The Word Made Fresh
1Here are the descendants of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn son. Although he was firstborn, he slept with his father’s concubine and his birthright was given instead to the sons of Joseph, so Reuben is not included in the genealogy in the order of his birth. 2The birthright was given to Joseph, even though Judah rose to prominence among his brothers and was the ancestor of kings.
3Reuben’s sons were Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. 4Joel’s sons were Shemaiah, Gog, Shimei, 5Micah, Reaiah, Baal, 6and Beerah (whom king Tilgath-Pilneser carried into exile) who was a chieftain of the Reubenites. 7Their family records lists Jeiel as a chief, then Zechariah, 8Bela (son of Azaz, son of Shema, son of Joel) whose family lived in the Aroer and as far as Nebo and Baal-Meon. 9They also moved eastward to the edge of the desert this side of the Euphrates because their herds had grown so numerous in Gilead. 10During Saul’s reign, after they had defeated the Hagrites in battle, they lived in tents throughout the area east of Gilead.
11Gad’s descendants lived beside them in Bashan and as far as Salecah. 12Joel was their leader, then Shapham, Janai, and Shaphat in Bashan. 13Their kindred were the families of Michael, Meshullam, Sheba, Jorai, Jacan, Zia, and Eber. 14They were descended from Abihail son of Huri, son of Jaraoh, son of Gilead, son of Michael, son of Jeshishai, son of Jahdo, son of Buz. 15The head of their family was Ahi son of Abdiel, son of Guni. 16They settled in Gilead in the towns of Bashan, and in all of the fields surrounding Sharon. 17They are listed in the family records collected during the reign of king Jotham of Judah and king Jeroboam of Israel.
18The Reubenites, along with the Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh had forty-four thousand seven hundred sixty soldiers who were trained in warfare. They carried shields and wielded swords and bows. 19They battled the Hagrites, Jetur, Naphish, and Nodab, 20and when reinforcements arrived, the Hagrites and the others fell before them because they cried out to God in the midst of the battle, and they were given the victory because they trusted in God. 21They took their enemies’ livestock – fifty thousand camels, two hundred fifty thousand sheep, two thousand donkeys and one hundred thousand captives. 22Many of the enemy were killed because God was with the Reubenites. They settled in the territory they had taken until they were exiled.
23The half-tribe of Manasseh was numerous. They settled from Bashan to Baal-Hermon, Senir, and Mt. Hermon. 24Their family heads were Epher, Ishi, Eliel, Azriel, Jeremiah, Hodaviah, and Jahdiel. They were highly regarded soldiers, 25but they turned away from the God of their forefathers and clung to the gods worshiped by the peoples God had destroyed before them. 26That is why the God of Israel stirred king Pul of Assyria and king Tilgath-Pilneser of Assyria to carry away the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh into exile to Halah, Habor, and Hara on the Gozan River. They are still there today.
1-10: The lineage of Reuben is given here, with a note explaining why Reuben forfeited the birthright. The birthright is the “head of family” authority usually conferred upon the eldest son. Reuben slept with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and thus was refused the birthright. It was not passed to any of the other sons of Leah, though Judah became the most prominent of the tribes up to the time of the Exile. The birthright was given to Rachel’s eldest son Joseph (Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife), whose two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were progenitors of tribes in later Israel. Ephraim was the chief tribe of the north and the kingdom of Israel is often referred to as Ephraim. Judah became prominent, but Joseph (and later the descendants of Joseph’s son, Ephraim) claimed head of family status.
In addition to the names given, some events in the history of the tribe are highlighted. King Tilgath-Pilneser of Assyria is likely the same as King Tiglath-Pileser of II Kings 15:29, who captured a number of Israelite towns and carried much of the population into exile, many of whom belonged to the tribe of Reuben. Only Beerah is mentioned here in verse 6, as a chieftain of Reuben who is taken into exile by the king of Assyria. Another prominent Reubenite was Bela, whose flocks and herds were so extensive he moved as far eastward as the Arabian Desert permitted. Bela makes war against the Hagrites. That is not mentioned in any of the histories we have read so far. Down in verse 19 we learn that the action involves not only Bela but also some of his cousins from the tribes of Gad and Manasseh.
11-17: The descendants of Gad are listed, with no notables to provide additional information. We do learn in verse 17 that their territory is at one time part of Judah as well as Israel, which is an indication that the boundary between these two feuding groups of God’s people is somewhat dynamic.
18-22: The Hagrite war is mentioned only here in the Bible. Indeed, the Hagrites are unknown aside from this chapter, a mention in Psalm 83:6, and an individual named Jaziz the Hagrite as an official in King David’s administration in I Chronicles 27:30. Their territory is adjacent to Gilead to the east at the edge of the Arabian Desert where Bela is said to have moved. Three Israelite tribes – Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh – 44,760 warriors – engage the Hagrites in battle and are victorious. Their victory is attributed to their prayer for God’s help, and they annex the territory of the Hagrites until they are exiled by the Assyrians. Along with the Hagrites there is mention of Jetur, Naphish, and Nodab, probably the names of cities within the Hagrite territory, although Jetur and Naphish are listed elsewhere as sons of Ishmael, Abraham’s grandchildren (Genesis 25:15). The name Nodab occurs only here in the Bible.
23-26: The half-tribe of Manasseh is mentioned next, to round out this section dealing with the three tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. King Pul of Assyria comes into the area during the time of King Menahem of Israel (see 2 Kings 19:19-20). Then Pul’s successor King Tilgath-Pilneser (elsewhere called Tiglath-Pileser) also exiles much of the population of these three tribes and resettles them in other parts of his empire (2 Kings 15:29).
Chapter five gives the family trees of the tribes that settled east of the river Jordan – Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh. Reuben could never shake off the blunder of sleeping with his father’s concubine; it is a black mark on his character that his descendants can never shake off. I feel kind of sorry for the guy – God is more forgiving than that.