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Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Twelve Tribes of Israel - Reuben, the oldest


Reuben means "who sees the sun"

Genesis 29:32 And Leah conceived and bore a son. And she called his name Reuben, for she said, Surely Jehovah has looked upon my afflictions. Now therefore my husband will love me.

Genesis 35:22a And it happened when Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine. And Israel heard it.

In sudden temptation he was guilty of incest with Bilhah, his father's secondary wife. Though a very heinous sin, yet it might be a chastisement to Jacob, for making use of concubines.
1 Corinthian 5:1 On the whole it is reported that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not even named among the nations, so as one to have his father's wife.
Jacob remembered it to his dying day.

Jacob, on his deathbed (Genesis 49:3-4), said: “Reuben, you are my oldest, born at the peak of my powers; you were an honored leader. Uncontrollable as a flood, you slept with my wife and disgraced my bed. And so you no longer deserve the place of honor.”
The boiling water symbolizes Reuben’s lust and pride. By birthright, Reuben was "the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power" (Genesis 49:3), i.e. being the eldest son, he was entitled to be the chief of the tribes and to a double portion; but because of incest (Genesis 35:22; Leviticus 18:8) he didn’t deserve the place of honor as eldest son.

The chieftainship was transferred to Judah, the double portion to Joseph; the firstborn of Jacob's beloved Rachel superseding the firstborn of poor unwanted Leah. This was not because of the father's preference (Deuteronomy 21:15-17), but to fulfill God's holy purpose.

Reuben had good impulses, as well as, evil. Impetuous, without balance in his mind, he was also generous in disposition. He saved Joseph's life from his cruel brothers: Levi, Simeon, and the rest. Reuben insisted that they not kill Joseph but cast him into a pit, secretly intending to rescue him later. The brothers took advantage of Reuben’s temporary absence to sell Joseph (Genesis 37:20) upon Judah’ suggestion. Reuben may have gone to seek a means to rescue Joseph. Reuben was upset to find Joseph gone when he came back. He rent his clothes, crying, "The child is not, and I, where shall I go?" Years after he reminded his brother and sai them he had told them so.
Genesis 42:21-23 And they said one to another, We are truly guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he begged us, and we would not hear. Therefore this distress has come upon us. And Reuben answered them, saying, Did I not speak to you saying, Do not sin against the youth? And you would not hear. Therefore, behold, also his blood is required. And they did not know that Joseph understood, for the interpreter was between them.

Still, putting Joseph in the pit was a compromise with the brothers' wickedness. HE should have firmly resisted which would have saved Joseph. He was the oldest. They would have listened to him. He could have gone after Joseph and rescued (or bought) him from the caravan of traders. He could have told his father the truth. He wasn't to blame. But he didn't do any of these things. Instead, he kept quiet and allowed his father to believe the lies of his brothers. For years, he carried this guilt. I wondered how many times he and his brothers exchanged guilty glances, whispered behind tents, had dreams that woke them in a sweat?

Reuben had four sons at the migration into Egypt (Genesis 46:9; 1Chronicles 5:3; Numbers 26:5-11). At the time the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, the Reubenites gained a fine pasture-land east of the Jordan, lying between the river Arnon on the south and Gilead on the north. Their land was not across the Jordan in the Promised Land proper. Rather, they wanted the plains for their sheep herds on the east side of Jordan. But the Reubenites accompanied the other tribes to help them take their lands. Then they crossed back over the Jordan and settled.

There was no Judge, no prophet, no hero of the tribe of Reuben. The Reubenites disliked war, clinging to their fields and pastures and eventually relinquishing their relationship with God. The last historical mention is in 1 Chronicles 5, where they and the Gadites and the half-tribe Manasseh were carried off by Pul and Tiglath-pileser:

1 Chronicles 5:1-2 And the sons of Reuben, the first-born of Israel (for he was the first-born; but since he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, and the genealogy is not to be counted according to the birthright; For Judah prevailed among his brothers, and from him came the chief ruler, but the birthright was Joseph's); the sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel: Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.
1 Chronicles 5:18-22 The sons of Reuben, and the sons of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, (sons of valor, men lifting up shield and sword, and to shoot with bow, and skillful in war), were forty-four thousand, seven hundred and sixty who went out to the war. And they made war with the Hagarites, with Jetur, and Nephish, and Nodab. And they were helped against them, and the Hagarites were delivered into their hand, and all who were with them. For they cried to God in the battle, and He was pleased to hear them, because they put their trust in Him. And they took away their cattle: of their camels, fifty thousand; and of sheep, two hundred fifty thousand, and of asses two thousand, and of men a hundred thousand. For many fell down slain, because the war was of God. And they lived in their places until the captivity.
1 Chronicles 5:25 And they sinned against the God of their fathers, and went lusting after the gods of the people of the land, whom God destroyed before them.

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