Jacob Blesses Simeon—A Study of the 12 Tribes

Dr. Jerry A. Collins


"Simeon and Levi are brothers; Their swords are implements of violence. "Let my soul not enter into their council; Let not my glory be united with their assembly; Because in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they lamed oxen. "Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel (Genesis 49:5-7).


Verse 5Simeon and Levi are brothers—The mentioning of brothers seems to mean more than biological, but that they were in this blessing together due to being in league with one another. Simeon was the second son born to Jacob and Leah. Leah had given this name because of the hope she expressed at his birth then she conceived again and bore a son and said, "Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also." So she named him Simeon (Genesis 29:33).


Levi was the third son born to Jacob and Leah. Leah had given this name because of additional hope expressed at his birth she conceived again and bore a son and said, "Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons." Therefore, he was named Levi (Genesis 29:34). Jacob’s mentioning of them together is a reminder of their closeness in age and most likely, similar interests. They were brothers in particular by joining together in common actions. In this case, the adage “partners in crime” would be apropos.

·         Their swords are implements of violence.These implements of violence would have been the knives of circumcision they had used against the man Shechem who had seduced Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob and Leah, the sister of Simeon and Levi, and who now desired to marry her but Jacob's sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. They said to them, "We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised (Genesis 34:13-15).


The circumcision was merely a ruse so that Simeon and Levi could slaughter the people now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem's house, and went forth. Jacob's sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses (Genesis 34:25-29). They were men of anarchy and violence. 


Verse 6—"Let my soul not enter into their council; Let not my glory be united with their assembly—Because of the violence of Simeon and Levi, Jacob would have nothing to do with their deeds or thoughts. Both their council and their assembly were filled with violence and rage. Jacob separated himself entirely from their scheme. Jacob most likely remembered the distress his son’s actions had brought upon him when he had heard about their revengeful atrocity "You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household" (Genesis 34:30). Jacob had sensed that the people in the land would find this act terribly repulsive and might possibly lead to the clan’s ruin. 

·         Because in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they lamed oxen. —They had acted in pride and anger and their revengeful rampage had been violent and ruthless. Their attack was cruel vengeance and unusual punishment making unprofitable for others what they chose not to take for their own use.


An Application—We should not act under the impulse of uncontrolled anger. Solomon warned like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit (Proverbs 25:28). The point is the need for self-control. So the lesson is that an undisciplined person is vulnerable to all kinds of trouble which, when it arrives is capable of destroying his or her life as well as the lives of others.


Verse 7—"Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce and their wrath, for it is cruelThey had gotten out of control due to their rage that motivated the revengeful slaughter. This was unacceptable. The cursing of such violence eliminated these brothers and their tribes from the leadership of the nation as well.

·         I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel. — These actions that characterized these families, meant they would be divided and scattered throughout Israel. Simeon was later swallowed up in the tribe of Judah, and Levi received an honorable dispersion as the priestly tribe.

PT—God makes a moral judgment on the wicked vengeance and violent slaughter of Simeon and Levi. By doing so, God distinguished holy war from such hostile and vindictive behavior.


An Application—Vengeance is mine says the Lord. Revenge is God’s business.


A Review of the History of the Tribe of Simeon

The scattering of the tribe of Simeon amongst the other tribal allotments in the land can be seen in their subsequent history.


Joshua 19 in Review Simeon’s Inheritance

·         Joshua chapters 1-12 describe the initial conquest of the land of Canaan by Israelite forces, and chapters 13-21 record the division of the land among the victorious tribes. Special allocations, however, were made for the tribes of Simeon and Levi.


Verse 1Then the second lot fell to Simeon, to the tribe of the sons of Simeon according to their families, and their inheritance was in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Judah. —Here begins the description of Simeon’s allotment in the land of Canaan. Jacob’s prophecy was fulfilled by Simeon’s portion being subsumed within the larger inheritance of Judah.


Verses 2-8So they had as their inheritance Beersheba… and all the villages which were 

around these cities as far as Baalath-beer, Ramah of the Negev. This was the inheritance of the tribe of the sons of Simeon according to their families.Seventeen cities and their surrounding villages are then mentioned that would belong to Simeon.


Verse 9The inheritance of the sons of Simeon was taken from the portion of the sons of Judah, for the share of the sons of Judah was too large for them—Judah’s portion was the southernmost of all the tribes and stretched from the Mediterranean Sea on the west to the Dead Sea on the east, and from below Jerusalem on the north to below Beersheba in the south. We learn that the shares of the sons of Judah was too large for them, so Simeon got an inheritance in the midst of Judah. What if what we have to do is too much? God may give part of it to someone else. It’s not a reprimand or criticism, it’s just the way it is. We should not see it as competition.


An ApplicationDon’t be jealous or regretful if you have an abundance of ministry and God gives some of it to others. Nobody can do everything for people. Let the different gifts of the body work—even if they are not part of your organization or group. Only be sure they are not false teachers who change or add to the word of God.

So the sons of Simeon received an inheritance in the midst of Judah's inheritance—This made the cities within Judah that were assigned to Simeon located in the arid and barren region known as the Negev. This was a most inhospitable area for cultivation and the settled life. This divided existence, without a centralized tribal organization, was an appropriate fulfillment of Jacob’s words I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel (Genesis 49:7). Once again we are reminded of the revengeful violence that precipitated this unfortunate outcome for the tribe of Simeon.


An Application—Simeon’s revengeful slaughter is a stark reminder for how Gods people should respond whenever an injustice is experienced never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).


Numbers 25 in Review Simeon’s Sin

·         The tribe of Simeon played a prominent role in an unfortunate incident of sexual worship related to Midianite idolatry. 


Verse 1—While Israel remained at Shittim, the people [the Israelites] began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. This apparently meant that the young Israelite men were having sex with the Midianite women as part of their religious ritual of idolatry worship. It was actually Midianite women living in Moab one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman (v 6).


Verse 2—For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. They were conquering the young men with a pagan sex-oriented worship of a false god behold, these (the Midianite women at Moab) caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor (Numbers 31:6). Revelation 2:14 says Balaam taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication. They seduced the Israelite men.

PT—Balak, king of Moab, had already tried to use Balaam to curse the Israelites but God had intervened and prevented that from happening. But apparently Balaam devised a way around God’s intervention of his cursing Israel by covertly planning to corrupt the Israelites by suggesting this devious seduction.


Verse 3—So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel. Joining themselves to Baal is a pejorative relating to sexual ritual idolatry. The participation of these young Israelite men meant they acknowledged the reality of the local false god. So the Lord was angry against Israel about this and why not? We also learn of the fierce anger of the Lord (v. 4) and my [God’s] wrath (v. 10).


Verse 4—The Lord said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel." God said to arrest all the leaders of the people behind the apostasy who had participated in the idolatry failing in their duty to protect Israel lawfully. The leaders were executed in broad daylight before the Lord as a public spectacle. We learn later that the rest of the guilty died by the plague and those who died by the plague were 24,000 (v. 9).

PT—Simeon and Levi executed Canaanites and that was wrong. Jacob condemned them for that. But God had the leaders of Israel executed and that was not wrong. Why? Simeon and Levi sought revenge. God sought justice. Revenge is getting even at another’s expense. Justice is addressing right or wrong based upon Gods character. Whatever offends that character is judged. God is who God is. Thus, God’s character is the standard of justice.


An Application—The point is that sin must be dealt with, not ignored, not tolerated, nor excused, because it requires accountability to God. Engaging in sinful behavior is never a free from consequences choice. It offends Gods character and so must be accounted for.


Verse 5—So Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor." Moses (apparently correctly) understood this execution to be each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor. God executed punishment on its leaders who stood for the people. These leaders who had joined themselves to Baal of Peor led the way for young men to prostitute themselves having been deceived through the counsel of Balaam.

PT—Israel’s judges carried out this order which is what God is always looking for—people who agree with the ways and interests of God. Sin works to undermine what is in Gods interests. So, God looks for people to stand strong for His judgments.


Verse 6-7—Then behold, one of the sons of Israel (1) came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, (2) in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, (3) while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. (4) When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand. One person defied the judgment of God while another took a stand for the judgment of God. Zimri (v 14) brought to his relatives a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation “while” the people were still weeping over the executions and plague due to their sin.


Verse 8-9—and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. Those who died by the plague were 24,000. Phinehas put a quick end to their sexual immorality while they were in the very act. He had seen that the Lord himself had had the guilty put to death in the plague. In his zeal he dramatically put an end to this incident. Those who died by the plague were 24,000. This is referenced in Deuteronomy 4:3-4; Psalm 106:26-29; Hosea 9:10; and 1 Corinthians 10:8. 1 Corinthians says it was 23,000 who died in one day but probably does not include those who died of the wounds over the following days leaving a total dead of 24,000.

Verse 10-11—Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath—Phineas did that by agreeing with God about the sin and its judgment.

·         from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. God then stated Phineas… has turned away my wrath… in that he was jealous with my jealousy… so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. What made Phinehas the hero was his strong intensity to protect or preserve Gods interests. He was jealous with Gods jealousy. Not only was God’s jealousy good, but it was good for Phineas to share it by being jealous with God’s jealousy. God’s jealousy is his exclusivity. He will not be inclusive of idolatry.


Verse 12-13—Therefore, say, 'Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.'" God rewarded Phineas by promising that his descendants would enjoy peace My [God’s] covenant of peace and would occupy the office of the high priest forever a covenant of a perpetual priesthood (Psalm 106:30-31). This was because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel. Phineas continued as priest into Joshua’s day (Judges 20:28) and his priesthood continued with the exception of a short interruption in Eli’s days. The Romans finally broke up the Israelite priesthood in 70 AD.


An Application: God rewards our faithfulness. He will do so at the judgement seat of Christ. Choose to follow Gods desires, not just his will.


Verses 14-15: Now the name of the slain man of Israel who was slain with the Midianite woman, was Zimri …a leader of a father's household among the Simeonites. The name of the Midianite woman who was slain was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was head of the people of a father's household in Midian. The passage makes it clear that Zimri was a leader, one who was supposed to be preventing this thing from happening. The judgment was swift and severe, because the crime was so great, and the danger of it spreading was certain a little leaven, leavens the entire lump.

PTPaul referred to this horrible incident when he reminded Christians not to do similar things now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play." Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day (1 Corinthians 10:6-8).


An Application—Fighting the spiritual warfare involves placing a check upon our desires. Not just the desire but the craving for, longing or lusting after what is evil.


Verse 17-18: Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor and in the affair of Cozbi ..." Gods commandment be hostile to the Midianites and strike them means causing trouble and harassing. The reason God gave was for they have been hostile to you with their tricks with which they have deceived you and God repeats to be hostile. So the punishment is talionic—the principle of retaliation that a punishment inflicted should correspond in degree and kind to the offense—an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.


An Application—Crafty underhanded devices usually accompany deception. Balaam had inspired this episode by conniving with the Moabites to seduce these Israelite young men. They were then misled in deception to the fake worship of idolatry, and the trick was to use sexual religious seduction to do that. The enticement worked, and idolatry was reinforced amongst the Israelites as it had been ever since Egypt. The tricks continued (the Gibeonites [Joshua 9:3f] acted craftily by wearing old fake clothes to deceive Joshua into thinking they were not Canaanites), eventually precipitating the demise of the nation. This is why we are warned to test the spirits (1 John 4:1-6) and guard yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21) due to the tricks designed to deceive one into participating.


Observations from the Tribe of Simeon

·         The tribe of Simeon decreased in number from the beginning to the end of the wilderness wandering. In Numbers 1:23 their adult male population was recorded as 59,300, while in Numbers 26:14 (the second census nearly 40 years later) it was at 22, 200. Though it is not clear why, it’s possible that they suffered more severely than the other tribes from the plagues in Numbers 25 where those who died by the plague were 24,000 (Numbers 25:9).

·         It’s difficult to know what happened to Simeon when the United Kingdom was divided into the northern and southern kingdoms during the reign of Rehoboam, son of Solomon. But along with other tribes, some Simeonites who set their hearts on seeking the Lord God of Israel followed them to Jerusalem, to sacrifice to the Lord God of their fathers (2 Chronicles 11:16).

·         During the reign of King Hezekiah, a large group from the tribe of Simeon migrated farther south to the land of Edom, where they conquered and displaced Amalekites who dwelt there from them, from the sons of Simeon, five hundred men went to Mount Seir, with Pelatiah, Neariah, Rephaiah and Uzziel, the sons of Ishi, as their leaders. They destroyed the remnant of the Amalekites who escaped, and have lived there to this day (1 Chronicles 4:42-43). 

·         Regardless of the outcome of the tribe, their small number and few references are testimony to the truth of Jacob’s prophecy I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.


An Application—Being aggressive is not a quality developed of the Holy Spirit. Intimidating, conniving and controlling others may get you ahead, but will also bring you in conflict with God. Remember, James said the anger of man does not bring about the righteousness of God (James 1:20).


·         Live with a quiet spirit

·         Don’t ever manage injustice by revenge. Leave room for Gods wrath.

·         Refuse to be crafty but determine to be honest and transparent.