3 Reuben, you are my [a]firstborn, my might, the beginning (the firstfruits) of my manly strength and vigor; [your birthright gave you] the preeminence in dignity and the preeminence in power.
4 But unstable and boiling over like water, you shall [b]not excel and have the preeminence [of the firstborn], because you went to your father’s bed; you defiled it—he went to my couch!
5 Simeon and Levi are brothers [equally headstrong, deceitful, vindictive, and cruel]; their swords are weapons of violence.
Genesis 49:3Reuben was the eldest of Jacob’s twelve sons and therefore entitled to the birthright, which would make him successor to his father as head of the family or tribe and inheritor of a double portion of his father’s estate. But Reuben forfeited all this by his conduct with Bilhah, his father’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). By adopting Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and giving each of them a portion of the inheritance, Jacob virtually gave Joseph Reuben’s extra portion of the land. And Judah became the tribal leader in Reuben’s place (Gen. 49:8-10).
Genesis 49:4The whole fertile territory once occupied by the tribe of Reuben has long since been deserted by its settled inhabitants and given up to the nomad tribes of the desert. Reuben did “not excel,” and even before Jacob’s death he had lost his “preeminence of the firstborn” (John D. Davis, A Dictionary of the Bible).
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