Journey Through The Scriptures

The Twelve Tribes of Israel, Part II

Lesson 1: Passed Over for Leadership

(Scripture to Read: Genesis 49:3–4; Numbers 16:1–33; Judges 5:15–16)

In many ways, the tribes of Israel that were founded by the sons of Jacob, or Israel, took on the character of their founder. The tribe of Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn son, is a case in point. The Reubenites should have had a double portion of the land of Israel when it was apportioned by Joshua, but that blessing was given to the sons of Joseph as a consequence of Reuben’s sin (Genesis 35:22). Perhaps a sense of resentment at being passed over for leadership among the tribes is what led several Reubenites to join in a disastrous rebellion against Moses and Aaron that cost these men and their families their lives.

The Bible says the Reubenites were “able-bodied men” and “trained for battle” (1 Chronicles 5:18) – although in the time of the judges, they were one of the tribes that refused to join Deborah and Barak in their battle against the nation’s enemies. Because of their location on the east side of the Jordan River, the Reubenites were isolated from the other tribes, causing them to fall into sin and idolatry more easily. When the nation was divided after King Solomon’s death, the Reubenites became absorbed into the northern kingdom, which was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE.

Study Questions

  1. How did Reuben's sin prove him unfit for leadership among the tribes of Israel?
  2. Why would the tribe of Reuben be frustrated over their position among the tribes?
  3. How would their isolation make it easier for the Reubenites to fall into sin and begin worshiping idols?
  4. How accurate was Jacob's prophecy about Reuben and his descendants (Genesis 49:3-4)?

Something to Think About

There is no perfect person or perfect group of people. We all have the potential for good and evil within us and, like the Reubenites, we must choose which path we will take. The challenge we face every day is to choose the right path and honor God – even if there are few others around to encourage us in that choice.