THE BEGINNING OF MY STRENGTH
A phrase in Genesis 49 has captured my interest for quite some time. In this chapter Jacob calls his twelve sons together to bless them and tell them “that which shall befall [them] in the last days” (Gen 49:1). As his sons gather, Jacob naturally begins with Reuben, declaring: “You are my firstborn.” But the statements that follow this obvious declaration are what arrested my attention. Jacob declares that Reuben, as his firstborn son, is his “might, and the beginning of [his] strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power” (Gen 49:3). For a long time, I tried to wrap my mind around what Jacob meant—specifically his first two observations. Why does Jacob call Reuben his might and the beginning of his strength? Although I have not attained complete clarity on the matter, I feel like I am gaining a better handle on it as my own firstborn son grows.
Just yesterday, I came back from shopping with Kiersten and as I walked into the house I was taken aback by the young man sitting in our living room. The realization that Micah is not a little boy any longer hit me with full force. His face is changing. His pants are getting too short. He wants to enjoy greater freedoms. As I look at him, I can see the spirit and face of a man waiting to emerge. And for all of this change, I am very grateful.
Last week, I had a couple of small projects I needed to tackle at our rental homes. One project was the removal of an old, dilapidated shed at the back edge of one of our properties. I decided this was the perfect project to enlist Micah’s help with. Although it was a cold, blustery day, Micah and I worked hard, first emptying the shed, and then tearing the structure down. We then began the four-hour process of hauling the contents and wood down to the dump trailer located in the driveway below. On that day, Micah was “my might.”
Over the past couple of years, there have been a couple of projects that I would not have been able to finish without Micah’s help. Now, I try not to give him responsibilities beyond his capabilities, but it is amazing how much help an 11 year old can be. Every year that passes his ability to help and contribute to our family grows. He is the beginning of my strength. I am now, with his help, able to get so much more done.
Of course, in Jacob’s day, having a son was of the greatest importance—even more so than today. Yes, a son carried on the family name, but he also assisted his father in his trade. The firstborn son, within the Jewish society, was also responsible to care for his parents in their twilight years. For a family, the birth of a son was the dawn of stability and progress. It would be impossible to overstate the value placed on a son in a patriarchal society.
Sadly, though, for Jacob, his firstborn son did not possess strong moral character. Jacob—and keep in mind he is speaking in front of all of his sons—gives Reuben the label: “unstable as water” (Gen 49:4). This is not a very flattering assessment. What I am most grateful for in my son is the tender heart he has for the things of the Lord. He is the perfect “firstborn” for our family. He is a natural leader, and helps guide his siblings with a maturity that is well beyond his years. He has an adventurous spirit and joyfully tackles new challenges. Our family is blessed with Micah. He is my might, and the beginning of my strength.