Genesis 35:22

ESV While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine. And Israel heard of it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve.
NIV While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father's concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it. Jacob had twelve sons:
NASB And it came about, while Israel was living in that land, that Reuben went and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard about it. Now there were twelve sons of Jacob—
CSB While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father's concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard about it.Jacob had twelve sons:
NLT While he was living there, Reuben had intercourse with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and Jacob soon heard about it. These are the names of the twelve sons of Jacob:
KJV 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:

What does Genesis 35:22 mean?

This is only the second time Scripture directly refers to Israel by that name (Genesis 35:21). This person is Jacob, given a new name after an encounter with God (Genesis 32:28; 35:10).

Scripture sometimes provides details of little interest to modern readers. In other passages, there is an almost frustrating lack of explanation. It's possible some events are given limited detail for the sake of decency. For example, no particulars are given on what happened to Noah (Genesis 9:20–24) that invited such a strong reaction (Genesis 9:25–27). A similar approach seems to be used here. Neither background nor fine points are provided. All we are told is that Reuben had sexual relations with the servant of Rachel, Bilhah, who was a servant-wife of his own father (Genesis 30:1–4).

Because of the lack of details, we're not sure why, in what way, or how often this happened. We're not even sure it was consensual. Scholars suggest several possible motives for Reuben to sleep with—or possibly rape—his father's concubine Bilhah. Reuben is the oldest of Jacob's 12 sons, born to Leah, the wife Jacob famously failed to love. This may have been an act of revenge, degrading the servant of Jacob's most loved wife Rachel (Genesis 29:30). A more likely explanation is that Reuben was trying to exert authority over his father. In the pagan views of the time, concubines and wives were passed down from king to king (2 Samuel 16:22). Reuben may have made a clumsy attempt to declare himself the new head of the clan.

Also missing from Scripture is any reaction from Jacob, at the time Reuben's crime is revealed. We're simply told that Jacob heard about it. When blessings and birthrights are handed down, Reuben will suffer for his sin (Genesis 49:4; 1 Chronicles 5:1). For now, this non-reaction falls very close to Jacob's lack of response to the news that Dinah had been raped by Shechem (Genesis 34:5). Jacob seems to simply fail to act in any meaningful way. Some interpret this as controlled dignity. Others see it as weakness. It's possible his fearful passiveness created a power vacuum; lack of leadership would motivate Reuben's aggressive attempt to declare his own power.

Later in Israel's history, God will greatly enhance the stigma of incest of any kind, including that between a son and his father's wife: forbidden and even punishable by death (Leviticus 20:11). Though little seems to come from it in the near term, Jacob will not forget. On his deathbed he will remove from Reuben the birthright as the oldest son for this bold sin (Genesis 49:2–3).

The reference to Jacob's sons begins a reminder of their names, beginning in the next verse (Genesis 35:23).
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