Saturday, April 30, 2011

Genesis 49:3-4 Jacob's Blessing: Reuben

"Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power.  Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father's bed, onto my couch and defiled it." (Genesis 49:3-4 NIV)
As Jacob's firstborn, Reuben had every advantage going for him.  He would be preeminent over his brothers and they would be subservient to him.  He would not only be the future leader of the family, but would likely be the one who would have spiritual authority as well.  The covenant blessings had been passed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob and would probably have been passed on to him.

I say 'would have been', because Reuben would no longer excel in these matters.  His premature attempt to grab for preeminence by sleeping with his father's wife Bilhah had been a selfish and shocking attempt to grab power which was not yet his to own.  His actions were obviously very much the opposite of honoring his father.  Although it may have seemed that Reuben had not suffered any repercussions, that he had gotten away with this sin up until this point, it now becomes evident that it had cost him everything.

I think it is interesting that Jacob calls Reuben 'turbulent as the waters'(v.4).  Some interpret this as 'indecisive', as in Judges 5:15-16, where Reuben's tribe hesitates instead of coming to the aid of their brethren.  I think it goes deeper than that, though.  It seems to be a generally unsettled,  double-mindedness.  As the New Testament book of James notes, a double-minded man is unstable in all he does. (James 1:8)

The 'turbulent waters' image reminds me also of Jude 1:23, where the ungodly are pictured as "...wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame...".  It is interesting that in that chapter, the consequences of immorality and sexual sins are prominent.

At any rate, after his sin with Bilhah, Reuben's efforts at leadership are always a dismal failure.  See Genesis 37:21-22 and then 37:29-30 for Reuben's unsuccessful attempt to help Joseph, or his failure to convince his father that he can be entrusted with Benjamin's safety in Genesis 42:37-38.

It is not that Reuben cannot be forgiven.  If he sincerely repented, God would forgive him.  However, sometimes there are results from sin which have lasting consequences, almost like deep scars from a severe injury.

There is no mention of a blessing here for Reuben.  Instead, we are left with a sad sense of what might have been.  Of course, Reuben, like each of Jacob's sons, will share in the covenant blessings promised to Abraham and his descendants.  That is a significant blessing in itself.  So it is not as though God has given up on Reuben or his future tribe.  However, it is difficult to come up with any significant bible figure from that tribe.  I can't think of any leader, prophet, or even a person of particular godly influence from Reuben's descendants who is mentioned in the Bible.  I am sure that there must have been individuals from that tribe who were godly and were used by God.  However, it does seem that Reuben's sin had some type of effect upon his descendants.

Let me be clear here.  I am not saying that Reuben ruined it for all his descendants, or that no godly person came from that tribe.  It is not as though a curse was placed upon them or anything.  However, there was seemingly some type of lasting result of his actions.

Perhaps what bothers me is that we are never really told that Reuben repented of his sin.  There is no mention of him apologizing to his father, or confessing his sin to God.  He may have done so, and it was not mentioned, but that seems strange.  Unconfessed sins could have that kind of dampening effect upon Reuben himself spiritually, and, as a consequence, upon his descendants, I suppose.  Any thoughts?

When we deal with Jacob's next sons, Simeon and Levi, we will continue this discussion, for it is interesting to see what happens in their lives.  They, too, committed some serious sins.  Yet one of them goes on to have a significant place in God's plan.  

No comments:

Post a Comment