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KJV Genesis 35 : 22

And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve:

Having heard what his elder son had done it seems Jacob kept quiet about the whole debacle

Interesting in the previous chapter to this incident his other two sons had also also committed a grievous act by killing the men of shechem and Jacob had rebuked them immediately there after

KJV Genesis 34 : 30

And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.

After having waited for some twenty seven years and on his deathbed Jacob finally pronounces his curse on Rueben

KJV Genesis 49 : 3 - 4

Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: 4 Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.

Why did Jacob have to wait this long before rebuking his son Reuben?

2 Answers 2

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The incidents we have recorded in the Bible narrative are not exhaustive - far from it! That is, not everything is recorded.

Therefore, we do not know of Jacob rebuked Reuben or not because nothing is recorded. I suspect, Jacob probably did rebuke him at the time but the premise of the OP's question cannot be established.

In fact, Reuben did receive several rebukes that were indirect:

  • He did not receive the birthright
  • Judah became the (earthly) progenitor of Christ
  • Judah's clan also (later) established the royal throne
  • Joseph received the double portion of inheritance
  • Levi received the priesthood
  • Reuben was rebuked on Jacob;s deathbed

Just what happened at the time of the incest we are not told but the above developments suggest that everyone knew about it and the associated loss of status for Reuben

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This is a difficult question, and it is reasonable simply to say, “We do not know.” But, as with much in the Bible, we can infer with a fair bit of probability more than is stated explicitly in the text. On his deathbed, Jacob declares to Reuben, “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.” (Gen 49:4) Now the question is, why not rebuke him immediately?

It is quite possible that some open rebuke was made, but is not reported in the text. It might have been left out because a rebuke would have been obvious and not in need of stating.

Regardless, in the next chapter featuring the family of Jacob, Joseph appears with what is often regarded as a robe of authority (Gen 37:3), he brings his father an evil report about the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah (37:2), he tells of dreams in which he would be master over his brothers (37:5-11), his brothers are very envious of him (37:11), and finally he is commissioned by his father with the managerial task of checking up on the brothers who are delayed in their return, and reporting back (37:13-14). All of these details are widely thought to point, albeit obliquely, to Joseph having replaced Reuben as Jacob’s primary heir. I think this is likely to be the case.

Now, if Gen 37 opens with that fact established, then even if Jacob did not directly confront Reuben with his great sin, his announcement of Joseph as his heir would certainly be (correctly) interpreted by Reuben as the most serious rebuke. If this analysis stands up, as I think it will, then we can answer the question by rejecting its premise: in fact, Jacob does rebuke Reuben, at least indirectly (by making Joseph his primary heir), before the next act of the narrative begins in Gen 37.

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