Jacob was now an old man and as the manner is, he had to release his fatherly blessings upon his children. And who else would he start with if not his firstborn, Reuben? He was Jacob’s might, the beginning of his strength, the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power.
The position of a firstborn in Israel, just like in some families today, was one of honour that comes with her privilege as well as responsibilities. To give you a picture of how valued that position was, recall the weeping of Esau after that Jacob had cunningly taken his blessings. The famous “he that opens the womb.”
So, Reuben was the firstborn of Jacob and hadn’t any supplanter lurking to steal his blessings. But there was this character, this unstable nature that would deny him his rightful blessings forever.
I’m not just referring to the episode where he laid with his stepmother, albeit an abominable act. I’m talking about what happened in Genesis chapter 37.
Jacob had asked his 17-year-old son, Joseph to go see how his other children did. Reuben, Judah and the other sons of Jacob had gone to find pasture for the flock in Shechem and later went to Dothan.
As Joseph approached his brethren, they were glad to see him, or rather, glad to slay him because “the dreamer must die else, we become his servants tomorrow” they thought.
Reuben wasn’t comfortable with having the blood of his brother on his hands and so suggested that he should be put inside a pit. He was undecided between the hatred for Joseph and his desire to save him; whether to save a young boy whose only fault was that he boldly shared his dreams with his family. He couldn’t be trusted with the life of his younger brother.
As Reuben left them to find pasture some metres away, his other brothers in their evil smartness perceived his plan to save Joseph. Reuben had thought that his brothers bought the story of “let us allow him to die inside the pit and not kill him with our own hands. That way we don’t shed any blood.” But there was someone smarter in evil plans, capable of moving the crowd to use a worse means to equally achieve an evil goal – Judah.
As Judah saw the Ishmaelites, he quickly raised his persuasive antenna, received a signal and delivered the strategy – “you know my brothers, we love God and our father. We are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we can’t kill our brother, the first son of our stepmother for that matter. Let us sell him to these merchantmen. If they kill him, that’s their business, at least we didn’t do it with our own hands” Judah argued.
And I can imagine Simeon and Levi nod their heads in agreement; bloodthirsty hypocrites that spearheaded the murder of the men of Shechem. As Judah spoke, they immediately consented – “any plans that would take this dreamer (read: Idiot) out of our sight, including death is perfectly okay by us.” So, they hurried like hungry beasts and sold their brother to the Ishmaelites.
And I’d add, of all people you could sell Jacob’s son to you chose the Ishmaelites? You’ve forgotten the history of Abraham, Sarah and Haggar?
Well, that’s not my point. I’m more concerned about the weakness, instability and spinelessness of Reuben, who could have fully exercised his position as the firstborn to quash such plans.
His tears at the end were useless because he didn’t even have the courage to tell his father what had happened, rather took part in confirming that Joseph had died at the hand of some wild animal. What do you expect from someone who couldn’t keep his lustful desires under check to the point that he went into his stepmother?
No wonder Jacob was brutal in his prophecy “Reuben, you’re as unstable as water, you will not excel.” Imagine hearing those as the final words from your parents. What a curse that only a prophet (Moses) could reverse!
Now, inasmuch as flexibility and open-mindedness are qualities everyone should imbibe – because we learn daily and there are always perspectives to issues that must be respected – there is a certain set of values that shouldn’t be compromised upon.
The sanctity of life is one of those, and Reuben was so weak in imposing his stand against murder. He could but he didn’t.
Also, faith in God (in who He is and what He can do) is among those values that aren’t negotiable. In fact, God clearly stated that any person that is unstable (doubtful) is like a wave of the sea that is tossed and blown by the wind and SHOULD NOT expect to receive ANYTHING from Him. (James 1: 6-8). And that without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please Him (Hebrews 11:6).
So, be firm in your belief in God and in what He can do. And be uncompromising in certain principles. Because without firm values, who are you really?
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God bless you.
Hi. I’ve been going through the OT and was curious about the curses released upon Reuben and how they affected his descendants. This brought me to your post. I really enjoyed reading the article even though it didn’t answer my question.. However, it was interesting to realize that Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites of all people. Thanks for the post. I look forward to read more of your posts. God bless you.
Thanks for reading, Ruth. I’m sorry that this article didn’t answer your question. Hopefully, God will inspire me to write something along those lines in the future. For more interesting articles, kindly check the categories on the homepage. There are over 260 short and longform articles that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Thanks again and God bless you too.
Thanks for this information.I have learnt that the uncontrollable appetite in the life Reuben led him to his stepmother’s bed,a sin of incest.Thanks for this insight.
God be praised. I’m glad you learnt something from this article. God bless and keep you.