Mistakes do not Exclude from Family

Jacob was no longer a young man. He was not expecting to live much longer. Jacob called his children, so he could bless them. The excellent Bible scholar Albert Barnes describes this as taking place by messengers going out and calling all of the sons, from their homes and pastures, and “summoning them to” Jacob's presence.1 While Jacob's comments were for personally for each of his sons, the prophecies were given in front of the entire family.2

We pick up the story with the first blessing.

Genesis 49:3-4 (CEV) Reuben, you are my oldest, born at the peak of my powers; you were an honored leader. 4Uncontrollable as a flood, you slept with my wife and disgraced my bed. And so you no longer deserve the place of honor.

Some translations of the Bible state Reuben had sex with his father's wife. There are theologians who feel Reuben had sex with his father's concubine. Genesis 35:22 says Reuben slept with his father's concubine. Some men had very close relationships with their concubines, so either way, the sin against his father was very personal and was painful.

Reuben had sex with his father's concubine. That is probably why Jacob said he was considered to be uncontrollable and unstable. Verse four in your Bible may read, “Unstable as water.” This literally means unstable as boiling water.3 Commentator John Gill comments that this is like water falling from a high place.4 This water is vile and as useless as water that is spilled on the ground.5

The graphic Hebrew language supports Gill's comments! One possible meaning in Hebrew is too graphic enough to comment on today. Uncontrollable as water could mean as unstable as urine.6 One almost gets the picture of a person who is so immature the person does not have the judgment required to be potty trained. Lacking good judgment is a trait of those who are not stable, of those who are like boiling water.

Jacob says Reuben's tribe will not have much eminence or power in Israel. And Reuben's tribe never really achieved much power in Israel.7 This might not sound like much of a blessing to you. In fact, it might sound like a cursing to you. There was good news for Reuben. Even though Reuben slept with his father's concubine, Jacob did not disinherit Reuben.8 He still had all of the rights of a son, but not the extra privileges of the firstborn.9 Reuben and his tribe were not excluded from the promised land.10

In Christ, we are all called to be a first born! God would like each and every person here to be God's ornament, just as Jacob would have liked Reuben to have been an ornament in the family. After he slept with his father's concubine,11 he was no longer the ornament of the family, but he was still family.

Rueben was Jacob's son. Nothing he did could stop him from being Jacob's son, from being part of the family. When you are family, you cannot outrun and you cannot out-hide love. The relentless love of family will hunt you down. You will be summoned home and showered with love. Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans-identified is not a lapse of judgment. That is just who a person is - no choice involved. So applications for queer youth are difficult. I believe we would have a lot fewer sexual minority youth living on the streets and a lot fewer queer youth giving up hope if parents understood what family is, if parents let their gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-identified children know that they are still family and that they still have all of the rights of being a son or daughter in the family - no matter what.

This passage can give us hope. We may mess up. An indiscretion does not stop us from being a son or daughter of the King. There are times when we mess up big time. Some people in our community messed up – big time – by entering a straight marriage, while knowing they were gay or lesbian. Trying to be what you are not and were never meant to be is a mistake, a lapse in judgment. That lapse in judgment might cause a lot of pain and could make it difficult for us to live out our true purpose in life, our true calling. Fortunately, our inheritance, our place in the kingdom, in the promised land is not compromised by lack of judgment. Some of the rewards of this life can be compromised by lapses in judgment, but our place in the family of God remains secure, remains solid.

The call to be a first born is to live in such a way that shows stable judgment. This is not the requirement to be a son or daughter of the King, but it makes moving mountains for God easier, and it makes life much less complex. Because poor judgment and making mistakes does not exclude us from God's family, we can confidently enter the new year, knowing that God's love is intentionally relentless and that God's love never leaves us.


1Albert Barnes. “Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible.” e-Sword. Computer Software, Version 6.5.0. (Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee: Rick Meyers, 2002).


3John MacArthur. The MacArthur Study Bible. (Nashville: Word, 1997), 86.

4John Gill. “John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible.” e-Sword. Computer Software, Version 6.5.0. (Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee: Rick Meyers, 2002).


6Rick Meyers. “Strongs’ Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries.” e-Sword. Computer Software, Version 6.5.0. (Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee: Rick Meyers, 2002).

7Adam Clarke. “Clarke's Commentary.” e-Sword. Computer Software, Version 6.5.0. (Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee: Rick Meyers, 2002).

8Matthew Henry. “Matthew Henry's Commentary.” e-Sword. Computer Software, Version 6.5.0. (Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee: Rick Meyers, 2002).



11Genesis 35:22 (Good News) While Jacob was living in that land, Reuben had sexual intercourse with Bilhah, one of his father's concubines; Jacob heard about it and was furious.