A Profound Forfeit

1 Chronicles 5:1:  “He could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright” (NIV).

Observation: The early chapters of 1 Chronicles contain a blur of nourishment easily left undigested if not approached by a heart hungry to discover their insights.  They are filled with genealogical details about tribes and offspring—who lived where, who was honorable, and who was not. The passage about Reuben, firstborn of the twelve sons of Jacob, is interrupted by a parenthetical phrase that stops us dead in our tracks. Reuben had forfeited his birthright by defiling his father’s bed by having sex with Jacob’s concubine (see Gen. 35:22). The birthright contained three parts lost to Reuben: dominion over the rest of the family, a double portion of inheritance, and the right to be listed in the genealogical record of our Lord. His one-night stand caused those rights to devolve to others, namely, Joseph’s sons.

Application: Does Reuben’s forfeit seem a small thing? A close reading of the story in Genesis 49 reveals the depth of Reuben’s loss. As firstborn son, Jacob called Reuben “the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power” (v. 3). But his night of sin produced this stark penalty: “You will no longer excel” (v. 4).

What is it to no longer excel? In Reuben’s case, it meant to no longer have dominion or a double portion of the family estate. No longer singularly excellent, he became ordinary, surrendering the profound blessings God intended for him.  Reuben had been born to something far better.

What about me? Does my rebirth into Christ not carry with it an inheritance of His excellencies? 1 Timothy 3:13 tells me that if I have served well I have gained an excellent standing in Christ. The horrifying implication is that, like Reuben, I might not serve with excellence, which is not to say my kingdom membership has been cancelled, but that in failing to live in the “most excellent way” of 1 Corinthians 12:13, I will be left in a place of unfulfilled promise at the end of the day. I must put to death anything of my own excelling, that the grace of Christ might be exalted above my own poor gifts. Such voluntary death to my own supposed excellencies enables Him to increase to the point where it is no longer I who am seen, but Christ.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, I know I fall short of Your ideal, never more so than in the choice of becoming utterly dependent upon You. Let me look upon my own strengths until they have completely disgusted me, so what might shine forth is nothing but You.

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