Thursday, May 5, 2011

Genesis 49:5-7 Jacob's Blessing: Simeon and Levi

Next, Jacob turns to give his final words to his sons Simeon and Levi.  They, like Reuben, are sons of Jacob's wife Leah.  Jacob speaks to them with the same message, for their character seems to be identical:

"Simeon and Levi are brothers --
their swords are weapons of violence.
Let me not enter their council,
let me not join their assembly,
for they have killed men in their anger
and hamstrung oxen as they pleased.
Cursed be their anger, so fierce,
and their fury, so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob
and disperse them in Israel."

Genesis 49:5-7 NIV

Jacob asserts that Simeon and Levi are brothers in the sense that they share the same traits:  They use their swords as weapons of violence.  Their anger was fierce, and their fury cruel.

Jacob's words hearken back to the incident which happened in the city of Shechem.  Their sister Dinah had been raped by Hamor, the son of the local ruler.  Later, Hamor, wished to marry Dinah.  The men of Shechem wanted to mingle and intermarry with the Israelites.  Of course, this was unacceptable to the Israelites, for they could not marry uncircumcised unbelievers.

Simeon and Levi conceived a plan whereby they deceived the Shechemites.  They explained that they were unable to intermarry with people who were uncircumcised.  Deceitfully, they agreed that if the Shechemites became circumcised, they would be free to join as one people.

This was deceptive on more than one level.  They had no intention of allowing Hamor to marry their sister, or becoming one people with the Shechemites.  Also, they used the sacred ceremony of circumcision as though it was only an outward practice, instead of an outward sign of an inner covenant with God.  Instead, Simeon and Levi used this practice as a means to incapacitate the Shechemites so that they could kill them.

When Jacob spoke of their swords as weapons of violence, you may have thought, "Of course swords are weapons of violence -- what else could they be?!"  Obviously, swords are fashioned to slay enemies, or at least defend oneself against them.  However, Simeon and Levi had lied to the men of Shechem, and took revenge upon all of the men of Shechem, not just the guilty party.  They also plundered the city.  Jacob's words here in verse 6 give us additional information.  They had hamstrung oxen.  So what?  Well, oxen were not beasts of war.  There was no need to incapacitate innocent animals in this way.

Verse six also distances Jacob from such practices of anger and wanton cruelty.  He asserts that he had not taken any part in their plan, either in planning or execution.

Notice that Jacob does not rail against his sons personally, but their sinful actions:  their use of their swords to slay indiscriminately, their fierce anger, their cruel fury.  This leaves room for repentance and change.  Think of it this way:  If you and I are having a fight, and I say that you are an idiot, there is very little room for any constructive change.  However, if I say that what you said or what you did was unwise or ungodly, it moves things back a step or two and the problem is clearly your choice of words or your actions, (which can be changed), not your personal state of idiocy, a characterization which you might take, well, personally.

Now we get to the interesting part.  Speaking prophetically, Jacob says, "I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel."  Jacob is speaking for God, who will accomplish this.  In the future, Simeon's tribe is assigned a territory in the midst of Judah's territory, and are gradually absorbed, so they were no longer a distinct entity.  They were probably also scattered by the various nations which took captives from the divided nation. More on that as we go on.  Levi, however, ends up becoming the tribe from which the priests and levites are obtained.  What is going on here?

Well, Levi does end up being scattered as well, with no territory of their own aside from assigned cities within the territories allotted to the other tribes.  The descendants of Levi rally to Moses in the midst of the incident where Aaron made a golden calf-idol while Moses (who was busy getting the Ten Commandments from God) was absent.  As a reward for their zealousness in forsaking such idolatry and fighting against those who participated in it, the tribe of Levi receive the honor of acting as caretakers of the Tent of Meeting and assisting the sons of Aaron (Moses' brother, also a Levite) in their role as priests at the tabernacle.

The honor of the priesthood was given to Aaron's descendants when Phineas (a Levite and grandson of Aaron) likewise fought against idolatry by slaying both a man and his unbelieving girlfriend who were boldly flaunting their disobedience.  (Numbers 25:1-17)  The Israelites had been seduced by the Moabite women and were joining them in their sacrifices to their god, namely Baal of Peor.  While the Israelites were gathered in assembly to entreat the Lord's mercy, for His anger was fierce at this breaking of the covenant which Israel had made with Him -- and it seems a plague had already started breaking out --  this man Zimri (the son of a leader of  a Simeonite family) brought a Midianite woman home right before the eyes of Moses and the weeping assembly.  Phineas was so incensed that he took a spear and killed the couple, thus stopping the plague.  For his zeal, Phineas and his descendants were awarded a perpetual priesthood.

As the Levites had no central territory of their own, but were assigned places in the territories throughout the nation of Israel, the prophecy regarding their 'scattering' was upheld, yet in a good way.  Therefore, God's Word was upheld, yet individuals who followed Him with all their hearts were acknowledged and honored.

Also, you might say that Phineas' descendants were given an honor they themselves had never earned.  So, regarding one's own godliness and the effect it can have on descendants, several things seem apparent:
  • A person's sin can affect his/her descendants.
  • A person's godliness can affect his/her descendants.
  • God knows each person's heart and will punish sin and honor righteousness.  (Sometimes the sinner is given additional time to repent and the righteous has to wait for his reward, but it will all be sorted out eventually)  However, a man will reap what he sows.
The idea that one's own actions can benefit or hurt his/her descendants is one which should cause us each to carefully weigh our own ways.  Of course it goes without saying that it is not only our descendants which can be affected by these things.  Our words and actions can encourage others to godliness or cause them to stumble.  We should walk carefully, indeed...


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