Friday, May 01, 2009

Reuben's Regret

Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father (Genesis 37:22)

As far as Reuben was concerned, he had failed.

The inconsolable grief of his aging father was his fault. Most nights, before sleep came, Reuben saw again the sight of the empty cistern, heard again the laughter of his brothers as they counted the shekels and explained that Joseph had been sold and was on his way to Egypt.

The original plan was to murder Joseph. When they had seen him approaching from a distance they quickly agreed the moment was right to be done with him. The discussion turned to means: wrap this rope around his throat and break his neck? Plunge this knife into his heart?

Lacking the stomach for murder, but possessing the guts to speak up, Reuben offered an alternative plan. Their murder plans were too messy. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern.” Rueben didn’t disclose his real plan. He would come back later for Joseph, get him out of the pit and take him home to Jacob.

Reuben left the others for a while, thinking his plan was in place. When he returned he was told that Joseph had been sold to some Midianite merchants. Reuben tore his clothes in grief. The others killed an animal, soaked the despised robe in blood, and concocted a lie to tell their father about Joseph’s violent death.

And Reuben was left with his regrets. If only he had stayed close by. If only he had been there when the merchants came. If only he had come back sooner. If only he had been more forceful and threatening with the others.


Most of us have said this kind of thing to ourselves about something. We’ve relived the moments that we think we could have changed if only we’d done better or done more. We’ve rehearsed our failure over and over again. We’ve given ear to the low murmurings of our regrets.

If only we had been there. If only we had watched the baby closer. If only we had been behind the wheel of the car. If only we had made sure the oven was off. If only we had said something sooner.

We are not told, but it isn’t hard for us to imagine that Reuben lived long with his regrets, that he rehearsed them often. But what looked and felt like failure to Reuben wasn’t failure at all. God wanted to get Joseph to Egypt. God’s plan trumped Reuben’s plan, but this is hard for us too see. The divine hand is often hidden behind what goes wrong.

Is it possible to set our regrets aside rather than rehearse them? Surely, one strategy must be to rehearse just as often the sovereignty of God in all things. What we would do all over again if we could is guided by the will and ways of God who does all things well from the start, every time.

What would you do over again of you could? How will you place your regrets in the hands of a sovereign God?

Gracious God, I’ve replayed my mistakes enough. I’ve rehearsed my regrets and know them well. Today I give them to you, trusting your unseen hand to work something good, something redemptive, from every part of my life. Help me to trust you with all of my life, and grant your peace, I pray. Amen.

No comments: