And it 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.
Jacob has just buried Rachel. Life was continuing either in Eder near Bethlehem or in Bethlehem itself. We do not know precisely how long he had to recover from some of his grief when another family tragedy struck him. His firstborn son, Reuben, borne to him by his first wife Leah, had intercourse with his father Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah. Bilhah had been Rachel’s servant and she had borne Jacob two sons, Dan and Naphtali, when Rachel was not able to conceive.
I cannot imagine what must have gone on in Jacob’s mind on receiving the news. More trouble. Perhaps he thought, “More disgrace”. His heart must have heart. Perhaps he was also angry. How could he bear it?
It is interesting to note that what we have here in the first part of this verse is all that the Bible ever says about this indiscretion. We do not know what Jacob said or did when he learned of it? We do not know how it affected the relationships of those involved. Jacob does speak of Reuben later in a most positive way and Reuben does seem to redeem himself in action that he subsequently took with regard to sparing the life of one of his brothers. But that being the case, that is that no further mention is made of the situation, we should stop to consider why the text even mentions this occurrence.
The First (Old) Testament is indeed, among many other things, the history of the Jewish People. That history and the whole Bible itself for that matter has always been written with several concepts in mind. First, the history is not a defense of the Jews, making every attempt to make them look good. Clearly “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of Israel’s history are all revealed here. This is history; it is not a political propaganda or a ‘justification account’ of what took place. Secondly, scripture always treats sin for what it is – sin. It does not overplay or glorify it as such and it is does not underplay it or try to cover it up. It exposes it at face value. Thirdly, it describes most accurately the natural nature of man and his natural inclination towards sin. Finally, by both what it says and often by what it leaves unsaid, it reflects the concept that the Almighty God can deal with our sins, and can work with us beyond that sin. It is important that we understand the Bible’s view of sin in that way in order to be able to comprehend why a verse like Genesis 35:22a is recorded in its pages.
For us, the implication is manifold. First, we need to recognize that sin exists and it happens. All of us are prone to it. Second, it does not need to be the end of the world. Thirdly, we must recognize it as sin, accept the consequences, and get on with both our life and more importantly with our relationship with God. The latter requires repentance, a true desire to, and a carrying out of a, change in behavior and practice and sometimes environment or circumstances so that sin does not easily reoccur.
We should regard the fact that scripture says no more about Reuben’s sin as a willingness of our Heavenly Father to take our sin and remember it no more!
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