I Chronicles – Chapter 5

First In, First Out

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Next, the text lists the descendants of Reuben. Though he was Israel’s first-born, he lost the birthright of a double portion because he disrupted his father’s sleeping arrangements. Therefore, the birthright was given to Joseph (firstborn of Rachel), which is why two Tribes come from him (Ephraim and Menashe). Judah, the mightiest of the Tribes, received the monarchy. (This was part of Jacob’s blessing to Judah in Genesis 49:10).

Reuben’s sons are listed in verse three, but verse 4 continues with the sons of Yoel (Joel), who was not mentioned! This is because, as we’ve mentioned, the ten Tribes lost their genealogies when they were exiled by the Assyrians. Gaps in the lineage are therefore not uncommon in Chronicles. The lineage of Reuben leads us to Beira, also known as Beiri, the father of the prophet Hoshea (Hosea). We are told that Beira was among the Assyrian exiles.

We learn here that, during the reign of King Saul, the people of the Tribe of Reuben waged war against the Hagrim, whose personal names suggest that they were Ishmaelites. (Most commentators agree that the name Hagrim comes from Hagar, the mother of Ishmael.) The people of Reuben captured territory from the Hagrim, as detailed in verse 10. Verses 18-22 either describe that battle in greater detail or a subsequent campaign. Reuben was assisted in battle by the Tribe of Gad and the half-Tribe of Menashe, as all of them lived on the east bank of the Jordan (see Numbers chapter 32 and Joshua chapter 13).

We also learn in this chapter that the two and a half Tribes that resided in Trans-Jordan were exiled before the rest of the northern kingdom of Israel. This is a level of detail that is not recorded in the Book of Kings. According to the Midrash, the enthusiasm of these Tribes to be the first to claim their land was a contributing factor in their being the first to be exiled. (I found this Midrash cited by the Torah Temimah on Ecclesiastes 5:12 of all places.)

The chapter ends with a genealogy of Levi. This list focuses on the line of Kehos, Amram, Aaron, Elazar and Pinchas. From this line came many of the Kohanim Gedolim (High Priests). While High Priest was a hereditary position when the son was worthy to succeed the father, this list is not identical with the list of High Priests from Aaron until the exile. For example, in the days of Samuel, the family of Eli held the job; Eli was descended from Aaron’s son Itamar. However, when Eli’s family lost the privilege, the position reverted to Elazar’s family.The list ends with Yehotzadak, who was the High Priest when the nation was exiled. (Yehotzadak and Ezra the Scribe were both sons of Seraya, though Ezra is not mentioned here. Yehotzadak’s son Yehoshua – Joshua – became High Priest upon the return from exile.)

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