Parents are usually the best judges of their children’s character. Jacob summarised the personality of his son Reuben by comparing him to water.  Except when frozen, water has no stable shape of its own.  It always shapes itself to its container or environment.  Reuben usually had good intentions, but he seemed unable to stand against a crowd.  His instability made him hard to trust.  He had both private and public values, but these contradicted each other.  He went along with his brothers in their action against Joseph while hoping to counteract the evil in private.  The plan failed.  Compromise has a way of destroying convictions.  Without convictions, lack of direction will destroy life.  Reuben’s sleeping with his father’s concubine showed how little he had left of the integrity he had displayed earlier in life.

How consistent are your public and private lives? We may want to think they are separate, but we can’t deny that they affect each other.  What convictions are present in your life at all times?  How closely does Jacob’s description of his son – “turbulent as the waters” – describe your life?

Strengths and accomplishments:

  • Saved Joseph’s life by talking the other brothers out of murder
  • Showed intense love for his father by offering his own sons as a guarantee that Benjamin’s life would be safe

Weaknesses and mistakes:

  • Gave in quickly to group pressure
  • Did not directly protect Joseph from his brothers, although as oldest son he had the authority to do so
  • Slept with his father’s concubine

Lessons from his life:

  • Public and private integrity must be the same, or one will destroy the other
  • Punishment for sin may not be immediate, but it is certain

Vital statistics:

  • Where: Canaan, Egypt
  • Occupation: Shepherd
  • Relatives: Parents: Jacob and Leah. Eleven brothers, one sister

Key verses: “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honour, excelling in power.  Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it” (Genesis 49:3, 4).

Reuben’s story is told in Genesis 29 – 50.


©KingsWay 1973.




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