The Tangled Web


“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive,” penned Sir Walter Scott in his epic poem, Marmion. The imagery of a tangled web evokes a mental picture of a twisted, jumbled mess that was at the heart of this tale of intrigue and betrayal. Such complications echo the situation in today’s passage. Banding together in complicity, the sons of Jacob continued their scheme to rid themselves of Joseph with a tangled web of deception, effecting a heart-wrenching grief.

  • What prompts people to deceive? How can one lie grow into a tangled web?


29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes 30 and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” 31 Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 And he identified it and said, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. 36 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.

English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


  1. What was Reuben’s greatest concern upon learning that Joseph was gone (vs. 30)?
  2. Choose three words to describe the condition of the brothers’ hearts as they reported to their father with the robe bloodied by the slaughtered goat.
  3. Though a tragic situation for Jacob, there was an element of this deceiver reaping what he had sowed. Read Genesis 27:9 to find out how.
  4. The meanwhile leading off verse 36 indicates that there are two different plots happening at the same time: Jacob’s grief and Joseph’s plight. How might this last verse of the passage hint at God’s greater redemptive storyline?
  5. Have you ever endured a situation so twisted or dark that God seemed hard to find? Ask him to shine his redemptive light into your pain, so that healing and proper perspective may begin.


Nothing pierces the heart of a parent more than the loss of a child. For Jacob, there was no human consolation that could reach him as he endured an unimaginable grief forged by the sinister, self-serving scheming of his ten faithless sons. Sin is ever destructive, but it is never more powerful than our God. He alone is the one who provides a peace that surpasses all understanding. He alone is the one who works all things together for good. And in the midst of such a tangled family mess, God was at work, moving Joseph where he wanted him, to Potiphar’s house in Egypt. 

  • Take comfort that God is near to the brokenhearted and pray for his rescue if your spirit is crushed (Psalm 34:18).