Have you ever felt like one against many? Did you ever want to stand up but were afraid of what the others might do to you? Reuben, son of Jacob, found himself in just such a position.
Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. – Genesis 37:20-22, ESV
We don’t often talk about Reuben, much less about his actions in these verses. However, Reuben’s actions were absolutely critical here. If Reuben didn’t step up, his brothers would carry through with their intent to kill their brother, Joseph. We know in hindsight that God had a mighty plan through Joseph. That plan would save many people, including Joseph’s own family. Keep that in mind as you think about Reuben’s actions.
Reuben couldn’t directly oppose his brothers. The fact that he was the oldest wouldn’t have stopped them because they absolutely despised Joseph. Joseph was his father’s unmerited favorite. He was treated differently than the rest of them. Then Joseph had the visions which revealed that Joseph would one day be in a key position of power. Joseph’s telling of those dreams to his brothers incited more hate.
Reuben understood all that. We are not giving any evidence that he felt any differently than the rest of his brothers in hating Joseph. Yet Reuben realized killing his brother was wrong. However, if he stood up and forbade the act, they might have chosen to kill him, too. If he were dead, no one was going to be there for Joseph. Therefore, Reuben chose a different approach. He proposed a modification to their plans: continue with the rest of the plan, just stash Joseph in a hole and don’t kill him. That was enough. They changed their plans.
It wasn’t a direct confrontation, but Reuben still put himself at risk. That took great courage. From Reuben we can be inspired to be courageous, too. Maybe we can’t do exactly what we’d like to do. I’m sure, faced with the situation, Reuben would have liked to tell his brothers to back off and see Joseph back to their dad. However, even if we can’t do exactly what we want to do, we can still consider what we can do and take a step of courage and do it. That’s what Reuben did. He offered a modification to the plan, one which gave him a chance to save Joseph later. The brothers accepted and Joseph was saved.
Look to what you can do. Don’t give up hope. Don’t quit. Be courageous and take what steps you can do. Have courage like Reuben did. We might be surprised at the impact a small act of courage has. Think about what Joseph did. Think about the multitude of people his actions saved. And realize that without Reuben’s courage, it might not have happened like that.