2. The Tribe of Reuben

By John Thiel, The Characteristics of the Twelve Tribes of the 144,000 Conference, Study 2, mp3

The 144,000 are a people who needed to be purified. One of the elders asked the apostle John in his vision, Who are these? And he answered him:

Revelation 7:14 …Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

What does this picture tell you if you read between the lines? Doesn’t it point out that these people were once not white? It shows that the purification experience they go through is one of much tribulation. And as they go through this intense tribulation that purifies them, what does Satan point out to them?

Satan’s Thrusts

The people of God have been in many respects very faulty. Satan has an accurate knowledge of the sins which he has tempted them to commit, and he presents these in the most exaggerated light… {5T 474.1}

Satan urges before God his accusations against them… {5T 473.2}

They are fully conscious of the sinfulness of their lives, they see their weakness and unworthiness, and as they look upon themselves they are ready to despair. The tempter stands by to accuse them, as he stood by to resist Joshua. He points to their filthy garments, their defective characters. He presents their weakness and folly, their sins of ingratitude, their unlikeness to Christ, which has dishonored their Redeemer. He endeavors to affright the soul with the thought that their case is hopeless, that the stain of their defilement will never be washed away. He hopes to so destroy their faith that they will yield to his temptations, turn from their allegiance to God, and receive the mark of the beast. {5T 473.1}

O for us to be able comprehend what Inspiration is here trying to get across to us. How many people in the time since the sealing commenced have being overwhelmed with their unChristlikeness and have turned the doctrines of Jesus, and the doctrines of the pioneers that have picked up these doctrines of Jesus, into error to the point of saying, “We’re never going to be perfect. We are never going to make it.” So today Seventh-day Adventism is saying, Perfection is an impossibility.

Satan has succeeded in discouraging people and leading them to turn the doctrine into something that suits the awareness of one’s sinfulness and allows the people to still have hope outside of God’s truth. Satan is there to turn them away from the truth.

Satan urges before God his accusations against them, declaring that they have by their sins forfeited the divine protection, and claiming the right to destroy them as transgressors. {5T 473.2}

But while the followers of Christ have sinned, they have not given themselves to the control of evil. They have put away their sins, and have sought the Lord in humility and contrition, and the divine Advocate pleads in their behalf. He who has been most abused by their ingratitude, who knows their sin, and also their repentance, declares: “‘The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan.’ I gave My life for these souls. They are graven upon the palms of My hands.” {5T 474.2}

Satan is there while Jesus is purging these people. He is permitting Satan to take them through great tribulation. The tribulation here described is an overwhelming sense of one’s own unworthiness.

In this series we are examining the sins of the twelve tribes as they came into existence through the forefathers’ experience. Having already studied Judah, we are now entering into the study of Reuben; because, as it says in Revelation,

Revelation 7:5 Out of the tribe of Reuben [were] sealed twelve thousand.

In the experience of Reuben we will see how a life stained with sin can be sealed.

Reuben, the Beginning of My Strength

In Genesis we read of when, and to whom, Reuben was born, and of the agony and distress that was upon his mother. That distress had a very powerful impact upon his development in the womb, the genetic blueprint of his personality.

Genesis 29:31 And when the LORD saw that Leah [was] hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel [was] barren. 32 And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me. 

Reuben was the first born to Leah. This little baby was born amid the parental stress of the envy that existed between Leah and Rachel. And as he developed and grew and became a man, how did Jacob feel about Reuben? What was Jacob’s observation about his son?

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 very proud of his son. The beginning of my strength, he said of Reuben, the excellency of dignity, the excellency of power – this is how much he revered him.

As we look at Reuben, although he had this conflicting influence that was passed on to him through his mother’s agony, yet, like Judah, when his brothers manifested their envy against Joseph when he came to meet them while they were looking after the sheep, Reuben was repulsed by the murderous hatred of his brothers.

See how Reuben reacts to this envious behaviour of the brothers of Joseph. We are here looking at Reuben, the first born, who was affected by the parental feud; there was something very precious inside of him as well. Here was his conversation with his brethren who were going to slay Joseph; they said among themselves:

Genesis 37:20 Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams. 21 And Reuben heard [it], and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him. 22 And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, [but] cast him into this pit that [is] in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.

Here was this oldest brother, who, although he was himself affected by his brothers’ envy over Joseph, did not want them to kill him, but wanted to save him. That was a very beautiful trait of character.

Then they finally threw Joseph into the pit, and when the Ishmaelites came, they sold him.

Genesis 37:29 And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph [was] not in the pit; and he rent his clothes. 30 And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child [is] not; and I, whither shall I go? 

He was really distressed, because he had come there to try and save Joseph out of the pit. They were going to leave him there to die. But Judah said, Let’s not let him die, let’s sell him; so that at least he would not die. But Reuben also had a plan of a different nature to save their little brother.

Later on, at the occasion when they were in the presence of Joseph in the land of Egypt, not realising who he really was, we see again the character of Reuben:

Genesis 42:22 And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required. 23 And they knew not that Joseph understood [them]; for he spake unto them by an interpreter.

Here was Reuben still smarting under their activity and saying, I told you so! Look what’s happening to us now! his blood is upon us.

In the following revelations we see the character of Reuben played out in his honourable traits, just like Jacob had expressed; yet, there were certain influences in his life that caused him to become sullied, as we shall see hereafter.

A Mottled Character

They would have executed their purpose but for Reuben. He shrank from participating in the murder of his brother, and proposed that Joseph be cast alive into a pit, and left there to perish; secretly intending, however, to rescue him and return him to his father. Having persuaded all to consent to this plan, Reuben left the company, fearing that he might fail to control his feelings, and that his real intentions would be discovered. {PP 211.1}

Now you see something else. What is this character? He wasn’t going to stand up to them and let them know what he was going to do. Although he had such a good attitude about saving his brother, he was a shifty person. He was unstable; he wasn’t prepared to stand up and be counted. Can you see the kind of character manifested here?

Then the brothers threw Joseph into the pit, but Reuben wasn’t here when they did.

Reuben returned to the pit, but Joseph was not there. In alarm and self-reproach he rent his garments, and sought his brothers, exclaiming, “The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?” Upon learning the fate of Joseph, and that it would now be impossible to recover him, Reuben was induced to unite with the rest in the attempt to conceal their guilt. Having killed a kid, they dipped Joseph’s coat in its blood, and took it to their father, telling him that they had found it in the fields, and that they feared it was their brother’s. {PP 212.1}

What kind of a character was Reuben’s? This is for us to explore. He had good traits of character; but the other traits were those of a shifty, pliable sort of a person. Although he wanted to do good, when he was put into a corner he went along with his brothers.

He was not even honest with his brothers in the first place. If he had been the good older brother with a strong personality he could have said, No, we will not do this; we will save him. He could have saved Joseph, but no, his character gave in and he was outwitted by the events.

And what else do we see then? He actually went along with them to do what? To be a false witness as to what actually happened. This is the character of Reuben.

Yet, in the midst of all this, look at something very beautiful about Reuben. And remember why we are studying this – to also discover where we may fit in in relation to whichever tribe we may be studying. Do we have similar traits of character? Here we can see another aspect of his character:

Genesis 30:14 And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah.

What are mandrakes? The margin says, Love apples. So obviously this was a gift that he gathered to give to his mother. He was a loving person; he loved to make his mother happy. Is that a good trait of character? It is beautiful, isn’t it? He was a beautiful young man. We see here a mottled personality – beautiful, strong traits of character for good, but also very severe character deficiencies.

Because he was the older son, he should have received the birthright. Why then did he not receive the birthright? What was there in his behaviour that was a grievous sin?

Unstable as Water

Genesis 35:21 And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar. 22 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].

Here is the reason why he did not received the birthright.

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: 4 Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou [it]: he went up to my couch. 

He laid with Jacob’s concubine. And therefore, although he was the first born, he would not receive the birthright; he was unstable. This is what we have seen. He wanted to stand up to protect his brother, but he was unstable. He didn’t make it very clear. Therefore, his instability, the marks of parental dysfunction, caused him to lose the birthright.

The Birthright

When you look at it very closely, not only did Jacob have Leah and Rachel, but he had two other concubines as well. Can you imagine the family dysfunction of this and the effect upon the children? We see here an attitude that Reuben had taken hold of and by which he violated his own character.

Here an explanation is given in reference to his birthright failure:

1 Chronicles 5:1 Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he [was] the firstborn; but, forasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright.

Interesting, the genealogy was not to be reckoned after the birthright. Although Reuben was the firstborn, who was placed as the firstborn? Judah was regarded as the firstborn to some degree.

1 Chronicles 5:2 For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him [came] the chief ruler; but the birthright [was] Joseph’s.

The Sin of Reuben

Judah was placed in first place, and the birthright was transfered to Joseph. So there was a splitting of benefits, but not to Reuben. Reuben lost it because of his grievous sin. How seriously does God regard this sin that Reuben committed – fornication?

Not all who profess to keep the commandments of God possess their bodies in sanctification and honor. The most solemn message ever committed to mortals has been entrusted to this people, and they can have a powerful influence if they will be sanctified by it. {2T 450.3}

Couldn’t Reuben have been a powerful influence?

They profess to be standing upon the elevated platform of eternal truth, keeping all of God’s commandments; therefore, if they indulge in sin, if they commit fornication and adultery, their crime is of tenfold greater magnitude than is that of the classes I have named, who do not acknowledge the law of God as binding upon them. In a peculiar sense do those who profess to keep God’s law dishonor Him and reproach the truth by transgressing its precepts. {Ibid.}

Adultery, fornication – these are serious sins.

It was the prevalence of this very sin, fornication, among ancient Israel, which brought upon them the signal manifestation of God’s displeasure. His judgments then followed close upon their heinous sin; thousands fell, and their polluted bodies were left in the wilderness. “But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness…” {2T 451.1}

A very serious sin in the tribes of Israel. Fornication was Reuben’s serious sin, together with his shifty character, and his being unstable as water. Let us explore the effect of sin on Reuben and those affected by it and also on his progeny.

Repercussions of Sin

What kind of impact does this sinful character have on people around and also on his own children? Here comes now an interesting statement of Reuben, which shows the attitude that affected him with regards to this situation with Joseph. As they now had to go back to Egypt with Benjamin, Jacob was not going to let Benjamin go. But notice what kind of an attitude Reuben has. The effect of sin upon him is here described. While they were still in Egypt, Judah had said to Joseph, I will stay here and become your servant. But now this is what Reuben said to Jacob:

Genesis 42:37 And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again. 38 And he [Jacob] said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.

Jacob didn’t trust him, did he? Reuben was prepared to have his father slay his two sons. What sort of a father is that? Can you see how the mentality of sin affects people? It affects them to such a degree that they draw judgments of this nature. This is the character Reuben displays, a character of carelessness with regards to life, because he was so careless in so many other things.

Let us continue to explore this personality, this character trait and the way it affects people. The word of God here talks about the effect of sin upon the person himself and upon his children:

Exodus 20:5 …for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me.

Reuben’s sin affected his offspring and all the tribe of Reuben thereafter. There was a tribal weakness that was a consequence of Reuben’s example. This is the condition of being that ensues because sin has affected the character:

Every sinful gratification tends to benumb the faculties and deaden the mental and spiritual perceptions, and the word or the Spirit of God can make but a feeble impression upon the heart. {GC 474.1}

This is what we saw. The sinful gratification of Reuben benumbed and deadened the mental and spiritual perception, so that he could say to his father, You slay my sons if we don’t bring Benjamin back. This is the mental benumbing that takes place.

And as a result “the Spirit of God can make but a feeble impression upon the heart.” A person with the characteristics of Reuben has a very feeble response to the impressions of the Spirit of God.

Notwithstanding these inspired declarations, how many professed Christians are enfeebling their powers in the pursuit of gain or the worship of fashion; how many are debasing their godlike manhood by gluttony, by wine drinking, by forbidden pleasure. And the church, instead of rebuking, too often encourages the evil by appealing to appetite, to desire for gain or love of pleasure… {GC 474.2}

Even in the church, people are affected. We are here talking about the tribe of Reuben, the people who have been affected by sinful circumstances around them, and by their own indulgence of sin. Look at your own experience as Satan comes along and points out your hopeless state. Isn’t this a hopeless description we see here, that even your response to God is benumbed because of your past sins? It is frightening.

Numbers 32:1 Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle: and when they saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place [was] a place for cattle; 2 The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spake unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying, … 5 Wherefore, said they, if we have found grace in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession, [and] bring us not over Jordan. 6 And Moses said unto the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here? 7 And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the LORD hath given them?

What were the Reubenites doing? They were the shifty same personality that had been passed on to them from their forefather. “Let’s just stay here; we don’t want to go any further. This is good and comfortable here.” And how discouraging were they upon the others? You see how sin in its benumbing effect comes through.

As I examine my life and see the activities of humanity around me, I can see this happening. Look back at your past life and how it affects you now. Look back at your parents and how they have affected you. The consequence of this kind of sinfulness is brought out in the following words:

1 Chronicles 5:26 And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgathpilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah….

Here is the consequence. If the people are faulty, when the enemy comes in, they become overwhelmed; because the enemy uses the weaknesses that have been passed on. This is what Satan does.

The 144,000

The picture we have been looking at looks pretty hopeless, doesn’t it? What hope has Reuben got? What hope do the people with Reuben’s personality and sin background have? What hope have they got to be among the 144,000?

When you read about the 144,000, you see that they are without fault before the throne of God; and you think, What hope have I got? What hope have people got who have Reuben’s background? Satan points out your sins to you. He knows all about the past, and he says, These people have no right to be among the 144,000.

Do these unstable tendencies of the tribe of Reuben disqualify these personalities from gaining a place among the 144,000? What we see in Revelation 7:5 is that, of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand will be sealed.

We see in Reuben’s example a terrible picture of sinfulness and all the effects of sin upon the progeny. When I saw my parents and I saw my father, I said, I never want to be like that; but I ended up being exactly like that; because it is passed on. And when we see ourselves as we really are, is there hope to be among the 144.000?

Deuteronomy 33:1 And this [is] the blessing, wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death. 2 And he said, The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand [went] a fiery law for them. 3 Yea, he loved the people; all his saints [are] in thy hand: and they sat down at thy feet; [every one] shall receive of thy words. 4 Moses commanded us a law, [even] the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob. 5 And he was king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people [and] the tribes of Israel were gathered together. 6 Let Reuben live, and not die; and let [not] his men be few.

What a statement to make of such a corrupt background. God blessed Israel, but then he made a special point about Reuben. “Let Reuben live, and not die; and let not his men be few.” So Reuben was to be blessed, and the Reubenites could be sealed no matter what their background had been.

Hope for the Degraded

Notice what the Spirit of Prophecy expresses to the people who have been so sinful:

You are a young man of intelligence; you desire to make your life such as will fit you for heaven at last. {5T 513.2}

This is a person who wants to be among the 144,000.

You are often discouraged at finding yourself weak in moral power, in slavery to doubt, and controlled by the habits and customs of your old life in sin. {Ibid.}

Like Reuben himself and the Reubenites, you are accustomed, controlled by the old habits and customs of your old life in sin. Can you rid yourself of your old life? Have you tried? How difficult is it? Customs and habits… Remember, habits are components of character.

You find your emotional nature untrue to yourself, to your best resolutions, and to your most solemn pledges. {Ibid.}

How many times do we falter in our resolutions? How many times because of our customs and habits of the past we just don’t seem to make it? Here is the problem:

Nothing seems real. Your own instability leads you to doubt the sincerity of those who would do you good. The more you struggle in doubt, the more unreal everything looks to you, until it seems that there is no solid ground for you anywhere. {Ibid.}

“I can never be among the 144,000,” you say; but some of the Reubenites could.

Your promises are like ropes of sand, and you regard in the same unreal light the words and works of those in whom you should trust. {Ibid.}

What a hopeless state.

The Force of the Will

You will be in constant peril until you understand the true force of the will. You may believe and promise all things, but your promises or your faith are of no value until you put your will on the side of faith and action. If you fight the fight of faith with all your will power, you will conquer. Your feelings, your impressions, your emotions, are not to be trusted, for they are not reliable, especially with your perverted ideas; and the knowledge of your broken promises and your forfeited pledges weakens your confidence in yourself, and the faith of others in you. {5T 513.3}

But you need not despair. You must be determined to believe, although nothing seems true and real to you. {5T 513.4}

Can you identify with these words to find hope for your situation? You are not to despair although nothing seems true and real to you. This is our experience as we go forward right to the time of Jacob’s trouble. Nothing seems real to us anymore. I know this experience so well.

I need not tell you it is you yourself that has brought you into this unenviable position. You must win back your confidence in God and in your brethren. It is for you to yield up your will to the will of Jesus Christ; and as you do this, God will immediately take possession and work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure. Your whole nature will then be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ, and even your thoughts will be subject to Him. {Ibid.}

Can a person like Reuben be among the 144,000? Where is the answer? In the action of the will.

Some have no firmness of character. Their plans and purposes have no definite form and consistency. They are of but little practical use in the world. This weakness, indecision, and inefficiency should be overcome. {MH 498.1}

How? By the will. So we have this unstable condition like the Reubenites, and we are not ready to stand there and say, No, I am not going to go with you and kill our brother; I am going to take him back. That kind of indecision, this unstable-as-water condition, this weakness, indecision, inefficiency, should be overcome.

There is in true Christian character an indomitableness that cannot be molded or subdued by adverse circumstances. We must have moral backbone, an integrity that cannot be flattered, bribed, or terrified. {Ibid.}

It can be overcome. This is possible. Why were twelve thousands of the tribe of Reuben able to be among the 144,000? Because they learned that lesson; they understood this and realised that, No matter how weak, pliable, and unstable my character is, I am using the power of God’s word and applying myself, placing my will on the side of God’s will, so that God can do the work within me.

Great Searchings of Heart

Judges 5:16 Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben [there were] great searchings of heart. 

Why were the people of Reuben’s character able to be among the 144,000 as a representative? “In the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.” This is the important exercise. We must put our effort into being part of the 144,000.

If we discover that our sins and our weaknesses are heavy upon us, like they were upon Reuben, as we search our hearts, as we apply ourselves to be among the 144,000, we can be. We can conquer and overcome. It’s about where we place our will.

What I am sharing here is not just a story; this is the answer to our personal battles. How important is the subject of this conference.

Lamentations 3:40 Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD. 

Deep heart-searching, Reubenites, whatever your past has been that you can equate with Reuben. Although he was such a devout person for standing faithful to caring for his brother, and although he was a loving and lovable person, yet these other sins had affected him even from the background of his parents, so that he didn’t look at polygamy and adultery as such a serious sin. All this could have prevented his tribe from being among the 144,000, but those who will search their hearts and do diligent searching can, by personal examination of their soul with God’s word, overcome. Is not that what is written for the people of Laodicea?

Revelation 3:21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. 

Jesus became one with us; He himself had to struggle through those terrible sins that he didn’t practice but that were laid upon Him; and He conquered. And now He shows us that by exercising our will, we, even though we have been Reubenites, can overcome as He overcame.

O that you would search the Scriptures with prayerful hearts, and a spirit of surrender to God! {2SM 318.2}

What are we to be doing? If we realise how sinful we are, if we realise that we may be of the Reubenite mentality and of the Reubenite disposition, and it looks pretty hopeless, as we have been reading, what are we to do? Do what the Reubenites did, do some deep heart-searching, and search the Scriptures. Now it’s not just studying the Scriptures to get the doctrines right; it is searching the Scriptures with prayerful hearts and a spirit of surrender to God.

O that you would search your hearts as with a lighted candle, and discover and break the finest thread that binds you to worldly habits, which divert the mind from God! Plead with God to show you every practice that draws your thoughts and affections from Him. God has given His holy law to man as His measure of character. By this law you may see and overcome every defect in your character. You may sever yourself from every idol, and link yourself to the throne of God by the golden chain of grace and truth. {Ibid.}

The people who can identify with Reuben’s character and Reuben’s searching of heart, they can see and say, We are living in the sealing time, and no matter what my background is, I can search the Scriptures in such a way that I will conquer my sinful background.

May we take courage from this study, and if you can identify with Reuben, don’t despair.


Posted on 12/01/2018, in The Twelve Tribes of the 144,000 (2017 Conference) and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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