Vayishlach—Short story

Israel then resumed his journey, and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. Now, while Israel was residing in that area, Ruben went and lay with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.  (Gen 35:21 – 22)

That’s it. End of story.

The only other place in the Bible where a son sleeps with his father’s concubine is the revolt of Absalom in 2 Sam 16:20 – 22. There the act constitutes a part of a political revolt, part of Absalom’s usurping his father’s throne. But there’s no question of a political revolt here.

We learn that Rueben’s act does not escape Jacob’s knowledge, but that’s it.  We observe no reaction from Jacob.  Yet the episode comes up again at the very end of Jacob’s life, as part of his “blessing” to his 12 sons. He lashes out at Reuben, as if he’s been holding it in all these years.

Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my might and the first fruits of my vigor,
prevailing in rank and prevailing in honor.
Unstable as water, you shall no longer prevail
because you mounted your father’s bed;
then you defiled it–you  mounted my couch!

Talk about a delayed denouement!

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