Simeon and Levi
Today, we read of the prophetic blessings pronounced upon the two tribes of Simeon and Levi.
“Simeon and Levi are two of a kind;
their weapons are instruments of violence.
May I never join in their meetings;
may I never be a party to their plans.
For in their anger they murdered men,
and they crippled oxen just for sport.
A curse on their anger, for it is fierce;
a curse on their wrath, for it is cruel.
I will scatter them among the descendants of Jacob;
I will disperse them throughout Israel.
Genesis 49:5-7 (NLT)
Here is another harsh verdict; and, undoubtedly, two more stunned inheritors. Jacob sees his 2nd and 3rd born sons in the same light, with similar personal attributes and characteristics, therefore apparently… and I underline the word APPARENTLY… sharing a common destiny. They are brothers in violence, and so they shall be brothers in their transgressions.
Unlike Reuben’s primary offence which was done in secret, Simeon and Levi had committed their greatest offence for everyone to see, and were proud and unrepentant for what they had done, to boot!
Let’s revisit just what the great offence of Simeon and Levi was, as told in Genesis 34.
Revenge Against Shechem
One day Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, went to visit some of the young women who lived in the area. But when the local prince, Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, saw Dinah, he seized her and raped her.
Soon Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled his daughter, Dinah. But since his sons were out in the fields herding his livestock, he said nothing until they returned. Hamor, Shechem’s father, came to discuss the matter with Jacob. Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons had come in from the field as soon as they heard what had happened. They were shocked and furious that their sister had been raped. Shechem had done a disgraceful thing against Jacob’s family, something that should never be done.
But since Shechem had defiled their sister, Dinah, Jacob’s sons responded deceitfully to Shechem and his father, Hamor. They said to them, “We couldn’t possibly allow this, because you’re not circumcised. It would be a disgrace for our sister to marry a man like you! But here is a solution. If every man among you will be circumcised like we are, then we will give you our daughters, and we’ll take your daughters for ourselves. We will live among you and become one people.
But three days later, when their wounds were still sore, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, who were Dinah’s full brothers, took their swords and entered the town without opposition. Then they slaughtered every male there, including Hamor and his son Shechem. They killed them with their swords, then took Dinah from Shechem’s house and returned to their camp.Meanwhile, the rest of Jacob’s sons arrived. Finding the men slaughtered, they plundered the town because their sister had been defiled there.
Genesis 34:1-2, 5-7, 13-16, 25-27
The primary thrust of this blessing was that neither Simeon nor Levi would partake in the promised land in the same proportion as their brothers; this as a result of their bloodlust and cruelty, as demonstrated upon the citizens of Shechem. They would, instead, be divided and scattered. And, that is exactly what took place.
But, let me give you a hint in advance of our look at what happened to Simeon and Levi: remember that one of God’s Governing Dynamics is to divide…. divide, separate, and elect. It’s a deceived mankind that looks upon division as an automatic negative.
Let’s look first at Simeon, who would become the smallest tribe by the time of the census of Numbers 26; and, like Reuben, struggled simply to stay in existence and to maintain a separate tribal identity.
In a census reported in the early part of the book of Numbers, Simeon is said to have had a population of 59,300. Within a mere 40 years, however, the census of Numbers 26 shows their population has shrunk by over 50% to 22,200.
Now, just for the sake of clarity, the census would have been ONLY of men…. and only of men in the prime and middle portions of their lives. This is often expressed in the Hebrew idiom as “men capable of bearing arms”. So, this is probably something on the order of ages 20 to 50 years old. Males younger and older than this, children, the elderly, the disabled, were not counted. Neither were females of any age or status.
Further, when we find Moses officiating over the handing out of the tribes’ land inheritances, Simeon is given territory WITHIN Judah’s territory… technically, and more accurately, certain cities within Judah’s territory. Simeon’s territory was like the round bulls eye in the center of a target: they were completely surrounded by the tribe of Judah. Worse yet, the area they occupied within Judah was primarily the Negev…an arid desert.
Simeon was probably the first tribe to be completely absorbed by the other tribes, with some of them joining with Judah, and others joining what would eventually come to be known as the 10 northern tribes of Ephraim. There was even mention in 1st Chronicles of some members of the tribe of Simeon leaving the Holy Land altogether, and joining with Edom…recall that Edom was the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Jacob said they would be scattered… how true this proved to be.
Levi suffered a similar, though not destructive, fate as concerns land and territory. Levi, as with Simeon, was not given its own territory…. rather, it too was given cities…48 cities…but within the tribal boundaries of EVERY tribe.
However, Levi was divided and separated out to become God’s own priests…. in Hebrew, God’s cohanim. It was the Levites who would officiate all matters at the Wilderness Tabernacle, and then the Temple. So, while Simeon was destined to the loss of it’s tribal identity and near extinction, Levi’s separation from Israel became a holy matter.
What an incredible thing it is that Jacob’s prophesy so accurately depicts the ironically similar, yet opposite, fates of Simeon and Levi. Look once again at V7, the end of it, where it says “…I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel”. Both actions happened, but each in its own way. Levi was divided, separated and elected away from the other tribes to become priests to God, and Simeon was utterly scattered into all the other tribes of Israel. Levi maintained their identity, and Simeon lost theirs.
Often we will see in Scripture two phrases or sentences, back-to-back, that appear to simply be a repetition… like in V7, “…. I will divide…I will scatter”. Usually this is just a standard Hebrew literary device called a doublet or a couplet. At other times, though, there is a subtle and important message being introduced and it is not the same thing being said, just in two different ways.
Let me also mention, as an aside, that whereas particularly in the Prophets it looks to be unarguable that there is much repetition, in fact, its because of the near impossibility to translate Hebrew word structure into English.
And, one of the reasons that this is so, is because the Bible was originally created in a structure that was to be learned through the spoken word and through hearing. This is as opposed to our English. Latin, French, and German translations that were written in a style meant to be absorbed by reading.
While to those of us who are not literary professionals, the difference between creating a speech designed to be absorbed by the ears, versus creating a manuscript designed to be absorbed by the eyes, might not seem apparent…the differences are substantial.
It is interesting to notice that even up to our time, the Levites are seen as separate from the rest of Israel. Jews do NOT regard Levites as Jews…they are separate and distinct. Even if the rest of the world, through ignorance, doesn’t make this distinction, God does, and considering where we are in prophetic times, it might be wise for US to understand and acknowledge it, because the time is near that the Levites are going to once again play a prominent role in Judaism.
So, the end result of Jacob’s pronouncements are that the first 3 brothers, the eldest, are now dispossessed and their blessings look more like a curses, to them.
To Be Continued…