This morning we continue our new sermon series called “The 12 Tribes of Israel”. During these messages, we’ll briefly consider each of the sons and tribes of Israel. There are several lessons that can be learned from this study, so I urge you to attend faithfully and listen carefully over the coming weeks. I believe God has many things to teach us through this series.
There are some slight differences between the listings of the 12 sons of Jacob and the 12 tribes of Israel. This can be a cause of confusion for those unfamiliar with the disparity. As stated last week, the 12 sons of Jacob are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. However, the 12 tribes of Israel are often listed as Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Benjamin. For now we’ll just point out this difference, but as the series progresses we’ll
discover the reasons for it.
In our first message last week, we talked about Jacob’s eldest son Reuben. We saw how Reuben’s behaviors were often inconsistent and unreliable. On certain occasions he defended his brothers, notably Joseph and Benjamin, yet he also betrayed his father Jacob by sleeping with one of his concubine, Bilhah. The descendants of Reuben also proved to be inconsistent and undependable. They fought alongside the other tribes in the conquest of the Promised Land, but revolted against Moses during the Exodus and even refused to assist their brethren in battle during the era of the judges. As Christians today, we can learn from Reuben the importance of being consistent and unwavering in our commitment and service to the LORD.
Today we will focus upon another of Jacob’s sons - Simeon. This was a common name in Biblical times and there are at least 3 other men named Simeon mentioned in the Bible. The elderly man who saw and blessed the baby Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2), a leading teacher at the church of Antioch during the days of Paul (Acts 13/15), and an ancestor listed in the genealogy of Jesus’ father Joseph (Luke 3) were all also named Simeon. Let’s be careful not to confuse them with Reuben’s younger brother...
I. SIMEON - THE SON OF JACOB
Simeon was the second-born son of Jacob. His name means “Hearing” or “God has heard!”. His mother Leah named him this stating that God had heard her cries and knew that she was unloved (Genesis 29:33). There are not many details in the the Bible about Simeon’s life, but in the few that are present he is regularly mentioned along with his younger brother Levi. This leads some to believe that these 2 siblings were very close friends and did a lot together.
Simeon had a sister named Dinah. While she was visiting the daughters of the land a man named Shechem, the prince of the Hivites, saw her, took her and raped her. Shechem then approached his father Hamor and asked him to arrange for Dinah to become his wife. But when Simeon and Levi heard of this they became enraged and devised a plan to avenge their sister. Jacob worked out an agreement. In exchange for Dinah being given to Shechem in marriage, the Hivites all agreed to be circumcised. But while they were in pain from the procedure,
Simeon and Levi attacked the city and killed every male among them. They also looted the city and stole their animals. Jacob was not pleased by the extent of their cruelty (Genesis 34).
Many years later, due to a severe famine in the land of Canaan, 10 of Jacob’s sons journeyed to Egypt hoping to buy grain. Unbeknownst to them, their younger brother Joseph had risen to a position of great power in Egypt. When they appeared before him, Joseph accused them of being spies and directed them to go get Benjamin and bring him back as proof of their truthfulness. To ensure that they’d return, Joseph had Simeon bound and held (Genesis 42-43).
II. SIMEON - THE TRIBE OF ISRAEL
The descendants of Simeon were considered to be the weakest of the 12 tribes of Israel. As mentioned in last week’s message, Moses took a census of the fighting men among the Children of Israel near the beginning of the exodus and again at the end. During this time, the population of the tribe of Simeon decreased from 59,300 (Numbers 1:23) to 22,200 (Numbers 26:14). This is a drastic reduction of over 60%. Of all the tribes, Simeon’s numbers fell the most by far. Apparently the Simeonites were severely affected by the various judgments and plagues that occurred during the exodus. When Moses pronounced a blessing on the tribes just before his death, he did not even mention the tribe of Simeon (Deuteronomy 33) perhaps because it had become so small and inconsequential.
The 12 tribes camped in a particular arrangement around the tabernacle and marched in a prescribed order. The tribe of Simeon was one of three tribes stationed on the south side of the tabernacle, along with Reuben and Gad. When the children of Israel broke camp the Simeonites followed the Reubenites, and were the 5th tribe in the order of Israel’s marching procession (Number’s 2:10-16).
The High Priest wore a breastplate that displayed 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel (Exodus 28:15-21). The exact correlation between the tribes and stones is uncertain, but some have suggested that the stones appear on the breastplate in the same order that the tribes camped around the tabernacle. If so, the gem representing the tribe of Simeon might be the sapphire (or lapis lazuli). Thus, the color associated with this tribe could be blue.
Between Moses and Joshua, the Promised Land and surrounding area was divided into several allotments and apportioned among the 12 tribes. Based upon a careful comparison of the cities of Simeon and those of Judah, it appears that the Simeonites were dispersed among the inheritance of Judah. Though they had a distinct small enclave all to their own, the descendants of Simeon were scattered among the larger tribe of Judah and blended somewhat into them over time (Joshua 19:1-9). The location of their inheritance was in southern Israel, and included the city of Beersheba.
The descendants of Simeon were shepherds who migrated frequently in search of good pasturelands for their flocks. As such they were dispersed among the Israelites, particularly in Judah, just as Jacob’s blessing had foretold. Having been, in effect, absorbed by the tribe of Judah the Simeonites became a part of the Southern Kingdom after the nation of Israel split. They were among those taken into captivity when Judah fell to the Babylonians in and around 586 BC. There are no notable Bible characters from the tribe of Simeon.
III. THE LESSON FROM SIMEON
The symbol for the tribe of Simeon is a city gate - representing the gates of Shechem. Before his death, Jacob blessed his 12 sons. On this occasion, he gave a combined blessing to Simeon and Levi. He cited their violence, anger, wrath, and cruelty as it related to the incident with Dinah. Though Simeon had every right to be angry at Shechem for violating his sister, his response was far too extreme. Simeon killed every male in the city, even those who were innocent and likely had no knowledge of what had happened. He allowed rage to dictate and
control his behavior.
From Simeon we learn that unrestrained anger often leads to great acts of sin. While there are certainly legitimate causes for anger, we should never act with cruelty or wrath. We must learn to deal with anger by other more peaceable and acceptable means. Also, we should not heed the counsel or advice of angry people nor should we associate closely with them. This too is a recipe for destruction as it will invariably lead to sinful conduct.
In Ephesians 4:26-27 the apostle Paul speaks about anger. He tells Christians that it is okay to be angry, but it isn’t okay to sin. We must not allow our anger to boil over into sinful behavior. Also we must not allow it to linger and fester, but rather deal with it each day before the sun goes down. When we allow anger to remain unchecked in our lives, it will grow and will almost certainly result in untold damage to ourselves and others.
There are many other things we could say about Simeon and his descendants. This morning we have simply summarized some of the major facts and details regarding him. But the main idea of today’s message is this - anger often results in sinful behavior. We must be disciplined enough to control it. We must not be so quick-tempered, but rather be slow to anger. May Simeon serve as a reminder to us all - God’s children should not be characterized by anger. Anger will hamper our ability to love others as we should.