Reu'ben (Heb. Reiiben', ראוּבֵן, see a son [see below]; Sept. and New Test. ῾Ρουβήν), the name of one of the Jewish patriarchs and of the tribe descended from him. The following account is chiefly compiled from the Scriptural statements. SEE JACOB.
1. Reuben was Jacob's first-born child (Ge 29:32), the son of Leah, apparently an unexpected fruit of the marriage (ver. 31; Josephus, Ant. i, 19, 8). B.C. 1919. This is perhaps denoted by the name itself, whether we adopt the obvious signification of its present form — reu'bn, i.e. "behold ye, a son!" (Gesen. Thesaur. p. 1247 b) — or the explanation given in the text, which seems to imply that the original form was רָאוּי בּעָניַי, rau bMonyi, "Jehovah hath seen my affliction," or that of Josephus, who uniformly presents it as Roubel ( ῾Ρούβηλος, so also in Ant. ii, 3, 1), and explains it (Ant. i, 19, 8) as the "pity of God"- ἔλεον τοῦ θεοῦ, as if from רָאוּי בּאֵל (Furst, Heb. Lex. p. 1269). The Peshito (Rabil) and the Arabic version of Joshua agree with this last form. Redslob (Die alttestamentl. Namen, p. 86) maintains that Reubel is the original form of the name, which was corrupted into Reuben, as Bethel into the modern Beitin, and Jezreel into Zerin. He treats it as signifying the "flock of Bel," a deity whose worship greatly flourished in the neighboring country of Moab, and who under the name of Nebo had a famous sanctuary in the very territory of Reuben. In this case it would be a parallel to the title, "people of Chemosh," which is bestowed on Moab. The alteration of the obnoxious syllable in Reubel would, on this theory, find a parallel in the Meribbaal and Eshbaal of Saul's family, who became Mephibosheth and Ishbosheth. But all this is evidently fanciful and arbitrary.
The notices of the patriarch Reuben in the book of Genesis and the early Jewish traditional literature are unusually frequent, and on the whole give a favorable view of his disposition. To him, and him alone, the preservation of Joseph's life appears to have been due. B.C. 1895. His anguish at the disappearance of his brother, and the frustration of his kindly artifice for delivering him (Ge 37:22); his recollection of the minute details of the painful scene many years afterwards (Ge 42:22); his offer to take the sole responsibility of the safety ot the brother who had succeeded to Joseph's place in the family (ver. 37), all testify to a warm and (for those rough times) a kindly nature. We are, however, to remember that he, as the eldest son, was more responsible for. the safety of Joseph than were the others, and it would seem that he eventually acquiesced in the deception practiced upon his father. Subsequently Reuben offered to make the lives ot his own sons responsible for that of Benjamin, when it was necessary to prevail on Jacob to let him go down to Egypt (vers. 37, 38). The fine conduct ot Judah in afterwards undertaking the same responsibility is in advantageous contrast with this coarse, although well-meant, proposal. For his adulterous and incestuous conduct in the matter of Bilhah, Jacob in his last blessing deprived him of the pre-eminence and double portion which belonged to his birthright, assigning the former to Judah and the latter to Joseph (Ge 44:3-4; comp. vers. 8-10; 48:5). Of this repulsive crime we know from the Scriptures only the fact (Ge 35:22). In the post-Biblical traditions it is treated either as not having actually occurred (as in the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan), or else as the result of a sudden temptation acting on a hot and vigorous nature (as in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs) — a parallel, in some of its circumstances, to the intrigue of David with Bathsheba. Some severe temptation there must surely have been to impel Reuben to an act which, regarded in its social rather than in its moral aspect, would be peculiarly abhorrent to a patriarchal society, and which is specially and repeatedly reprobated in the law of Moses. The Rabbinical version of the occurrence (as given in the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan) is very characteristic, and well illustrates the difference between the spirit of early and of late Jewish history. "Reuben went and disordered the couch of Bilhah, his father's concubine, which was placed right opposite the couch of Leah, and it was counted unto him as if he had lain with her. And when Israel heard it, it displeased him, and he said, Lo! an unworthy person shall proceed from me, as Ishmael did from Abraham, and Esau from my father. And the Holy Spirit answered him and said, All are righteous, and there is not one unworthy among them." Reuben's anxiety to save Joseph is represented as arising from a desire to conciliate Jacob, and his absence while Joseph was sold, from his sitting alone on the mountains in penitent fasting. These traits, slight as they are, are those of an ardent, impetuous, unbalanced, but not ungenerous, nature; not crafty and cruel, as were Simeon and Levi, but rather, to use the metaphor of the dying patriarch, bdiling up (פִּפִּז, A.V. "unstable," Ge 44:4) like a vessel of water over the rapid wood-fire of the nomad tent, and as quickly subsiding into apathy when the fuel was withdrawn.
2. The Tribe of Reuben. — At the time of the migration into Egypt (or rather at the time of Jacob's decease), Reuben's sons were four (Ge 46:9; 1Ch 5:3). From them sprang the chief families of the tribe (Nu 26:5-11). One of these families — that of Pallu — became notorious as producing Eliab, whose sons or descendants, Dathan and Abiram, perished with their kinsman On in the divine retribution for their conspiracy against Moses (16:1; 26:8-11). The census at Mount Sinai (1:20, 21; 2:11) shows that at the Exodus the numbers of the tribe were 46,500 men above twenty years of age, and fit for active warlike service. In point of numerical strength, Reuben was then sixth on the list, Gad, with 45,650 men, being next below. On the borders of Canaan, after the plague which punished the idolatry of Baal-peor, the numbers had fallen slightly, and were 43,730; Gad was 40,500; and the position of the two in the list is lower than before, Ephraim and Simeon being the only two smaller tribes (26:7, etc.). During the journey through the wilderness the position ot Reuben was on the south side of the Tabernacle. The "camp" which went under his name was formed of his own tribe, that of Simeon (Leah's second son), and that of Gad (son of Zilpah, Leah's slave). The standard of the camp was a deer with the inscription, "Hear, O Israel! the Lord thy God is one Lord!" and its place in the march was second (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan [Nu 2:10-16]).
The Reubenites, like their relatives and neighbors on the journey, the Gadites, had maintained through the march to Canaan the ancient calling of their forefathers. The patriarchs were "feeding their flocks" at Shechem when Joseph was sold into Egypt. It was as men whose "trade had been about cattle from their youth" that they were presented to Pharaoh (Ge 46:32,34), and in the land of Goshen they settled "with their flocks and herds and all that they had" (ver. 32; 47:1). Their cattle accompanied them in their flight from Egypt (Ex 12:38); not a hoof was left behind; and there are frequent allusions to them on the journey (34:3; Nu 11:22; De 8:13, etc.). But it would appear that the tribes who were destined to settle in the confined territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan had, during the journey through the wilderness, fortunately relinquished that taste for the possession of cattle which they could not have maintained after their settlement at a distance from the wide pastures of the wilderness. Thus the cattle had come into the hands of Reuben, Gad, and the half of Manasseh (Nu 32:1), and it followed naturally that when the nation arrived on the open downs east of the Jordan, the three tribes just named should prefer a request to their leader to be allowed to remain in a place so perfectly suited to their requirements. The country east of Jordan does not appear to have been included in the original land promised to Abraham. That which the spies examined was comprised, on the east and west, between the "coast of Jordan" and "the sea." But for the pusillanimity of the greater number of the tribes it would have been entered from'the south (13:30), and in that case the east of Jordan might never have been peopled by Israel at all. Accordingly, when the Reubenites and their fellows approach Moses with their request, his main objection is that by what they propose they will discourage the hearts of the children of Israel from going over Jordan into the land which Jehovah had given them (Ge 32:7). It is only on their undertaking to fulfil their part in the conquest of the western country, the land of Canaan proper, and thus satisfying him that their proposal was grounded in no selfish desire to escape a full share of the difficulties of the conquest, that Moses will consent to their proposal.
The "blessing" of Reuben by the departing lawgiver is a passage which has severely exercised translators and commentators. Strictly translated as they stand in the received Hebrew text, the words are as follows:
"Let Reuben live, and not die,
And let his men be a [small] number." As to the first line there appears to be no doubt, but the second line has been interpreted in two exactly opposite ways.
1. By the Sept.,
"And let his men be many in number."
This has the disadvantage that מַספָּר is never employed elsewhere for a large number, but always for a small one (e.g. 1Ch 16:19; Job 16:22; Isa 10:19; Eze 12:16). 2. That of our own A.V.,
"And let not his men be few."
Here the negative of the first line is presumed to convey its force to the second, though not there expressed. This is countenanced by the ancient Syriac version (Peshito) and the translations of Junius and Tremellius, and Schott and Winzer. It also has the important support of Gesenius (Thesaur. p. 968 a, and Pent. Samuel p. 44). It is, however, a very violent rendering. 3. A third and very ingenious interpretation is that adopted by the Veneto- Greek version, and also by Michaelis (Bibelfur Ungelehrten, Text), which assumes that the vowel-points of the word מתָיו, "his men," should be altered to מֵתָיו, "his dead" "And let his dead be few" — as if in allusion to some recent mortality in the tribe, such as that in Simeon after the plague of Baal-peor. These interpretations, unless the last should prove to be the original reading, originate in the fact that the words in their naked sense convey a curse, and not a blessing. Fortunately, though differing widely in detail, they agree in general meaning. The benediction of the great leader goes out over the tribe which was about to separate itself from its brethren, in a fervent aspiration for its welfare through all the risks of that remote and trying situation. Both in this and the earlier blessing of Jacob, Reuben retains his place at the head of the family, and it must not be overlooked that the tribe, together with the two who associated themselves with it, actually received its inheritance before either Judah or Ephraim, to whom the birthright which Reuben had forfeited was transferred (1Ch 5:1).
From this time it seems as if a bar, not only the material one of distance, and of the intervening river and mountain-wall, but also of difference in feeling and habits, gradually grew up more substantially between the Eastern and Western tribes. The first act of the former after the completion of the conquest, and after they had taken part in the solemn ceremonial in the valley between Ebal and Gerizim, shows how wide a gap already existed between their ideas and those of the Western tribes. The pile of stones which thev erected on the western bank of the Jordan to mark their boundary — to testify to after-ages that, though separated by the rushing river from their brethren and the country in which Jehovah had fixed the place where he would be worshipped, they had still a right to return to it for his worship — was erected in accordance with the unalterable habits of Bedouin tribes both before and since. It; was an act identical with that in which Laban and Jacob engaged at parting, with that which is constantly performed by the Bedouin of the present day. But by the Israelites west of Jordan, who were fast relinquishing their nomad habits and feelings for those of more settled permanent life, this act was completely misunderstood, and was construed into an attempt to set up a rival altar to that of the sacred tent. The incompatibility of the idea to the mind of the Western Israelites is shown by the fact that, notwithstanding the disclaimer of the two and a half tribes, and notwithstanding that disclaimer having proved satisfactory even to Phinehas, the author of Joshua 22 retains the name mizbeach for the pile, a word which involves the idea of sacrifice — i.e. of slaughter (see Gesenius, Thesaur. p. 402)-instead of applying to it the term gal, as is done in the case (Ge 31:46) of the precisely similar "heap of witness." Another Reubenitish erection, which long kept up the memory of the presence of the tribe on the west of Jordan, was the stone of Bohan ben-Reuben which formed a landmark on the boundary between Judah and Benjamin (Jos 15:6). This was a single stone (Eben), not a pile, and it appears to have stood somewhere on the road from Bethany to Jericho, not far from the ruined khan so well known to travellers.
The doom, "Thou shalt not excel," was exactly fulfilled in the destinies of the tribe descended from Reuben, which makes no figure in the Hebrew history, and never produced any eminent person. No judge, no prophet, no hero of the tribe of Reuben is handed down to us, unless it be "Adina the Reubenite, a captain of the Reubenites, and thirty with him" (1Ch 11:42). In the dire extremity of their brethren in the north under Deborah and Barak, they contented themselves with debating the news among the streams (פֶּלֶג) of the Mishor. The distant distress of his brethren could not move Reuben: he lingered among his sheepfolds, and preferred the shepherd's pipe and the bleating of the flocks to the clamor of the trumpet and the turmoil of battle. His individuality fades more rapidly than Gad's. The eleven valiant Gadites who swam the Jordan at its highest, to join the son of Jesse in his trouble (1Ch 12:8-15); Barzillai; Elijah the Gileadite; the siege of Ramoth-gilead, with its picturesque incidents — all give a substantial reality to the tribe and country of Gad. But no person, no incident, is recorded to place Reuben before us in any distincter form than as a member of the community (if community it can be called) of "the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the halftribe of Manasseh" (ver. 37). The very towns of his inheritance — Heshbon, Aroer, Kirjathaim, Dibon, Baalmeon, Sibmah, Jazer — are familiar to us as Moabitish, and not as Israelitish, towns. The city life so characteristic of Moabitish civilization had no hold on the Reubenites. They are most in their element when engaged in continual broils with the children of the desert, the Bedouin tribes of Hagar, Jetur, Nephish, Nodab; driving off their myriads of cattle, asses, camels; dwelling in their tents, as if to the manner born (5:10), gradually spreading over the vast wilderness which extends from Jordan to the Euphrates (ver. 9), and every day receding further and further from any community of feeling or of interest with the Western tribes. See MOAB. Thus remote from the central seat of the national government and of the national religion it is not to be wondered at that Reuben relinquished the faith of Jehovah. "They went after the gods of the people of the land whom God destroyed before them," and we hear little more of them till the time of Hazael, king of Syria, who ravaged and for a time held possession of their country (2Ki 10:33). The last historical notice which we possess of them, while it records this fact, records also as its natural consequence that the Reubenites and Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh were carried off by Pul and Tiglath-pileser, and placed in the districts on and about the river Khabfir, in the upper part of Mesopotamia — "in Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and the river Gozan" (1Ch 5:26).
The following is a list of all the Biblical localities in the tribe of Reuben, with their probable identifications. For the boundaries, SEE TRIBE.
Abarim. Mountains. El-Belka. Almon-diblathaim. Town. [N. of Dhiban]? Arnon. River. Mojeb. Aroer. Town. Arair. Ashdoth-pisgah. Brooks. SEE PISGAH. Ataroth. Town. Atarus. Baal-meon. do. Main. Bajith. do. SEE BAAL-MEON. Bamoth (-baal). Hill ( Misgab) Jebel Humeh? Beer (-elim). Well. [On Seil Hadan]? Beon. Town. SEE BAAL-MEON. Beth-baal-meon. do. SEE BAAL-MEON. Beth-diblathaim. do. SEE ALMON- NIBNLATHAIM. Beth-jeshimoth. do. Beit-Jismuth? Beth-meon. do. SEE BAAL-MEON. Beth-peor. Temple. [N. W. of Hesban]?
Bezer. Town. [Burazin]? Dibon [or Dimon]. do. Dhiban. Ealaleh. do. El-Al. Heshbon. do. Hesban. Jahaz. do. [Khan es-Shib]? Kedemoth. do. [Ed-Duleilat]? Kiijathaim. do. Kureyat? Lasha. do SEE CALLIRRHO. Mattanah. do. [In plain Ard Ramadan]? Medeba. do. Medaba. Mephaath. do. [ Em el- Weled]? Miunith. do. Minyah. Migab. do. SEE BAMOTH. Nahaliel. do. [N. of Wady Maleh]? Nebo. Mount. Jebel Neba. Nophah. Town. [El-Habeeis]? Pisgah. Mount. SEE NEBO.
Shebern, Shebman, or Sibmah. Town. Es-Sameh]? Zareth-shahar. do. Zara? Zophim. Field. [Plain of Medeba]?
The country allotted to the Reubenites extended on the south to the river Arnon, which divided it from the Moabites (Jos 13:8, 16); on the east it touched the desert of Arabia; on the west were the Dead Sea and the Jordan. The northern border was probably marked by a line running eastward from the Jordan, through Wady Hesban (vers. 17-21; Nu 32:37-38). This country had originally been conquered and occupied by the Moabites; but they were driven out a short time before the Exodus by Sihon, king of the Amorites, who I was in his turn expelled by the Israelites (De 2; Nu 21:22-31). Immediately after the captivity e the Moabites again returned to their old country and occupied their old cities. This is the reason why, in the later prophets, many of the cities of Reuben are emtbraced in the curses pronounced upon Moab (Jeremiah 48). — The territory was divided into sections — the western declivities towards the Dead Sea and the Jordan valley, which were steep, rugged, and bare, with the little section of the lower plain of Jordan (called in Scripture — "the plains of Moab" [Nu 22:1]) at their base; and the high table-land stretching from the summit of the ridge away towards Arabia. The latter, from its even surface, as contrasted with the rocky soil of Western Palestine, received from the accurate sacred writers the appropriate name Mishor (q.v.). Under its modern name of the Belka it is still esteemed beyond all others by the Arab sheepmasters. It is well watered, covered with smooth, short turf, and losing itself gradually in those illimitable wastes which have always been, and always will be, the favorite resort of pastoral nomad tribes. The whole region is now deserted; there is not a single settled inhabitant within its borders. Its great cities, mostly bearing their ancient names, are heaps of ruins. The wild wandering tribes of the desert visit it periodically to feed their flocks and herds on its rich pastures, and to drink the waters of its fountains and cisterns. See Burckhardt, Travels in Syria, p. 365 sq.; Irby and Mangles, Travels, p. 460 sq.; Porter, Hand-book for Syria, p. 298 sq.