Simeon & Levi: How Not To Handle Anger

Christian Conduct, Emotions, Lessons from Bible Characters

With each breakup that I’ve experienced, my guy friends have always (jokingly) asked where said guy lives and if I want them to go and ‘pull up on him.’ As nice as it might be for them to try and fix my broken heart by inflicting pain on the perpetrator, that wouldn’t sit well with me. Nevertheless, I’m grateful that they care about me enough to want to make the perpetrator ‘pay’ for what they’ve done.



“And the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved and very angry, because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, a thing which ought not to be done.” (Genesis 34:7)

In Context

There are many reasons why an individual might choose to rape, but Shechem’s reason is probably one of the more ‘honourable’ excuses: he raped her out of love (v3). I might hasten to add that since love doesn’t express itself in this way, his desire was more lustful than loving. Nevertheless, this act was borne out of a connection with Dinah, rather than it simply being opportunistic. Furthermore, there aren’t many rapists that desire to marry their victims (v4 – contrast with Amnon in If You Love Her, Wife Her). Therefore, it appears that Shechem has the right components in the wrong order. His lack of self-control leads him to act upon his ‘love’ prematurely and unfortunately has disastrous consequences.

Shechem would have been a circumcised Canaanite without appreciating the significance of the ritual.

Shechem is so devoted to Dinah that he plans to pay whatever sum of dowry is required (v12). However, Dinah’s brothers would prefer that these Canaanites were circumcised before marriage can take place. Circumcision was a covenantal sign between God and his people (Genesis 17:10); so it’s interesting that Simeon and Levi would be content with just the physical element of the covenant, and not the spiritual element since they didn’t explicitly ask Shechem to accept their God. Perhaps this speaks more of their deceitful intentions than anything else (v13). However, on a practical level, you’re called to lead others to an understanding of God, not just the knowledge of the things that such a relationship entails; only then will the individual be able to make decisions based on principle and not pattern.



Shortsightedness of Anger

In their wrath, Simeon and Levi go on to slay every male in the city (bearing in mind that they had just been circumcised according to their wishes) and take their possessions, wives, and children (v25-29). In their eyes, Shechem’s crime could not go unpunished; unlike their father, they failed to take into account the potential consequences of their actions (v31). Jacob, too, was angry about what had happened to his daughter, but he refrained from resorting to violence. The passage makes no mention of Dinah’s reaction, however, in her position, I would feel horrified that an entire city had to pay for the actions of just one individual. Have you ever gone so far in your retribution that you make the victim feel like the perpetrator?

Anger and sin do not need to coexist.

God understands that some situations can evoke anger. I would feel angry too if someone I knew had been violated in this way. Ephesian 4:26a says “be angry, and do not sin” which is a reminder that you can be angry and not sin. In this day and age it’s unlikely that Jacob’s fears in v31 are something you can relate to, but what if your anger costs you your freedom? Is prison a price worth paying for the sake of showing your loved one that you care? Or maybe it costs you your peace because you choose to harbour ill will against that individual. Irrespective of the seriousness of the crime, your responsibility is always to respond in a way that is not sinful.



Applied

There are many lessons we could learn from this, but I think these are especially important:
  1. Prayer – the passage has a worrying lack of prayer despite the fact that they were meant to be His people. Had they consulted God, the outcome would have been very different. Anecdotal and empirical evidence support the idea that we make worse decisions when we are angry – Simeon and Levi can surely attest to this fact.
  2. Self-control – there was nothing wrong with Shechem’s desire for Dinah except his lack of self-control. Had he preserved her virginity, the fact that he wasn’t an Israelite might have been an a barrier he could have overcome due to his willingness to pursue her. Self-control in all areas is important, but more so as it pertains to relationships because that is where the consequences of its lack can be most deeply felt.
  3. Waiting – it feels as though Simeon and Levi acted in the heat of the moment rather than waiting for their anger to simmer down (in fact, they probably ignored Ephesian 4:26b too). Repaying evil with evil doesn’t make things better… it makes them worse. Did they count the cost of potential PTSD from their slaughter? Or Dinah’s guilt because of what they’d done? It’s important to assess the bigger picture.


So…

God saw the situations that would evoke anger, pain, or sadness in you long before you did. Your job is never to try and hurt the perpetrator as much as they hurt you; it’s to focus on your healing and how you can move forward. Where relevant, use the justice system, but never repay evil with evil (Romans 12:17) by taking matters into your own hands.

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