1 ¶ And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days. 2 Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father. 3 Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: 4 Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.
Jacob calls his sons together to give them his prophecies concerning their future and, in doing so, the future of their offspring. This is of tremendous importance in what is to come. We must look not only to the individual’s future, but to the future of their tribes in history, and to the prophecy in Revelation regarding the conditions under which they survive until the end of human history. The Bible, unlike most other books of the world’s important religions, is a book filled with prophecy of the future, prophetic warnings and declarations.
Reuben was Leah’s hope that Jacob would love her when she knew that it was Rachel to whom he was emotionally attached.
Genesis 29:32 And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.
But Reuben had sex with Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid, her personal servant.
Genesis 29:29 And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her maid.
Whom Rachel had given to Jacob as another wife.
Genesis 30:4 And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her.
Genesis 35:22 And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve:
A concubine was a sort of secondary, lesser wife in this culture. This was not ordained by God but part of what He permits sinful man to do which condemns sinful man and reveals his weakness. God’s plan is for one man and one women to unite in marriage for life.
Genesis 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Matthew 19:3 ¶ The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? 4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
So, Reuben committed a great wrong by doing what he did. In the age of the church Paul criticizes a congregation for permitting such a thing before asking that the man be forgiven as he was deeply repentant and anguished over his sin.
1Corinthians 5:1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. 2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?
7 ¶ Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 ¶ I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
2Corinthians 2:5 ¶ But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. 6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. 7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. 8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. 9 For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. 10 To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; 11 Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.
Would it were that Christian congregations had a zeal against sin in their midst. Today we tend to justify or ignore instances of people committing fornication and other sins. There is little shame regarding sin against God in today’s church.
Reuben is judged unstable and weak and will not be the tribe through which Christ will come to offer redemption to mankind.