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"Among the divisions of Reuben
There were great resolves of heart.
Why did you sit among the sheepfolds,
To hear the pipings for the flocks?
The divisions of Reuben have great searchings of heart."
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Deborah and Barak's song in this chapter commemorates the great victory that Israel won over the Canaanite general Sisera at Megiddo (ch. 4). The victory was the work of the Lord (4:15, 23), but this song praises the instruments that God used to achieve that outcome, namely, the various tribes who came together against their common enemy. Men from Naphtali, Zebulun, Ephraim, west Mannaseh, Issachar, and even little Benjamin, all sacrificed to protect their nation from a dire threat.
But not every tribe participated in the battle. One tribe in particular had every reason to do so, but elected to sit this one out. The men of Reuben had "great resolves of heart . . . searchings of heart" about getting involved. They really truly wanted to do the right thing by their brethren; but when the moment of commitment came, they elected to stay in their pastures watching their sheep, and let someone else do the bleeding and dying.
The Reubenites' behavior matched that of their ancestor. Jacob had labeled his firstborn son as "unstable as water," predicting that his descendants "shall not excel" (Gen. 49:3-4). As demonstrated on this occasion, the Reubenites had plenty of good intentions, but were never able to rise up to their potential.
"Great resolves of heart" are meaningless if they do not translate into action. How many of us do the same thing when confronted by a challenge? We recognize the need, and ponder at length on what ought to be done to answer the occasion. But that's as far as we go. We convince ourselves that we will definitely step up to the work . . . as soon as this or that little task is wrapped up. We analyze all the angles to the point of paralysis. We dawdle, we procrastinate, we get distracted. Our intentions are firm and strong; but we never get around to following through. Eventually someone else takes care of the crisis, or events overwhelm us, and the time for action is gone.
The Lord's kingdom, I fear, is full of people who excel at making plans or dreaming of great victories. They are even proficient at critiquing the efforts of those who are trying to do the Lord's work. But that's all they do. They never leave their pleasant pastures and get out in the real world where the battle is raging.
"To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (Jas. 4:17). Friend, the Lord has little interest in your good intentions; He needs to see your efforts to follow through on those intentions. Rise up and do it.