Pride and Anger, Blessings Revoked
Saturday, December 8, 2008- With RC Sproul’s Table Talk devotional magazine at my side as the basis for these brief studies in the final chapters of Genesis, I want to examine the patriarchal blessing of Jacob to his sons. We have previously examined Jacob blessing Ephraim and Mannasseh, the sons of Joseph, so that Joseph gets the double portion that is normally reserved for the eldest son; now we turn to the blessings given to Reuben, Simeon and Levi, the first 3 sons of Jacob and Leah.
This is a family gathering that seems to be done in the presence of all, though vs.1 makes it seem that it is possible the prior meeting with Joseph and his 2 sons was separate. I will have to research that further. But it does not seem to be the case that each son was called in to Jacob separately, it appears the whole family is present. The reason this would be important is that it would help to eliminate any false claims being made; it would be similar to the reading of a will by an attorney to the family today. As we go through these blessings it will become readily apparent that there are some seriously embarrassing things that Jacob brings up and finally deals with. Not all the blessings are going to be good.
Vss3-4 deal with the eldest son, Reuben. As the firstborn son he is naturally in a place of preeminence, honor and power. It was tradition for the eldest to carry on the father’s business and to inherit the double portion. When it came to land, the practice of primogeniture was required else the landholding become to small for subsistence. We have already seen Joseph receive the double portion, now we see Reuben receive a rebuke for his wanton sin many years ago. “You went up to your father’s bed” refers to the incident recorded in Gen. 35:22 “While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilha his father’s concubine. And Israel heard of it.”
There is no way to know for sure everyone’s age at the time of this sin, but a reasonable guess in that Bilha could have been about 16 yrs older than Reuben if we consider that his mother, Leah, was likely around 18-20 when she bore him, and the servant girl Bilha may be a couple of years younger than Leah. We are not told when she acquired Bilha, nor her age. I will need to research the question of age and timing further. I have explored the question of age just briefly in order to establish that there may have been some genuine lust on the part of Reuben. Lust was only a small part of the problem within this family, however.
More than likely the primary motive of Reuben was not lust, but power. Sleeping with your father’s concubine is an act of rebellion against your father and an act of asserting your dominance, your “preeminence”, over your brothers, not to mention that it is also an act of rape in most circumstances. There is no evidence that Bilha was complicit in this act. She was raped. A similar situation occurs in David’s family with Absalom in 2Sam.16 when he leads a rebellion against his father David and in vs.22 “So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof. And Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.”
The timing of Reuben’s hideous act could scarcely have been worse. In vss.16-21 we find the death narrative of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife, as she gives birth to the 12th son of Jacob, Benjamin. In essence then, while Israel was morning Rachel, Reuben takes advantage of Bilha.
This story not only reveals the character flaw of Reuben, it also reveals a weakness in Jacob. Vs. 22 ends with, “And Israel heard of it.” No discipline was given, no rebuke was issued, Jacob never seems to have even brought it up for discussion, nor did any of the brothers who could hardly have not been aware of the sin, since by its nature it is intended to be a sign of power over the younger siblings. We of course see a similar patter in David’s life with Amnon and Tamar, Absalom and at the end of David’s life, his son Adonijah in 1Kings1. Familial sin becomes familiar sin and is passed down to the next generation if it is never confronted, dealt with and repented of. The sins of the fathers are passed down from generation to generation. The secret sins of one generation will be paraded in public by succeeding generations. What is a hidden compromise in the life of father may end up being public policy in the lives of his progeny.
The consequences for Reuben were minimal at the time, but now, when the time of blessing arrives, he is not blessed but shamed before his brethren. Though lust was obviously involved, and violence towards Bilha too, this was a sin of pride and rebellion against his father and over his brothers. Now the one who should be preeminent in the family is proclaimed to be “unstable as water”. His blessings were flushed away!
Vss. 5-7 deal with Reuben’s next brothers, Simeon and Levi, sons #2-3 of Jacob and Leah. They also are reprimanded for sins which Jacob had not seriously confronted before now. Jacob refers to the slaughter of the Shechemites in Gen. 34. In that outrageous chapter we see Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, raped by Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land. (to be continued)