The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word unstable as “not steady in action or movement, waving in purpose or intent, liable to change or alteration.” It can also describe someone who is “characterized by a lack of emotional control.“
How does this word relate to Reuben?
If we look at Jacob’s description of Reuben in Genesis 49:3-4, we are given insights into Reuben’s nature and character. He said:
“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— He went up to my couch.”
Reuben had several notable qualities that distinguished him from his brothers. As such, he seemed to possess all the necessary character traits to carry on the name of Jacob.
However, he lacked in one area of his life, and this proved to be his downfall.
Jacob described him as unstable, which is the Hebrew word פָּחַז (pronounced pakhaz). Although Reuben had excellent personality traits, he was wanton, reckless, and frothy. Like perturbed water, his thinking processes and behavior quickly became choppy and dangerous.
In other words, he wasn’t trustworthy to receive the blessing of the firstborn or establish the lineage of the Messiah.
The Downfall of Reuben: His Unstable Nature
The unstableness of his character ultimately perverted his power, might, and dignity. Like a sudden wind causes a wave to form, or the stirring of impure water causes much froth, the lusts of his flesh overpowered him.
Reuben set his eyes on his father’s concubine Bilhah, who was also the mother of two of his brothers. Defiling his father’s bed (see Genesis 35:22), Reuben showed that his hasty nature wasn’t more than froth. All his glory was only a mass of bubbles of air.
Today, we can describe this behavior and way of thinking as “hot air.” Reuben relied on his status and determined that he couldn’t lose the firstborn right, even when he utterly disrespected his father.
A Moment of Reflection
James 1:6-8 warns us that a double-minded person is unstable in all their ways and is comparable to a wave that the wind directs its movement. If there is no wind, the waves are calm. However, once a storm develops, the waves roar in agreement with the environment around it.
Double-mindedness leads to taking the goodness of God for granted and perverting it for self-pleasure. The Word of God isn’t the ultimate authority in such a personality, as explanations outside of God’s ordinances and truth are also accepted.
What is the root problem? Impurity of the heart (James 4:8).
A Call to Purity
A double-minded person, or one who shifts between sin and righteousness, should not expect anything of God (James 1:7). This person has not learned to master sin as God instructed Cain (Genesis 4:6-7) and allows sin to empower them to obtain their desires when necessary.
So, we must judge ourselves and ask:
- What areas of our hearts are impure?
- Where does sin have an open-door to control us when things don’t go our way?
- Do the commands of Jesus guide our every decision? Or do we look to Satan for advice on specific subjects?
Brothers and sisters, the time has come to choose. God has laid before us life and death and pleads with us to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). However, if we remain unstable like Reuben, we will never excel.
So, even now, choose to remain steadfast and follow only Jesus.