“Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder. While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.”-Genesis 35:21-22
So we’re told that Jacob’s clan left Beit-el (House of God) and moved to a place called Efrat.
Efrat would later come to be known as Beit-lechem (House of Bread) or in English, Bethlehem, which we all know is Yeshua’s birthplace.
Next we’re told that Jacob’s dear wife Rachel dies while giving birth to Benjamin, who will become the 12th and final tribe of Israel.
After Rachel is buried, Jacob moves to a place called Migdal-Eder (the watchtower of the flock).
It is in this area that we are suddenly told that Jacob’s firstborn son Reuben slept with Jacob’s concubine Bilah.
It’s also important to note that Jacob was aware of what Reuben did.
We’re going to examine this event closely because it reveals much about the culture of that time and will have a strong influence on Israel’s future.
Now the first thing you should notice is that Reuben sleeping with Bilah happens right after Rachel’s death.
This is not coincidental.
These two events are linked.
Bilah was both Rachel’s handmaiden and Jacob’s concubine.
Reuben was Leah’s son.
Now if you recall, Jacob loved Rachel more than he did Leah.
And Reuben was always well aware of this.
It pained him greatly that his mother had always held a much diminished status in his father’s (Jacob) eyes.
Think back to the story of the Mandrakes that Reuben got for his mother.
Now that Jacob’s most beloved wife Rachel was gone, Reuben knew that this was a chance for his mother Leah to become Jacob’s sole and most favored wife.
In addition, the status of being the son of Jacob’s favorite wife would result in tangible perks.
However, Reuben had one big concern.
What if Jacob decided to make Rachel’s handmaiden Bilah his most favored wife instead?
After all these years of having to assume an inferior position to Joseph and his mother Rachel, there was no way he was going to let Bilah get in the way.
So Reuben slept with Bilah.
This was a very calculated move on Reuben’s part.
By sleeping with Bilah, he ruined her.
It was now impossible for Jacob to legally marry Bilah because it was unthinkable that he would marry a woman who had slept with another man, especially if that man was the son of her husband.
You can see why Reuben wanted to make sure his father knew what he had done.
This was so Jacob would be forced to reject Bilah resulting in Leah automatically inheriting the coveted favorite wife spot.
Verse 22…“and Israel found out”…is a key phrase.
In order for Reuben’s devious strategy to go as planned, Jacob had to be made aware of what happened.
Here is an interesting excerpt from the Talmud on this incident:
“ He (Reuben) said, ‘If my mother’s sister was a rival to my mother, must the MAID of my mother’s sister be a rival to my mother?”
Again, this had nothing to do with Reuben seeking sexual pleasure.
In those days, when a leader succeeded another leader…or a son inherited leadership from a father (normally due to the father’s death), it was customary to also inherit the leader’s concubines.
The possession of a former leader’s concubines affirmed the new leader’s position and power.
What Reuben did was nothing less than an attempt to dethrone his father from his position as leader of Israel.
Much later, while on his deathbed, in retaliation Jacob would take away Reuben’s firstborn rights.
Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, “Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what shall befall you in the days to come. “Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob; And listen to Israel your father. “Reuben, you are my first-born; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. “Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, Because you went up to your father’s bed; Then you defiled it-– he went up to my couch.-Genesis 49:1-4