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Temperament and Grace
A man's reputation after death is a very haphazard thing. History is full of minor characters of whom after ages have formed a very definite, but possibly wholly wrong idea, based on some single and perhaps insignificant incident in their career, or a chance remark upon them. The same thing may even happen in lifetime: sometimes a man or woman carries about through mature years a wholly false character, founded on some irrelevant thing they did or said in childhood, and which is the only thing their circle of friends remember them by. One wonders, is this the case of Reuben, son of Jacob, who has carried down the ages the burden of a name for 'instability'.
I. But first, are we sure what his father meant by 'unstable as water'? I fancy most of us think he referred to the weak and yielding nature of that element. We are wrong. He meant 'boiling over like water'. He was thinking of a caldron placed on a fire of desert thorns. The blaze of the quick fuel heats the pot and suddenly the water bubbles up; as suddenly the treacherous fuel gives out, and the boiling water drops again, flat, silent, chill. What Jacob meant to say of Reuben by this gipsy metaphor was that he was a spirit which boiled up readily and as readily grew cold. We may safely take it that in Reuben we have the type of what we call the impulsive man, with the merits and the defects of that temperament.
II. It has struck me that there is a Reuben also in the New Testament. This New Testament Reuben is not a shepherd but a fisherman, but he is generous, warm-hearted, strong in impulse, weak in constancy, he boils up and he falls cold. Peter is Reuben in temperament: yet Reuben was a moral failure, 'he could not excel,' while Peter was a saint and did excel.
III. The moral I desire to fix on the Old Testament story is that whatever be our temperament, too fast like Reuben's, or too slow like some others, Christ can so remake us that we shall not be failures in life. I do not mean that Christ alters our temperaments. He did not alter Peter's. The dissimilation at Antioch, the tradition of Peter's flight from persecution at Rome and his return to die, tell us that he was in natural make the same man. But the power of Christ recovered him as surely as he fell.
J. H. Skrine, The Heart's Counsel, p. 85.
References. XLIV. F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 161. XLV. 1-5. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2516. XLV. 1-15. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 260. XLV. 3. R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 37. G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 370. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1488, p. 41. XLV. 3-5. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 449. Genesis 45:4
'The true tears are those which are called forth by the beauty of poetry; there must be as much admiration in them as sorrow. They are the tears which come to our eyes... when Joseph cries out, "I am Joseph, your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt". Who does not feel that the man who wrote that was no shallow rhetorician, but a born man of genius, with the true instinct for what is really admirable?'
M. Arnold, in his Essay on Tarbert.
References. XLV. 4. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii. p. 78.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Genesis 44". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter