Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. “Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel. “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it. – Genesis 49:1-4
This is one of the first times I recall water being spoken of with a somewhat negative connotation. Turbulent water can be very powerful and dangerous. I have almost drowned twice in turbulent water. The first time was when I was doing field work on the Clackamas River for my PhD. I was surveying and decided I could swim across the river with a survey rod. The river was very deep and turbulent, not really white water,but it was enough to remove my ability to swim with a survey rod 🙂 Long story short I made it across the river very tired and feeling very stupid. The second time turbulence almost killed me was on the Snake River in Idaho. I had two students with me and we decided to float down what appeared to be a relatively tame rapids. We got to the bottom of the rapid and encountered what rafters refer to as “funny water” which is basically turbulent water which is moving up, down, sideways, and slantways. The funny thing about “funny water” is that if you are in a patch of water that is headed down it does you no good to tread water. You and the water are headed down until the turbulence decides it is time to come up. Me and the students survived this encounter with turbulence, but we all learned an important lesson about the unpredictability of turbulent water in a big river.
In this passage “turbulent water” is used to describe the spirit and actions of Reuben, Jacob’s first born. In reflecting on turbulent waters several things come to mind, firstly they have a mind of their own (as I found out in the Snake River), they do not seem to be directed by any force that “organizes” them, they are wild. Secondly, they are virtually impossible to predict or quantify. Thirdly turbulent water is really not on a path to anywhere in particular, it is expending energy without any real result or benefit. This was a somewhat harsh assessment of Rueben by Jacob, but given his and his brothers actions toward Joseph I can’t blame him.
As I reflect on this passage I find myself somewhat convicted. Do any of the ways that Rueben was like ‘turbulent waters” apply to me? How often am I engaged in “turbulent” activity which is not directed toward a purpose, God’s purpose. Do I allow myself to float along without intentionality, cast about by life’s turbulence? How much energy do I expend without any real result or benefit?
Prayer: God please quiet the turbulence in my soul and direct the flow of my life today so that I may arrive where you need me to be.