Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:
Read Chapter 49
George Leo Haydock
My strength He calls him his strength, as being born whilst his father was in his full strength and vigour: he calls him the beginning of his sorrow, because cares and sorrows usually come on with the birth of children.
Excelling in gifts, because the first-born had a title to a double portion, and to have the command over his brethren, which Ruben forfeited by his sin; being poured out as water; that is, spilt and lost. (Challoner)
In command. He ought to have succeeded to his father in authority. But Joseph entered in upon his rejection, 1 Paralipomenon v. 1. The priesthood was given to Levi's descendants; and the regal power, partly to those of Joseph, who reigned over the ten tribes, for a long time; and partly to the posterity of Juda, who exercised dominion over all the people of Israel. (Chaldee) (Worthington)
AQUILA: Reuben, my first-born, you are my strength, and the sum of my sorrow: excelling in dignity and excelling in might: you have been insensate as water; excel not.
SYMMACHUS: Reuben, my first-born, and beginning of my pain: above measure grasping, and above measure hot as water, you shall not more excel.
HIPPOLYTUS: For there was a great display of strength made by God in behalf of His first-born people from Egypt. For in very many ways was the land of the Egyptians chastised. That first people of the circumcision is meant by my strength, and the first of my children: even as God gave the promise to Abraham and to his seed. But hard to bear with, because the people hardened itself against the obedience of God. And hard, self-willed, because it was not only hard against the obedience of God, but also self-willed so as to set upon the Lord. You have grown wanton, because in the instance of our Lord Jesus Christ the people grew wanton against the Father. But boil not over, say...
For there was a great display of strength made by God in behalf of His first-born people from Egypt. For in very many ways was the land of the Egyptians chastised. That first people of the circumcision is meant by “my strength, and the first of my children:” even as God gave the promise to Abraham and to his seed. But “hard to bear with,” because the people hardened itself against the obedience of God. And “hard, self-willed,” because it was not only hard against the obedience of God, but also self-willed so as to set upon the Lord. “Thou hast waxed wanton,” because in the instance of our Lord Jesus Christ the people waxed wanton against the Father. But “boil not over,” says the Spirit, by way of comfort, that it might not, by boiling utterly over, be spilt abroad,—giving it hope of salvation. For what has boiled over and been spilt is lost.
See the extent of the good man’s wisdom. Intending to level a worse accusation against Reuben, he first mentioned the privileges conceded him by nature and the precedence he enjoyed in being the beginning of his line and enjoying the dignity of firstborn. Then he records his sins of free will as if on a bronze pillar to show that no advantage comes to us from natural advantage unless accompanied by good deeds of free will—these, you see, are what bring us commendation or lend us the stigma of blame. “Unyielding in endurance,” he says, “unyielding in willfulness”: the pride of place accorded you by nature you have forfeited by your own headstrong behavior.
It seems to me that, according to the mystical interpretation, Reuben may play the role of the first Jewish people, that is, the firstborn and the beginning of the children, as the prophet says: “Israel is my firstborn.” The words of God in fact were first addressed to that people. And the Scriptures relate that that people was hard and reckless. About whom the prophet says, “Whatsoever this people says, is hard.” Elsewhere he says again about the Jews, “You stiffnecked people, uncircumcised in heart.” And these people offended God the Father when they turned their back to him and not their face. They defiled the concubine’s bed into which they got, that is, the law of the Old Testament, which they often stained with their transgressions. Paul teaches us that the concubine symbolically represents the law of the Old Testament by saying, “Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman: these are the two Testaments”; and Hagar, who was the concubine, clearly is the figure of...