What does Genesis 49:5 mean?
ESV: “Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords.
NIV: Simeon and Levi are brothers-- their swords are weapons of violence.
NASB: 'Simeon and Levi are brothers; Their swords are implements of violence.
CSB: Simeon and Levi are brothers; their knives are vicious weapons.
NLT: 'Simeon and Levi are two of a kind; their weapons are instruments of violence.
KJV: Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.
Verse Commentary:
On his deathbed, Jacob is providing an oracle. This will predict the fates of the twelve tribes descending from his sons (Genesis 49:1–2). First, he explained why the eldest son, Reuben, would lose the privileges of being firstborn (Genesis 49:3–4).

Now, the focus shifts to Jacob's second- and third-born sons: Simeon and Levi (Genesis 29:33–34). Although all Jacob's sons were "brothers" by definition, Simeon and Levi were sons of the same mother, Leah. And yet, Jacob's description of them indicates an especially close relationship. Unfortunately, this also implies they were closely linked in their violent tendencies. Their response to the rape of their sister, Dinah, by a local prince (Genesis 34:1–2), was to slaughter the entire town in a planned ambush (Genesis 34:25–29). This brutally violent revenge is condemned and results in consequences.

This verse contains an often-debated Hebrew word only used once in the Old Testament. Most translations render the word mekērōtē as a reference to a weapons, such as "swords" or "knives." The term is apparently related to an older word referring to digging, stabbing, or piercing. Since it would be redundant to point out that swords are weapons, some interpreters believe Jacob is implying something else. Suggestions range from Jacob referring to schemes, to the circumcision knives involved in the brothers' deceptive tactics towards Shechem (Genesis 34:13–15, 24–25). Others note that mekēra is also translated as "habitations," so this could be a veiled reference to the sons' reproductive members.

Regardless of such details, Jacob is clearly condemning these two sons generally for their fierce and violent anger. More specifically, he is reprimanding them for their massacre of Shechem. The fate of their two tribes will be a form of scattering (Genesis 49:6–7).
Verse Context:
Genesis 49:1–7 begins Jacob's prophetic remarks about his sons, beginning with Reuben, Simeon, and Levi. These are in the context of a family "blessing," though not all the predictions are positive. The main blessing has already been bestowed on the two oldest sons of Joseph (Genesis 48:5–6). Here, the three oldest sons of Jacob are punished for their prior sins. Reuben loses his firstborn rights. Jacob predicts that Levi and Simeon will be largely absorbed into the other tribes.
Chapter Summary:
Genesis 49 contains Jacob's dying prophetic remarks. In the form of poetry, Jacob pronounces positive and negative "blessings" about each of his 12 sons and the people who will come from them. Reuben, Simeon, and Levi are each held to account for their past sins. Judah is described as a lion; the kingly line will come from his people. Joseph and his descendants are lavished with blessings. Once the oracle is completed, Jacob commands his sons to bury him with his fathers in Canaan. Then, the man God named "Israel" (Genesis 35:10–11) dies.
Chapter Context:
After a life of struggle and controversy, Jacob's family has securely settled in Egypt. Genesis 48 told of Jacob's blessing on Joseph's two oldest sons: Ephraim and Manasseh. In Genesis 49, Jacob gives both positive and negative predictions to each of his sons, in turn. Jacob then commands his sons to bury him in Canaan, then dies. The final chapter of Genesis describes the family's mourning and Joseph's death. The opening verses of Exodus race forward some 400 years, as the nation of Israel falls into harsh slavery under new Egyptian rulers (Exodus 1:8–14).
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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