Daily Devotion: Day 219 | By Stephen Bilson-Ogoe
“Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power. Unstable as water, you shall not excel, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it . . .” (Genesis 49:3-4, NKJV).
In Bible times, the firstborn son held a place of pride and honor. The birth of the firstborn had, not only social status, but religious significance as well. In fact, shortly after delivering Israel from Egypt, the LORD gave the people a law concerning the firstborn. God claimed as His own every male animal which opened the womb – with the exception of the donkey. They all, therefore, had to be offered as a sacrifice to the LORD.
The same was true for the firstborn sons among the Israelites. Instead of their blood being shed, the firstborn sons were redeemed by the offering of a lamb in their place. This ritual was to commemorate the Lord’s grand deliverance of Israel from Egypt (See Exodus 13:1, 11-16) when, in response to Pharaoh’s refusal to let Israel go, He killed all the firstborn of the Egyptians.
By reason of his birth rank, the firstborn enjoyed preeminence among all his siblings and a position of honor in the whole family. Based on this “ascribed status” (as sociologists would term it), much was expected of him. He was expected to preserve the dignity of the family name, set the example and demonstrate excellence (moral, occupational and religious) in leadership.
In Genesis 49, Jacob, before he died, summoned his twelve sons that he might prophesy into their lives. He started, as expected, with Reuben, his firstborn. As you can see from today’s opening Scripture, the prophecy to Reuben was not favorable. Jacob began by stating the excellence in rank which naturally belonged to Reuben. He – being the firstborn of Jacob – possessed dignity, honor, authority and preeminence. But, Reuben disgraced his father in the most dishonorable way imaginable. He went in and slept with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah (cf. Genesis 35:22). Now, Bilhah was maid to Rachel, Jacob’s wife. And she gave birth to two of Jacob’s sons, Dan and Naphtali (cf. Genesis 30:1-8).
Imagine, therefore, the seriousness of what Reuben did. Jacob did not forget it. In his prophecy to Reuben, he described him as “unstable as water.” Then, Jacob handed down the sentence for Reuben’s actions, “you shall not excel.” That was it for Reuben. Interestingly, in Revelation 7:4-8, when John listed the twelve tribes, he named Judah first and placed Reuben second.
The lesson for us is that we should not take for granted whatever rank, position or status we have in life. Position comes with responsibility. The fact that you possess a rank does not necessarily mean you are excellent. Excellence is more than a status. It is a philosophy of life – a way of thinking, doing and being.
Remember, therefore, who you are in Christ. The Holy Spirit in you is a Spirit of Excellence. You are a child of the Most High. How you conduct your life matters. Walk, speak, think and act as one from God’s Royal House. This is not pride. It is excellence. Do not compromise your Christian identity and dignity. Cultivate and maintain a spirit of excellence in all you do.
The peace and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be upon you today! Amen.
For further study: 1 Peter 2:1-10