“It makes a difference whose children have the measles.”
This little adage we frequently hear, and there a measure of truth in it. If the neighbour’s children have the measles, your children are kept far from them so as not to contract the childhood disease. But if your children have the measles, they will be sent to school in the early stages of the disease, so as not to miss too much school, and their friends are not kept out of the house, or their parents told that there is this childhood disease within the walls of the home.
Of this we are reminded when in the closing verses ofGenesis 35 we read, “And it came to pass when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard it.” When Shechem had defiled Dinah, Simeon and Levi, her brothers, murdered all the Shechemites. And when they were mildly rebuked by their father, they answered, “Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?” Now when their full brother, Reuben, defiles their father’s concubine, they are silent and look the other way. This was their father’s concubine, even though it was not their mother nor her maid, who also was a concubine of their father. They do not now ask, “Should he deal with our father’s concubine as with an harlot?”
And this was not because they took to heart that mild rebuke that their father gave them after killing the Shechemites. It was not that they learned not to seek revenge. It was simply a case of measles that could be tolerated since they were in the family. And here Scripture gives us another picture of the troubled life of Jacob. Not only does Jacob’s oldest son behave very immorally, but note how divided this family is. Two wives, two concubines, four sets of children, and one father and husband in the middle of the bickering, clanishness, and rivalry. There was polarization in that family! Six sons were drawn to one mother (as well as to each other and their sister), and two were drawn to her maid. One son, Joseph, clings to another mother, and two to her maid. And Jacob is in the middle of it all. Had this been done by Dan or Naphtali from the other faction in the family, to Zilpah, the maid of their mother, sparks would have flown and a clash would have resulted. Now there is no concern that their brother did this to a concubine on the other side of the family feud. If Reuben has measles, let Joseph, Dan and Naphtali protest, if they want to do so, but the other eight brothers will look the other way and behave as though no measles are in that family. It is of no concern to them, even though all twelve children, eleven sons and one daughter, are united in the one father whose concubine, (and bed) has been defiled. Benjamin is still too young to understand.
Having read all this we cannot help but say, “Poor Jacob; will his troubles never come to an end?” After all, he is our brother, and our father. He belongs to the same body of Christ to which we belong. He is a citizen of the same kingdom of heaven wherein our names are from eternity enrolled as fellow citizens. It is not pleasant to write about Jacob and his troubles. But it must be done for our learning, and, indeed, “Let children thus learn from history’s light, To hope in our God and walk in His sight; The God of their Fathers’ to fear and obey, And ne’er like their fathers to turn from His way” (Psalm 78).
And the statement, “And Israel heard it,” also makes one’s heart bleed for this fellow saint whose name has been changed from Jacob to Israel. And pity wells up, not simply because he received another blow in his family, and by one of his children—and indeed you could almost wish, after reading of all Jacob’s troubles, that he was kept unaware of this horrible thing in his family—but because we read nothing more than that he heard of it. We read of no rebuke which he gave to Reuben. Simeon and Levi he rebuked, and that mildly, by pointing out, not the sin against God, but the fact that he had been made to stink among the Canaanites by their murder. Sin against God is not the essence of his rebuke, but it is the embarrassment and trouble that this deed caused him.
Much later, on his death bed, Jacob did say something about this sin of Reuben. He told Reuben that he was unstable as water, and that he had defiled his father’s bed. Evidence there is then that he “heard it,” that is, that Reuben had gone in unto his concubine. He knew it all these years from the day it happened until he died. And his words on his death bed reveal that he was grieved because of it. It hurt! But was this another case of measles in the family, which also hurt and make quite sick? Although Reuben was a son of Leah, for whom he had no love when she was forced on him by her conniving father, he was also Jacob’s firstborn. Listen to what Jacob says about him in Genesis 49:3, “Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power.” He was proud of this son. Is this why he hears of the sin but says nothing to that son? Was it also because Bilhah was only a tool of Rachel for getting more sons for Jacob, and was therefore a woman for whom he had no love, a woman used only for the sake of his flesh and Rachel’s ambition? He cared that his bed was defiled, but did he care for Bilhah’s shame and debasement?
It may even be questioned as to whether Bilhah did not invite, if not even engineer this sin. A woman very much older than Reuben, a woman whose physical, earthly beauty—if she had it in her youth—had long faded, and her attractiveness had slipped away, could cast her eyes on this handsome young son of Jacob and make advances to him. Jacob left her severely alone, and indeed he had others to whom he could turn. One fact becomes plain, namely, that she was not raped. She was not forced into this sin. And Jacob did not hear of it from Bilhah as a complaint against his oldest son. There had been communication between her and Reuben before this sin. We read, “He went and lay with her.” Now not only is this expression used so often in Scripture of what happen legally in the marriage bond, but it speaks of no resistance at all on the part of Bilhah. She may therefore have enticed him in one way or another. She certainly did not fight any advances on Reuben’s part. And the statement of Jacob on his death bed that Reuben is unstable as water, always going the line of least resistance, does suggest that Bilhah used Reuben, and that he was not able to resist. What is more, Jacob’s words in Genesis 49:4 indicate that it all took place in Jacob’s tent. We read, “unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defilest thou it: he went up to my couch.” Taking that bed and couch literally would mean that it took place where Bilhah had access to and was in Jacob’s very tent. All this would not excuse Reuben; and on his death bed Jacob did not minimize its evil. Nor would all this excuse Jacob after hearing of it to be so silent about lit. He was obliged to rebuke and counsel his son.
And yet with all his weaknesses Jacob was a child of God. Therefore, although it took him a long time to get to Hebron and his father’s tent—as God had commanded him more than ten years before this incident—he did finally arrive in “Hebron where Abraham and Isaac sojourned” (Genesis 36:27). Although from Deborah, his mother’s maid, he learned long before arriving in Hebron that his mother had died, there was for Jacob a feeling of grief to be in these familiar regions and not to experience the nearness and fellowship of his mother. She saw to it that for his safety he was sent away; and they never met again in this life.
And soon another blow strikes Jacob. Isaac his father dies. And this is but another painful experience that is a prelude to more to come. It would seem as though Solomon had Jacob in mind when he wrote that “the clouds return after the rain” (Ecclesiastes 12:2). It had rained a great deal in Jacob’s life; and we are at the point when we would expect the skies to clear and give Jacob some sunny, happy days in the promised land. But no, Joseph is going to be sold into Egypt, and Jacob is going to be led to believe that he is dead. All his love focuses now on Benjamin, the only son left of his beloved wife, who had also been taken from him by death. Simeon is in prison in Egypt. And Benjamin must also now be taken from him to go to Egypt just when he was becoming a promising young man. Not only have the clouds returned, they have brought torrents of rain after the rain that already flooded his soul.
Yet we must remember that clouds always come from the hand of the God Who in the beginning created them. And we may also remember the words of Jesus in the storm that threatened the disciples in the ship with Him, “Peace, be still,” and the amazing result, “And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39). And again, in Psalm 135:7, “He causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; He maketh the lightnings for the rain; He bringeth the wind out of His chambers.” Likewise in Psalm 148:8, “Fire, and hail, snow and vapour; stormy wind fulfilling His word.”
What is more, we have that comforting truth in I Corinthians 10:13, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
Let all covenant families take hold of this truth. Let every child of God keep it before his consciousness when troubles arise and the rain is followed by more intense rain. Through all the ordeals in Jacob’s life, no matter how many times he was cast down, and though it looked repeatedly as though the floods would sweep him away, Jacob the supplanter did become Israel, the prince of God. All worked together for good to this one who was called according to God’s purpose of sovereign, eternal, unconditional election from before the foundation of the world. Nothing separated him from God’s love. His enemies did not. Satan, who tried in all these griefs to do so, failed. Jacob’s sins did not. And all because, as Paul writes in that section of Romans 8:28-39, that love of God is in Christ Jesus. Because He paid for our sins in full by His precious blood, there is nothing that has the right or ability to separate us from God’s love.
This becomes plain in Genesis 36. After we read of Esau and Jacob being united in that deed of burying their father, we are told in Genesis 36:6 that “Esau took his wives. . . and went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob.” God will spare Jacob of any more fear or confrontations with Esau for the remainder of his earthly pilgrimage. You could expect a clash, and Satan certainly wanted to realize one. Isaac, who was the link and wall between the two rival brothers, is out of the way, and there is now no man to restrain Esau from assaulting his brother, as he once vowed to do. But there is a God Who loves His people in Christ Jesus. And from that love His erring and weak children cannot, be separated, because God loves them for the sake of Christ, The Seed of Abraham, Whom God loves with an unchangeable and infinitely profound love.
In this life the clouds will return after the rain. But see the rainbow of God’s grace that is caused by the sunny skies of the new creation, wherein all the saints, with body and soul, are gathered in that of which Canaan was only a picture.