We learn in Genesis that Jacob’s first born was Reuben. Reuben attempted to save Joseph’s life when the other brothers wanted to kill him. Reuben suggested throwing Joseph in a pit. He planned to go get Joseph and bring him home, but the other brothers thwarted that plan by selling him to Egyptian traders. This begins the story of Joseph saving Israel from the famine, but that is Joseph’s story, and today I want to draw your attention to Reuben’s story.
In Genesis 42:23 in a particular crisis moment for Jacob’s sons, Reuben said to his brothers, “Didn’t I tell you not to harm the boy? But you wouldn’t listen. Now we must account for his blood.”
Reuben’s statement has two ironies. First, Reuben didn’t know what Joseph was doing, and he didn’t know what God was doing. He thought he did, but he didn’t. Secondly, Reuben was applying a principle to his brothers that he was unwilling to apply to himself. Back in Genesis 35 we are told that Reuben “went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah.” All that is said there in response is that “Israel (which here means Jacob) heard about it. (Genesis 35:22) The next time we hear about this is at the end of Jacob’s life when he is revealing the blessing to each son. He started with Reuben and the blessing is not pretty.
Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my strength and the firstfruits of my virility,
excelling in prominence, excelling in power.
4 Turbulent as water, you will not excel,
because you got into your father’s bed
and you defiled it—he got into my bed. (Genesis 49:3-4)
When I consider all of these details of Reuben’s life together, I hear the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use. 3 Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-6)
Think about two principles here:
1. Before you preach to someone, make sure you know what you are preaching. Say these words to yourself, “No one likes a know-it-all, especially when no one knows it all.”
2. Before you preach to someone, make sure you have applied the message to yourself.
Now, let’s all go take care of that beam of wood in our eye!