Genesis 49:5–7—How can Jacob pronounce a curse upon Levi here and yet Moses blessed Levi in Deuteronomy 33:8–11?
Problem: In Genesis 49:5–7, Jacob pronounces a curse upon Levi: “Cursed be their [Simeon’s and Levi’s] anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel” (v. 7). However, in Deuteronomy 33:8–11, Moses blessed Levi: “They [the Levites] shall teach Jacob Your judgments, and Israel Your Law... Bless his substance, Lord, and accept the work of his hands” (Deut. 33:10–11).
Solution: Jacob pronounces this curse upon Levi and Simeon because of the cruel manner in which they took revenge upon the inhabitants of Shechem (Gen. 34:1–31). As a punishment for their crime, they would be scattered among the other tribes of Israel so that they would not obtain a land possession of their own. However, the curse upon Levi was turned into a blessing for all the tribes of Israel. For it was God’s plan to scatter the descendants of Levi throughout Israel so that “They shall teach Jacob Your judgments, and Israel Your law” (Deut. 33:10).
There is no contradiction between these two proclamations. Levi’s descendants were scattered, as Jacob prophesied, but they were used by God to function as the priestly tribe throughout all Israel, as Moses had proclaimed. Levi was not given an inheritance of land among the other tribes because, in Numbers 18:20, God had said, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel.”
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.