Genesis 37:29 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Genesis 37:29, NIV: When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes.

Genesis 37:29, ESV: When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes

Genesis 37:29, KJV: And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.

Genesis 37:29, NASB: Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments.

Genesis 37:29, NLT: Some time later, Reuben returned to get Joseph out of the cistern. When he discovered that Joseph was missing, he tore his clothes in grief.

Genesis 37:29, CSB: When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes.

What does Genesis 37:29 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

After securing Joseph in the pit, Reuben seems not to have stayed to eat with his brothers (Genesis 37:18–25). He seems to have missed the exchange recorded in the last few verses, in which Judah talked his brothers into selling Joseph as a slave to passing traders (Genesis 37:26–28).

When Reuben returns to check on Joseph—perhaps to free him and return him to their father—he finds the pit empty. Heartbroken, Reuben tears his clothes in a sign of grief. Unlike the modern era, where people often see clothes as disposable, garments in the ancient world were meant to last. Tearing one's clothes was both an act of sacrifice and a clearly visible sign of mourning. Reuben is deeply upset by what has happened.

Depending on his motives for rescuing Joseph, this might be selfish grief. It's possible Reuben saw rescuing Joseph as a way of redeeming himself, after defiling the family by sleeping with his father's concubine (Genesis 35:22). Now that opportunity is lost (Genesis 37:30).