The Way of Reuben: Don’t kiss and tell!

In my quiet time, recently, I read a scripture in the book of 1st Chronicles that talked about Reuben, the firstborn son of Jacob. I was intrigued by his story and decided to do a few scriptural background checks on him. The result gave me a humbling revelation. Reuben had it going well until lust had a field day and ruined his portion. I will call this the way of Reuben.

We are told that Jacob has 12 sons. Jacob had four women in his household. Two were wives, Rachel and Leah; the other two were concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah. We won’t delve into his dramatic story. It’s the chic flic of all time and it will take more seasons than Neighbours and the Bold and the Beautiful combined to narrate. The only background I will tell is this: Jacob’s other name was Israel. Often the scriptures call him Israel instead of Jacob. So Jacob (Or Israel) had twelve sons:

Genesis 35:23-26 The sons of Leah: Reuben the firstborn of Jacob, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Rachel's maidservant Bilhah: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Leah's maidservant Zilpah: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob.

Prior to this, we are told of a distateful act by Reuben, the firstborn. Observe what the scriptures say in Genesis 35:22 “While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father's concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.”

Reuben defiled his father’s bed by sleeping with the concubine. Bilhah was his mother’s servant. Bilhah has sons who were Reuben’s brothers. From what we know about sexual sin, it is true to say that Reuben must have been lusting after Bilhah for a while and desired to sleep with her. It’s always a slow fade with lust. When lust strikes, it is merely a manifestation of a sinful thought that was practiced in the mind a long time ago. That is why Paul and Jesus warn us about lustful thoughts and hints (Ephesians 5:3 and Matthew 5:28). We also know that lust hides. Reuben must have gone into Bilhah’s tent thinking nobody was watching him. But he was seen. In fact, it was even recorded in scripture for the whole world to see and learn. The way of Reuben teaches us that sin in darkness is always seen and always sin. We are not told of Jacob’s reaction. We are only told that he heard of it. From what we know about lust though, we know that it must have hurt him. Lust breaks the unions of love.

Several years go by and it seems as if Reuben gets away scot free. Time has elapsed. The sons of Israel have sold one of their own, Joseph, into slavery out of envy. Joseph is taken to Egypt and he becomes Prime Minister by God’s favour, marries an Egyptian hottie, has two sons and even helps avert a grand famine. The famine coerces Joseph’s family to go to Egypt in search of nourishment. Jacob believes Joseph to be dead thanks to a lie the brothers cooked. The brothers must have thought their brother was done for too. The shock was on them to find that their bro is the Egyptian Kingpin. Joseph goes through a dramatic family reunion and reconciles with his father and brothers. The family even comes to live in Egypt.  Jacob is now an old man and is about to die. He decides to assemble the 12 sons before he goes on to the afterlife. As he gathers the sons to speak about their futures, blessing are most likely expected! This is what old men do when they are about to kick the bucket. Who does he start with? Reuben, of course! The first born! The big fish! The brother boss! The mayor! Baba yao! In fact in Israelite tradition, the first born got great perks. If there was an inheritance, he’d get half of it and the other half would be left for the rest of the siblings to pie chart. And so Jacob calls Reuben and listen to what old man Israel has to say:

Genesis 49:1-3 “Then Jacob called for his sons and said: "Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come."Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel. "Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power.

I can see Reuben flexing his biceps and saying to himself, “Oh yeah, give it to me! Show me the blessing, daddy! Give me the power, baby!” "Reuben, you are my firstborn,(smiles, camera, kaching!) my might, (smiles, camera, kaching!) the first sign of my strength, (smiles, camera, kaching!) excelling in honor, (smiles, camera, kaching!) excelling in power ,(smiles, camera, kaching!)His brothers are probably looking at him and thinking, “Lucky guy! He gets firstborn privileges.” And as Reuben is about to walk up the podium to take a selfie with Israel and then give his acceptance speech, Israel concludes the blessing.

Genesis 49:4Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father's bed, onto my couch and defiled it.”

The tape scratches! The biceps become flaccid! You can head the sad dying trombone played in the background! “Wah wah wah wah.” (Click here to listen to the sad trombone if you’ve never heard it). Mouths are gaping! There is pin drop silence. Dan and Naphtali are the most shocked. “Dude, you slept with our mum!” Reuben grins hard and awkwardly; he is embarrassed to the bone. He takes a step back from the spotlight and fades behind the Egyptian curtain. How did dad know? How could he bring it up after all these years? Well, that’s mighty Christian of him! If this was a soap opera, we’d be getting crazy ratings right about this episode. But this is reality and it’s giving us something better than ratings. It’s giving us wisdom. The way of Reuben teaches us that you cannot cover your sin and get away with it, Beloved. “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Proverbs 28:13. Your sin will always find you out (Numbers 32:23). Yes, even those fat cats who stole millions and got away scot free because of diplomatic immunity haven’t really escaped. Sin is a boomerang. You play with it and it comes back to hit you. So who got the blessing? Who got the privileges? I stumbled on this verse in my quiet time sometime last week:

1st Chronicles 5:1-2 “The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father's marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright, and though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph)”

The underdog, Joseph, got the blessing. The kid they hated and even sold into slavery got the prized blessing. And the Lord backed it up. Read Jeremiah 31:9 “They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel's father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.”

You may be asking, “Who is Ephraim?” Ephraim is Joseph’s son, Beloved. Now you may be thinking, “What a way to discredit, Reuben!” But that’s not it, Beloved. Some of Reuben’s brothers did bad things too. Simeon and Levi slaughtered Shechemites in revenge of their raped sister.  Judah slept with a prostitute and found out it was his daughter in law and admitted fault in humility, “She is more righteous than I.” (Genesis 38:26). Perhaps on account of humility, Judah being the strongest of his brothers (according to 1st Chronicles 5:1-2) received the grace of the messianic lineage. That is why we call the Lord Jesus, The Lion of Judah. Perhaps it would have been the Lion of Reuben. Perhaps; who knows?

But you see, the way of Reuben is not teaching us that Reuben was the villain of the story. In fact Reuben acted more righteously than his brothers at a crucial time. See Genesis 37:17b-22 "So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. "Here comes that dreamer!" they said to each other. "Come now, let's kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we'll see what comes of his dreams." When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. "Let's not take his life," he said. "Don't shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don't lay a hand on him." Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

But despite this act of goodness, his destiny was corrupted by his hidden sin. The way of Reuben teaches me that good works do not cancel out the hidden sin. Sin is forgiven through repentance not an outweighing of good deeds. Some Jewish sources like the Midrash suggest that Reuben repented. However, I would like to throw a spanner into the works and question whether it was godly sorrow or worldly sorrow. 2nd Corinthians 7:10 says “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. Or maybe he repented after Genesis 49, when the blessings had already been dished out.  Whichever the case, Reuben was the “good guy” like you and I. But Reuben’s tragic play with hiding sin cost him (especially lust; that's the favourite sin to hide). I don’t know what sin you may be flirting with, Beloved. You may think nobody’s watching and you may think you will escape. You think you have outwitted the Lord of Hosts. Beloved, cast away foolishness and abandon the way of Reuben. I suggest a more excellent way. Humble yourself if you have erred and ask for forgiveness. Walk in obedience and in purity. Trust in the Lord with all you heart. Be wise and not otherwise. Sounds a bit familiar right? That’s because it is the way of the cross. It’s the path that demands we deny ourselves to be true followers and beneficiaries of the spiritual over the carnal. It is the way that is vulnerable and leads to everlasting life. It is the way that knows that God’s pleasures outweigh the immature carnal selfish that doesn’t know how to wait. It is the way that promises that if we keep our eyes on the ultimate, we will not be overcome by the immediate. It is the way, the truth and the life. It is a person and his name is Jesus! He has forgiven us for every moment we have walked in the way of Reuben. He has given us his grace and mercy to be forgiven when we err. It says in Psalm 25:9 “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” It says in Proverbs 3:6 “in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” Beloved, Jesus Christ; this is the way, walk ye in it.

Psalm 32:1-5: Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. "Selah" Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"-- and you forgave the guilt of my sin."Selah." 


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