Water-like character – Reuben

The Pastor's Pen
A key person in Old Testament history is Reuben, whose name means “behold, a son.” Reuben was the first son born to Jacob and Leah and lived approximately 1775-1675 BC.

Despite growing up in a family with great tension between his mother and Aunty Rebecca, who shared both the same house and husband, Reuben turned out to be one of the more honourable sons of Jacob. His first courageous step showing strong character is recorded in Genesis chapter 37. Reuben’s younger brother Joseph had become Dad’s favourite. Now Jacob loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colours. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him (Genesis 37:3-4).

Water-like character – Reuben
However, Reuben did not give into petty brotherly jealousy. When the other brothers conspired against Joseph to kill him… (Genesis 37:18-20), Reuben rescued Joseph out of their hands saying, “Let us not take his life… shed no blood …do not lay a hand on him,” hoping he could return Joseph to their father alive (Genesis 37:21-22). Reuben was courageous in his protective love for his younger brother, courageous enough to risk being mistreated or killed himself.

As we know, through a long and painful series of shocking events orchestrated by God, Joseph ended up becoming the ruler over all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. But where was Reuben? He was back in the family homeland living amongst ongoing domestic hostility.

Sadly, the conviction Reuben had showed with Joseph did not always dominate his character. Reuben’s tragic fall from his father’s grace came when he slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah (Genesis 35:22). This crime was punishable by death and revealed a terrible downgrading of his earlier integrity. Even though Reuben demonstrated compassion for his aging father when he offered his own two sons as a guarantee for the safety of brother Benjamin (Genesis 42:37), he lacked longevity of strong character.

Much later, when Jacob was dispensing his end-of-life blessings, he administered an alarming yet accurate summary of Reuben’s life. Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. 4 Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it (Genesis 49:3-4).

In the amazing grace of God, Reuben was not written off as a total waste of space by the Lord. Like us, the guilt of Reuben’s sin outweighed any redeeming qualities he may have possessed. But the Lord acted upon Reuben’s life with mercy, even assigning him to be father of the tribe of Reuben in Israel. Sadly, the tribe eventually lost its high position of dignity, with no prominent judge, prophet, or ruler coming from it. The tribe of Reuben fades into silent history, with only one New Testament mention in Revelation 7:5. Incredibly, in the tribulation times which lay ahead, when the 144,000 Jewish evangelists shall reap a great harvest of souls for Christ, 12,000 of those evangelists shall be descendants of Reuben.

God’s grace outdoes our sin (Rom 5:20). While our failings, stumblings, and disappointing actions qualify us for discipline or worse, God treats us with grace. Through Christ we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2). God’s grace saves, His grace keeps, and His grace shall deliver us into His presence. Like Reuben, the Lord’s grace covers our lives and our futures, regardless of our water-like characters.

Scroll to Top