Thursday, February 10, 2011

Genesis 34:25-31 Simeon and Levi Take Revenge

"Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male.  They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem's house and left.  The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled.  They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields.  They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses."  (Genesis 34:25-29 NIV)

Simeon and Levi were Dinah's brothers and, as we have seen in other cases, brothers seem to have a large part of the responsibility in watching over their sister and negotiating marriage agreements, etc.  For example, Jacob's brother-in-law Laban had been the main one behind the marriages of Rachel and Leah to Jacob.  In that case it is unclear whether Rachel's father was still alive.  Even in this case with Dinah, however, where Jacob is still clearly alive, the brothers have taken the lead in the negotiations with Hamor and Shechem.  I think it is probably a cultural thing.  At any rate, as Dinah's brothers, Simeon and Levi take the lead in this horrific act of revenge.

Although the rage of the brothers is understandable, the punishment seems far out of proportion to the crime.  If anyone was to be punished, it would seem that it would be Shechem himself.  Instead, the brothers killed every male in the city.  It is beyond question that the Canaanites were extremely wicked.  When Shechem the rapist is considered the most honored in his father's household, you kind of get the picture. (v.19)  Also, archaeology has revealed in the culture's writings and artifacts the depravity of its people and their practices.  However, God had declared to Abraham that the iniquity of the people was not yet at its fullest measure (see Genesis15:16).  Therefore, the brothers were wrong to take these matters into their own hands.

It seems like Simeon and Levi were the ones doing all the killing.  The other brothers did  not seem to have a problem with the looting of the city and its people, however.  I suppose the women and children who were captured were eventually incorporated into the Israelites.

Jacob seems to have had no knowledge that his sons would commit such an atrocity:

"Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, 'You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land.  We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.'  But they replied, 'Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?' " (Genesis 34:30-31 NIV)
In the previous post, I had said that I would get back to the idea that the inhabitants of Shechem had intended harm to Jacob and his household, possibly planning to eventually kill them in order to obtain the wealth of livestock which they possessed.  The thought which came to me was the fact of the covenant which God had made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.  Verse 3 is of particular interest: "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse...".  I had also mentioned in another post that the punishment for intending harm to the Israelites seemed to be in direct proportion to the crime:  if a Pharaoh or a king's actions threatened the Messianic line, his own family line was affected; if Laban cheats Jacob out of flocks, he ends up losing most of his flocks; and so on.  Here, when the Shechemite men planned to annihilate the Israelites, they end up being annihilated.  I want to make a careful distinction, though.  The fact that God remained true to his covenant by eliminating this threat to the Messianic line does not mean that Simeon and Levi's actions were just or justified.  Their actions were still wrong.  However, God is so powerful that He can turn even man's sinful actions to further His own purposes and plan.  It is not that the ends justifies the means.  It is that His ends (plans) will not be thwarted by man's actions.

Speaking of divine justice/intervention:  Later, when Jacob is giving his blessing to his sons before he dies, he distances himself from their actions and predicts that Simeon and Levi's descendants will be dispersed and scattered in Israel (Genesis 49:5-7).  Simeon's tribe was eventually mingled with that of Judah, where they had shared a territory. (See Joshua 19:1,9)  Levi's descendants were spread throughout the land in 48 towns (Numbers 35:2,7).  However, I see God's mercy even in that regard, for Simeon and Levi were at least scattered within Israel, as opposed to being annihilated outright, as they themselves had done.  This is also merciful to their descendants, who of course had not participated in this carnage.  I have other questions and observations regarding Simeon and Levi, like why Levi seemed to be honored later with the priesthood, but I will share those ideas when they come up in the text.  However, from the little that I do understand, it seems that God is very merciful, and offers opportunities for individuals to escape even the wicked past of their ancestors.  When He does judge, He always judges justly and only after He has offered chances to repent.  

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