DIG: In what way had Simeon and Levi been guilty of treachery? What was their punishment? Why did one tribe decline into obscurity and the other ascend to prominence? How did God change the curse of one into a blessing?
REFLECT: If God can change the heart of Levi, what can He do for you or for someone you love? Are you a priest today? How do you know?
The next two oldest sons were Simeon and Levi. As always, they were standing there side by side before Jacob. They were joined at the hip, Levi meaning joined, since they were young, and they were the closest among the brothers. As Reuben had displayed instability and lust, these two brothers had displayed treachery and cruelty. These hot heads had disgraced and endangered the whole family when they slaughtered the men of Shechem to defend the honor of their sister Dinah (34:1-31).766 There is hardly anything more terrible in life than treachery, especially when, as in the case of Simeon and Levi, it is cloaked in honor. They did evil in the name of good.
They were two full brothers and sons of Leah, but they were also full brothers in violence. Simeon was probably the ringleader when Joseph was sold into slavery. Earlier, when Joseph was testing his brothers, he thought Simeon needed the instruction of time in prison more than any of the others and he had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes (42:24). That was no coincidence.
Jacob’s near historical prophecy was that their swords would be weapons of violence and cruelty. When the men of Judah needed help to fight the Canaanites, they asked for the help of the Simeonites (Judges 1:3). Later in their history, the Simeonites also slaughtered the Amalekites who had escaped in the hill country of Seir (First Chronicles 4:42-43). But Simeon’s and Levi’s slaughter of the men of Shechem was not a holy war, as was the case with Joshua; it was a case of vengence. So Jacob wanted nothing to do with them and he disassociates himself from their actions. With deep emotion, he said: Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger as they pleased.
After the slaughter at Shechem, they hamstrung oxen as they pleased. These are the animals that it records: they seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields (34:28). To hamstring oxen means to cut the tendons in their legs so that they can no longer work. The oxen that they didn’t take they hamstrung, making them useless and helpless. All the men of Shechem were slaughtered and their wives and children were taken as spoil. So there was no one left to tend these oxen. This was merely an act of cruelty, which, of course, was their nature.
Then Jacob, speaking on God’s behalf, says to them: Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us that there are six things the Lord hates, seven things that are detestable to him. The first is haughty eyes, reflecting a proud heart, the second is a lying tongue, the third is hands that shed innocent blood, the fourth is a heart that devises wicked schemes, the fifth is feet that are quick to rush into evil, sixth is a false witness who pours out lies, and the seventh is a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. It seems like Simeon and Levi did all seven of these when they lied to the men of Shechem before they slaughtered them. No wonder the Lord hated what they did and found their actions detestable.
Simeon and Levi had joined together to commit their crime at Shechem, and as a punishment, they would be scattered among the tribes of Israel. Jacob prophesied: I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel, never to receive their own territory. Thus, they would be denied one of the major covenant blessings promised by God (15:18-20). Inseparable growing up, they brought out the worst in each other. So, for their own good they would be separated.
Simeon and his descendants turned out to be the smallest of all the tribes and is omitted from the tribal blessings of Moses in Deuteronomy 33. After the conquest of Canaan by Joshua, the Simeonites settled in the southern part of Judah’s territory (Joshua 19:1-9; Judges 1:3). As a result, they lost much of their own identity and little was heard about them after the days of King Asa.
But the scattering of Levi and his descendants in the nation of Israel ended up being a blessing for the other tribes through the divine appointment of the priesthood.767 The Levites sided with Moses over the sin of the golden calf at Mount Sinai; however, even then they used their swords as weapons of violence in slaughtering about three thousand that day (Exodus 32:26-29). So in keeping with Jacob’s curse, the Levites did not receive their own territory, but scattered in forty-eight Levitical cities throughout Israel (Numbers 18:20-24, 35:1-8; Deuteronomy 10:8-9; Joshua 14:4, 24:1-42).
In the final analysis, the Levites developed a zeal for the Lord while the Simeonites developed a zeal for violence and cruelty. Therefore, the Simeonites started to decline into obscurity while the Levites ascended to the prominence of the priestly tribe. The Lord would be their inheritance (Deuteronomy 18:2) and they would be the custodians of the Tabernacle and the Priesthood. Therefore, we see an example of the marvelous grace of God in Levi. It is true that his descendants were scattered throughout Israel, but they became a tribe of priests led by Aaron, the brother of Moses.
In the far eschatological future both Simeon and Levi will receive territory in the Messianic Kingdom. By the grace of God, Simeon will have one portion; it will border the territory of Benjamin from east to west (Ezekiel 48:24), and alongside the territory of the priests, the Levites will have an allotment 25,000 cubits long and 10,000 cubits wide. Its total length will be 25,000 cubits and its width 10,000 cubits. They must not sell or exchange any of it. This is the best of the land and must not pass into other hands, because it is holy to the Lord (Ezekiel 49:13-14).
It is also the grace of God that has transformed sinners like you and me into a kingdom of priests. All believers are priests today. Among them are converted drunkards, prostitutes and murderers. How did they become priests in the Kingdom of God? Just as we all did - by the marvelous grace of God. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (First Peter 1:18-19). Then Peter goes on to say: You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (First Peter 2:5). Who is he talking about? Those who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ!
Reuben lost first place, and Simeon and Levi also lost first place. The Messiah would not come from any of those tribes. There was also another brother who was a sinner. Let’s see what the grace of God would do for him.768