Simeon and Levi, the next two sons of Jacob, are closely connected. Before reviewing them separately, we must examine their commonalities since Jacob blesses them at the same time. Of all the blessings pronounced by Jacob towards his sons, Simeon and Levi’s sounded the least like a blessing and the most like a curse. You wouldn’t have wanted your future to be associated with theirs and apparently, neither did Jacob. Many of the troubles associated with their lives can be attributed to a single, monumental event known as the Defilement of Dinah. Everything that transpired during this affair is a microcosm of Israel’s overall failures, as a nation, and a significant point to remember moving forward.
As the story is depicted in Genesis 34, Dinah, the only sister in the family, ventured out to visit the daughters of the Canaanite land where Israel had settled.
And Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her. 3 And his soul clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spake kindly unto the damsel. 4 And Shechem spake unto his father Hamor, saying, Get me this damsel to wife.
While she was out, Shechem, the Hivite prince took notice of her and sexually defiled her. The Bible says that Shechem was deeply attracted to Dinah and sought his father, King Hamor, to “get her for him as a wife”. But when Dinah’s brothers discovered what happened, they became extremely angry.
6 And Hamor the father of Shechem went out unto Jacob to commune with him. 7 And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter: which thing ought not to be done. 8 And Hamor communed with them, saying, The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife. 9 And make ye marriages with us, and give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you. 10 And ye shall dwell with us: and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade ye therein, and get you possessions therein. 11 And Shechem said unto her father and unto her brethren, Let me find grace in your eyes, and what ye shall say unto me I will give. 12 Ask me never so much dowry and gift, and I will give according as ye shall say unto me: but give me the damsel to wife.
After Prince Shechem’s request, Hamor went out to Jacob to discuss parameters under which Shechem could marry Dinah and their two nations could combine together in the same land. He proposed that they intermarry, blend cultures, trade possessions and even share lands. It was quite the effort to allow the marriage of one woman to one man. However, this would not have been an ordinary marriage due to the great differences between the two cultures, particularly the strict traditions of the Israelites. After listening to the proposal from Hamor, the bitter brothers of Dinah responded with deceitful intentions.
13 And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father deceitfully, and said, because he had defiled Dinah their sister: 14 And they said unto them, We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised; for that were a reproach unto us: 15 But in this will we consent unto you: If ye will be as we be, that every male of you be circumcised; 16 Then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people. 17 But if ye will not hearken unto us, to be circumcised; then will we take our daughter, and we will be gone. 18 And their words pleased Hamor, and Shechem Hamor’s son.
Jacob’s sons hypocritically professed their agreement to assimilate under the condition that the Shechemites circumcise all of their men according to the Hebrew custom. Surprisingly, Hamor’s men agreed, but they had no idea of the ulterior motives of the angry brothers. Simeon and Levi, who had no intentions of following through with the covenant they presented, waited three days for the pain of circumcision to weaken the Hivite men. Then, the two of them took their swords, went into the city and slew every male.
25 And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males. 26 And they slew Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went out. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their sheep, and their oxen, and their asses, and that which was in the city, and that which was in the field, 29 And all their wealth, and all their little ones, and their wives took they captive, and spoiled even all that was in the house. 30 And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house. 31 And they said, Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?
Afterwards, Jacob was greatly upset, and even feared for his life at the hands of other Canaanite men. His statements in Genesis 34:30 were both fearful and prophetic, and their meaning is even reflected in the blessing of another son of Israel which we will explore later. Ultimately, the frustration of Jacob with Simeon and Levi is remembered within the context of their blessing in Genesis.
Simeon and Levi’s Portion
For reasons which we will soon discuss, we will read Jacob’s blessing of Simeon and Levi in the New American Standard version, first.
Genesis 49:5-7 NAS
5“Simeon and Levi are brothers; Their swords are implements of violence. 6“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. 7“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.
Jacob’s words sound less like a blessing and more like a curse, undoubtedly because of the treacherous activities that Simeon and Levi committed at Shechem. In verse 7 Jacob cursed them in their anger, wrath and self-righteous pride, declaring that they would be scattered throughout the land of Israel. This meant that when it eventually became time to divide the conquered lands of Canaan amongst the tribes of Israel, neither Simeon or Levi inherited portions of land but were scattered throughout the territories of the other tribes.
The latter portion of verse 6 seems a little less clear and is a topic of uncertainty among religious scholars. The translation of the original Hebrew text is difficult to definitively determine due to unclear shapes of the original characters and varied interpretations of the Hebrew word. Some Biblical translations like the one we’ve referenced read “they hamstrung (lamed) oxen”, but many scholars believe this makes little sense considering that the brothers stole the Shechemite possessions rather than laming them. Other translations like the King James Bibles read, “they digged down a wall” with a footnote to the alternate translation. An argument against this translation is that the ease with which the brothers accessed the city suggests there was no real wall preventing their entry.
Rather than declaring one interpretation correct, let’s consider that Jacob’s words were not literal but deeply prophetic as is the other parts of his blessing. Perhaps there is room for both interpretations to exist which is possible after considering the spiritual ramifications of this event. Could God have allowed two different meanings to make a point? After all, neither translation makes perfect literal sense.
“HAMSTRUNG OXEN” OR “DIGGED DOWN A WALL”?
The events which transpired between the Israelites and Hivites are of greater significance than they appear on the surface, and so is the subsequent blessing upon Simeon and Levi. The broader scope of this story presents a familiar narrative of divine inspiration. Once again, there is clear dissension between two dissimilar people groups, Hebrews (or Jews) and Gentiles. Remember, jealousy and dissension are used by God to facilitate a desire for the benefits of His covenants.
As the broad scope of the story goes, a covenant is proposed allowing the coexistence of two contrasting nations, and the Israelites are pridefully unwilling to cooperate. Instead of welcoming a foreign people who were willing to abide by the laws of their God, they killed them in some twisted, self-righteous protection of their tradition and pride. Rather than receive those that came with a spirit of peace and a willingness to obey, they rejected them with jealous reasoning.
In the end, the deceitful murder of the Gentile men only succeeded in worsening and deepening the animosity between the two nations, which is what greatly angered Jacob. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it was exactly the disposition of the Jews towards the arrival of Jesus and exactly their response to the purpose of His mission. The great revelation of the Shechemite story is that is foreshadows Israel’s eventual disobedience.
As Jesus often taught, His mission was never to re-establish the greatness of Israel’s glory years. His kingdom is not of this world and His mission was of a spiritual nature. Throughout His ministry, he visited the Samaritans, performed miracles upon non-Jewish people and traveled throughout many Gentile regions. Specifically, His cause was to unite two opposing people groups according to Abraham’s promise, and establish a peaceful, new covenant. In principle, this was the same thing that King Hamor proposed to unite with Israel centuries before Him.
15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep 16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
26For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The ministry of Jesus was obviously to join Jews and Gentiles. However, that idea was rejected by Israel. They felt entitled to an Abrahamic promise that they viewed as exclusively their own. Contrarily, Jesus came proposing a peaceful assimilation under the Father, but His ministry was met with the treachery of jealous Pharisees looking to protect their pride in the law. Their continuous efforts to deal deceitfully with Jesus eventually concluded with them betraying and killing Christ and the covenant He represented. Even the disciples persistently asked Him when He would eventually re-establish the earthly power of former Israel, but Christ’s intentions were to open the gate of the eternal kingdom and welcome all nationalities of people through His sacrifice on calvary.
As for the broader number of Israelites, if they had been able to fulfill the law of Moses, they could have partaken of this promise, hypothetically, but the Father knew that wouldn’t be the result. The law was intended to be a hard taskmaster [Galatians 3:24], and obeying its precepts was meant to be a brutal undertaking of strict regimens, rigid guidelines and harsh punishments. It’s purpose was to expose the deficiencies of sinful flesh, but Israel, lead by it’s Levitical priests, missed that point. Contrarily, they took great pride in following the law, but with impure motives, and the Old Covenant became an unbearable yoke upon the neck of stubborn Israel.
7And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
This passage from Paul begins to reveal the meaning of Jacob’s curse. As it mentions yokes, we must consider oxen which were among the various types of animals used to carry yokes, and we must consider the Lord’s frequent comparison of working oxen with his servants. Metaphorically speaking, the Jews were the “oxen” intended to bear the heavy yoke of the Old Covenant law, in hopes of ushering in its promise.
The promise or outcome of the old covenant, which would be made manifest upon its fulfillment, was the unification of all nations of people under the eternal Kingdom of God. However, the heavy burden upon the Jews to keep their end of the bargain through the law, proved to be too great a task for their flesh to maintain. When the Jews partook in the crucifixion of Jesus, they effectively crippled their own ability to deliver the promise of the covenant. Therefore, “In their self-will, they lamed oxen” [Genesis 49:6]—hamstrung themselves—and paralyzed their intended purpose.
This is the prophetic revelation of Jacob’s oft misunderstood scripture. Simeon and Levi’s killing of Hamor and his proposed covenant parallels and prophecies of Israel’s eventual murder of Jesus and defiance of His covenant. The real meaning of Jacob’s blessing is that their murderous ways immobilized any remaining hopes of Israel fulfilling the law. The Jews failure to uphold their end of the covenant is why Jesus had to finalize what the Jews had failed to finish. This is why He came to “fulfill the law.”
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Thankfully, according to Galatians 3:18, the inheritance of all people groups unto the Father was guaranteed through a promise of God instead of being dependent upon Israel’s successful fulfillment of the law. Jesus, being the Son of God, was the pre-ordained fulfillment of the law and the promise which assured the redemption of all of God’s children. This is expressed by Jesus in a powerful prayer in John 17. So, the covenant was kept in Jesus alone, who was able to bear the burden of the law until the manifestation of its promise.
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
This scripture in Ephesians 2 validates the alternate interpretation of Genesis 49:6, which says that Simeon and Levi “digged down a wall”. In this case “digged down” would not refer to the brothers destroying the walls of the Hivite city, as logic would assume. It refers to reinforcing it.
The strength of tall structures is supported by the depth of its foundational footings. A strong wall would not be made taller without first, making its foundations deeper. So, it is worth considering that “digging down” a wall could speak of the way Israel effectively deepened the foundations of the wall between themselves and reconciliation with Gentile nations. In the face of potential peace, their arrogance aimed to strengthen the barrier between themselves and other nations. So, they dug its footings deeper. But in spite of their pride, the work of Jesus on the cross destroyed the wall that Israel attempted to bolster, granting access into the kingdom for the Gentiles as much as the Jews. Ironically, the Gentiles who suffered a physical pillaging at the hands of the Jews conversely pillaged the spiritual promise that the Israelites wrongfully tried to hoard and protect. The Gentiles had their physical possessions taken, but the Israelites had their spiritual and physical possessions taken as punishment. This is the fulfillment of the aforementioned, prophetic and fearful words of Jacob.
30Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “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.”
Israel would ultimately be scattered, and their numbers would remain few for centuries until they finally regained their independence again in 1948. This was a great punishment for the murder of Jesus. They have continuously reaped what they sowed and watched as foreign nations benefited from a promise initially given to their trust. Nevertheless, this was the expected outcome of God. Now, because of the work of Jesus, there is a new yoke and burden given to the spiritual children of God.
28Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
The new covenant given for us to bear follows the promise which has already been fulfilled. We are only working and waiting for the full manifestation of what has been finalized in the spirit. Our yoke is easy, because hundreds of laws have been simplified into two. These are Love the Lord with all your heart, and Love your neighbor as yourself [Luke 10:27].
Perhaps this sheds new light on 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, which instructs us not to be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers”. As we know, belief is important, specifically in Jesus. Therefore, one who is connected in covenant to another who is still attempting to carry the heavier yoke will only cripple the effectiveness of their ministry. Those who enforce the legalism of the Law which has already been accomplished, are basically denying the gift of grace in Jesus. Many are often selfishly interested in protecting their established religion instead of taking the Gospel of the kingdom to the lost sheep of the world. One who seeks to “go ye into all the world” should not allow themselves to be limited by those who seek to hoard the masses for selfish gain. Our burden is easy because the power to deliver it rests upon the shoulders of Jesus, our Savior. We are simply messengers sent to tell people that the wall has fallen and all have access into the provision and protection of Jehovah Jireh, the Great God of the Universe.
Footnotes 1 Cor 9:1-18; 19-23 This scripture is often used as reasoning for becoming involved with secular crowds for the purpose of winning them. This wasn’t the case at all. This passage was discussing the sacrifices made and the things Paul did that were not pleasurable for the sake of winning people to the Gospel. Do you become like the homeless to win the homeless. Do you obey the meaningless religious principles to for the sake of winning those that follow them, or do you persecute them, look down on them and beat them over the head with the truth. This is a message of understanding and compassion spoken by Paul, not cause to engage in works things that are beneficial and enjoyable to win people who have no desire to depart from them
Deuteronomy 22:10 This is because the when the donkey, the lighter and shorter beast of burden, is bound (tied; yoked) to the ox, which is the heavier and taller draft animal, the donkey won’t be able to keep up with the ox.
Since an ox and a donkey are different species with unequal strength, disposition, and ability, God is teaching His chosen children that the plowing of a field would be made far more difficult than would be necessary, all because these dissimilar animals cannot work comfortably or cheerfully together. Thus, yoking them together for the purpose of drawing a plow or a wagon, and so forth, would mean that the ox inevitably would overpower the donkey—the much smaller and shorter animal. This “unequally yoking” also means that the donkey’s pace would be slower, because he would be receiving an inequitable load, as his strength and size in no way match those of the more physically powerful ox.