The Sons of Jacob
3 Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my strength, and the firstfruit of my vigor,
excelling in rank and excelling in power.
4 Unstable as water, you shall not excel any longer,
for you went up upon the bed of your father,
then defiled it. You went up upon my couch!
Unstable (paḥaz) is from the root which describes the lawless mob of Judges 9:4 and the wanton prophets of Zephaniah 3:4: it suggests wildness as much as weakness (cf. Speiser, ‘untruly’)51. It is this aspect of water, so quickly becoming an undisciplined torrent, as in Proverbs 17:14, which is the point of the comparison
Reuben was a man of ungoverned impulse.