October 5, 2010

Reuben: A Mixed Bag

We begin our look at the twelve dysfunctional sons of Jacob (and patriarchs of Israel) with Reuben, the first born … given by God as a special blessing to an unloved mother (Genesis 29.31). Such a blessing was this little boy that Leah named him ‘look, a son’ (the literal Hebrew meaning of the name Reuben, see v. 32). She was so happy, so thankful for her little baby boy that she selected a name for him that would reflect her joy and surprise! And given that joy; and given the fact that Reuben was a direct gift from God, we might expect that his life story would be one of heroism, and dignity, and continual blessing to those around him.

But what we actually find, as we read on through Genesis, is a mixed bag. On the one hand, Reuben is the only one of Jacob’s sons who came out of the fiasco with Joseph with his reputation not totally ruined. You’ll remember that the ten oldest sons of Jacob were quite jealous of their little brother, Joseph. And understandably (though not excusably) so! Jacob clearly favored this little one above all his brothers (37.3). And, in a fit of jealousy, Joseph’s brother determined to kill him (37.18). “But Reuben heard of this and rescued him out of their hands and said, ‘Let us not take his life’. Reuben further said to them, ‘Shed no blood. Throw him into the pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him’ – that he might rescue him out of their hands and restore him to his father” (37.21-22).

In this instance, Reuben was the voice of reason, and potentially could have been the hero. And when his intervention failed, and his brothers sold Joseph as a slave behind Reuben’s back, he was heartbroken (37.29-30) … tearing his garments and crying out in agony. So here we have Reuben the dignified, brave, caring older brother.

But when we read on in chapter 37 (vv.31 and following), we discover that Jacob’s sons hatched a clever cover-up scheme to hide what they had done with Jacob. They forged a lie, complete with a bloody coat as exhibit A, to convince their dad that Joseph had been killed by wild animals (and to cover up their own shameful aggression and sin). And it would appear that, at this point, formerly brave and upright Reuben lost his nerve. Even if he did not devise the plan himself, he clearly went along with it … and prevented any opportunity of his father setting out for Egypt to buy his son back out of slavery. Add to that the fact that Reuben, in chapter 35.22, had had an affair with his father’s housemaid-turned-live-in-lover (who was also the mother of two of his little brothers) and we have an entirely different picture of Reuben.

So I say that Reuben is a mixed bag – capable of wonderful compassion and loyalty; but also capable of great weakness and even treachery. Sound like anyone you’ve seen in the mirror lately? Yes, sad to say … Reuben’s life story reads much like each of our own. All of us are mixed bags, spiritually … are we not? Created in the image of God, we have great capacities for noble and loving behavior. But fallen in the image of Adam, we are all steeped in a history of broken promises, by-passed opportunities, unthinkable disloyalties, selfish ambitions, and actions we’d just as soon forget. Even in spite of our great, God-given capacities for good, “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3.10).

And so, when we look in the mirror and see Reuben staring us back in the face … we’re thankful that, just over Reuben’s shoulder (and stemming from his own dysfunctional family tree) stands One who is not a mixed bag; One who was “tempted in all things as we are” (Hebrews 4.15) – tempted, like Reuben, to lose his nerve and eschew courage and loyalty in favor of self-preservation (Luke 23.41-44); tempted, like Reuben, to usurp His Father (Matthew 4.8-10) – “yet without sin”! And because Jesus is “without sin”, He could, at the cross, stand in the gap for so many Reuben’s, laying down His life for their weakness and treachery; laying down His life for your weakness and treachery. So … have you looked in the mirror yet today? And can you, by faith, see Jesus standing over your shoulder – far fairer and purer than you could ever be, and willing to forgive your every failure? Have you entrusted the mixed bag of your life into His nail-pierced hands?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

O what similarities I see between me and this Reuben...yet what a blessed hope do I have when I see that One without sin...fairer and purer than ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands could ever be! Thank you for the reminder. kathy