Journey Through The Scriptures

The Twelve Tribes of Israel, Part I

Lesson 3: A Violent Duo

(Scripture to Read: Genesis 29:33–35; 34:1–31; 49:5–7)

Simeon and Levi were the second and third sons of Jacob from Leah, the wife he never chose and never loved. Simeon means“hearing” and Levi means “attachment,” the significance of which is explained in the text. All the sons had meaningful names – and we can even trace the developing story of Jacob’s family through his sons’ names. For instance, adding Reuben (“look, a son”) and Judah (“praise”), we can see that Leah was telling a story of God’s dealings with her. The names can be combined into this statement: “Look, I have a son to take away my barrenness. God has heard my prayer, and now Jacob will be attached to me. I will praise the Lord for what He has done.”

But even as Reuben disqualified himself from family leadership by his actions, Simeon and Levi left a questionable legacy. The sad story began with their sister Dinah’s rape by Shechem, a prince in one of the Canaanite tribes that inhabited the Promised Land. This was a sin and violation of the worst sort, and needed to be dealt with. But Simeon and Levi allowed their anger to take over, and innocent people were killed.

Jacob’s prophecy anticipated the future of these two tribes. The Simeonites were dispersed, and the Levites became the priestly clan that served in the Temple and had no claim to land in Israel.

Study Questions

  1. What was wrong with the offer of Shechem's father Hamor to Jacob to live among their people, "intermarry" with them, and take some of the land that Hamor would give them?
  2. The plan that Simeon and Levi used to disable their intended victims was very clever – and also quite deceptive! Where do you suppose they learned their "craft"?
  3. What was Simeon's and Levi's defense for destroying the people of Shechem?
  4. Why were the Levites later appointed as priests (Exodus 32:25–29)?

Something to Think About

The deadly outburst of anger and revenge on the part of Simeon and Levi should remind us of what can happen when we take the law, and God’s prerogative as Judge, into our own hands.

God prohibited these two sons and their tribes from playing a leading role in Israel. Let us determine to reject violence and personal vengeance as the means to right a wrong or gain satisfaction.