Judah, Simeon, and Levi's Blessing
After blessing the tribe of Reuben, Moses turns his attention to Judah in Deut. 33:7,
7 And this regarding Judah; so he said, “Hear, O Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him to his people. With his hands he contended for them; and mayest Thou be a help against his adversaries.”
The future kings of Israel were to come from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10). In leading the national government, Judah was also called to lead the troops in defense of Israel. So Moses appeals to God for “help against his adversaries.”
We should also take note that Moses has no blessing for Simeon in this chapter, because the tribe of Simeon largely merged with Judah and came under Judah’s covering. Thus, the blessing of Judah also applied to Simeon. We read of this in Joshua 19:1,
1 Then the second lot fell to Simeon, to the tribe of the sons of Simeon according to their families, and their inheritance was in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Judah.
In other words, the territory allotted to the tribe of Simeon was surrounded by Judah, almost as if Simeon’s inheritance was carved from out of Judah. And so, after the death of Joshua, when the Israelites inquired of the Lord about conquering the rest of Canaan, we read in Judges 1:3 that Judah took the lead, and Simeon was its chief ally,
3 Then Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted me, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I in turn will go with you into the territory allotted you.” So Simeon went with him.
This special alliance had prophetic significance for the future, for better and for worse.
The Cruel Streak in Simeon and Levi
Whereas Judah was called to lead the troops, Simeon had a cruel streak along with Levi. Years earlier, in Jacob’s blessing, he said of them in Gen. 49:5-7,
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.
What did Simeon and Levi do to deserve this prophetic curse? (We can hardly call this a blessing!) It is a direct reference to their treacherous attack on the city of Shechem in Genesis 34 on account of their sister, Dinah. The son of the leader of Shechem raped Dinah in Gen. 34:2 and then wanted to marry her. Verse 3 says,
3 And he was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her.
In the marriage negotiations, the sons of Jacob demanded that the Shechemites be circumcised first, essentially joining with the Israelites in adopting the covenant with God. Obviously, their conversion was not based on any real religious conviction or repentance (Gen. 34:23). After the circumcision, while they were incapacitated, Simeon and Levi came with their swords and killed all the men of the city (Gen. 34:26), taking all the women and children as slaves or as wives. In the account given in the book of Jasher, we read Jasher 34:35, 36,
35 And the number of women whom Simeon and Levi took captives from the city of Shechem, whom they did not slay, was eighty-five who had not known man. 36 And among them was a young damsel of beautiful appearance and well favored, whose name was Bunah, and Simeon took her for a wife…
Hence, there was no apparent problem with the Israelites marrying Canaanite wives. In fact, Judah had done the same earlier (Gen. 38:2). However, Jacob’s reaction to the slaughter was a different matter, for we see in Gen. 34:30,
30 Then 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 shall be destroyed, I and my household.” 31 But they said, “Should he treat our sister as a harlot?”
This shows the carnal mindedness of Simeon and Levi, not only by their blind desire for revenge, but also for going against the will of their father. Even when confronted, they remained unrepentant. So years later, when it came time for Jacob to die, he blessed his sons, but had no real blessing for Simeon and Levi, saying in a disapproving way that “their swords are implements of violence.”
Jacob recognized the cruel streak in both of them, which did not reflect the mind of Christ, so he said of them, “I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” Hence, Simeon was largely absorbed into Judah, and Levi received no land inheritance. Simeon’s military mindset was placed under the authority of Judah to keep his cruelty in check. And Levi’s fondness of the sword (or knife) was put to good use in sacrificing animals.
The Pharisees’ Hostility Toward Jesus
The carnal mentality of Simeon and Levi comes out in the New Testament in the rejection Christ, for they represent the Pharisees and Sadducees. The hero of the Pharisees, who first succeeded in bringing Pharisee control over the temple was Simeon ben Shetach. He overthrew the Sadducees, who were named after Zadok. The founder of Reform Judaism in 1857 believed that this was the same Zadok who was installed by Solomon in 1 Kings 2:35, but this was disputed by Aavot of Rabbi Natan, which are Talmudic writings compiled from 700-900 A.D. These say that the Zadok who founded the sect of the Sadducees was a priest who lived after the Babylonian captivity during the time of the second temple.
The point is that the Pharisees are associated with a man named Simeon, while the Sadducees are associated with a priest of Levi named Zadok. The Sadducees had a direct lineal connection to Levi. Yet can we not also see in this a spiritual genealogy (if not strictly biological) between Simeon and the Pharisees?
This would certainly explain the carnal minded streak that is presented in the gospels and epistles, including Simon the Pharisee’s insulting behavior toward Jesus in Luke 7:36-50. Their rebellion against Jacob manifested again in their rebellion against the Messiah. Their cruel streak is seen in their insistence that Pilate crucify Jesus, as well as in later years when they persecuted those who believed in Jesus.
Saul (later Paul) wrote about this in Gal. 1:13,
13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it.
Paul comments again in 1 Thess. 2:14-16,
14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, 16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”] that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
Simeon was supposed to be under the covering of Judah and its king—in this case, Jesus Christ. But the carnal mind is hostile toward Christ, and so, as a group, the Pharisees showed hostility toward Him as well. Likewise, because Levi had the same cruel and hostile spirit as his brother Simeon, we find the majority of the priests rejecting Jesus Christ as well.
Of course, there were some of each who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and who followed Him. Paul himself had been a Pharisee whose “former manner of life in Judaism” caused him to persecute the church until Jesus intervened directly in his life. In this way, the enlightened ones among Simeon and Levi recognized Jesus as the “Son of David” and the King of Judah. These became part of the genuine tribe of Judah headed by King Jesus.
The Blessing on Levi
Moses’ blessing upon Levi is given in Deut. 33:8-11,
8 And of Levi he said, “Let Thy Thummim and Thy Urim belong to Thy godly man, whom Thou didst prove at Massah, with whom Thou didst contend 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 Thy word and kept Thy covenant….”
This refers to the time when Moses struck the rock the first time in Exodus 17:6. Aaron was the “godly man” who was given the Urim and Thummim in the breastplate (Exodus 28:30). Moses says that Aaron disagreed with his father and mother and even his own sons when he refused to complain about the lack of water. This could not have been a literal disagreement, because his parents, Amram and Jochebed, had died many years earlier (Exodus 6:20).
So Moses was speaking figuratively to show that Aaron was a godly man who was focused upon the will of God, and would not allow the opinions of his own family to turn him aside.
Except, of course, in the incident of the golden calf, when the people demanded him to build an idol of gold! Moses, however, gives him a good testimony, for even in the golden calf incident, the Levites as a tribe refrained from worshiping it (Exodus 32:26). Moses continues,
10 “They shall teach Thine ordinances to Jacob, and Thy law to Israel. They shall put incense before Thee, and whole burnt offerings on Thine 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 may not rise again.”
Levi (specifically, Aaron) was blessed to have special understanding of the law in order to teach it to the rest of the Israelites. They were given the privilege of making the sacrifices on behalf of the people.
The Korah Rebellion
This blessing is quite different from Jacob’s curse in Genesis 49, where Levi was to be scattered in Israel on account of his cruelty. Although Levi never lost his carnality, this tendency seemed to be under control during the time of Moses. The only time their rebellious spirit rose up was in the Korah rebellion in Num. 16:1, 2. Korah was of the tribe of Levi. The divine judgment in that case saw the tents of Korah and his supporters swallowed up by an earthquake that split the earth beneath them.
Even so, not all of Korah’s children followed their father in the rebellion, for some separated themselves at Moses’ command (Num. 16:25-27). These lived to produce offspring that ultimately led to the birth of the prophet Samuel (1 Chron. 6:33). According to the genealogy in that passage (vs. 37), Samuel was a direct descendant of Korah. Samuel’s son Joel was the father of “Heman the singer,” whose son was Kohath and the Kohathites, who were skilled musicians in the temple (2 Chron. 34:12).
It is evident, then, that Levi received both a blessing and a curse, and that the Levites and priests would see both good and bad in their midst, each fulfilling his own portion of the prophecy in the course of history.