37 29 Reuben returned to the pit and was surprised to find that Joseph wasn’t in it—he rent his clothes. 30 Returning to his brothers, he said, “The boy’s gone! And I—where am I to go?”
31 His brothers took Joseph’s tunic, slaughtered a hairy goat, and dipped the tunic in the blood. 32 They sent the ornamented robe and had it brought to their father, and said, “We found this. Can you see if it is your son’s tunic or not.”
33 He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild beast has devoured him. Joseph is torn, torn to pieces!” 34 Then Jacob rent his clothes, put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son for many days. 35 All his sons and daughter arose to comfort him, but he refused to be consoled, saying, “I will go down to my son in mourning, to Sheol.” And his father wept for him.
36 Meanwhile, the Midianites had sold him into Egypt, to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s courtier, commander of the palace guard.
Reuben has been away with his plotting to advance his position with his father and brother, Israel and Joseph. While away, his other brothers, led by Judah, changed plans and sold Joseph to a caravanner headed toward Egypt.
Reuben’s plan, thwarted, leads him to mourn. He may not even know he had silver pieces coming to him.
When next with his brothers, Reuben moans, literally, “He is not.” This statement can mean either dead or missing. The ambiguity of this statement becomes how the brothers will present the absence of Joseph—setting a scene for Israel to misinterpret.
With no transition, even a short visit to enjoy the pleasures of Dothan, readers find themselves back home with Israel. Joseph’s fancy tunic was smeared with the blood of a slaughtered kid and presented to Israel. Readers can wonder if Israel remembered how a slaughtered kid and coverings were used in his deceiving of Isaac when he was still known as Jacob.
After identifying the tunic as Joseph’s, he chooses the “dead” option of Reuben’s ambiguous statement upon finding his plan had gone astray. Jacob wails his perceived loss—his favorite son, son of his favorite wife, has been torn to shreds, is no more. Rachel is now even further away.
Jacob rent his clothes, wore sackcloth, and mourned and mourned some more—was not comforted by his children, sons and daughter—refusing consolation. Jacob claims he will go to his death mourning Joseph.
A brief echo of the sale of Joseph returns to close this episode—Joseph sold, Jacob mourning.