Today, I begin a series on the ravages of alcohol. That substance is a destroyer which has destroyed billions of destinies.
Reuben was the first born son of the Jewish patriarch Jacob. By virtue of his privileged birth, Reuben was entitled to a double portion of his father’s inheritance. But alcohol which he himself did not necessarily take at this instance ruined all that privilege for him. According to the story related in Genesis 35: 22 and according to some Biblical commentators, one of his father’s four wives-Bilhah- gorged herself on alcohol which induced her to a deep sleep. As she slept, she did not properly cover herself and she laid in a sexually provocative manner.
Reuben saw her and his passion was aroused and he went and slept with her, an abomination that no son is allowed to commit with his mother or step-mother and against his father. Jacob, her husband and Reuben’s father, was not around when this unfortunate and life-changing incidence took place but commentators said it was the Holy Spirit that informed Jacob of this.
And so when it was time for Jacob their father who was nearing his death to pour out his blessings upon his 12 sons, he did not bless Reuben. Rather, in one of the most poetic prophetic renditions as recorded in the Bible in Genesis 49: 1-33, Jacob, in verses 3-4, laid a curse on his wayward sonthus: ‘’Reuben, thou art my first-born, my might, and the beginning of my strength; the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power; 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’’.
By this deeply anguished declaration against a son who misbehaved terribly against God and his father, light seemed to have gone out of the life of Reuben. According to many Biblical commentaries I have read, Reuben developed a sore in his stomach which nearly killed him if his father did not intervene and exercised some mercy upon him by praying for him. From then onwards, everything started taking a turn for the worse for Reuben. First, the leadership spirit or the spirit of wisdom to lead a people successfully departed from him and came upon Iudah, his half- brother.
When Joseph their brother and their father’s beloved was sent to find out how well they were doing grazing his cattle in Shechem so he can bring him word about their well being or not and they conspired to kill him and to perish his dream of dominance, it was Reuben who said they should not kill him but put him in a pit. His intention was that he will deliver him later and bring him back to his father. Some commentators said after Joseph was dropped in the pit, Reuben retired to a lonely place to observe a fasting and praying session he had embarked upon in the past nine years to express his remorse for his terrible sin.
By the time he returned from his spiritual retreat, his brothers, at the behest of Judah, the new leader, had sold Joseph to the Ishmaelite merchants who took Joseph to Egypt, his place of assigned destiny.
Second, Reuben did not suffer the curse on him alone. While the rest of his brothers were growing in leaps and bounds, Reuben was suffering terrible loses in numbers in wars which Israel waged against their antagonists or in plagues which God brought upon them for disobedience or in any insurrection which the people raised against Moses, their God ordained leader. For instance and according to commentators, in the insurrection led by Korach against Moses in which 250 princes and many others died, the Reubenites suffered more than other tribes (Numbers 16: 1-50). The loses of the Reubenites were so fast and horrendous that when Moses was nearing his death and sought to bless the tribes, he, in Deuteronomy 33: 6, prayed for the Reubenites thus: ‘’Let Reuben live, and not die and let not his men be few’’. Even Moses feared that they were becoming too ‘’fewish’’ and nearing extinction.
Third, as a result of the lingering curse on Reuben, his tribe was diminishing in relevance long before his demise. At one point when a woman, Deborah, took up the leadership of Israel because no bold men were coming up, she, in a great poetic lamentation, criticized the indecision of the Reubenites and their lack of participation in Israel’s war against their enemies (Judges 5: 5-15). After praising the contribution of other tribes, said Deborah of the Reubenites: ‘’ For the division of Reuben there were great searchings of heart’’ (Judges 5: 15). This is indecision that paralyses action.
Another instance of the diminution in relevance of the Reubenites, is that when the children of Israel were freed from their captivity and they were to cross the Red Sea unto the other side, it was Nashom, the son of Judah, who got the honour of first dipping his feet into the mighty river and giving others the courage to do so as the River dried up for them to pass through. It was not a descendant of Reuben, the first-born son, as should have been the case.
Again, when the children of Israel were required to begin the conquest of the Canaanites lands apportioned them, they asked the Lord ‘’who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?’’ and the Lord said, ‘’Judah shall go up’’ (Judges 1: 2). It was not a member of the Reubenites who was assigned the task.
I have narrated this sad story in a fairly great depth in order to expose the ‘’terribility or terribleness’’ of alcohol whether it is taken by you or by someone else. The ravages of alcohol can affect you yourself or someone else fated to be its victim as is the case here with Reuben although he may have other weaknesses of his own which may have led him to that tragic miscalculation.
If the Bible was a novel or a theatrical play, Reuben would be referred to as a tragic hero and his tragic flaw would be the moment of the miscalculation when he beheld an unclad woman that belonged to his father and he could not hold himself or quickly retrace his steps but went forward to commit a terrible sin, all because of the evil deception and urgings of alcohol taken by his partner –in- sin.