(behold a son), Jacob’s firstborn child (Genesis 29:32), the son of Leah. The notices of the patriarch Reuben give, on the whole, a favorable view of his disposition. To him and him alone the preservation of Joseph’s life appears to have been due, and afterward he becomes responsible for his safety (Genesis 37:18-30; 42:37). Of the repulsive crime which mars his history, and which turned the blessing of his dying father into a curse—his adulterous connection with Bilhah—we know from the scriptures only the fact (Genesis 35:22). He was of an ardent, impetuous, and unbalanced but not ungenerous nature, not crafty and cruel, as were Simeon and Levi, but rather, to use the metaphor of the dying patriarch, boiling up like a vessel of water over a rapid wood fire, and as quickly subsiding when the fuel was withdrawn. At the time of the migration into Egypt, Reuben’s sons were four (Genesis 46:9; 1 Chronicles 5:3). The census at Mount Sinai (Numbers 1:20-21; 2:11) shows that at the exodus the men of the tribe above twenty years of age and fit for active warlike service numbered 46,600. The Reubenites maintained the ancient calling of their forefathers. Their cattle accompanied them in their flight from Egypt (Exodus 12:38). Territory of the tribe—The portion of the promised land selected by Reuben had the special name of “the Mishor,” with reference possibly to its evenness. Under its modern name of the Belka it is still esteemed beyond all others by the Arab sheep-masters. It was a fine pastureland east of the Jordan, lying between the river Arnon on the south and Gilead on the north. Though the Israelites all aided the Reubenites in conquering the land, and they in return helped their brothers to secure their own possessions, still there was always afterward a bar, a difference in feeling and habits, between the eastern and western tribes. The pile of stones which they erected on the west bank of the Jordan to mark their boundary was erected in accordance with the unalterable habits of Bedouin tribes both before and since. This act was completely misunderstood and was construed into an attempt to set up a rival altar to that of the sacred tent. No judge, no prophet, no hero of the tribe of Reuben is handed down to us. The Reubenites disliked war, clinging to their fields and pastures even when their brethren were in great distress. Being remote from the seat of the national government and of the national religion, it is not to be wondered at that the Reubenites relinquished the faith of Jehovah. The last historical notice which we possess of them, while it records this fact, records also as its natural consequence that they and the Gadites and the half-tribe Manasseh were carried off by Pul and Tiglath-pileser (1 Chronicles 5:26).
Smith's Bible Names Dictionary (1866).