5 Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.
6 O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they digged down a wall.
7 Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.
Simeon and Levi are the next to be blessed by Jacob, but their pronouncement is even more dire than Reuben’s! Both of them are rebuked for their slaughter in the city of Shalem. Indeed, verse six he seems to express a fear that Jacob has held towards them himself ever since he knew such violence existed in their hearts.
Jacob refers to their act of killing, but also how they “digged down a wall,” by which I assume he means how their actions broke down his relationship with all the people in that country. This expression would be very similar to our current one of “burning bridges.”
As recompense, Jacob pronounces a curse rather than a blessing upon the tribes. He says that they will be divided and scattered in Israel. We will learn in Joshua 19 and 1 Chronicles 4 that Simeon was a stunted nation when they came into Canaan, such that it only received various cities within the kingdom of Judah, not becoming a proper state unto itself, and quite probably without all of its habitations connected as one. As for Levi, it would be even more scattered, never possessing any collected stretch of land to call its own, being distributed instead throughout the entire nation of Israel.
Levi’s curse did have a blessing inside of it, though, as their scattering was due to their being the priest caste that oversaw the functions of the temple. This assignment seems to be due at least in part to the fact that Moses and Aaron were of that tribe, and they were the ones entrusted with the priesthood when Israel was led out of Egypt. One other notable figure in Levi’s descendancy is John the Baptist. Of course, John was the cousin of Jesus, who was of the tribe Judah. The two men’s connection was through their mothers, while their fathers were of separate tribes.
3 Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:
4 Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.
Reuben, the firstborn, receives his blessing from Jacob. Jacob acknowledges the strength and dignity and excellency that Reuben began with, but for his crime of adultery he has lost his place. Jacob foretells that Reuben will not excel among his brethren, and this proves to be true. Reuben will never produce a king or a prophet, at least none that are noted in the biblical narrative.
Reuben will be part of the ten tribes that break off from Judah and will be taken captive by the Assyrians with the rest of the kingdom, more than seven hundred years before the birth of Christ. What happened to them after that is a matter of broad speculation, but as with most of the tribes there is no clear answer.
22 And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.
23 And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him;
24 And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.
Reuben sought to save Joseph, but he had to account for the other brothers’ wrath. Perhaps if he stood entirely on the side of Joseph they would have killed him as well, so instead he suggested that they throw him into a pit in the middle of the wilderness. The idea was that Joseph would still die, there wasn’t even any water for him to drink, but it would spare them from directly staining their hands with his blood.
But as verse 22 reveals, this was all a ruse. Rueben’s actual intention was to come back to the pit after the others had left and get Joseph out of it. Perhaps then he would have urged Joseph to venture out on his own, or maybe he was hoping the others would have calmed down enough to bring the boy back home. In either case, though, this plan of Reuben’s was not to be.
Todays verses again parallel the story of the Savior. Both Joseph and Jesus were betrayed by their brethren and consigned to death. Both of them had a sympathetic ear in Pilate and Reuben, who each tried to save the condemned man but failed. Also, the tearing of Joseph’s cloak seems symbolic to me of when Jesus’s body was torn by the whip before being raised on the cross.
Thus, in many ways Joseph was alone in this suffering, but at the same time he also had a Savior who would endure the same manner of afflictions, and who would therefore know how to speak comfort to his soul. And though that Savior wouldn’t pass through those afflictions until many years later, I believe that in the celestial perspective all of time is laid out as one, and an experience of the future can be called upon to empathize with what has happened in the past.
21 And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.
22 And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve:
Bilhah was the maid of Reuben’s stepmother, Rachel, and the concubine of his father Jacob. While we do not hear of any repercussions for Reuben at this point, they will subtly occur later on. Reuben was the first-born, yet the blessings of birthright would be removed from him because of his unworthiness. The second and third sons were Simeon and Levi, who had also crossed God with their slaying of the men of Shalem. Thus, the first son had forfeited his blessings through lust, the second and third sons through violence, and in two chapters we will learn that God had elected to give his choicest blessings to Joseph instead.
Something else of note is that Jacob is referred to by the name Israel here, but only for these two verses. In the very next sentence, we go back to him being called by his old name, Jacob. And at other points, his name will go back and forth again. This further makes me believe that this record is actually two or more records spliced together. Different authors provided different accounts of Jacob’s life, and then they were combined in this record. This would certainly explain some of the other quirks in the record that I noted recently.