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Jacob's firstborn, Leah's son, born long after the marriage. The name expresses the parents' joy at the accomplishment of long deferred hope: "Behold ye a son" (Genesis 29:32). He gathered mandrakes for his mother, in boyhood (Genesis 30:14). (See MANDRAKES.) In a sudden gust of temptation he was guilty of foul incest with Bilhah, his father's secondary wife. Jacob on his deathbed (Genesis 49:3-4) said: "boiling over (so pachaz means) like water (on a rapid fire), thou shalt not excel" (Genesis 49:4). The effervescence of water symbolizes excited lust and insolent pride. By birthright Reuben was "the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power" (Genesis 49:3), i.e. entitled to the chieftianship of the tribes and to a double portion; but because of incest (Genesis 35:22; Leviticus 18:8) "thou shalt not excel" or "have this excellency" (compare the margin of Leviticus 4:7). (No great act, no great prophet, judge, or hero leader, springing from Reuben, appears on record (1 Chronicles 5:1-2.)
        The chieftainship was transferred to Judah, the double portion to Joseph; the firstborn of the beloved Rachel superseding the firstborn of slighted Leah, not however to gratify the father's preference (Deuteronomy 21:15-17), but to fulfill God's holy purpose. Impulses to good, as well as evil, were strong in Reuben. Impetuous, without due balance of mind, he was at the same time generous in disposition. He saved Joseph's life from the crafty and cruel brothers, Levi, Simeon, Judah, and the rest, by insisting that his blood should not be shed, but he be cast into a pit, Reuben secretly intending to deliver him out of their hands. These took advantage of his temporary absence to sell Joseph (Genesis 37:20 ff). He probably had gone to seek means to rescue Joseph. The writer's omitting to explain Reuben's absence is just what a forger would not have omitted, and proves the simplicity and truthfulness of the narrative.
        Reuben was deeply moved to find Joseph gone; he rent his clothes, crying, "the child is not, and I, where shall I go?" Years after he reminded them of his remonstrance (Genesis 42:22): "spoke I not unto you saying, Do not sin against the child, and ye would not hear? Therefore behold also his blood is required." Again, his offer to Jacob (Genesis 42:37) to stake his own two sons' lives for the safety of Benjamin, Joseph's surviving brother, is another trait of kindliness. But consistent resoluteness was wanting; putting Joseph in the pit was a compromise with the brothers' wickedness; decided, firm, unyielding resistance would have awed them and saved Joseph. Reuben had four sons at the migration into Egypt (Genesis 46:9; 1 Chronicles 5:3; Numbers 26:5-11). The conspirators Dathan, Abiram, and On sprang through Eliab and Pallu from Reuben (Numbers 16:1). At the Sinai census (Numbers 1:20-21; Numbers 2:11) Reuben numbered 46,500 men above 20 years of age, fit for service, and was sixth on the list: at the borders of Canaan (Numbers 26:7) -43,730.
        On march Reuben was S. of the tabernacle; Gad and Simeon were next Reuben on the same side (Numbers 2:10-16). Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh still retained their forefathers' calling as tending flocks and herds (Numbers 32:1). So, at their request, they were allowed to occupy Og's and Sihor's territories E. of Jordan, "the mishor" or even downs, the modern Belka; well watered, with smooth short turf, stretching away into the vast nomadic tracts eastward. Reuben, faithfully keeping their promise to Moses (Numbers 32:16-33), left the wives, little ones, and flocks behind in this region, and marched W. of Jordan to help in the conquest of Canaan; subsequently they erected an altar shaped like the tabernacle altar, W. of Jordan, not for sacrifice but to attest their share in the national worship with their brethren on that side (Joshua 22). By a solemn protestation of their not intending political or religious schism in the name of 'Eel," the Strong One", Elohim "the Supreme Being" to be feared, and Jehovah "the covenant God", they disabused Israel's mind of suspicion.
        Typical of there being only one sacrificial altar, Christ, above; our earthly communion with His sacrifice being commemorative, spiritual, and real, not carnal and literal (Hebrews 13:10; Revelation 8:3). Moses' blessing on Reuben (Deuteronomy 33:6-7), "let Reuben live and not die, and let (not) his men be few," implies a warning and a deprecation of evils deserved. Reuben held the S. of the land E. of Jordan. Occupation with their flocks made them dilatory and unwilling to join in the struggle for national independence against Jabin (Judges 5:15-16). Keil translated, "at the watercourses of Reuben were great resolutions (projects) of heart."
        Reuben held meetings by their rural watercourses (pelagot), passed spirited resolutions, but after all preferred remaining quietly among the sheepfolds (hurdles) and hearing the bleating of the flocks (or else the piping of shepherds) rather than the blast of war trumpets. The same impulsive instability appears in them as in their forefather Reuben. (See RIVER.) Seeking pastures for their flocks they dissipated their strength in guerrilla marauding expeditions toward Euphrates against the Bedouin tribes Hagar, Jetur, Nephish (1 Chronicles 5:9-10; 1 Chronicles 5:18, etc.). The Dibon stone shows that Moab wrested from Reuben many cities assigned by Joshua to them. (See DIBON.) Finally going a whoring after the gods of the people of the land whom God destroyed before them, Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh were first cut short by Hazael (2 Kings 10:32-33), then carried off by Pul and Tiglath Pileser, and placed about the river Khabour "in Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan" (1 Chronicles 5:26).

Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew Robert M.A., D.D., "Definition for 'reuben' Fausset's Bible Dictionary". - Fausset's; 1878.

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