Behold a son!, the eldest son of Jacob and Leah (Genesis 29:32). His sinful conduct, referred to in Genesis 35:22, brought down upon him his dying father's malediction (48:4). He showed kindness to Joseph, and was the means of saving his life when his other brothers would have put him to death (37:21, 22). It was he also who pledged his life and the life of his sons when Jacob was unwilling to let Benjamin go down into Egypt. After Jacob and his family went down into Egypt (46:8) no further mention is made of Reuben beyond what is recorded in ch. 49:3,4.
Reuben, Tribe of
At the Exodus numbered 46,500 male adults, from twenty years old and upwards (Numbers 1:20, 21), and at the close of the wilderness wanderings they numbered only 43,730 (26:7). This tribe united with that of Gad in asking permission to settle in the "land of Gilead," "on the other side of Jordan" (32:1-5). The lot assigned to Reuben was the smallest of the lots given to the trans-Jordanic tribes. It extended from the Arnon, in the south along the coast of the Dead Sea to its northern end, where the Jordan flows into it (Joshua 13:15-21, 23). It thus embraced the original kingdom of Sihon. Reuben is "to the eastern tribes what Simeon is to the western. `Unstable as water,' he vanishes away into a mere Arabian tribe. `His men are few;' it is all he can do `to live and not die.' We hear of nothing beyond the multiplication of their cattle in the land of Gilead, their spoils of `camels fifty thousand, and of asses two thousand' (1 Chronicles 5:9, 10, 20, 21). In the great struggles of the nation he never took part. The complaint against him in the song of Deborah is the summary of his whole history. `By the streams of Reuben,' i.e., by the fresh streams which descend from the eastern hills into the Jordan and the Dead Sea, on whose banks the Bedouin chiefs met then as now to debate, in the `streams' of Reuben great were the `desires'", i.e., resolutions which were never carried out, the people idly resting among their flocks as if it were a time of peace (Judges 5:15, 16). Stanley's Sinai and Palestine.
All the three tribes on the east of Jordan at length fell into complete apostasy, and the time of retribution came. God "stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria," to carry them away, the first of the tribes, into captivity (1 Chronicles 5:25, 26).