- Levi and Simeon: Brothers who must be separated! (3)
- Gad and Asher: Two contrasting fiery trials (4)
“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)
Jacob speaks to Simeon and Levi. They are the second and third sons of unloved Leah. He begins by stating the obvious, ‘Simeon and Levi are brothers.’ What is Jacob getting at? Simeon and Levi are indeed brothers, alike in every way. They have the same nature and temperament and because of this, they readily pair off. But they are too alike for comfort!
It’s a hot day and you fancy some lime juice. You pour lime cordial into a glass, add cool water and slake your thirst. But suppose you pour yourself a double measure of cordial? What then? A double dose turns this refreshing drink into an acrid experience. And so it is with Simeon and Levi. They are so alike that they act as one and this double concentration leaves a bitter taste.
A wrong reaction
‘Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords.’ Jacob is speaking of the ‘Dinah incident’(Gen. 34), when his daughter was abducted and raped by Shechem. Shechem however wanted to marry Dinah, and while Jacob took a back seat, his sons feigned friendship with Shechem and the men of his city. An agreement was apparently reached whereby Shechem could marry Dinah provided he and his people were circumcised. Shechem took Jacob’s sons at their word and he and the men of the city were duly circumcised. They kept their side of the agreement only then for Simeon and Levi to wreak a terrible vengeance.
The episode shines a light on these brothers. They were of course rightly incensed with Shechem’s treatment of their sister, but as they talked together this righteous anger twisted into something cruel, vindictive and monstrous. It was not long before their thoughts turned to murder and making a pretence of solidarity, they pursued a brutal vendetta against the unsuspecting Shechemites. Hence Jacob’s words, ‘Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory be not joined to their company. For in their anger they killed men and in their wilfulness they hamstrung oxen.’ Perhaps this last phrase captures their spirit. Simeon and Levi didn’t know when to stop, not only did they destroy a community but in their wilfulness they destroyed all they could not carry away.
Jacob continues, ‘Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath for it is cruel!’ These brothers lead each other on. Their strong sense of justice morphs into something wicked and uncontrollable which does not rest until it has laid to waste the object of its fury.
So what will happen to Simeon and Levi and to their descendants? Jacob continues, ’I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.’ In other words, Simeon and Levi are not safe to leave together. They must be separated and diluted, otherwise they will team up to the ruin and sorrow of all.
So what happened to the tribe of Simeon? It was dispersed among the tribe of Judah. What happened to the tribe of Levi? Levi became the priestly tribe and was therefore scattered throughout all the tribes of Israel.
‘Simeon and Levi are brothers.’ When God’s people get together it is an opportunity for iron to sharpen iron. Believers are to stir each other up to love and good works. But sometimes two Christians are so alike that the sharpening has a wholly destructive purpose. With a strong sense of justice they can, like Simeon and Levi, stir each other up to anger and worse. What’s more, since they don‘t know when to stop, the impact upon a church can be devastating! In the rough and tumble of church life, little grievances can spiral out of control and what once seemed righteous anger loses all sense of proportion. Indeed, they join forces and go to war.
So what does the Lord do with such people? ‘Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.’ God dilutes and disperses them, perhaps one to a church.
Who do you think you are?
Are you a Simeon? Do you have an acute sense of right and wrong? Do you nurse a grievance? When wronged, do you repay with interest? Does the initial spark kindle a fire that rages out of control? Most importantly do you seek out a Levi, a kindred spirit? We need to be careful, anger is not as righteous as we think it is, and in the hands of Simeon and Levi, it escalates into something fierce and cruel. Do you know when to stop? Are you as ready to forgive as you have been forgiven? Are you patient, kind, slow to anger and willing to yield? Do you bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things? Maybe in your church there are few who feel things as strongly as you do. Praise God! Be thankful you cannot team up with a Levi. God scatters his Simeons and Levis. Churches don’t need a double dose.
But we close on a high point. The most famous son of Levi was Moses and, like a Levite, in putting right an injustice, he went too far and killed an Egyptian. However in God’s school these Levite qualities were reshaped and redeemed. We later read that ‘Moses was very meek, more than all the people who were on the face of the earth.’ In other words, Moses now exercised his strength with gentleness. He used no more force than was necessary and knew when to stop. The old fire remained but it was now under control. What’s more, to hear Moses pray was to realise that he had lost none of that acute sense of justice, only now it was turned to petition for the Lord’s people and his glory.
Be a blessing
We need our Levites, who will petition the Lord and burn for his glory, who when the crisis comes, will stand up for the weak and vulnerable, just as Moses did for the daughters of the priest of Midian. Which of course is why every church will have at least one Levi or Simeon.
At Sinai Israel enters into a covenant with the Lord but within days the covenant is broken. When Moses comes down from the mountain, he is confronted with a people worshipping the golden calf. And so to save the day Moses issues this rallying cry ‘Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.’ And who rallies to Moses’ call? It is the sons of Levi, who at the Lord‘s command move through the camp executing the guilty.
Do you see? The fierce anger that destroys can by God’s grace become the righteous anger that saves the day. How many churches have been pulled back from the brink of spiritual adultery by the courageous stand of its Levites.
Finally, what then is the key that turns Levites from a curse into a blessing? The answer is found in Moses’ words, ‘Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.’ Are you a Levite? Do you seek to be a blessing to others and to know God’s blessing upon you? Then refuse to pursue a personal agenda, submit to godly leadership, rally to the Lord’s side and obey his voice.
Next in this series: Gad and Asher: Two contrasting fiery trials »