Bible Study with Jairus – Genesis 49 -2


From Sinners to Pearly Gates: The Stories of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi


We often say that the Old Testament is a picture, and the New Testament is the spiritual reality that the picture points to. For example, the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites is a beautiful picture that foreshadows the believer’s journey from the kingdom of darkness to God’s kingdom of light. Similarly, the experiences of the twelve sons of Israel are beautiful pictures that point to the spiritual reality in the New Testament.

As we will see, Reuben’s immorality deprived him of God’s blessing and his privileges as the firstborn son. Similarly, Simeon and Levi lost the blessing of being Christ’s ancestors because of their brutality and murder. Judah almost forfeited the same blessing because of his sin. However, despite their sin, their names are listed on the pearly gates of the New Jerusalem in heaven. These stories foreshadow a spiritual reality: God can transform sinners into saints through his grace and mercy!

First, we need to look at the sins of these sons of Jacob. In the New Testament, Paul lists many types of sin and provides a detailed commentary on the human condition. Paul said, “God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (Romans: 1:26), and men were “filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness…. ” (Romans 1:29). As the saying goes, “The work of sinners is to sin, and that is all they do.” Even though sinners are sinful in every way, this is not the ultimate outcome God desires for us. Though the book of Romans begins with sin (Romans 1-3), it also talks about “justification through faith” (Romans 4-5), “union with Christ” (Romans 6), “the struggles of the flesh” (Romans 7), “victory in Christ” (Romans 8), “God’s election of the Jews” (Romans 9-11), “experiencing the renewal of the mind,” “surrendering the body as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12), “submitting to one another” (Romans 13) in the church and “loving one another” (Romans 14), and “preaching the gospel and bearing witness to the Gentiles” (Romans 15-16). In other words, Paul’s book of Romans reveals that although we begin as sinners, it is not our ultimate identity. Those who trust in Christ will become members of the Church of God, which will eventually be built into the New Jerusalem. We will not remain sinners forever; this is not God’s will for us. God’s will for us is to transform us from sinners into sons of God! This is what the story of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi foreshadows. They began as sinners and ended up as gates in the walls of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:12). The names of the twelve tribes of Israel are written on the twelve gates. Each gate is a pearl (Revelation 21:21). Pearls speak of transformation through pain. Only after an oyster is wounded does it secrete a pearly fluid to produce pearls. Its pearly fluid covers the piece of foreign material or sand that was irritating the oyster’s tender body. In the same way, we were like a piece of sand that wounded Christ. But when Christ was wounded on the cross, He produced resurrection life and turned us into pearls one by one!


Jacob’s Prophecy to Simeon and Levi

Jacob’s prophecies about his sons are only one piece of the progressive revelation of God. Moses’s prophecies about the twelve tribes reveal even more about God’s plans for the tribes (Deuteronomy 33). Other later records in the Old Testament reveal even more. The New Testament, especially the book of Revelation, describes the ultimate outcome of the twelve tribes of Israel. We will discuss more about Moses’s prophecies later on. Here, we will focus on Jacob’s prophecies.

Jacob’s prophecy concerning Simeon and Levi says, “Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company. For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel. I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel” (Genesis 49:3-7). Simeon and Levi were the brothers of Dinah, who was the only daughter in Jacob’s family. Genesis 34 tells us that Dinah was defiled by a man in a neighboring tribe named Shechem. Simeon and Levi tricked the clan of Shechem into getting circumcised, then killed all the males while they were weak and in pain. They also took away all their children, women, and belongings.

The entire incident was part of a satanic attack. Satan wanted to use Shechem against the sons of Israel so he could disqualify two more sons from carrying on the genealogy of Christ. Dinah was also a victim of this satanic attack. Satan also wanted to infuriate Shechem’s entire family so they would attack Jacob’s entire family and wipe out every potential ancestor of Christ. When Dinah was first violated, Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You’ve brought trouble on me, making me a stench among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites. I am but a few men—they’ll gather against me and strike me—then I’ll be destroyed, my household and I” (Genesis 34:30).

Jacob was sobered by this incident. The Bible does not record Jacob’s reaction to Dinah’s violation, but we can easily imagine Jacob’s grief. His heart was hurt, but he had no idea what Simeon and Levi were planning. If he had known in advance that Simeon and Levi were going to slaughter Shechem’s family, he would have stopped it. Jacob knew that his people were few and they had to preserve their strength so that Israel could prosper and thrive and eventually fulfill God’s will. We should note that Simeon and Levi did these things without Jacob’s knowledge and permission; they did it on their own. This is why Jacob said, “Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company.”

But Simeon and Levi said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” When we are attacked and misunderstood by others, we must decide whether to respond in the flesh or in the spirit. When we do things in the flesh, we often do not follow the feelings of our spirit nor the leading of the Holy Spirit in our spirit; this is a spiritual experience New Testament Christians can relate to. One pastor testified that a sister came to him and said, “You only became a pastor for the money.” He was so angry that he fought back and attacked the sister. Similar situations continued to happen to the pastor, so he prayed about it. The Holy Spirit told him that these critical words were the discipline of the Holy Spirit. These situations would keep happening until the pastor learned to deal with criticism with a meek and humble spirit. As a result, the pastor humbled himself and surrendered to learning the lesson of meekness. Only then was he freed from God’s discipline.

When others hurt us with curses and discrimination, we can choose to respond in the flesh, or we can choose to respond with the spirit. I personally have had many such experiences. When I react in the flesh, not only do I ignore the feeling in my spirit, but I also ignore the counsel of my wife and those close to me. In fact, I don’t let my close family and friends know what I intend to do. I only want to go my own way! If we would communicate with our trusted friends before reacting to a situation, we could avoid many of these fleshly reactions and the negative results they bring. And of course, we should let the Lord know and listen to His leading in our spirit! But Levi and Simeon did not do this, so Jacob prophesied that they would be scattered among the people of Israel. Their descendants would be disbursed among their fellow Israelites so that their evil tendencies would be balanced out and restrained by the rest of the tribes.

Reuben’s Twist of Fate

Reuben sinned, but he did one thing well. When his brothers hurt Joseph, he was the only one who opposed it. His brothers followed Reuben’s plan to throw Joseph into a pit instead of killing him. Later, Judah came up with the idea to sell Joseph and not kill him. The brothers listened to Judah. In doing so, Judah may have saved Joseph by accident (Genesis 37:27).

Eventually, Reuben lost his birthright and authority, and this tribe even faced the danger of going extinct. Moses said of him, “Let Reuben live, and not die, but let his men be few” (Deuteronomy 33:6). How many years this situation lasted, we do not know. But we do know that the prophetess Deborah praised the tribe of Reuben in the book of Judges: “For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart” (Judges 5:15) and “For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart” (Judges 5:16). At that time, God had handed Israel over to Jabin, King of Canaan, because of Israel’s rampant idolatry. However, God raised up the prophetess Deborah and the prophet Barak to defeat Jabin’s army commander, Sisera. At that time, some people in Reuben’s family began to have “great thoughts and searchings of heart,” which may have won God’s favor.

This story shows that no matter how late our repentance is, we can please the Lord when we search for the Lord with all our hearts. If we repent, God will not only forgive us but also use us greatly. I never dreamed that I would become a Christian, let alone serve the Lord. Yet if we search for God with all our hearts, he can change our destiny. One day when I was in high school, I suddenly felt that I was going to do something big in my life, so I made up my mind to study hard and get into the university. I kept pursuing this goal, but I did not know what big thing I would do in my life. Even after believing in the Lord, I didn’t understand God’s plans for my future—until the last day of 2017, when the Lord gave me a vision of heaven. That day, He told me His plan for me was for me to participate in the coming revival in China and help bring countless souls to heaven. Among these people, there will be countless people like Reuben. After they repent and believe in the Lord, they will finally be transformed into living stones in the New Jerusalem.

Simeon’s Twist of Fate

Simeon was the one who took the lead in killing Shechem’s family. He may have also been the one who took the lead in the plan to kill Joseph. When Joseph was prime minister of Egypt, Simeon was the one Joseph imprisoned while the rest of his brothers went back to Canaan to get Benjamin and bring him back to Egypt (Genesis 42:24). This may indicate that Simeon was the chief culprit who took the lead in harming Joseph. Jacob prophesied that Simeon would be scattered among his brethren. This prophecy was fulfilled when Simeon later dwelt among the tribes of Judah (Joshua 19:1). Moses does not mention Simeon in his prophecy in Deuteronomy 33.

How was Simeon saved when Joseph imprisoned him? Simeon was saved through Benjamin’s arrival. Simeon was released when Judah and his brothers brought Benjamin to Egypt. This is a typological picture. Benjamin is a type of Christ and of the New Jerusalem. When the New Jerusalem is built, Simeon will also be saved and become a pearly gate.

Even today, many of us can learn from Simeon’s story. Even if we have not killed someone physically, we have killed or hurt someone emotionally. When we hate someone, we often have sinful, murderous thoughts. Jesus said that hatred is the same as murder. We know for sure that we took part in the murder of one person—Jesus Christ. Even the robber who was crucified with the Lord went to Paradise on the same day as Jesus Christ because of his repentance and redemption by Jesus Christ.

Levi’s Twist of Fate

I personally believe that Simeon may have been the main culprit in the massacre of Shechem’s family and that Levi was just along for the ride. But we also know that Levi had a very cruel temper. Jacob prophesied that the Levites would also be scattered among the Israelites. Later, the Levites received God’s blessings because the Levites refused to worship the golden calf. The Levites obeyed Moses’ order to kill those who worshiped idols, so God chose this tribe to become his priests. Moses said in Deuteronomy 33, “And of Levi he said, ‘Give to Levi your Thummim, and your Urim to your godly one, whom you tested at Massah, with whom you quarreled at the waters of Meribah; who said of his father and mother, “I regard them not” he disowned his brothers and ignored his children For they observed your word and kept your covenant. They shall teach Jacob your rules and Israel your law; they shall put incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar. Bless, O Lord, his substance, and accept the work of his hands; crush the loins of his adversaries, of those who hate him, that they rise not again’” (33:8-11).

This verse is very clear. The Levites were willing to kill their idolatrous parents, brothers, and even their children in order to keep God’s word. Their ferocious temperament turned into zealous and absolute loyalty to God, so they were blessed by God. Nonetheless, as Jacob prophesied, they were scattered among the Israelites.

The Greatness of God’s Salvation

I believe that Reuben, Simeon, and Levi all had the opportunity to become ancestors of Jesus Christ. They all lost this privilege because of their moral failure. Yet Jesus Christ is the Lord and the Redeemer who gives us redemption when we fail. Through Him, we can receive God’s blessings again in Jesus Christ. We may lose some earthly blessings, but we will gain heavenly blessings in Jesus Christ.

The twelve sons of Israel show the continual advancement of God’s work, one wave after another. Judah sinned like his brothers, but he became the ancestor of Christ with the help of Tamar. Through Christ, their descendent, all nations were blessed. Even Reuben, Simeon, and Levi were redeemed through Jesus. Each of the twelve sons of Israel was a sinner, but in the end, they were all transformed into pearly gates. They each have a special calling and gift from God. As sinners, they each sinned. Yet as God’s chosen people, they each received an aspect of God’s grace and a part to play in the advancement of  God’s work.

We can each see ourselves in the story of Reuben. Like Reuben, we were all born in sin. We are born with an adulterous nature. This cruel nature has dwelt in us since the time of Adam’s sin. Just like Adam’s firstborn son Cain killed Abel, we have murderous tendencies like Simeon and Levi. But our repentance leads to salvation. In Psalm 51, David confessed that he was not only born in sin but that he had also murdered Uriah and committed adultery with Bathsheba. When David repented of his immorality and murder, his broken spirit and contrite heart became a pleasing sacrifice to God. “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17). In the same way, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi were saved when they repented, and Levi was put in charge of the sacrifices and priesthood. These acceptable sacrifices were the result of God’s salvation described in Psalm 51.