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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

19 June 2008

The Case of the Missing Blessing

Moses Blesses the TribesQ: Several members of my church have committed to reading the Bible through this year. We have come across a question that several of us have but no one has found the answer to. Please help all of us. Just before the children of God entered the Promised Land, Moses blessed the tribes. However, he did not bless the tribe of Simeon. Can you tell us why?

A: One possible answer for Simeon’s omission in Deuteronomy 33 is that the land of Simeon would be established as an “island” surrounded by the “sea” of Judah. Moses, by inspiration, may have seen how Simeon would soon be assimilated into his brother tribe. Some think that the omission was prophetic, that Simeon would diminish because of later sinfulness. Others reckon that it was because of previous actions.

If we look at other mentions of Simeon, we can piece together at least part of the scenario. Consider first of all Jacob’s blessing of his sons in Genesis 48-49. Israel spent all of Chapter 48 with Joseph. Although he was not the firstborn, Joseph received a double portion through the blessings upon each of his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

Jacob Blesses His SonsChapter 49 details the blessings that Joseph’s brothers received. We read in verses 5-7, “Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. 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 willfulness they hamstrung oxen. 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.”

What did these two do that their father so reviled? After their sister Dinah was abducted by Shechem the son of Hamor, they plotted revenge. Pretending to go along with Hamor’s offer for a marital alliance, they agreed that Shechem could marry Dinah, but that first he and his men were told to get themselves circumcised. Of course, this meant that all possible combatants would be in severe pain for days thereafter (see Genesis 34:1-24).

Go to 34:25-29 for the aftermath: “On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.”

The Rescue of DinahIf they expected their father to pat them on the backs and say, “Well done,” the boys were quite mistaken. Instead, “Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.’ But they said, ‘Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?’ (verses 30-31)” Evidently, Jacob never completely forgave them for these actions of early years.

Levi became the priestly tribe. It got no territorial land in Canaan but did receive certain cities spread throughout the other tribes’ inheritances. This was according to the Lord’s command in Numbers 35:1-8. After the first round of conquest, Israel acted accordingly: “For Moses had given an inheritance to the two and one-half tribes beyond the Jordan, but to the Levites he gave no inheritance among them. For the people of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim. And no portion was given to the Levites in the land, but only cities to dwell in, with their pasturelands for their livestock and their substance. (Joshua 14:3-4)”

Later, in the second round of apportioning land, Simeon drew the second lot (see Joshua 19:1-9). Verse 1 states that “their inheritance was in the midst of the inheritance of the people of Judah.” The ninth verse echoes the refrain: “The inheritance of the people of Simeon formed part of the territory of the people of Judah. Because the portion of the people of Judah was too large for them, the people of Simeon obtained an inheritance in the midst of their inheritance.”

In such manner, Levi and Simeon each realized the fulfillment of Jacob’s prophecy: “I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel. (Genesis 49:7)”

Also worth noting is the fact that the tribe of Benjamin is frequently included with Judah throughout the Old Testament. In Revelation 7:1-8, a different tribe, Dan, escapes mention. Again, we can only theorize, since we have no clear reason why this happened any more than we do for the blessing in Deuteronomy 33.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, newspaper columnist, conference speaker, blogger, author of What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.

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Newspaper column #543


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