Bilhah and Reuben (Genesis 35:22)

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As we discovered with the story of Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, who died and was buried under a tree, the Bible wastes no words. Every single mention, no matter how “random” it may appear, has a place.

That’s the case with this incredibly out-of-left-field mention of incest behind Reuben and Bilhah.

Reuben, as you’ll remember, is Jacob’s oldest son by Leah. Bilhah was Rachel’s maid and Jacob’s concubine, which makes her a pseudo-aunt to Reuben. Ick factor aside, this type of relationship is outlawed by the law of Moses (Leviticus 18:6-18), although at this point, it wasn’t technically wrong. Abraham married his cousin, after all, as did Jacob and others. 

The reason Bilhah and Reuben’s relationship was wrong was because she was already married to Jacob, which makes it incestuous and adulterous. Additionally, sleeping with someone else’s concubine is seen as a play for power, like Absalom did with David’s concubines. The whole thing reeks of sin.

But why bring this statement of sin up in the middle of a discourse about Bethel and Isaac’s death? Because it gives an insight into the punishment by Jacob years down the road.

When Jacob eventually passes away in Genesis 49, he passes over Reuben’s blessing, calling him “uncontrolled as water” (Genesis 49:3). Likewise, the sins of Simeon and Levi follow with their sins in killing the people of Shechem (Genesis 35).

That leaves Judah fourth in line for the birthright, but now first because of the sins of his older brothers. This is no small feat, since it would be through the lineage of Judah that both David and the Messiah are born.

That’s why these seemingly out-of-place mentions are so important in Scripture. If you skipped over the few words in Genesis 35:22, you might be confused when you get to Jacob’s blessings in Genesis 39. Then, you would probably be even more confused when you get to the rest of the Bible and wonder why Judah is so important.

That one little sentence in Genesis 35:22 explains everything.