Genesis 37:29
And Reuben returned to the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.
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(29) Reuben returned.—Evidently he was not present when Joseph was sold to the Midianites. This has been made into a difficulty, but really it confirms the truth of the narrative. For the difficulty arises solely from the supposition that Joseph’s brethren immediately after casting him into the pit “sat down to eat bread,” an act well described as most cold-blooded. But they were not actually guilty of it; for what the narrative says is that they were having their evening meal when the caravan came in sight. Reuben, between the casting of Joseph into the pit and the evening meal, had apparently gone a long round to fetch in the more distant cattle, and probably had remained away as long as possible, in order to feel sure that his brethren would on his return be at their dinner. He hoped thus to be able to go alone to the cistern, and rescue Joseph, and send him away home before the rest could interfere. Thus rightly understood, it is a proof of the trustworthiness of the history.

37:23-30 They threw Joseph into a pit, to perish there with hunger and cold; so cruel were their tender mercies. They slighted him when he was in distress, and were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph, see Am 6:6; for when he was pining in the pit, they sat down to eat bread. They felt no remorse of conscience for the sin. But the wrath of man shall praise God, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain, Ps 76:10. Joseph's brethren were wonderfully restrained from murdering him, and their selling him as wonderfully turned to God's praise.Reuben rips his clothes when he finds Joseph gone. "To eat bread." This shows the cold and heartless cruelty of their deed. "A caravan" - a company of travelling merchants. "Ishmaelites." Ishmael left his father's house when about fourteen or fifteen years of age. His mother took him a wife probably when he was eighteen, or twenty at the furthest. He had arrived at the latter age about one hundred and sixty-two years before the date of the present occurrence. He had twelve sons Genesis 25:13-15, and if we allow only four other generations and a fivefold increase, there will be about fifteen thousand in the fifth generation. "Came from Gilead;" celebrated for its balm Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11. The caravan road from Damascus to Egypt touches upon the land of Gilead, goes through Beth-shean, and passes by Dothan. "Spicery." This gum is called tragacanth, or goats-thorn gum, because it was supposed to be obtained from this plant. "Balm," or balsam; an aromatic substance obtained from a plant of the genus Amyris, a native of Gilead. "Myrrh" is the name of a gum exuding from the balsamodendron myrrha, growing in Arabia Felix. "Lot," however, is supposed to be the resinous juice of the cistus or rock rose, a plant growing in Crete and Syria. Judah, relenting, and revolting perhaps from the crime of fratricide, proposes to sell Joseph to the merchants.

Midianites and Medanites Genesis 37:36 are mere variations apparently of the same name. They seem to have been the actual purchasers, though the caravan takes its name from the Ishmaelites, who formed by far the larger portion of it. Midian and Medan were both sons of Abraham, and during one hundred and twenty-five years must have increased to a small clan. Thus, Joseph is sold to the descendants of Abraham. "Twenty silver pieces;" probably shekels. This is the rate at which Moses estimates a male from five to twenty years old Leviticus 27:5. A man-servant was valued by him at thirty shekels Exodus 21:32. Reuben finding Joseph gone, rends his clothes, in token of anguish of mind for the loss of his brother and the grief of his father.

29, 30. Reuben returned unto the pit—He seems to have designedly taken a circuitous route, with a view of secretly rescuing the poor lad from a lingering death by starvation. His intentions were excellent, and his feelings no doubt painfully lacerated when he discovered what had been done in his absence. But the thing was of God, who had designed that Joseph's deliverance should be accomplished by other means than his. Reuben returned unto the pit, that, according to his brethren’s order, Genesis 37:27, he might take him thence and sell him.

He rent his clothes, as the manner was upon doleful occurrences. See below, Genesis 37:34 Numbers 14:6 Ezra 9:3 Job 1:20 2:12. And Reuben returned unto the pit,.... It is very probable he had pretended to go somewhere on business, with an intention to take a circuit, and come to the pit and deliver his brother, and go home with him to his father. The Jews say (b) he departed from his brethren, and sat down on a certain mountain, that he might descend in the night and take Joseph out of the pit, and accordingly he came down in the night, and found him not. So Josephus (c) says, it was in the night when Reuben came to the pit, who calling to Joseph, and he not answering, suspected he was killed:

and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; for neither by looking down into it could he see him, nor by calling be answered by him, which made it a clear case to him he was not there:

and he rent his clothes; as a token of distress and anguish of mind, of sorrow and mourning, as was usual in such cases; Jacob afterwards did the same, Genesis 37:34.

(b) Pirke Eliezer, ut supra. (c. 38.) (c) Antiqu. l. 2. c. 3. sect. 3.

And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.
29. And Reuben] Reuben returning to “the pit” finds it empty. The Midianites had carried off the lad. Reuben’s distress reveals his purpose to his brethren. Clearly this is a different picture from that of the sale of Joseph to the Ishmaelites.Verses 29, 30. - And Reuben (in whose absence apparently the scheme of sale had been concocted and carried through) returned to the pit (obviously with a view to deliver Joseph); and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes - a token of his mingled grief and horror at the discovery (cf. ver. 34; 44:13; 2 Samuel 13:31; 2 Kings 18:37; Job 1:20). And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child (or young man, as in Genesis 4:23, where יֶלֶד in the one hemistich is equivalent to אִישׁ in the other) is not; and I, whither shall I go - i.e. however shall I account for his disappearance? Reuben, who was the eldest son, and therefore specially responsible for his younger brother, opposed this murderous proposal. He dissuaded his brethren from killing Joseph (נפשׁ פ הכּה ), and advised them to throw him "into this pit in the desert," i.e., into a dry pit that was near. As Joseph would inevitably perish even in that pit, their malice was satisfied; but Reuben intended to take Joseph out again, and restore him to his father. As soon, therefore, as Joseph arrived, they took off his coat with sleeves and threw him into the pit, which happened to be dry.
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