Joseph was coming to his brothers, in his multi-coloured tunic, lost in thoughts and dreams perhaps, but not imagining what was being plotted. Jealous and angry, the other sons of Jacob were plotting to kill him.
Let’s listen in to the brothers…
“Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him.’… Gen 37: 20 NKJV
In the New International Version and the New Living Translation the word translated as ‘pit’ is translated as ‘cistern’.
Although the brothers saw Joseph coming from afar off, they didn’t have time to dig a pit (or cistern) deep enough to put their grown brother in, and trap him there. It must have already been there. So what could the purpose be? To trap animals that might prey on their sheep? They weren’t there all the time, they were semi-nomadic, following the grazing. So it might be to catch and store water when the flocks were brought there to graze, and find water. (No rain fell in Israel between May to September, so cisterns were hewn in cities, towns and country areas, supplying people and livestock.)
The fact that all the translations, whether they say ‘pit’ or ‘cistern’, state that there was no water in it suggests ‘cistern’ might indeed be what the pit was.
Back to the action. The brothers were going to kill him first, then cast him into the pit but an unlikely ally spoke up for Joseph… his oldest brother, Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn son. It would be fair to think that he had the most to gain by Joseph’s death because Reuben should have inherited the firstborn rights and privileges – ‘The accompanying privileges were highly valued, and in the OT included a larger inheritance, a special paternal blessing, family leadership’ see http://bible.org/question/what-significance-%E2%80%9Cfirstborn%E2%80%9D-bible See section on first-born in the Old Testament, as well as many Bible examples.
The way things were looking… and indeed worked out. Those blessings went to Joseph’s sons.
Nevertheless, Reuben persuaded them not to shed the blood of his youngest brother, planning to rescue him later and take him back to their father. Two sets of plans waiting for the arrival of the much hated youngest brother.
When Joseph reached them, the brothers set upon him and stripped him of the multi-coloured garment, the hated robe that so annoyed them, then they threw him into the pit – and sat down to eat a meal. (Maybe they needed time to think about their next step.)
It seems from the Bible account that Reuben went off then, probably thinking Joseph was safe he may have gone to check the flocks.
While the other brothers were sitting eating they noticed a caravan of Ishmaelite traders travelling along the trade route from Gilead and the coastal plain of Egypt. Watching them, Judah, the fourth son, had an idea. We can make a profit here. After all he is our brother and we shouldn’t kill him. Perhaps he had been thinking on what his older brother had said.
So Joseph was sold, his multi-coloured tunic, which they had taken from him earlier, was covered in the blood of a young goat, and sent to Jacob, to cover his disappearance.
However, God had a plan for Joseph that none of the other family members knew, nor indeed did Joseph.
More next week,
Till then, tread softly because you may be treading on someone’s dreams,