The Tribe of REUBEN
Henry Law, 1858
"Let Reuben live and not die—and let not his men be few." Deut. 33:6
Reuben was Jacob's firstborn. From him one section of the Jewish nation sprang. One tribe called him their father. When these words were uttered by Moses, the patriarch Jacob had long been numbered with the dead. But his descendants had reached Canaan's border—a mighty portion of a mighty people.
Let every father, who reads this, reflect what multitudes may flow from him. He may be seed of a vast forest of immortal plants. From him, as center, wide circles may expand. Children's children may be a swelling stream. By prayer, then, let him bequeath to each this Reuben-blessing. Let his lips often ask, that each may live, an heir of grace—that none may die the death of never-ending woe.
Recall the day, when Moses thus spoke. His eager wings were spread to fly from earth. His noble race was run. His valiant fight was fought. His place—so profitably filled—must now be vacant. The people—served so long—must see his face no more.
God in His providence calls faithful men to guide, and teach, and rule His flock. When His designs are ripe, He brings them forth, as the fit instruments. But their allotted course must have its end. Their longest space is brevity. While they are spared, let their good help be prized. Let them be honored—for honor is their due. Let them be loved—they are entitled to affectionate requital. But they go hence. All flesh is grass. God alone, never fails.
But of the men, who have done service in their day, where can be found the peer of Moses? He has pre-eminence, which few have reached. He has renown, which outshines every fame. His life was a grand blessing. His parting words are blessing. Living and dying, he is a tree, whose branches drop good fruit.
He long had toiled for Israel's welfare. And now his closing eye looks with intense affection on each tribe. He sees by faith their vast inheritance of mercies—and his last breath delights to draw the chart.
In this we have the very spirit of Salvation's Captain. Jesus left heaven—assumed our flesh—dwelt on this earth, that He might bless. When the redeeming price was paid, He ascended in the attitude and act of blessing. And from His throne, His glory-life is ever the self-same employ. He is one eternal—unfathomable—ever-flowing blessing. As from the sun light only streams, so from Him one flood of good descends.
Believer, pause at this point, and meditate your high distinction. You, too, are filled, that you may be enabled to dispense. You are enriched, that you may help. Doubtless, exalted station and vast talents enlarge the hands of usefulness. In this respect all may not stand on the same vantage-ground. All are not called, as Moses, to rule tribes. But all may strive to follow him by living a blessing life—by dying a blessing death.
Let us draw nearer now to his amazing legacy of blessing. The first view shows the last testament of Moses, as enumerating earthly treasures of honor—excellence—pre-eminence—abundance.
The happy tribes are here endowed, as rich, renowned, and mighty upon earth. Splendor and prowess are their promised crown. Their sons are to surpass in arts and arms. Their fields shall wave with all luxuriance. But beneath this outward mantle, faith sees the inner form of better and more lasting gifts. The farewell words begin, indeed, with time-estate; but they conclude not there. They are a ladder set on earth, but mounting to the skies. These images have wide-spreading meaning. The truth, which runs throughout, looks to eternal good. The real substance is not of the earth, and earthly—it is of heaven, and heavenly.
Thus, of the eldest, it is said, "Let Reuben live and not die—and let not his men be few." We instantly are led to remember this tribe's exposed position. It stands a frontier-barrier. Thus it lies open to the onset of invading foes. There is then danger, that it may soon be trodden down—that hostile attack may lay it low—that it may dwindle and become extinct. But let Reuben live—live a vast host. The blessing, at first, seems a shield against diminishing catastrophe.
But this is only the first fold. As we unwrap the words, the better portion is discerned. This is the surface; as we descend, a mine of richer ore is found. This is the shell—a precious kernel is within. A life is intimated longer than temporal—even reaching through eternal time. A death is here deprecated, worse than the body mouldering in dust—even soul-ruin. The multitudinous increase here mentioned foreshows the innumerable throng around the throne of God and of the Lamb.
Thus the true significance of the Reuben-blessing unfolds a threefold joy.
1. Life for evermore, and heaven won.
2. Death abolished, and hell escaped.
3. The expansive circle of the countless congregation of the saved.
Next we must banish far the narrow thought, that this inheritance was limited to Reuben's tribe. It is no by-gone wish. Far otherwise. It stands a wide-spreading oak, beneath which saints of every age may happily repose. It flows a ceaseless stream, from which God's sons may ever drink. Reuben's hand plucked the earliest produce, but still the flower blooms, the fragrance sweetens, and the ripe fruit courts our touch.
Behold, then, here is the heart—the mind—the will of God, to all the chosen seed. Here is no partial legacy only to the elders of the house. Succeeding children may claim it too. We have this explanation recorded by the Spirit's pen. The Gospel principle is, "If you are Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Gal. 3:29. Faith here obtains a key—and by it enters the spiritual treasury of ancient promise. The blessings are all free to all the family of God.
Believer, now draw near. Hear Moses' voice, as if addressed directly to yourself. It tells the blood-bought portion of all Christ's family. It shows your vast inheritance—your golden wealth. To every one the legacy is left, Let this man live, and not die. Of the redeemed it is immutably decreed, Let not their men be few.
Come, then, and with appropriating faith review the wondrous gifts. Life—soul life—first shows its head. "Let Reuben live." How grand this mercy! All men are spiritually dead-born. Sin entered with a murderous hand. It planted deep its dagger in the inner man. Knowledge of God—love of His name—delight in holy communion—sweet fellowship with heaven—the happy worship of unsullied praise—the blissful gaze on the Creator's smile, and all the circle of pure joy, were buried in a deep grave. The soul became a total wreck—a withered tree—a dried-up stream—a wilderness of weeds—a starless night—a chaos of beclouded thought—a rebel's camp—the shattered home of misery—the region in which death reigned. The eyes were dim and saw not God. The face was turned away. Each step led downward. The hands were lifted in defiance. The mouth was opened to blaspheme. Man was a dying body holding a dead soul. He moved an unmixed evil—a sin-spreading pest. All this is sad—but there are sadder things behind. This is tremendous woe—but deeper woe comes on. This is dark night—but darker shades will deepen yet. This is full wretchedness—but still the cup may hold more drops.
This fleeting scene must end. The earthly mansion must be left. Death comes. It drives poor sinners to their final home. And what is that? Reader, shrink not—withdraw the darksome veil. Look down into the dread abode. Ponder the lost in their low cells. Hell is their everlasting doom. Do not think that hell is the mere phantom of a brain-sick thought. It is no fable fondly framed to scare weak minds. It is a near reality. It is a gigantic certainty. It is the sure conclusion of a godless life. It is the gulf, to which transgressing streams rush hopelessly. And it is not far away. It gapes before the feet. Another step may plunge the ruined into this abyss.
But what is hell? Ah! reader, may you never know. It is described by what is absent—what is present.
The negative misery declares, that God is not there. It is "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power." 2 Thess. 1:9. Where God is absent, there is no light—no joy—no pure repose of heart. But in that darkness God is never seen. Therefore all is one blank of dreary wretchedness.
The faithful word moreover brings to view mountains upon mountains of active torment. From this immensity of agony let one element be drawn. The tender Jesus thus describes the end. "The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather, out of His kingdom all things, that offend, and them, which do iniquity—and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Matt. 13:41, 42. Fire shows pain's uttermost extreme. It has a pungent sting, maddening with all that is most hotly fierce. Hence hell is agony in all its might. Wailing denotes the bitter grief. Gnashing of teeth proclaims the deep remorse. And, as the suffering proceeds, it swells. There is no distant ray of possible relief. Forever will the smoke ascend. Forever will the anguish burn. Forever will the misery endure.
Eternal is hell's night. Such is it to lack life. Such is it to be heir of death.
But hearken, you, who through rich mercy yet inhabit earth. A voice cries, "Let Reuben live and not die." There is a Savior, who delivers from this death. There is a friend, who bestows heavenly life. Jesus appears, and on the cross endures the death, and by His righteousness brings in new life. The Father fully satisfied, says of each true Reuben, "Deliver him from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom." Let him not die, but live.
But what is this life? Believer, you must enter heaven to know. We read—we speak—we meditate—we hear of heaven; and bright and lovely is the prospect. But what thoughts—what words can estimate the actual bliss! Sin and temptation are outside forever. God and the God-man are there clearly displayed. There is no cloud—no veil—no distance—no separation—no departure. The ransomed, ever happy, ever hymning praise, float on wide oceans of delight.
And are there many joying in this joy? "Let not his men be few." The Father's love—the Savior's grace—the Spirit's tenderness are large, and embrace many. A great multitude, whom no man can number, shout hallelujahs round the throne.
O my soul, seek to inherit Reuben's blessing. Give up all for heaven. It will immeasurably repay each sacrifice. The door is not yet barred. Press to enter in. Take it by violence. Jesus is the way. Walk in it. Jesus holds the key. Flee unto Him, and He will open wide the gates. He has spoken, and it must be—"Him that comes to Me, I will in nowise cast out." John 6:37. Many of Israel's true children there rejoice—will not you be among them? Draw life and energy from the partriarchal promise, "Let Reuben live and not die—and let not his men be few." Rest not, until you can say, "Through grace, I live—through grace, I shall not die—through grace, I have my lot among the sons, who are not few."