Who was Simeon in the Bible?There are four different men named Simeon mentioned in the Bible: Simeon, a son of Jacob (Genesis 29:33); Simeon, a man who met the baby Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem (Luke 2:25); Simeon, a church member in Antioch (Acts 13:1); and Simeon who was listed in the lineage of Jesus (Luke 3:30). We will focus on the first two Simeons listed above, because there is no detailed information given in the Bible pertaining to the other two.
Simeon: the son of Jacob
Simeon was Jacob's second son with his wife Leah, and he had a reputation for vengeful and angry behavior. His sister Dinah was kidnapped and raped by a Hivite named Shechem, a local ruler's son (Genesis 34:2), which naturally caused Jacob and all of his sons to be furious (Genesis 34:7). Shechem's father, Hamor, asked Jacob's family to make marriages with their family. The sons of Jacob presented a false treaty to Hamor and Shechem which involved all of the men of the city being circumcised, to which Hamor and Shechem agreed (Genesis 34:13–24). However, Simeon and Levi, another of Dinah's brothers, took advantage of the men while they were still in pain from the circumcision and killed all of them, bringing their sister Dinah home with them (Genesis 34:25–29). The sons were rebuked by Jacob for the repercussions their vengeful act would bring to his relations with the peoples living in that land (Genesis 34:30).
Simeon was a part of the group of brothers who sold Joseph into slavery and then lied to Jacob, saying that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal (Genesis 37). When Joseph was the vizier of Egypt, he held Simeon in prison until the rest of his brothers came back to Egypt from Canaan (Genesis 42:18–19, 24).
At the time of his death, Jacob cursed Simeon and his brother Levi for their violence: "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 49:5–7). Several hundred years later, Jacob's curse came to pass when the tribe of Simeon, which was small, had no choice but to share their territory within the Promised Land with the larger tribe of Judah (Joshua 19:1–9). Even so, Jacob showed grace to Simeon and recognized him as a treasured son when he thought he had lost him (Genesis 42:36).
Simeon's story reminds us that while there is nothing wrong with seeking justice, vengeance belongs exclusively to God (Genesis 4:15; Psalm 38:20; 1 Peter 3:9). God shows His grace to Simeon's lineage in Revelation 7:7 where the tribe of Simeon is included in the list of the honored twelve tribes of Israel who will be protected by God during the tribulation.
Simeon: the man in the temple
The Simeon of the New Testament had an opposite reputation to that of the Simeon of the Old Testament. This Simeon was a resident of Jerusalem who was known for being "righteous and devout" (Luke 2:25). He lived during the time that Jesus was born. For generations, the Israelites had hope that a Messiah who would free them from oppression would arrive and save them, as was done for the Israelites in Egypt (Luke 23:50–51; Exodus 3—14). Like the rest of the nation of Israel, Simeon was "waiting for the consolation of Israel," but he was unique in that "the Holy Spirit was upon him" (Luke 2:25). It is this fact that enabled Simeon to have confidence that he would see the Messiah during his lifetime; for "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 2:26).
As was customary, Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem in order to present Him to God (Luke 2:22; cf. Exodus 13:1–2). It was on this occasion that Simeon saw Jesus and recognized Him as the Messiah. When Simeon saw the baby Jesus, he picked Him up in his arms 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's words reveal that salvation and truth would be available for the entire world, not just the Jews, through Jesus and that He would bring glory to Israel. Mary and Joseph marveled at Simeon's words (Luke 2:33).
He continued with a warning of the difficulties to come: "And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, '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 thoughts from many hearts may be revealed'" (Luke 2:34–35). These words disclose that Jesus would reveal truth and that He would be accepted as the "consolation of Israel" by some of the Jews but not by others. Simeon's words also revealed that there would be opposition to Jesus in the future and that Jesus' suffering would cause personal pain to Mary.
Simeon spent his life anticipating Christ's arrival, and in a similar way, we should live our lives anticipating Christ's return (see Acts 1:11 and Titus 2:13). Jesus is a comfort to all who place their faith in His salvation. Just as Simeon was an example of staying faithful to what God had told him in a world that had largely lost hope, we must stay faithful to Christ who has reconciled us to God and given us hope for a future with Him (Romans 5:1–11).
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