We're in this scene where Joseph's brothers are selling him into slavery in Egypt because they just can't stand how favored he is any more, especially after he started talking about these dreams he has where he's just that much greater and more important than his brothers. Yesterday, we noticed which of his brothers he spoke to and which of his brothers plotted against him; spoiler alert: they were not the same sets of brothers.
But even with this, there's another interesting dynamic at play. And that comes from exactly which brother had which idea when the time came to do something about Joseph.
It was Reuben, the Bible tells us, who convinced his brothers not to kill him, but instead to place him in an empty cistern. Reuben's plan was to come back later and pull Joseph out and return him home to their father. In other words, while the brothers were scheming to kill him, Reuben was plotting to save his brother's life.
Reuben is the eldest of Jacob's sons. He's the firstborn of all of them, by wife or by concubine. He's it. If anyone has any reason to be upset that Joseph is favored, it's really Reuben because as the firstborn, it ought to be him. He ought to be the one in line for the greatest inheritance. He ought to be the one to curry his father's favor. Yet here he is, trying to save the life of the instead-favored brother, doing all he can to ensure Joseph's safety.
It was Judah, by contrast, who wasn't having it. Judah is the most persistent of the brothers, the one most intent on doing something to Joseph. It's Judah's idea to sell him off and just get rid of him and be done. If Joseph is in Egypt, it's essentially as good as his being dead, and as a bonus, the brothers don't have real blood on their hands. Not really. Judah has an idea in his mind, he's sure he's right about it, and he's not letting it go. Joseph is done for.
Judah is the youngest of Leah's sons. He's the baby. He's less mature than some of the others just by nature of his fewer years of experience, and he's got some firm ideas about how things are supposed to work, how the world is supposed to operate. He doesn't have any flexibility or any adaptability; he sees things as very black and white and that's just the way it is.
The story of Reuben and Judah in this scene is the story that many of us face in our churches. It's the story of Christians young and old, the contrast between them. What it means to be mature in the faith.
See, older Christians, those who have been around awhile, those who understand how favor falls know how to fight for their younger brothers. They know how to make sure to keep them safe. They know how to protect them when the world comes against them. Your elder, mature brothers and sisters will fight for you so that you can come into your fullness, so that you can become elder and mature yourself, so that you can do all the things God desires to do through you and for you and with you.
Younger Christians have a more immature view of the world. They see things as very black and white. They're the ones quick to condemn when someone doesn't seem to be perfect. They're the ones still keeping hard and fast to the rules, thinking that this is what real brotherhood means. Real brotherhood means that you don't step out of your bounds. It's not that the younger Christians don't love their brothers and sisters; actually, they love them very deeply. They just haven't got the flexibility and adaptability of wisdom and discernment yet, so their love comes off as very harsh. Judah loved his brothers; it's why he had to get rid of the one that seemed to be threatening everything they had together.
It's not that being a younger Christian, or a more immature Christian, is bad and that being an elder Christian, or a more mature Christian, is good. The goal, of course, is that younger, immature Christians would grow into elder, more mature Christians, but when we start to think about how we do that, we have to realize how it works. If we as younger Christians want to become elder Christians, we have to have elder Christians loving on us. We have to have Reubens in our lives. We have to know who these men and women are and seek them out and let them help us come to the next level in our faith.
And we have to beware of Judahs. We have to know who those Christians are who will make our blacks blacker and our whites whiter and convince us that we're already right, that we don't need to grow - that it's the world that needs to change. We have to know who's going to hold us back from maturing because they are not yet mature themselves, and we have to journey with them, but not let them lead. We have to bring them with us to our Reubens, so that we can all grow.
Find yourself a Reuben. Honestly. It will be one of the best things you can ever do for your faith.