Genesis 49:5-12 by Robert Dean
Series:Genesis (2003)
Duration:54 mins 7 secs

Jacob's Prophecy: Simeon, Levi, Judah; Genesis 49:5-12


Genesis 49 is one of those great prophecy passages in the Bible, a lengthy passage where Jacob, as he pronounces his parting blessings on his twelve sons just before he dies, opens the door to the future. He is knowledgeable enough on the character qualities of his sons that he not only sees the faults and failures and flaws that they currently demonstrate, but he sees how particular flaws and faults also indicate certain character trends that will dominate their descendants down through future generations.


The next prophecy in this chapter relates to Simeon and Levi. They are paired together, and apparently they were close, closer than normal brothers, and even though the sentence begins "Simeon and Levi are brothers," Simeon and Judah are brother and Simeon and Reuben are bothers, so there is more to that statement than just the surface meaning. It indicates that there was a closeness, a partnership, a friendship, a compatibility between these two that made them not only partners but partners in crime.  

Genesis 49:5 "Simeon and Levi are brothers; instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place. [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." So verses 5 & 6 give us their background and verse 7 relates to their future destiny.

Simeon was the second son born to Jacob and Leah. His name in Hebrew is related to the word to hear. Leah gave him this name because she expresses a particular hope at birth, in Genesis 29:33: "Then she conceived again and bore a son and said, 'Because the LORD has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this {son} also.' So she named him Simeon." Each of the names for these sons has something to do with helping us understand Jacob's relationship to Leah. She believed that she was hated and now that she had become pregnant again she believed that this was from the Lord and that he had heard her, so she called the child Simeon. As has been pointed the description of these two as brothers is odd considering the first four are all brothers, so that emphasizes something special in their relationship. In terms of their sin natures they seem to have sympathetic sin natures, they were similar in personality, they had the same areas of weakness, the same trends, the same lust pattern, and so they were often conspiring together. That comes out in verse 6 when Jacob says, "Let not my soul enter their council." These two boys were probably always off from the others hatching some plot, coming up with some scheme to do something, and it wasn't good. As they got older and as their sin natures were more and more uncontrolled it became worse and worse. They had trends in their sin natures towards anger, hatred, vindictiveness and cruelty. They enjoyed inflicting pain and misery on others. They were motivated, as we see in the text, by deep-seated anger.

As we look at the text we need to do a little bit in terms of understanding the basic Hebrew that ism here. The word for "dwelling place" is mekerah, which indicates a type of weapon in one Hebrew dictionary; a more recent Hebrew-Aramaic lexicon which has a higher value which indicates that it has a completely different meaning, i.e. a plan. So we get into some translation issues here. Another word that is there, translated "instruments," is the Hebrew word keli which is an article, a vessel or an instrument of equipment. Then the word "cruelty" which is the Hebrew word chamas. What this phrase means when we take one of two different takes on the translation is the idea that they are weapons or instruments of cruelty. The other translation referring to the first word mekerah meaning plans, means that their plans are instruments of violence. Either way (the latter is probably the more correct one) we get the idea that what Jacob is saying is that these are some boys and men who love violence and cruelty, and they are devising plans and ideas in order to carry out their desires for violence and cruelty. So the picture is that these two ate like-minded partners in violence, which is most clearly seen in Genesis 34:25-30, the episode of Shechem. Some may come along and ask why in the world God would tell us about this weird little episode in Shechem that has to do with the rape of Dinah and the vengeance of Levi and Simeon.

In verse 6 Jacob says, "Let my soul not enter into their council." This is a verb expressing his desire, his wish, that he does not want to be involved in their plans, their councils. The word for "council" is sod  meaning getting together and talking and planning and plotting, and it can also mean council in terms of giving advice or plans or ideas to someone else. The core idea has to do with confidence, keeping something secretive, conspiratorial planning involving intimacy. Jacob doesn't want to have any part in their plans or their conspiracies. So he says: "Let my soul not enter into their council; Let not my glory [honor] be united with their assembly." They are very cruel, evil, hateful men, and so he distances himself from them. Then he gives an explanation: "Because in their anger they slew men." Literally, is mankind, it can be a collective noun, a group of men, talking about the slaughter at Shechem; "And in their self-will they lamed [hamstrung] oxen." So they are self-willed. In other words, their whole goal was just to destroy the town, and everything in it, and render the entire town incapacitated.

In verse 7 Jacob says: "Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce." There are about four different Hebrew words for "curse" and this is the strongest one. It is the worst form of cursing indicating judgment and divine discipline. That is the idea behind cursing in the Bible. It is not cussing and it is not putting some kind of black magic curse on somebody. It has the idea of expressing the consequences of divine judgment or calling upon God to bring a judgment upon someone. So what Jacob is basically doing here is operating on the principle of vengeance is mine says the Lord, I will repay. He understands that principle and is calling upon the Supreme Court of heaven to bring about the proper judgment and discipline upon his two sons because of their harsh anger.

The consequences are given in the second part of the verse: "I will disperse them in Jacob, And scatter them in Israel." The thrust of this is that neither of these tribes would have their own inheritance or their own possessions in the land. Simeon was only given a small amount of territory within Judah, and within a few generations Simeon's descendants had become assimilated into Judah and his tribal identity was almost completely lost.

The next place to find something about Simeon and Levi is in Numbers 1:23 where the adult population of Simeon is recorded as 59,300. The book of Numbers is called Numbers because they counted people twice. They had two censuses, one at the beginning where they were counting how many males over the age of 20 were available for the army, and that involved the Exodus generation. Then at the end of the book of Numbers, after the Exodus generation had all died off after their discipline in the wilderness, then they had a second census taken to see how large the army was, the pool of adult males, as they were about to enter the land under Joshua. The numbers for Simeon is reduced to 22,200. That means 37,000 are lost in the period of the wilderness wanderings. Of all the Jews that were lost in the wilderness the tribe that took the biggest hit was Simeon, because of their disobedience and as a fulfilment of this prophecy of Jacob. Part of this was due to the fact that Simeon was deeply involved in the idolatry of Baal-peor, which is recorded in Numbers 25:1-18.

During the time of the conquest Simeon's portion is described in the 19th chapter of Joshua, vv. 1-9, the chapter where God gives the boundaries for every tribe in the land. The inheritance was in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Judah.

Then we jump ahead about 400 years to the time of the divided kingdom which started about 930-40 BC. It is difficult to know want happened to Simeon during that period under the united kingdom and the early part of the divided kingdom because nothing is said about them. There are just a few little hints in Scripture. For example, in 2 Chronicles 11:16 we read: "Those from all the tribes of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the LORD God of Israel followed them to Jerusalem, to sacrifice to the LORD God of their fathers." So this is talking about believers from the northern kingdom who moved down to the southern kingdom because they realized that the northern kingdom was apostate and out of the will of God. Then later during the reign of Hezekiah (we're down to about the 7th century BC) there was a ;large group of Simeonites who migrated further south, leaving the land and going into the land of Edom where they conquered and displaced the Amalekites who dwelt there. This is described in 1 Chronicles 4:38-43. 

One of the things that is interesting in doing a study on Edom in either Isaiah or Ezekiel, is Edom is defined as the land going from what is currently Jordan (Moab) and going around the southern part of Judah, all the way down to Beersheba and the Persian Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia. So the term Edom isn't restricted biblically to just the area to the immediate south of Judah but would include all of the area down to what is now Saudi Arabia. These are all currently Islamic countries and under Moslem control. There are also some references in 2 Chronicles 15:9 and 34:6 that some groups of the Simeonites migrated to the north, but they are just sort of scattering and melting into various parts of the kingdom.

There is a similar type announcement for Levi who is not going to get an inheritance in the land. But what we saw with Simeon is going to change with Levi. Simeon is all negative, there is nothing about him that is positive later on, there is no leaders that come from Simeon, no prophets, there is nothing valuable, much like the tribe of Reuben. There is a mention of Simeon, though, in the future, which always speaks of God's grace. Despite past failures we can always have a future in God's plan because of His grace. We see this gracious aspect of God into the prophecy of Levi because Levi, like Simeon, would be scattered and divided among the tribes, according to the prophecy. That is a negative thing for Simeon but it becomes a positive thing for Levi. Levi was the third son born to Jacob and Leah. The name Levi means attached or joined, and this is a pun based on Leah's feelings of rejection by Jacob. The story of Levi's birth is given in Genesis 39:34: "She conceived again and bore a son and said, 'Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.' Therefore he was named Levi."

Originally the Levites weren't priests. From the time of there was just Levi, this angry, cruel partner to Simeon, to the time of the giving of the Mosaic law at about 1446 BC there are no priests. It was the giving of the Mosaic law that established a priestly tribe. That is when a change takes place. In Numbers 18:19 God is talking to the Levites and refers to the fact that he has established this covenant with Levi. It is not another covenant, it is part of the Mosaic covenant. Verse 20 NASB "Then the LORD said to Aaron, 'You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel.'" This is the fulfilment of that prophecy by Jacob. But wait a minute. Simeon and Levi weren't exactly altar boys, and now when we get down to Numbers 18 this is a blessing. God is going to be their portion. What has happened? That sounds like a positive thing. So what caused the change here? The change occurred because there is an example of true, genuine repentance in the character of the tribe. This is seen in the event of the golden calf incident and the tribe of Levi's response in Exodus 32:25 NASB "Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies—[26] then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, "Whoever is for the LORD, {come} to me!" And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him." This is genuine change in the character of the tribe. [27] "He said to them, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Every man {of you} put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.' [28] So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day." So the Levites were the tribe that aligned themselves with God and carried out this divine discipline. As a result of that when we come to Deuteronomy 33:8-11 Moses confers a blessing on the tribe of Levi. They have moved from cursing to blessing because of their orientation to the grace of God.

Deuteronomy 33:8-11 NASB "Of Levi he said, '{Let} Your Thummim and Your Urim {belong} to Your godly man [the high priest], Whom You proved at Massah, With whom You contended at the waters of Meribah; [9]  Who said of his father and his mother, 'I did not consider them'; And he did not acknowledge his brothers, Nor did he regard his own sons, For they observed Your word, And kept Your covenant. [10] They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, And Your law to Israel. They shall put incense before You, And whole burnt offerings on Your altar. [11] O LORD, bless his substance, And accept the work of his hands; Shatter the loins of those who rise up against him, And those who hate him, so that they will not rise {again.}" The Levites would teach doctrine to the Jews. The point is that there would be a future blessing for the Levites.

Then when we come to the end of the Old Testament there is again additional blessing toward the Levites. Malachi 2:4 NASB "'Then you will know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant may continue with Levi,' says the LORD of hosts. [5] 'My covenant with him was {one of} life and peace, and I gave them to him {as an object of} reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name.'" Then in 3:3 we read: "He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver [at the second coming], and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. [4] Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years." Now we have a dispensational break that takes place with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Then the beginning of the church age. The church age ends with the Tribulation, Jesus Christ returns, there is the purging of Levi, and then there is one final blessing for Levi. That is that in the Millennial kingdom the Levitical priests who are descendants from Zadok will serve as the priesthood in the Millennial temple. Ezekiel 45:15. Zadok was a priest under David who was loyal to David, whereas the other priests were not; therefore he receives a special honor in the Millennial kingdom.

That brings us down to the next brother, Judah. Genesis 49:8-12 NASB "Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father's sons shall bow down to you. [Reference to ruling authority] [9] Judah is a lion's whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? [10] The scepter shall not depart from Judah…" The idea of eternal kingship which, of course, is played out in the Davidic line, ending up in the Messiah. "… Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him {shall be} the obedience of the peoples. [11] He ties {his} foal to the vine, And his donkey's colt to the choice vine; He washes his garments in wine, And his robes in the blood of grapes. [12] His eyes are dull from wine, And his teeth white from milk."

"Judah, your brothers shall praise." There is a pun here, a play on words. The word "Judah" is the word that frequently means to declare praise to God. When Judah was born, Genesis 29:35, "And she [Leah] conceived again and bore a son and said, "This time I will praise the LORD." Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped bearing." So the brothers focus on him, he is a leader. There was a transition in his life and by the time we get into Genesis 44 he began to show leadership among the brothers as they go to Egypt looking for aid from Egypt to make it through the famine, and then when Joseph was testing them Judah always stepped forward as the spokesperson and was exercising leadership.

Later on Judah as a tribe is going to be the one who goes first in the order of march through the wilderness. Judah was the first tribe according to the layout in Numbers chapter 10:14. When the Jews enter into the land Judah will receive the largest allotment in the land of Canaan. According to the census figure given in Numbers chapters one and twenty-six Judah also had the largest population of any of the tribes.

"Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies," indicating his military prowess. Judah went in and was one of the first tribes to gain control of the territories that God had allotted to him as his inheritance. This is played out in terms of their military prowess as they gathered around David, and they were the core of David's army. "Your father's sons shall bow down to you," an allusion to the fact that the kingship would ultimately reside in Judah. God gave the crown to David and from that point on the kingship in the southern kingdom was always a descendant of David, until 586 BC when the nation went out under divine discipline. 2 Samuel 22:41 KJV "Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies…" is a reference to the fulfilment of this prophecy. The tribe of Judah and the land controlled by Judah later became known as Judea, and those who lived there had a name that was shortened to "Jews." So whenever we refer to Israelites or Hebrews today we always refer to them by a name that derives from this particular tribe.