I’ve always thought there was significance to the appearance of a man named Simeon after the circumcision of Jesus in Luke’s narrative, but I’ve never been able to put my finger on it. However, as I studied Judges 1 and 2 this week, I realized that Simeon was one of two tribes who didn’t get a piece of the Promised Land as an inheritance. For some reason, he was left out. As I did some digging, I came across Genesis 49, where I learned that Jacob withheld the blessing of land from Simeon because of a certain act of violence. If you turn back a few pages in Genesis, you discover a story titled “The Defiling of Dinah”, and it’s in this narrative that everything begins to click.
Simeon and the Sign of Wrath.
Defiling is a polite way of saying Dinah was raped. In Genesis 34, Jacob and his twelve sons return from Paddan-Aram to the land of Canaan and settle outside of Shechem. When Jacob’s daughter Dinah went to hang out with the ladies of the town, she caught the lustful eye of Shechem, the prince of the land. Shechem “saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her” (Gen. 34:2). You can feel the violence of Dinah’s violation in the swift barrage of action verbs.
Afterward, Shechem demanded of his father, “Get me this girl for my wife” (Gen. 34:4). And so, the pampering father went about seeking to secure Dinah for his brattish son. When Jacob’s sons caught wind of what had happened to their sister and then found Shechem negotiating a bride price for their humiliated sister, they were incensed.
So, they hatched a plot. “Only on this condition will we agree with you–that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised” (Gen. 34:15). Surprisingly, Shechem was more than happy to oblige. He did not delay to call the men of the town together, and they all did the snip-snip. He assured the men of the town that soon they would own all of the wealth of Jacob’s family through intermarriage.
However, Simeon and Levi had other plans:
“On the third day, when they were sore, two the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister.” (Genesis 34:25-29)
Simeon had used the sign of the covenant to mark men off for the wrath of his sword. Circumcision was the sign of God’s eternal blessing–the sign that the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be a blessing to all the nations. However, Simeon had used circumcision as a mere war tactic. What God had given as a sign of blessing, Simeon had turned into a sign of cursing. Simeon lost his right to the blessings of the covenant that day for taking God’s good sign and using it as a vehicle for his vengeful wrath.
Simeon and the Sign of Redemption.
Fast forward to the New Testament. The Messiah has been born, and as Luke records, “And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus” (Luke 2:21). The next verse brings Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to the doorway of the Temple, where a providential character waits for this newly circumcised Messiah just inside:
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2:25-26)
Here he is. Simeon. After all these years, is redemption still possible for the namesake who turned circumcision from a blessing to a curse? When Simeon spotted Mary and Joseph carrying Jesus into the Temple, “He took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).
Simeon is doing a play on words. Jesus name means salvation. He has literally God’s salvation, the baby Jesus. It’s as though ever since his fall into sin in Genesis 34, Simeon has been awaiting his redemption. Now he can finally depart in peace. In a twist of irony, Simeon makes a play on his very own name, Simeon–which sounds like sign in Greek: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:35).
Jesus Christ received circumcision, but this sign was a foreshadowing of the day he would be completely cut off from the land of the living. Like the circumcised men of Shechem whose entire bodies were put to the edge of Simeon’s sword, Simeon realizes that the circumcision of Christ was only a foretaste of the pain and suffering that would come at the hands of those who oppose him. However, Simeon received this sign from God as a sign of his salvation, consolation, and redemption. Where once Simeon deserved to be cut off, Jesus the Christ would bring salvation by being cut off for Simeon.
Circumcision which was once a constant reminder of the sin of Simeon was now finally the sign of his redemption.