The names of Jacob’s sons were all given by their mothers, with one exception.1 They are loaded with the angst and struggle that pervaded the family, though, again, Judah and Joseph are exceptions.2 Leah called her second son Simeon, ‘because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also’. Arriving into this world amidst such miserable circumstances was less than ideal. One can hardly blame the mother in this case, but how sad it is when parental struggles are projected onto the children. It was inevitable that Simeon and his siblings would be affected by all this.
When Jacob addresses Simeon in chapter 49, his comments were equally intended for Levi. This was likely because he is calling to mind their combined cruelty in the brutal murder of the men of Shechem, Gen. 34. Singling them out as ‘brothers’ reinforces their closeness, but their affinity was not positive. The moral behind their story is repeated throughout scripture to demonstrate that religious fervency is no better than spiritual indifference. James and John exhibited a similar attitude towards the Samaritans and were rebuked by the Saviour, Luke 9.
Jacob’s final words to them were, ‘I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel’, Gen. 49. 7.
These are solemn words, and it must have pained Simeon to hear them. Still, it must have pained the tribe more-so to realize that their omission in Moses’ final words was not an oversight, Deut. 33. Imagine their reaction. Every tribe was receiving encouragement, even if it amounted to just a few comments, including his partner in crime, Levi, but for Simeon – nothing. They had been purposefully omitted; how humiliating.3 Jacob had predicted their demise; Moses had put the nail in the coffin. What future could there be for them?
Sure enough, Simeon’s demise would eventually materialize. In the national census recorded in Numbers chapter 1, Simeon is one of the larger tribes, coming in at 59,300. However, the census in Numbers chapter 26 records a staggering reduction in the tribe, numbering only 22,200 – a reduction of 60%! This is all the more surprising when you realize that despite a generation falling in the wilderness, several tribes recuperated quickly and were numbered larger in the second census than in the first.
What is more telling, however, is how precisely Jacob’s words came to pass. Just how would they be divided and scattered? Joshua chapter 19 verse 1 gives us an inkling. When they finally reach the land of promise, Simeon’s territory falls within Judah’s. Of all the tribes to have to work out this irregular arrangement with, Judah was preferable (as we shall see, in our survey of Judah). Even so, it is not hard to see that Simeon’s identity would have been so obscured by the arrangement, as to ultimately bring Jacob’s words to pass.4
This all makes for sober reading. With such a miserable start in life and such a miserable forecast for their future, we might well have expected the tribe to have consciously embarked on a course of recklessness, wallowing in self-pity. Thanks to their patriarch’s failure, the tribe’s dismal future was settled. Why bother going on? On the contrary, until their eventual absorption into the southern kingdom, they appear on the page of scripture, fulfilling their rightful place in the nation. When the tribal princes bring their offering for the tabernacle, Simeon is there. When Judah is looking for help to go up against the Canaanites, Simeon willingly participates. When David is on the brink of becoming king, again Simeon is there, offering moral support. Whilst their omission in places is obvious, they are not entirely absent, as we might have expected them to be.
There is a lesson for us here. Amidst miserable circumstances, there is a tendency to self-pity, and in Elijah’s case for instance, even suicide. Not so with Simeon. May God grant us grace to remain faithful to him, come what may. Whatever the circumstances of our past, whatever the apparent prospects of our future – remember, God will prevail!
In God’s design, as we saw in our introduction to this series, Simeon was graciously included in the ‘twelve’. God’s ever-prevailing purposes secure this tribe’s future, despite their own inability to redeem themselves from their miserable beginnings. Unsurprisingly, then, when the tribes are listed in Revelation chapter 7 for sealing against the day of God’s wrath, Simeon is once again named. With grace and without prejudice, God assigns an equal portion of the tribe for protection. Finally, in Ezekiel chapter 48, as the promises for the nation are finally realized, they enjoy a portion of the land as it is allocated out to the tribes. What a glorious day that will be. No more will they be defined by their odious sin, Gen. 34. 30. For where sin abounded, ‘grace did much more abound’, Rom. 5. 20.
The lessons for us stand in plain sight. May we worship our God and Father for His gracious hand upon us and be sure to extend the same grace to those around us, including those who have stumbled. We call to mind the words of Robert Murray McCheyne’s poem:
‘Chosen not for good in me,
Wakened up from wrath to flee,
Hidden in the Saviour’s side,
By the Spirit sanctified,
Teach me, Lord, on earth to show,
By my love, how much I owe’.
Cf. Gen. 35. 18.
We saw in the introduction to this series that Judah and Joseph occupy a special place in the family so far as the nation’s history is concerned.
All of the manuscripts, with the exception of the LXX, confirm this.
The Hebrew word for ‘divided’ conveys precisely this type of arrangement.
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