If you’re not careful, it is easy to overlook Genesis 35:22, but this particular verse clues us in to Reuben’s actions in chapter 37. Reuben, being the firstborn of the family, was the one to whom the birthright would be given. This double portion of inheritance was the sole privilege of the eldest son. Reuben’s detestable act of sleeping with his stepmother’s maidservant and the mother of a few of his half-brothers, however, was noted by Jacob (aka Israel), and his birthright was forfeited as a result.
As the story progresses, it’s interesting that Reuben is the only one who takes pity on Joseph and wants to later rescue him. It seems that it was Reuben’s guilt from dishonoring his father earlier that led him to show such grace. Guilt seems to have such an effect on people: it gives the feeling of “I owe you.” Guilt creates a debt, and it motivates us to act in certain ways to try to regain a relationship. Wouldn’t it have been better if Reuben didn’t sin in such a detestable way to begin with? Wouldn’t it have been better if the guilt never existed? The only way for debt to be canceled is through forgiveness. If you are guilty before someone else, ask for forgiveness because there is no other way for the guilt to go away.