Genesis 49:5-7 “Simeon and Levi are brothers – their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.”

*Just before Jacob died in Egypt he sent an urgent message to all his twelve sons, calling them together. He proclaimed a blessing and made a prophecy about each one of his boys. One by one he spoke publicly to them, all of them listening intently. They would never hear such important words again. He spoke first of all to his oldest son Reuben. You would expect the firstborn son to receive special status but because of his wickedness this is forfeited. So it would pass down to the next in line, his second and third sons by his wife Leah, Simeon and Levi. Alas, these brothers were also wicked men, unworthy of receiving the birthright.


We are told bluntly, “Simeon and Levi are brothers” (v.5). Why did their father say that? What is the point of it? All the twelve men standing before him were his sons and so were brothers. Why does he start his prophecy by pointing out that Simeon and Levi were brothers? The answer is that they were not brothers merely in the sense of a biological relationship but also in the sense of the mind and disposition and values and enthusiasms. Levi was “a brother to one who destroys” (Provs. 18:9). They were a team, working together, and walking along the same unscrupulous track as one; they were tuned in to the same evil frequency. There was not a membrane you could put between them, Levi being just as guilty as Simeon. They were the Kray twins (notorious London gangsters of the 1950s) of the land of Goshen, an evil duo, two mean men joined in their commitment to wickedness – Jacob’s second and third sons were brothers in the evil disposition.

Jacob specifies their wickedness, not now gross sexual sin like their older brother but that they were men of extreme cruelty. “Their swords are weapons of violence,” (v.5). Do we have this today? Are we not sickened and hardened by accounts in the news of horrific violence, in Afghanistan, and in Libya, and in the Sudan, and Pakistan. There are the horrors of modern warfare, and the torture and cruelty inflected on women, and children and prisoners. There is the drug trade, and the enslaving of women, and the cruelty inflicted on the unborn child. We live in one of the most violent and heartless generations in the history of the world.
How different things seemed to be when these boys were born. Their rejected and neglected mother, Leah, had thought, “Now my husband will be joined to me. He will be bound to me by our natural affection for our sons, and our mutual child support. There will be this band holding the marriage together;” so she thought. So the name given to the third son was ‘Levi’ and ‘Levi’ comes from the word to bind. “Now Jacob and I will be bound together. I know he loves Rachel more than me, but I have given him three sons.” So she was full of hope at the sight of three little boys running around the family home. She would see lots more of Jacob the doting father, and so there would develop a love relationship between them both. But it takes more than that, and other things than having children together to guarantee husband and wife going on in a relationship of love. Having children can also be used to drive a couple apart. Christians can experience what Leah was to experience that these things didn’t work out as we hoped, and that many a time the purposes of God are of an entirely different nature. In fact ‘Levi’ was a very apposite name for her third son, but not in the way Leah thought, for Levi was bound up with Simeon. He was totally under the influence of his older brother.

So the time came when the brothers’ swords became weapons of violence. Remember the infamous occasion. The full sister of Simeon and Levi was named Dinah, and she was fancied by man called Shechem who either seduced or raped her. Then he fell in love with her and asked his father Hamor to get her as his wife. When Simeon and Levi heard what had happened to their sister they were outraged. They were “filled with . . . fury” (Gen.34:5) at what had been done to their kid sister. Hamor asked Jacob and the family if his son could marry Dinah, and Shechem himself spoke up and offered to pay the highest bride price they might demand. It was then that the deceit of Simeon and Levi was evident. They told Shechem that they couldn’t dream of their sister marrying an uncircumcised man, but if all the men of the town were circumcised then it would be the beginning of cordial relations between these two large families and there could be inter-marriage. So Shechem jumped at the deal. “What a fine lot of men are these sons of Jacob,” he told the townsfolk and he was the first to volunteer to be circumcised. He was such an influential and popular figure that all the men opted for circumcision, from the oldest to the youngest. It became a trend, a sign of bravery. Of course they were left weak and hurting after this operation. Then the monstrous wickedness took place; “Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses” (Gen. 34:25-29).

What inhumane cruelty! What an over-reaction to a bad deed. Every single man butchered in his bed! All the widows and fatherless girls were taken as plunder to be slaves! It was the holocaust of Shechem perpetrated by Levi and Simeon the sons of Jacob. These were Old Testament Messiahists, Old Testament Christians, the great grandsons of Abraham, a family of believers in the Lord acting in this way. Here were men who lived under the law that said, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” which also said, “You shall do no murder.” It was male genocide plotted by lies and deceit. There was no justification for the action, and every reason for cursing it, so that now Jacob, these years later, pronounces the curse upon his sons, the horror of what they did still fresh before him. He stands and turns to all their brothers and says of Simeon and Levi, “Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel!” (v.7). No blessing for them! They are not to receive an inheritance. Reuben had forfeited it, and now Simeon forfeits it and Levi forfeits it. They are not to receive an inheritance in Jacob. Levi will never have a parcel of ground about which people will say, “That valley to the north, and that hill to the south, and that spring to the east, and that river to the west all belong to Levi.” No! Levi’s descendants are all going to be scattered throughout Israel. They will live in every town and village and hamlet with little white houses on distant hillsides and in them the members of the tribe of Levi will live. They will not have a homeland where their kinfolk live, the place the Levites call their home. No home area at all. That is the curse that came upon their children and children’s children to the fourth and fifth generation. That is where the curse rested for killing men in their anger and hamstringing oxen as they pleased.

Oh avoid the brothers Simeon and Levi! Blessed is the man who does not walk in such ungodly counsels. Remember the stark warning of being influenced by violent men here in the first chapter of the book of Proverbs, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them. If they say, ‘Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for someone’s blood, let’s waylay some harmless soul; let’s swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot with us, and we will share a common purse’ – my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood” (Provs. 1:10-16). In days of riot and looting and knife crime should we not heed such a warning? Even old Jacob, the father patriarch, still needs to address himself after seeing their wretched behaviour, warning himself of the danger of falling into bad company such as his very own sons; “Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly for they have killed men in their anger” (v.6). Evil council corrupts good living.

What a sorry situation exists in the family of Jacob. Surely Reuben the firstborn will get the inheritance, but that man grossly sinned against heaven, against his own father, doing things that are not mentioned among the Gentiles, and so he lost the birthright. Coming to Simeon, surely the birthright will be his, but he shows that he is a raving psychopath. “Cursed be you, my son.” Then the third in line is Levi, and he is one with his brother; they fuelled one another’s wickednesses, the one as corrupt as the other, a pair of mass murderers; “Cursed be you my son! Cursed be your fierce anger, Cursed be your cruel fury!” Leiv too has forfeited the birthright, and we begin to wonder, don’t we, when will this ever end? Who is worthy to receive it? Which of these boys has not been guilty of sins that mean he has forfeited the right to receive the blessing that should have come upon the firstborn? Reuben has gone, and Simeon has gone, and Levi has gone – all stand before us as examples of gross evil, and they were all raised in the family of the patriarch Jacob, the grandson of our father Abraham.


The prophecy is this: “I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (v.7). Jacob, you realise, is speaking in the name of Jehovah. And when we look at the subsequent history of the lines of Simeon and Levi we find that that is exactly what happened. There was no place for them in Israel, but when you look at the two different tribes then you discover that the scattering of Levi was to be of an entirely different nature from the scattering of Simeon.

i]. Simeon was scattered. When Simeon was scattered his tribe was slowly, imperceptibly and remorselessly annihilated. Four centuries later, at the Exodus, they still existed, numbered with Reuben and Gad. After the forty years of wandering in the wilderness a striking change has taken place. There is a census and instead of almost 60,000 fighting men as they had been at the Exodus they have shrank to just 22,000 men. They are now the smallest tribe. Moses mentions their existence a few years later in Deuteronomy 27, but when he blesses all the tribes of Israel in Deuteronomy 33 there is no mention of Simeon. There is no portion of land whatsoever allocated to them. They just have a few towns within the borders of Judah and they lasted only to the reign of David. Simeon’s descendants could no longer be found. You look for the tribe of Simeon and you can’t find it. There was no refuge for him, not a little cottage somewhere, or a tent in a mountain valley in Seir where the last of the tribe of Simeon existed. Simeon was scattered so comprehensively among Israel that there was not a family left. There was not a single individual of whom could be said, “He is a pure born and bred Simeonite.” Not one. Simeon was dispersed as effectively as the ten northern tribes were scattered to the four winds of heaven, broken up and lost for ever. Gone into oblivion, and this tribe is soon a name that no-one bears as (we might say) their ‘surname,’or as their clan name. Now it is just a given name, a first name, a euphonic name, ‘Simeon’, but bearing no relationship whatsoever to the tribe of Simeon; not at all, any more than any ‘Simeon’ who lives in Wales today. They are gone, and God obliterated them just as he said, “I will scatter them; I will disperse them.” God can break up denominations and professing churches that have violently opposed the gospel. Vast formerly thriving religious groups are now in their death throes. They are looking for survival in being attached to other groups which are themselves in the process of being scattered. The Lord Jesus warns the church in Sardis that he has the power to blot out people’s names.

ii]. Levi too was scattered, but very differently from the destruction of Simeon. There came a crisis in the life of those who were Levi’s when they could have taken the wrong option and then they’d have ended up like Simeon. “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” The time for Levi came at the rebellion at Sinai, when Moses had spent days away from the people on the mountain that smoked and thundered, receiving the law from God, and the people were terrified. Moses came down the mountain with his face shining. What did he hear? The sound of music and drums. What did he see? He saw dancing around a golden calf. What did he learn? That his own brother Aaron had asked for gold from the people, and had taken thousands of ear-rings. He had had them melted down and they had been fashioned into the likeness of a cow, and Aaron had said, “Behold your god O Israel” and the people who had known deliverance from slavery in Egypt and were being escorted to a land flowing with milk and honey, the people who had walked through the Red Sea on foot and were fed with bread from heaven each day were actually bowing down to this crude idol and dancing in joy around it. “Thank you for being our god!”

Moses was shattered at the sight and he symbolically shattered the tablets of stone with the ten commandments. That stopped the music and the dancing. What did Moses say? He challenged them as to their loyalties. “Who is on the Lord’s side?” and there was a silence finally broken by the voice of Simeon’s brother Levi shouting out “Here am I!” Were they words? Was that a mere profession? What did Moses say next? “Go through the camp and slay the idolaters.” “Here am I.” Really? Are you with the Lord? Or are you among those who speak with their lips of being loyal to God but whose hearts are far from him? A profession without any action is dead.

The Levites unsheathed their swords those swords handed down from their fathers, those swords that had been used for the massacre of the men of Shechem, now went through Israel and with Jehovah’s approval slew mercilessly those who had turned from the living God and showered their adoration on a golden image of a cow. The righteousness of Jehovah was avenged by Levi’s words – “Here am I” and deeds. Levi had borne through every generation the marks of Shechem but now was a time to expunge that wickedness by showing a repentant heart and a life of new obedience to the Lord. That did not wipe away the past. That past was there to haunt Levi and make Levi groan and vow that such a monstrous deed would never be done again. Here was his opportunity to show a radical new obedience was in his heart.

So Levi is certainly scattered through Israel or Jacob. There was no section of the land given to him; no mountain high and valley low, no house, no city, but he is going to find a place in the house of the Lord. That is going to be his dwelling place. That is where he is going to dwell. There will be rotas and it will be his turn as one of the tribe of Levi to leave his family in the village street for a month and go to Jerusalem and serve in the temple in the name of the Lord. So he will be scattered but also elevated, and that is his glory. The curse still rests upon him; no inheritance is given to him, but the Lord is his inheritance, and the Lord’s house is his true home, and every house in Israel, every house in Jacob is going to stand open to him. He is going to have access to every home in Israel as a teaching, pastoring Levite, and not only that, but all Israel is going to give him the tenth, the tithe. It is going to be brought to Levi. That is the ironic way in which God deals with his people. That is the way he leads them. This Levi, the brother in crime of Simeon, with such a wretched beginning, now blossoms out into such glory that means he stands in the temple of God, that he becomes a mediator for all the other tribes as they come to God through the sacrifices and rituals that he performs in their names. Levi stands in the temple of the Lord. What a great end after such a bad beginning. You see it in again in the history of the church; Saul of Tarsus, the torturer becomes a teacher; the persecutor becomes a preacher; the bigot becomes a baptizer in Jesus name. Your violent past need not impose itself irresistibly on your future. Sin has abounded, true, but grace does much more abound.

The whole history of the tribe was turned around even while the whole condemnation spoken by Jacob actually came to pass; “Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel. I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (v.7). Yes, that occurred, but the dispersal becomes the scattering of salt throughout the nation. You, Levi, will be the salt of the earth, the presence of men of God all over Jacob, you will help fight the putrefaction of Israel. The whole history of this tribe has been turned around and cast into a different mold. It began in sin; it ended in consecration. It began in weapons of violence; it ended with weapons of righteousness. It began with a curse and it ended with a blessing. Why does God do such things? If the murderers of all the men of Shechem can become priests and Levites, if the Pharisaic torturer Saul of Tarsus can suffer to bring Christ to the nations then there is room in the Kingdom of God for every one here. God is able to take a murderer of Shechem and use him in priestly service. He can take a. S.S. prison guard from Auschwitz, or a Japanese soldier herding British prisoners of war to build the bridge on the river Kawai, or a serial killer like the so-called ‘Son of Sam’ and regenerate men who’ve shown such depravity, and make them new creatures in Jesus Christ who now are presenting their bodies as living sacrifices to God each day. Then I stand in amazement at what God’s grace is able to do. There is hope for each of you. The curse we deserve for our ungodly ways has fallen on Golgotha; Christ was made a curse for us that we might be the blessed of God.


Not a year goes by without us hearing of people who once came to church and then were turned off when they saw the behaviour and lives of some professing Christians. Levi had such privileges but Levi also had such falls. The work of holiness in Levi’s life or in the life of any Christian is but the mark of a new beginning. It is not a perfect life; it is an inconsistent life; there are constant failures and there are constant victories. That is the Christian life, and it makes even an apostle cry out, “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Roms.7:21-24). We know who rescued him and he rescues us too. It is our great High Priest Jesus Christ who saves to the uttermost those who come to God by him as he ever lives to make intercession for us. Let me give you some examples of the inconsistency in the lives of the sons of Levi:

i] Korah the son of Levi in Numbers 16 showed carnal ambition; we are told that “he became insolent and rose up against Moses” (Nums. 16:1&2). Korah told Moses that Moses had gone too far, that he had set himself above the Lord’s assembly. But it was not Moses’ ambition that was the problem, it was that Korah the Levite longed to become Korah the Priest, and Moses saw this and he pleaded with him, “Now listen, you Levites! Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the LORD’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the LORD that you and all your followers have banded together” (Nums.16:8-11). Let’s be satisfied with where God has put us, and how God uses us, and the office we have. Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not! The remains of indwelling sin that showed their power at Shechem still need to be put to death today. We have to be killing the sin of carnal ambition thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, or that sin will kill us as it killed Korah and his followers.

ii] Nadab and Abihu were the two sons of Aaron who worshipped God their own way. We are told in Numbers chapter 3 and verse 4 that they “made an offering with unauthorized fire before him in the Desert of Sinai.” They evidently thought that their way of worshipping God was at least as good as God’s way. They figured that fire was fire; one sort of fire was just the same as any other kind of fire and they couldn’t see why God would bother if just this once they didn’t use the fire from the altar as God had commanded. But one was sacred fire, and the other was common flames. When holy things become common the danger is great. God minded, and no doubt to make the point transparently clear for all time, he visited the two sons of Aaron, his designated successors to the very High Priesthood of Israel, with a decisive punishment and they fell dead before the Lord. They did things their way, but God says, “You do it MYYYYYYY way.”

iii] Hophni and Phinehas were the sons of Eli, the High Priest, and they stooped to the grossest immorality. These were the days of the judges, in other words there was no king in the land, no focus for the patriotism of the people except Eli the High Priest. His wretched sons did three wicked things. The first concerned the way that sacrifices were made to God. We are told of this in the first book of Samuel and the second chapter at the twelfth verse; “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD. Now it was the practice of the priests with the people that whenever anyone offered a sacrifice and while the meat was being boiled, the servant of the priest [a Levite] would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand. He would plunge it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot, and the priest would take for himself whatever the fork brought up. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. But even before the fat was burned, the servant of the priest would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, ‘Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.’ If the man said to him, ‘Let the fat be burned up first, and then take whatever you want,’ the servant would then answer, ‘No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.’ This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt. (I Sam. 2:12-17). Then the second wickedness of these men was what often goes with bullying and with choosing to worship God in your own way, sexual sin rears its ugly head again. We read about Eli the high priest, “who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting” (I Sam. 2:22). Then the third wicked thing these sons of Levi did was to pick up the Ark of the Covenant from the Holy of Holies and carry it into battle against the Canaanites, like some good luck charm, crying, “Let God then fight for himself,” and he did, but not as they expected. Hophni and Phinehas and Eli were wiped out completely.

iv] Annas and Caiaphas were the chief priests at the time of Jesus of Galilee. Those priests of the tribe of Levi had a calling to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah, and point out to them in all the sacrifices that they were signs and foretastes and preparations for his arrival. But what these priests did was to kill the Christ. They did not recognize him, They would not receive him. They said, “He is worthy of death,” and that the death of the cross. The sons of Levi gave Israel’s Messiah to the Gentiles to crucify. The marks of Shechem are hard to eliminate. That cruel murder 2000 years earlier is overshadowed by the murder of God the Son. “I can’t get rid of those marks,” said Levi. “I bear in my body,” said Paul, “the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Change your marks! You can bear new marks, of grace and pardon in the place of wickedness.

Yet remember on the day of Pentecost Peter stood before them and said to them that Jesus was delivered by the determinate power and foreknowledge of God, and they with their wicked hands had crucified and slain him. Levi and your sons have taken with your wicked hands a whip and hammer and nails and a spear and you have killed the loveliest and the best. You servants of the greatest of all High Priests, the archetypal priest, you have killed him because God had determined by his death to offer redemption to the world. So you must do what Peter commanded you on that Pentecost day, to repent and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins. Be saved from this untoward generation.” There is an offer of mercy for the scattered, sinning sons of Levi. Did they listen? Of course they did. God made them willing in the day of his power and we are told by Luke in Acts chapter six and verse seven, “a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” Grace and peace was found by Levi and soon they are scattered even further afield at the eruption of new persecution, and they went everywhere through Europe preaching the word of God. So there is hope for you, not only of mercy but of living a useful life.


The Levites had a purpose in old covenant times. It was a dispensational function, in other words, it was limited to the time before the Messiah came. They were to lead the children of Israel, and instruct them as the people came with their offerings and sacrifices to the altar. “The blood of bulls and goats can’t atone for your sins as men and women made in the image of God,” the sons of Levi said, “and our performing the rituals as God has told us does not give it a power to cleanse you of your guilt. All these are just signs and types of the great sacrifice and the mighty High Priest which one day will come, just as God has promised. The Seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head. One born of the line of Abraham will bless not just Israel but all the nations of the world.” They were servants, and never more than that, pointing the people forward to the one who would come. There was nothing permanent in their office, nothing whatsoever. Like the kings and the judges, the cities of refuge and levirate marriage, the food laws and the badger skins – all such stuff had a clear date stamp on it, “Not to be used after the coming of the Messiah,” it said.

That is what they told the children of Israel. The Christ who was going to come would come not of their line. He would not be of the lineage of Levi. His would not be the kind of priesthood that had these things in the background, the abomination of the Shechem holocaust. There would be another figure at the time of Jacob’s grandfather. His name was Melchizedek and the Old Testament does not know what to do with him! In Psalm 110 there is a reference to him, but that is all. Yet Levi’s great-grandfather, Abraham, bowed to him and gave him a tenth, a tithe and the writer of the Hebrews tells us that Levi himself also already gave tithes to Melchizedek in Abraham when that patriarch met him.

Now Melchizedek’s priesthood was not temporary, and it was not marred by any incident in its past. In fact we know nothing of its origin and we know nothing of its further development. He falls out of the blue and that is the way he springs on the scene of redemptive history, “without father and without mother, without beginning of life or end of days, but a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” Now the priesthood of Levi was only for a period, and then many a time they did not do a good job, but only until Jesus of Galilee appeared, only until the son of Judah appeared. Then the help that the sons of Levites had been to the people came to an end never to be resurrected again. Their duty was done; their function was over; sin was corrupting them Levites. One of them walked by a wounded man lying in the road to Jericho, ignoring his need. It was time for someone better than Levites to teach and pastor the people, another Counselor.

Christ comes! He who is priest and sacrifice to whom the allegiance of the people shall be given, the one who make atonement as the Lamb of God, and then shall stand and abide for ever, interceding at God’s right hand in glory. He has gone there not taking animal’s blood, but his own blood, there living to make intercession for all his billions of people saving them to the uttermost. What an accomplished priesthood! What a fulfilled priesthood! What an effective priesthood! And when we examine the sons of Levi and their work, sacrificing, serving, teaching, then we are seeing through a glass darkly a cobwebby faint picture of the great reality of the One who is at the right hand of God today. Before the throne of God above I have a strong a perfect plea, a great High Priest whose name is love who ever lives and pleads for me.
The birth of Levi failed to bind us together and bind us to him. It did not work. Levi was bound to his shameful brother Simeon, but one came whose name was Bands who bound us to him with unbreakable cords of love. How effective he was, so that we also read in Revelation 7 that of the tribe of Levi there were 12,000 who were sealed by God, and Levi’s name is written on the gates of heaven. Many of the priests believed. Though its history was checkered and the priests abused their power, he came, the one they knew had to come, whom they spoke about, the one who takes away not Israel’s sin but the sin of the world. The Lamb of God who was given as Priest sacrifice, whose own blood was sprinkled on the altar and on the throne of God, the mercy seat of God. His priesthood is higher than Aaron, and higher than Levi, in whom is full redemption.

25th September 2011 GEOFF THOMAS

*This sermon is heavily dependent in using the fine material of Rev. Paul Thangiah on the Twelve tribes of Israel from the website php/videos/series