3 “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—he went up to my couch!” (Genesis 49:3–4 (ESV)
Jacob’s evaluation of his firstborn son, Reuben, involved not only blessings but also judgments. Jacob mentioned Reuben’s admirable qualities first and then concluded with his liabilities.
The prophecies concerning Reuben, Simeon and Levi refer to punishment for their crimes. Their sins would impact their future generations. There are no animal comparisons given regarding the three elder brothers. .
Jacob acknowledged Reuben to be his first born. It must be noted that a firstborn son’s inheritance could never be revoked arbitrarily by a father’s whim. However, changes in the inheritance could be made if the son in question committed sexual sins against the family.
Jacob call Reuben his might. This refered to power, strength and ability. Every indication in Scripture is that Reuben was a physically strong man. He also possessed preeminent dignity or exaltation along with preeminent power. Reuben was a great force to be reckoned.
Yet, in spite of these admirable qualities, or perhaps because of them, Jacob compared Reuben to the instability, recklessness and turbulence of foamy water. Reuben would no longer maintain his preeminence. This was directly the result of Reuben’s sinful sexual behavior years before with Jacob’s concubine (Gen. 29:32; 35:22).
Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “Reuben likely expects to receive a double portion of his father’s blessing (Deut. 21:15–17). Reuben’s chest probably swells with pride as his father begins to prophesy over him to commend his preeminence in power and dignity (Gen. 49:3). However, Reuben’s bubble soon bursts when his father revokes these privileges. Reuben may have an advantage according to the world, but no such benefit is present in God’s eyes. Until now, Jacob has said nothing about his eldest son’s sin with his surrogate wife Bilhah (Gen. 35:22). But silence does not indicate Jacob’s ignorance, for this violation costs Reuben his place of prominence (Gen. 49:4). With his sin, Reuben has shown himself to be unstable as water, slippery in his character. Unsteady in righteousness and wisdom (see also 42:37), Reuben has forfeited his rightful place as the family’s leader.”
It should be noted that no prophet, judge or king descended from Reuben. Instability, rather than strength of character, was demonstrated by Reuben’s descendants (Judges 4:1-5:16). Reuben and his family reaped the consequences of his sin.
Galatians 6:7–8 (ESV) says, “7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
May we all observe the lessons God teaches in the life and legacy of Reuben. Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Soli deo Gloria!