Jacob, who was later renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28), his sons and their families numbered seventy persons when they came into Egypt (Genesis 46:27). Exodus 12:37 tells us that 400 years later, when the people of Israel left Egypt, there were about “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” At the time of Jacob’s death, his twelve sons and their families were referred to as the twelve tribes of Israel. Genesis 49:28 states, “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him.” Jacob’s blessing was transferred to his sons on an individual basis. He blessed each of his sons with a blessing that was suitable to him, meaning that the blessing was appropriate for that individual son. The Hebrew word that is translated tribes in Genesis 49:28, shebet (shayˊ-bet) means “to branch off” and literally refers to “a stick” or “the ‘rod’ as a tool used by the shepherd (Leviticus 27:32) and the teacher (2 Samuel 7:14)” (H7626). Jesus told his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:1-6).
Jesus talked about branches in the context of discipline and productivity. The example that Jesus used of a vine that was intended to bear fruit was a universal theme that he used throughout his ministry to describe the process of salvation and was consistent between both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Jesus indicated that individual branches could be pruned or might be taken away if they did not bear fruit. This seems to be the case with regards to the tribe of Simeon, Jacob’s second oldest son. Simeon was left out when Moses’ pronounced his final blessing on Israel (Deuteronomy 33).
Simeon was the second son of Jacob’s first wife Leah. Genesis 29:31-33 states, “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, ‘Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.’ She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.’ And she called his name Simeon.” The name Simeon means “hearing” (H8095). Simeon is derived from the Hebrew word shamaʿ (shaw-mahˊ) which means “to hear intelligently” (H8085). Shama is associated with discernment and understanding and refers to hearing that is both intellectual and spiritual. Simeon and his younger brother Levi responded to the rape of their sister Dinah by killing all the men in the city of Shechem. Genesis 34:13-15 and 24-31 tells us:
The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised”…On the third day, when they were sore, two of 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. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”
Simeon and Levi were outraged by the rape of their sister Dinah and took vengeance by killing all the men in Shechem. Their father Jacob was upset because their method of retaliation put his family in danger. Later, Simeon was singled out by Joseph to remain in prison while the rest of his brothers returned to Canaan to get their youngest brother Benjamin to verify their identity (Genesis 42:18-20). During this incident, Joseph’s brothers acknowledged their guilt for selling him into slavery. Genesis 42:21-23 states:
Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen (shama). That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen (shama). So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood (shama) them, for there was an interpreter between them.
The Hebrew word shama (the root word of the name Simeon) appears three times in Joseph’s brothers’ brief admission of guilt. The repeated use of shama emphasizes its importance in the message that was being conveyed. It was as if Simeon’s name and his absence were providing the other brothers with a clue about the cause of the circumstances they were experiencing (no hearing).
The names of Jacob’s twelve sons were all chosen because of the circumstances of their births (Genesis 29:31-30:24, 35:16-18) and may or may not have been a reflection of their individual character. As was the case with Abram who God renamed Abraham (Genesis 17:5) and Jacob who became Israel (Genesis 32:28), Jesus gave some of his disciples new names after they became his followers (Mark 3:16-17). The connection between a person’s name and his individual character seems to be important from the standpoint of God becoming involved in the lives of individuals. The Apostle Paul referred to individual character as your inner being and said, “For this reason I bow my knee before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:14-16). Paul indicated that God strengthens or empowers us in our inner being. The strengthening that occurs doesn’t happen as a sudden influx of power, but as a gradual increase in energy over time (G2901).
The idea that we can grow stronger and be more energetic as we get older is contrary to the way that we usually experience life. Typically, a person will slow down and accomplish less in their later years. Caleb, one of two individuals that was delivered from slavery in Egypt and survived the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, gave this testimony afterward:
Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. (Joshua 14:6-11)
Caleb indicated that he had wholly followed the LORD and that Moses had promised him an eternal inheritance as a result of it (Joshua 14:8-9). The meaning of the name Caleb (kaw-labeˊ) isn’t completely clear, but it may have been a contraction of the Hebrew words qadesh (kaw-dasheˊ) which denotes “a (quasi) sacred person” (H6945) and leb (labe) “the heart” (H3820). Qadesh is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ). “This word is used in some form or another to represent being set apart for the work of God. Qadesh, or qadash, as verbs, mean ‘to be holy; to sanctify’” (H6942).
The connection between the process of sanctification and the development of individual character as demonstrated in Caleb’s life may be related to what Paul described as “being joined together” and “being built together into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:21-22). Paul talked about believers being members of the household of God and identified Jesus as “the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21). Paul indicated that we are growing into a holy temple and being built together into a dwelling place for God. The original temple that was built by King Solomon, was referred to as “the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 6:1). The Hebrew word that is translated house, bayith (bahˊ-yith) “denotes a fixed, established structure made from some kind of materials. As a ‘permanent dwelling place’ it is usually distinguished from a tent (2 Samuel 16:21, cf. v. 22)” (H1004). 1 Kings 6:7 tells us, “When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.” The large stones that were used to build the temple were chiseled into shape at a quarry so that they would fit together perfectly when they were placed in their designated spot. In the same way that the stones were prepared beforehand at the quarry, so are individuals prepared by God through the process of sanctification so that they can be joined together and built into a dwelling place for God.
The analogy of the potter and the clay is used throughout the Bible to describe the process of sanctification. It was first introduced through the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 18:1-6 states:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
Paul used the analogy of the potter and the clay to explain God’s sovereign choice. Paul said:
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,
“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.”
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:14-33)
Paul referred to Jesus as a stone of stumbling rather than the cornerstone that orients the building in a specific direction in order to point out that faith in Jesus is what tripped up the Israelites. The people of Israel were unable to shift the focus of their attention from their own individual acts of righteousness to the sacrifice that was going to be made by Jesus so that their sins could be atoned for.
Simeon’s exclusion from Moses’ blessing (Deuteronomy 33) demonstrates how free will and God’s sovereign choice work together to produce the final outcome in an individual’s life and the legacy that is passed on to future generations. A similar example can be found in the life of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Jesus told his disciples:
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:63-71)
Jesus later linked Judas’ betrayal with the process of sanctification and what Paul described as the edification of the church (1 Corinthians 14:4). After Jesus had washed his disciples feet, he said, “’The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’ When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you’” (John 13:10-15). Jesus differentiated between the initial spiritual birth of a believer and regeneration when he said, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (John 13:10). Paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-eeˊ-ah) “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainos (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis), by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824).
Jesus told his disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). It seems that anakainos is not just a process that God engineers to build individual character, but a joint process that all believers participate in for the collective benefit of everyone. From that standpoint, the twelve tribes of Israel modeled the type of community that the body of Christ is expected to emulate. Just as Simeon’s absence created a noticeable gap in Israel’s family structure (Genesis 42:36; Deuteronomy 33), so does the absence of individual members of the body of Christ. Paul said, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have not need of you’…But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).