WHEN THE AGED JACOB FORETOLD THE FATE OF HIS TWELVE SONS, he declared, ‘Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. O my soul, come not into their council; O my spirit, be not joined to their company; for in their anger they slay men, and in their wantonness they hamstring 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. Probably Simeon and Levi were thus cursed on account of their cruel treatment of the men of Shechem who had defiled their young sister Dinah: ‘Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males.
Many years later the tribe of Levi redeemed itself on the occasion when Moses, returning from Mount Sinai with the tables of the law, found the Israelites worshipping the golden calf. ‘Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves unto him.
The Levites were then honoured by being made the priestly tribe, and the Lord said, ‘Command the children of Israel that they give unto the Levites of the inheritance of their possession cities to dwell in.