THE FOCUS OF THIS DEVOTION IS ON THE QUALITY OF VIRTUE. (Philippians 4:8; 2 Peter 1:5)
Though Reuben had defiled his father’s bed and lost his place as the heir to the family headship (Genesis 49:4), in this event there still shone forth from him nobility and virtue of character: he labored to save Joseph from death at the hands of the brothers. He did this by means of a ruse: for he said,
“Let us not kill him. Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him.” He did this so that he might secretly come back and steal him away from the brothers and return him to Jacob their father. (Genesis 37: 21-22)
To live among such brothers must have been a grievous thing. To have to resort to trickery to keep them from fratricide was a sign of their twisted natures.
It is so with many families. Internecine intrigue is the bane of human society. The lack of loving transparency breeds relational destruction. The unwillingness to keep kindness and understanding at the center of family life corrupts the upbringing of children. Sometimes, as in the case of Joseph, conflict is induced by one child who is favored and gifted above the rest—or that seems to be so. Little does each child realize that he or she is just as valuable and just as needed as any other. We all have our place in God’s ordained structure of community.
When Reuben returned to rescue Joseph from the pit, the text in verses 29-30 tells us:
VA’YASHAV REU’VEIN EL-HA’VOR
VE’HINEI EIN-YOSEIF BA’BOR
And when Reuben returned to the pit
Behold! Joseph was not in the pit.
And he tore his garments.
[NOTE: Va’yikra is normally translated, “And he cried out!” But here Reuben’s cry is coupled by the tearing of his garments as an outer expression of the ripping of his soul in agonizing grief.]
Reuben then finds the brothers and distressingly exclaims,
The lad is not!
VE’ANI ANAH ANI—BA
And I—Where shall I go?
As if to say, “The boy was my responsibility! And now, how am I to return to my father?”
It is a noble thing—a virtuous thing—to have a deep sense of responsibility for the care of family. It was especially so for Reuben who sought to make right the failures of his past. And now—his hope of doing the duty of a good elder brother was taken from him by the wickedness of his siblings.
It is important to realize that the desire and the attempt to do a good thing, even when it is thwarted, is a memorial of goodness for all time. Even to this day, we honor Reuben for his noble attempt to save Joseph.
The New Testament places virtue and nobility of character at the highest place of excellence. Paul wrote to the Philippians (Philippians 4:8),
“Finally, brothers, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if the be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
To command one’s thoughts by nurturing mental virtue is to command one’s character in action.
Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1, “Add to your faith virtue.”
Let us therefore be like Reuben in this regard. Let us strive to live nobly and virtuously.