Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel—he was indeed the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel, so that the genealogy is not listed according to the birthright; (1 Chronicles 5:1)
The Consequences of Sin
There is a danger to instability, and we see this in Reuben. Morality and character go together. If we are morally unstable, we open ourselves up to sin. How is your stability or instability affecting you and your family?
Reuben, the eldest, naturally took his place closest to his father on the side of the bed. Jacob looked up to him and said: You are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power (49:3). The firstborn is often called the first sign of his father’s strength (Deuteronomy 21:7; Psalm 78:51) in the Scriptures. Always wanting his father’s favor, yet realizing he had forfeited his right to it, Reuben was a pathetic person and son. Originally, he had a claim to the natural birthright, which meant a double portion and spiritual leadership. Unfortunately,Reuben did not live up to his promise and his father’s hopes.
The near historical future was that Reuben was turbulent, and unstable as water. The Hebrew word for unstable is pahaz. It is from the root that describes the lawless mob of Judges 9:4 and the defiant prophets of Zephaniah 3:4. It suggests wildness as much as weakness. It is the aspect of water, so quickly becoming an undisciplined torrent, as pictured in Proverbs 17:14, which is the point of the comparison.763 He was passionate, but he lacked self-control. Reuben turned out to be weak and lustful. So instead of a blessing, he received a curse: you will not excel (NKJ). Reuben proved to be unstable, and as a result, lost his birthright to Joseph (First Chronicles 5:1). The tribe of Reuben never produced a single judge, prophet or king.
First, when the nation of Israel was coming out of its forty years of wilderness wanderings, the Reubenites were the first tribe to ask for a place to settle, impulsively not waiting to cross the Jordan River with the other tribes (Numbers 32). Therefore, when God would bring judgment against the nation of Israel, the Reubenites would be the first ones hit because they lived east of the Jordan River. Secondly, during later wars with the Canaanites, in the days of Deborah and Barak, the Reubenites failed to answer the call to arms (Judges 5:15-16). Thirdly, they participated in the erection of an unauthorized place of worship (Joshua 22:10-34).764 And fourthly, the Reubenites were overshadowed by Gad and overrun by Moab (Second Kings 10: 32-33; First Chronicles 26:31-32).
We see something of the future of the Reubenites in the Book of Numbers. In the first census, the tribe of Reuben was numbered at 46,500. But in the second census, the tribe had decreased to 43,730. The prayer of Moses in Deuteronomy 33:6 said: Let Reuben live and not die, nor his men be few.So Moses had to intercede on behalf of the tribe of Reuben, so that they would not disappear.
Reuben’s sin was the reason for his curse: For you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it (49:4). This whole verse is exclamatory. For instance, the last line switches to the third person as a point of emphasis. Jacob simply cannot believe what his eldest son did. Though Israel had never said anything about it at the time, he never forgot it either. In 35:22 Reuben’s sin is explained as possibly challenging his father’s authority. It was a well-known and widely adopted practice in the ancient Near East that the eldest son should inherit the concubines of his father (Second Samuel 16:22). Reuben may have been asserting himself as the true heir of Jacob, but it backfired and his sexual violation became his lasting legacy. Here, Jacob was making it perfectly clear why Reuben lost his birthright.
Jacob’s prophecy of Reuben continued to be fulfilled, and because of their instability, the Reubenites faded without making any significant impact on the history of the nation of Israel. However, his far eschatological future would be much brighter. Because of the grace of the Lord, the tribe of Reuben is included in the division of the land in the Messianic Kingdom. Reuben will have one portion; it will border the territory of Ephraim from east to west (Ezekiel 48:6).
Like Reuben, Esau too lost his birthright for a bowl of soup
9 Eastward they settled as far as the entrance of the wilderness this side of the River Euphrates, because their cattle had multiplied in the land of Gilead. 10 Now in the days of Saul they made war with the Hagrites, who fell by their hand; and they dwelt in their tents throughout the entire area east of Gilead. (1 Chronicles 5:9-10)
It is a known fact that the two and a half tribes settled east of the Jordan because the land was good for livestock (See Numbers 32)
Earlier wars were fought for lands that were ideal for livestock. In the coming days, wars will be fought over oil.