When Jacob grew old, he became ill and his physical condition and vision grew worse. However, his spiritual vision and insight seemed to become clearer and more detailed with age and maturity. Before his death, Jacob blessed his sons and prophesied their futures, and his words are recounted in Genesis 48 and 49. Much of Jacob’s blessing seems to logically refer to his recollection of his son’s lives, but other parts don’t as much. As it turns out, Jacob’s declarations were farther-reaching than perhaps, even He realized. Just as the progression of sons was not insignificant, neither is Jacob’s blessing of their future. He begins His blessing in prophetic fashion…
Genesis 49:1-2 ESV
Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come. 2 “Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob, listen to Israel your father.
As we will discover, the “Blessing of Jacob” as it is called, was more than a physical reading of Jacob’s dying will, but it was a prophetic poem containing our heavenly Father’s living will.
As the firstborn, Reuben’s reading came first. His blessing is an interesting juxtaposition of compassion and punishment. He was dearly loved by Jacob, but a single, sinful act cost him his inheritance as the firstborn of Israel. He slept with his father’s concubine, Bilhah.
22It came about while Israel was dwelling in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it.
This unforgettable transgression committed by Reuben was reflected in the negative portion of his blessing from Jacob. After initially speaking positively of Reuben, Jacob remembered this deed and punished him for it.
Genesis 49:3-4 ESV
3Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. 4Unstable 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!
By the words, “you went up to your father’s bed,” It is obvious that Reuben’s blessing was given according to the occurrences of his life, and his future was determined as a consequence. He was Jacob’s firstborn, but he was also a child of Leah, the imperfect bride. Therefore his story would not end in ideal fashion either.
If we maintain the revelation previously discussed concerning Leah and the sinful state of men she produces and represents, Reuben’s life must be a depiction of the earliest stages of mankind, created in perfection but becoming imperfect. In fact, the words of Jacob’s blessing concludes this exactly when he proclaims that the “firstborn” who received the “firstfruits of [his} strength” is “unstable as water” and “shall not have preeminence.” In other words, Reuben would not maintain his superior position of exaltation due to his sin. If remember that Jacob’s experience is teaching us of the Lord’s perspective, it becomes clear that Reuben’s blessing and story are strikingly similar to another firstborn of the Bible, Adam.
Adam is the natural, firstborn creation of God, and His story fits perfectly within Jacob’s blessing as if God is speaking about him even though it is Jacob who is speaking about Reuben. Both Adam and Reuben were beginning, and they received the firstfruits of their respective Fathers’ strength. They were both “preeminent in power”, and they both excelled in their inherited authority for a season, demonstrating the perfection of their intrinsic worth and honor. One could possibly argue that this scripture describes Adam better that it does Reuben. However, their instabilities prevailed, causing them both to lose their ideal position as inheritors of the greatest possible endowment. Further examination of Adam in scripture shows the revelatory relationship between these two.
Genesis 1:26-28 KJV
26And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 28And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Adam was made in the “image” and “likeness” of his Father who is our Father, in heaven. His initial excellence is symbolically conveyed through the inborn “might” and first fruits of [Jacob’s] strength” that Reuben was born with, according to Genesis 49:3. The dominion and authority exercised by Adam in the garden originated from his Father in heaven. He too, was “preeminent in power” just as Jacob proclaimed that Reuben initially had been. However, Adam’s lack of experience made him impressionable by nature, since he had not yet encountered the craftiness of Satan. In his innocence, he was extremely impressible and “unstable as water”, and his eventual sin resulted in a fleshly nature that was bound to become uncontrollable.
Because both male and female, created in Adam, were incredibly naive and without experience, God foreknew that they wouldn’t continue in their preeminence. Therefore, this was conceded before their creation in hopes that their (our) experiential realization would bring them back to their first love. This intentional concession made by the Father is poetically described in the book of Romans.
Romans 8:20-21 KJV
20For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, 21Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
This is why Jesus was considered “slain before the creation of the world” [Revelation 13:8]. Because Elohim knew that the sins of Adam and Eve would eventually cost all of humanity some preeminence and natural supremacy, He arranged our existence in a way that our works would not irreversibly forfeit our eternal security.
We received our sin nature by one man, Adam, making it spiritually justifiable for us to receive our salvation by one man, Jesus. Sure, we would lose some short-term benefits, but this was all in the hopes that our deprivation of them would show us just how much we need our Father in Heaven. Similarly, Reuben didn’t receive the optimal outcome, but he was never permanently disowned by his father, Jacob. He still inherited a portion of the promised land in Canaan, a blessing not given to a couple of his younger brethren.
When Reuben was born, he inherited the damaged emotion of his mother, Leah, but this is to be understood spiritually, not physically. As the imperfect bride who felt unloved by Jacob, Leah’s pained state of consciousness during Reuben’s birth is used to portray the distress of men who live without full awareness of God’s love.
31Now the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32Leah conceived and bore a son and named him Reuben, for she said, “Because the LORD has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.”
Leah’s words are incredibly deep and powerful, because they are the words of all mankind, although we have often had trouble expressing them. Our sins separated us from our perfect relationship with God, and our unrighteous behaviors stem from an unrecognized desire to fill a void within our hearts that only Jesus can satisfy. Leah’s voice speaks for us. With every birth—every season of man—she speaks in hopes of realizing Jacob’s love.
- Name Meaning : “behold, a son” or “son of vision”.
REUBEN REFLECTED IN NOAH
Reuben’s sin has more extensive, spiritual connections. He essentially surrendered his birthright by sleeping with his Father’s concubine, but this was no ordinary sin. Long before the Levitical law came down from Mt. Sinai to explicitly forbid such an act, this kind of act was considered abominable. Consider this—Jacob cursed Reuben years before Moses used a euphemism to legally forbid the shameful act of sleeping with your father’s wife.
11And the man that lieth with his father’s wife hath uncovered his father’s nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
This act was (and still is) so despicable that Moses seemed hesitant to even speak of it directly. Instead, he resorted to the use of milder phrases and euphemisms to denote such reprehensible, sexual behavior. Thankfully for Reuben, this law was instituted long after he slept with his father’s wife, or he might have faced the death penalty, himself. Additionally, one might ask why such a severe punishment was determined in the first place. In response, we must consider how Reuben’s actions continue to symbolize those of Adam.
God places great emphasis and value on covenants. They are commitments which can’t be broken or redefined. In a modern sense, during the vows of a wedding covenant, we say, “’til death do us part,” but God actually means it. This is why Jesus had to die before a new covenant could ever be put in place.
15Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
And this is why a requisite death doesn’t just apply to Jesus, but to us as well…
27And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
The only way to receive any new covenant is to, literally, die, and that is how serious God takes them. Furthermore, the reason we even need a new covenant is because Adam and Even were unfaithful in the first one. They broke their singular, covenant connection with God, in the garden, and effectively became spiritually connected to sin and Satan. They abandoned their position as servants of God and made a motion to elevated themselves to level of God, through Satan’s suggestion. To equate this with Jacob’s words about Reuben, they “went up to [God’s] couch.” What Adam and Eve did has nothing to do with a sexual act, but what sexual acts symbolize—covenants.
6And when the woman saw that the tree wasgood for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. 7And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
Adam and Even became involved in an unfaithful spiritual covenant with Satan. Jacob and Bilhah, the generation that procreated Reuben symbolizes God, the greater being responsible for creating man. As Reuben “uncovered his father’s nakedness by lying with Bilhah,” Adam and Even uncovered their own nakedness when they sinned against God. They’re punishment was death, and perhaps this is why the punishment in the law of Moses’ was the same
Genesis 3:2-3, 19
2And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. …. 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
12Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: 13(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
As an added bonus, it worth considering one additional this. It is highly possible that this detestable deed had actually been committed by another individual a few hundred years before Reuben. That account is written in Genesis 9.
20And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: 21And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. 22And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father,* and told his two brethren without. 23And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. 24And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.*
In this scripture Moses, the author of both Genesis and Leviticus, is writing the story of Ham who “saw his father’s nakedness”. Some may deny the idea that Ham slept with Noah’s wife, but an alternative, literal interpretation doesn’t seem deserving of Noah’s strong curse upon Ham. Why would Noah be so angry if Ham only saw him naked, literally? It is very possible that it was no literal “viewing”, but rather a violation of Noah’s wife by her own son. When you consider that the entire earth had just been destroyed for perverse, sexual activity, Noah would have been left no choice but to severely punish Ham, much like Reuben was punished for doing the very same thing.
Throughout human history, many civilizations like the Egyptians and Greeks, among others, have resorted to such incestuous behaviors in an attempt to secure or steal wealth and power. Although scripture does not explicitly mention Ham’s motivation and state his sin, it is highly plausible that this youngest of three brothers (Genesis 9:24) dealt with some form of an inferiority complex, and took an opportunity to gain power by sleeping with his own mother.
ANOTHER TRUTH IN REUBEN
There is one more parallel to Jacob’s firstborn, Reuben and Yahweh’s firstborn, Adam. That is, Adam’s wife, Eve.
Genesis 2:21-25 KJV
21And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; 22And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 23And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. 24Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. 25And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
Notice the same initial pleasurable regard at the moment of creation. Adam’s reaction upon seeing Eve reflects the positive sentiments of Jacob towards Reuben and God towards Adam. In fact, the presentation of Eve to Adam was designed to make Adam more understanding of God’s own love towards him, and empathetic towards His dealings with humans. God loved Adam, especially because Adam was a perfect reflection of Himself. Jacob loved Reuben especially because he was the “firstfruits his strength”. Adam loved Eve, especially because she was “bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh”. This love of a husband towards a God-given wife is meant to demonstrate the love of Jesus towards the church. Ephesians beautifully delineates the spiritual purpose of husbands and wives to illustrate the love of Christ for His bride.
Ephesians 5:22-33 22Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 25Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 31For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
Verse 31 speaks of the way men leave the household of their pro-creators to become one with their wives, but it also speaks of the way Jesus left the domain of the Creator to become one in covenant with His bride, mankind. This is the “great mystery” spoken of by Paul. Not only does God want us to share in His power, but He also wants us to share in His feelings as He becomes united with His children. This is a great demonstration of love and wisdom that often goes without appreciation. The curse of the thorny ground and the curse of painful child birth were not arbitrary punishments of the fall. They were carefully calculated to manufacture within God’s children, the same hurt God would endure to birth a nation to himself. God had made man from the ground, and thorns would now grow from the ground just as evil men would emerge from mankind. Secondly, God would painfully endure loss and sacrifice in order to birth forth His desired children. This is why women endure pain in “child birth” also. It becomes easy to see that Elohim is endlessly attempting to illustrate His plan for our lives and shed light on His very own feelings towards us.
THE SEASON OF REUBEN
Ultimately, the “blessing” of Jacob upon Reuben likens him to the season that begins with Adam and, interestingly enough, stretches into the the cursed lineages of Ham. The words spoken by Jacob parallel Reuben’s original state to Adam and his eventual state to the sin that befell men. This chronological connection may appear unbelievable at first, but the revelation of more brothers’ blessings produces undeniable evidence of an intended chronology of seasons.
In the end, the weakness and instability of Reuben caused him to tarnish the perfection of his ideal inheritance by “going up to his father’s bed”. He consummated an improper covenant and betrayed the source (Jacob) that he was created from. In similar fashion, Adam and Eve forsook the trust of God through an improper covenant, betraying the Source (God) from which they derived. And finally Eve betrayed the trust of Adam, the source from whom she was created, through her conversation with the serpent. All three scenarios share in initial glory, abuse of trust and resulting punishment.