60. Genesis 34:1-31, 42:24, 46:10-11, and 49:5-7

III.  D. continued

2. Simeon and Levi (Genesis 34:1-31, 42:24, 46:10-11, 49:5-7)

Next in age after Reuben are Simeon and Levi, who need to be considered together. Their story begins with events at Shechem shortly after the return to Canaan. They had been in Shechem for eight years or so, Simeon and Levi were about twenty years old and Dinah, their full sister, was  about fifteen or sixteen. Dinah grew up there and became friends with some of the young women in the city. The prince of Shechem saw Dinah grow up and as she became a woman  he fell in love with her. This was not a spontaneous moment of desire, as I read it, but something that had been growing for a while.  It grew to the point that, when an opportunity presented itself, he forced himself on her. This is not an uncommon story from that or any time. Princes, even princes of small city-states, are accustomed to take what they want. It isn’t clear how much Dinah resisted him, but it is clear that force was involved and that he violated the propriety of the day. It was considered an offense against Israel and his family, a serious insult, but it would not have been considered the crime it would (or should) be in our day.

But the prince, Shechem, wanted to do the honorable thing because he genuinely loved Dinah. Admittedly, rape is not a promising beginning for a lifetime commitment, but we must give Shechem some benefit of the doubt here, even admitting that the average behavior of men does not attain to a high standard. He behaved more honorably than one of David’s sons would later behave (see II Samuel 13). Perhaps he had not originally intended marriage; perhaps he was only acting on passion when he forced himself on her, but his feelings for her were deeper than mere lust. In 34:3 it says, “He was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her” (literally, he “spoke to the heart of the girl”). Whatever his original intentions, he recognized her as a woman he wanted to marry and so he had his father speak to Israel.

Israel reacted calmly; but by this time his older sons were coming into their duties as managers of the family and they were not so calm. Since Reuben is not mentioned, he was probably away at the time. Their possessions were large and it could be that even at this early time in their return to Canaan they had had to split up their flocks to find enough grazing land and Reuben would likely have been in charge of the other flocks, perhaps back at Succoth. Wherever Reuben was, Simeon and Levi were the ones who took the lead. Family politics was involved in their reaction as well; Dinah was their full sister, and it is doubtful they would have reacted as strongly had she been a half-sister. The other full brothers of Dinah would have been old enough to be involved and so they probably were away. Judah would have been about nineteen but there is reason to believe that he had separated from the family; but that is a different story. Issachar and Zebulun were not much older than Dinah but old enough to be involved had they been present; we may assume they were away with Reuben. It would seem that Simeon and Levi carried out the whole plot by themselves.

Though the king, Hamor, recognized their anger as justified and did his best to conciliate them, Simeon and Levi remained furious. But they pursued their revenge in a calculated and cold-blooded manner, not in passion but with a kind of calm insanity that justified punishing everyone vaguely associated with Shechem. They seem to have hit on their scheme fairly quickly and it was easy to pull off. If the Prince really wanted Dinah, then let him be circumcised. Further, if they really wanted this joining of their families, then let all the men of Shechem be circumcised. It had to be done to remove the religious barrier to intermarriage; otherwise forget about it. Thus Simeon and Levi used the Covenant and their supposed devotion to God Most High to deceive the men of the city. They were good liars. This is what it means to take the name of the Lord in vain.

Shechem and Hamor fell for the ruse completely, and set about persuading the rest of their countrymen to join them. The man, Shechem, was apparently a good man by the standards of the day as well as the prince, and had won the genuine respect of his people. The argument he and his father used on the men of the city was the wealth that Israel possessed which could be theirs to share by intermarriage. Like his father and grandfather, Israel was as rich as a little mobile kingdom could be. By all means then, let a rich man become one of us and then we can share in his wealth, they said. Clearly Israel must have had other daughters, and there must have been daughters of the other members of his household; he was a village in himself.

Simeon and Levi slaughtered the men and boys of Shechem in cold blood while they were in pain and helpless, to avenge their “honor”.  They took all of the women and daughters as slaves and concubines and all the material possessions as their own, just as if there had been a war. Some of these women may have become wives of some of the sons of Israel, perhaps of Simeon at the least, though we are not told. Dinah’s friends, if they were married, were now widows, and if they weren’t married, were now orphans; and in either case they were now slaves or concubines of her brothers or her servants. It is not said how Dinah felt about it all, about Shechem or his murder, about her former friends. There is no word of what became of Dinah later on. Is it at all likely that Dinah agreed to Simeon and Levi’s plan? I don’t know. Did they care about her feelings on the matter or consult with her? Perhaps I am too cynical about men, but I do not think they did.

Israel did not rebuke Simeon or Levi for the massacre. On the contrary, his reaction suggests that he was only concerned with the possibility of reprisal from the surrounding cities rather than the moral issues involved. Never the general his grandfather had been, he complained of having too few fighting men in his household. Israel’s new Covenant identity had not given him a much deeper moral insight, at least not yet. Justice is something we must grow into, even Christians. Too often we assume conversion is the completion rather than the beginning of righteousness.

But it was far worse that God said nothing either. On the contrary, God intervened to protect the family from any immediate consequences by casting the neighborhood into a panic. We must be careful how we think about this episode. There are two conclusions that we might easily make unless we are careful. First, we might think God approved of the massacre. After all, in a few centuries He would have the Israelites wage a total war against the people of the land, including Hivites like the men of Shechem. Second, we might conclude that God used a double standard when He judged people. His own people could pretty much get away with murder, literally, whereas those who were not His people were held strictly accountable for their offenses and liable to harsh consequences. This opens up questions that need to be considered at greater length, so I will finish discussing Simeon’s and Levi’s lives and return to the massacre in the next section.

I must suspect that Simeon was the brother who most relentlessly bullied or badgered Joseph. In any event, when Joseph first met them buying food during the famine and had them in his power, he chose Simeon to put into prison. Ultimately Simeon had six sons: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul. The last son mentioned, Shaul, was listed as being the son of a Canaanite woman. By this time the Canaanites were a majority in the land but it is possible that the passage means a Hivite woman, and perhaps a woman Simeon took in the massacre. The fact that Shaul was singled out as being of a Canaanite might suggest that the brothers mainly married non-Canaanites. Levi had three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari but it is not stated who their mother was or when they were born.

Just as Israel did not get off entirely from cheating Esau, Simeon and Levi did not get off entirely from the massacre of Shechem. On his death bed, Israel cursed them and their children for their deeds, rather than blessing them. They were to be dispersed among the other brothers when they came to inherit the Promised Land. Interestingly, for Levi’s descendants this scattering among the others was the result of being appointed to the priesthood. Simeon’s descendants were simply scattered with no priestly compensation and perhaps this is an indication that Simeon was the real leader of the massacre and drew Levi into it as an accomplice.

Nonetheless, the priesthood was in part a punishment on the descendants of Levi for his participating in the massacre of Shechem. Giving the priesthood to the Levites was one way in which his descendants could make some restitution for the massacre, though not of course to the victims. When we go on to study the priesthood, and the role of the descendants of Simeon and Levi in the nation of Israel, it will be important to remember the words of Israel in 49:6: “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.” Taking this as a prophecy means that God was also pronouncing this verdict, that His glory would not be united to their assembly. For all the glory of the priesthood, it was not God’s glory that was united to it. The priesthood could not have endured. It was founded without God’s full heart in it, and its glory had to fade away and die. Furthermore, the priesthood would inherit the tendency of Levi: in anger it would slay men; even the Messiah was slain by the anger of its counsels.

But as usual the consequences of the massacre of Shechem were mainly only tangibly experienced by the descendants of the criminals. This is a theme we have seen already, and will see repeatedly through the Bible. The effects of evil, as well as of righteousness, pass down through the generations. In fact, it seems to be mainly in the succeeding generations that we see the full effects of evil and of grace, whether in the conflicts between Ishmaelite and Israelite, or between Edomite and Israelite, or more immediately in the children themselves. It seems odd to me that many who agree that the effects of our evil deeds descend to our children are offended by the suggestion that the effects of grace also descend to our children, as if the power of grace were weaker than the power of wickedness. Perhaps it is a matter of pride: we are quite willing to attribute the evil in us to original sin and the nature we inherit from our parents, but unwilling to attribute God’s favor toward us to His favor toward our parents. The blame can reside with our parents but we want God to love us for ourselves.

In the next section we will consider God’s connection to the massacre at Shechem.

2 Comments on “60. Genesis 34:1-31, 42:24, 46:10-11, and 49:5-7”

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