this is another instance of divine, talionic (eye-for-an-eye) justice where Jacob reaps what he has sown (Gal. 6:7). God turns away His eternal wrath from all who repent; nevertheless, sin has its consequences in the here and now.”
Today’s text concludes with these words: “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.”
Jacob was in inconsolable grief, but the LORD was in providential and sovereign control. An earthly father was beyond hope, but Joseph’s eternal Father was confidently leading (Acts 7:9-10), as He continues to do so today.
Soli deo Gloria!