Simeon

J. R. Charlesworth, Barnstaple

Part 3 of 13 of the series The Twelve Tribes of Israel

At the birth of her second son, Leah's hopes revived. She said: "Because the Lord hath heard that I was hated (lit. 'not loved')* he hath therefore given me this son also", Gen. 29. 33. She called the child Simeon which means "hearing", and anticipated a greater share of Jacob's affections.

Unlike his elder brother, Simeon grew up to be a cruel, unfeeling man. He proved to be a sorrow to his father and an embarrassment to the whole family. How different to the One whom Jehovah presented to men: "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased". Leah felt that her cause had been heard in heaven, and that Simeon was God's response to her prayer. In a later period, God heard the cries of His people, Exod. 3.7;Ps. 106.44; Acts 7.34, and sent deliverance through Moses. The greatest deliverance of all, however, comes through the Son of God. The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Isaiah looked forward to this Deliverer when he proclaimed that Egypt and Assyria shall, in Christ's earthly kingdom, be subject to Israel; "they shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors, and He shall send them a saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them", Is. 19. 20; cf. 43- «•

The Words of Jacob. "Simeon and Levi are brethren", Gen. 49. 5. Jacob, as he moved on from Reuben, linked the names of his next two sons together as they stood around his deathbed. Simeon and Levi were full blood brothers, but they were also brothers in character and temperament; cf. Prov. 18. 9. They were associated in Jacob's mind because of their joint crime.

"Instruments of cruelty are in their habitations". Their wickedness, Gen. 34. 25-31, had repercussions for the whole of Jacob's household. The family was forced to leave the district in which they had happily settled. Even then revenge from the Canaanites and Perizzites was avoided only by God's direct protection, 35. 5. Jacob consistently refused to condone his sons' crime, speaking of them as being in league to violence out of all proportion to the insult they had received. Their cruelty was "evil planning to deceive and destroy".

"O my soid, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united"', Gen. 49. 6. There is ever a danger of being ensnared by one's wish to overlook sin in close relatives. Jacob, although he loved his boys, would neither excuse their evil act nor allow himself to be associated with them in their treachery.

"For in their anger they slew a man". Literally the patriarch said: "They slew man", a collective term encompassing all their vindictive massacre. Instigated at first by righteous anger, Simeon and his younger brother Levi let their motivation degenerate. In fierce temper they ruthlessly killed and savaged and spoiled. Their cruel passion extended to the cattle which they rendered useless.

"Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel", Gen. 49. 7. Jacob could not separate the boys from their wickedness. Nevertheless, it was not the sinners but their sin of uncontrolled revenge which he cursed. Simeon, like Levi, was reproved because of his disregard for man and beast.

"/ will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel". In quite different ways, this was amazingly fulfilled for each of the two families involved; however, at this stage we shall consider only the subsequent history of Simeon.

Thoughts concerning the man, the family and the tribe merge in Jacob's mind as he presents his prophetic blessing. The family of Simeon was reduced by more than half during the forty years of wandering between Egypt and the land of promise. It is generally acknowledged that many Simeonites must have died in the events recorded in Numbers 25 since Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of the chief house among the Simeonites, was directly concerned with the grievous trouble described there. Of course, others of the tribe of Simeon must have died after the rebellion of Korah, Num. 16. 49. Having dropped in numbers from 59,300, Num. 1. 23, to 22,200, Num. 26. 14, during the wilderness journey, Simeon was the smallest tribe to enter Canaan. When that land was apportioned to the tribes, Simeon was given no separate inheritance. As Judah's allotted portion was more than sufficient for its own needs, the decision was taken to allow the Simeonites to settle in the more remote tracts of land owned by Judah. "Out of the portion of the children of Judah was the inherit­ance of the children of Simeon: for the part of the children of Judah was too much for them: therefore the children of Simeon had their inheritance within the inheritance of them", Josh. 19. 9.

As a consequence of Joshua's decision, the Simeonites infiltrated the southern extremity of Judah's inheritance. But it would appear that, even there, they were unable to maintain complete control. In 1 Kings 19. 3, Beersheba is said to belong to Judah, although it stood in Simeonite territory; and the nearby town of Ziklag became the private possession of David, the champion of Judah, having been given to him by Achish, king of Gath, 1 Sam. 27. 6.

Not all the groups of Simeon remained among their southern neighbours. Some migrated to Gedor, and five hundred men of Simeon went to mount Seir where they dislodged an Amalekite remnant, 1 Chron. 4. 39-43, presumably remaining there for centuries, unaffected by the Babylonian captivity. In Josiah's time, the Simeonites were reckoned among the Ephraimites, Manassehites and Naphtalites, 2 Chron. 34. 6. Simeon was indeed divided in Jacob and dispersed in Israel!

The Words of Moses. In his final blessing of the tribes, Deut. 33, Moses made no mention of the tiny tribe of Simeon. Deborah similarly made no reference to this tribe scattered in Israel. God does not, however, overlook them. In the restored prosperity of Israel, prophesied by Ezekiel, Simeon will have his place, Ezek. 48, no longer in southern obscurity but positioned between Benjamin and Issachar. In that fast approaching era, a remnant in Simeon will fear the Lord with their fellow countrymen. "They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, . . . and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him", Mai. 3. 17. "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened, and heard if, v. 16. "He hearkened diligently with much heed", Is. 21. 7. As Leah found, Jehovah's ear is ever open to the cry of His own people.

It is likely that the sapphire was Simeon's stone. This is indicated by a comparison of Exodus 28.18 and Numbers 2.12, where the fifth precious stone and the fifth tribe are sapphire and Simeon respectively, the lists being "according to the twelve tribes". The sapphire, being the second hardest stone in the world, is appropriate to reflect Simeon's hard-heartedness. The Hebrew word for this gem is sappir which has connections with a verb meaning "to scratch or polish" or "to cut or divide". Simeon suffered the curse of being divided in Israel, the hand of chastisement resting heavily upon him.