In Genesis 34, Jacob’s only daughter Dinah is raped. In revenge, her brothers Simeon and Levi slaughter every male in Shechem, and loot it “seizing their flocks and herds and donkeys, and carrying off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.”
And what happens to them? What consequences do they suffer? Apparently none at all.
Jacob scolds them, “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites,” and moves from Shechem to Bethel.
When the powerful misbehave, they often get away with it, in the short run.
God’s justice sometimes operates at the pace of trilogies or epics, not in sentences or chapters.
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So, in the short run: no consequences for Simeon or Levi. Jacob is probably a little afraid of his powerful older sons who, from this chapter onwards, increasingly take control of the family.
However, when Jacob blesses his sons on his deathbed, he essentially curses his first-born Reuben, (who raped his father’s concubine) and Simeon and Levi, his second and third-born (while passing on the Abrahamic blessing and rights of the first born to Judah, whom he lavishly blesses.)
“Simeon and Levi are brothers—
their swords are weapons of violence.
6 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.
7 Cursed be their anger, so fierce,
and their fury, so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob
and disperse them in Israel. (Gen 49)
And so, Simeon’s descendants were absorbed into the territory of Judah (Jos 19:1, 9) and Levi’s descendants were dispersed throughout the land, living in 48 towns (Nu 35:2). They did not get their own land, as the other ten tribes do.
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That’s how our lives go, isn’t it? Simeon and Levi were deceitful, angry, violent, and vengeful. So, to some extent, have we all been.
And their children suffered: they were scattered, losing the tribal satisfactions of living among those who have the same background, culture, history, traditions and quirks. Both forfeited the blessings of the first-born, which would have come to them after Reuben forfeited his.
But they lived long in the land, had children, grew old, unlike those they slaughtered. And these violent men still got to be Patriarchs, fathers of two of the twelve tribes of Israel. And the priests who ministered at the temple were from the tribe of Levi!!
* * *
It is an orderly, organised universe of sowing and reaping. The evil we do has consequences, if only through the corruption of our characters which are our destiny. Through the scarring and maiming of our souls. Sooner or later, we reap what we sow.
But we do not reap exactly what we have sown. For most of us, as for Simeon and Levi, mercy triumphs.
“If you, Lord, should count our guilt, Lord, who would survive?” the Psalmist David writes plaintively.
If God were to punish us for every untrue or mean word, every act of anger or malice or jealousy, who should stand?
But mercy triumphs, and so weeds do not choke all food plants. Neglected orchards still bear fruit, and human life continues despite our environmental outrages.
And in our lives, mercy triumphs over justice, and so, having asked God’s forgiveness, we can continue to walk under the sun of his goodness.
Paradoxes, paradoxes. We must try to avoid all sin, for what we sow we reap. But never in full measure, never as much as we deserve, for mercy runs like a gold thread through our universe and through our lives, and it always triumphs over the strictest justice!