Biblical People

Biblical People: Simeon (1)

Simeon is the second oldest son of Jacob and Leah. The Bible shares two stories about Simeon. The first concerns him and his brother Levi, which we’ll cover in the next chapter. 

The other story relates to his brother Joseph and occurs about two decades after Joseph’s brothers sell him as a slave. Through multiple trials, Joseph has conducted himself well and risen to a place of power in Egypt, where he oversees the distribution of grain during a prolonged famine.

Joseph’s brothers (minus their youngest brother, Benjamin) go to Egypt to buy grain, so their family won’t starve.

Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they don’t recognize him. He treats them harshly. This isn’t to pay them back for the wrong they did to him, but to test their character. He wants to see if his brothers have changed. 

He accuses them of being spies and throws them all in prison for three days. Then he releases nine of them and sends them home with food. But he keeps Simeon locked up. 

He warns them sternly to not return without their youngest brother, Benjamin. Though he knows who they are, he claims this is to prove they haven’t lied to him and to show they aren’t spies. Until they do this, he will not sell them any more grain and Simeon will remain in jail.

The nine brothers return home and tell Jacob what happened. He forbids them to return with Benjamin and secure Simeon’s release. Jacob considers Simeon as dead and prohibits Benjamin from going.

When the food they bought is gone, Jacob tells his boys to return to get more. They remind him that they can’t unless they return with Benjamin. At last, he relents, and Benjamin joins his nine brothers to go to Egypt to buy food and secure Simeon’s release.

When they reach Egypt, Joseph frees Simeon. We’ll pick up the conclusion of the story in the chapter about Joseph. Until then, let’s consider Simeon’s situation.

The Bible doesn’t say why Joseph picked Simeon to remain locked up while his brothers go free. It may have been random, it may have been strategic, or it may have been because Simeon and Joseph’s relationship was the most strained among the brothers.

We don’t know why, but we do know that Simeon languished in prison while his brothers went home to their families, eating the food they had bought and making no effort to return to secure his release.

In responding to his father, Judah notes they could’ve gone to Egypt and returned twice had they not delayed.

Simeon is no doubt counting the days until they come back to rescue him. He knows how long the journey will take. He knows when they should return.

That day comes and goes, but he’s still in jail. He continues counting. At twice the number of days, he’s still there. Surely, he assumes his family has abandoned him to suffer in prison until he dies.

How happy he must’ve been—although a bit peeved at how long it took—when he’s released from jail and reunited with his brothers.

How do we respond when something takes twice as long as we think it should? Do we trust God to be faithful to us even if our family or friends let us down?

[Read Simeon’s story in Genesis 29:33; 42:21–36; 43:23; and 49:5–7.]

Learn about more biblical characters in Old Testament Sinners and Saints, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. Get your copy today.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

By Peter DeHaan

Peter writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and make a faith that matters. Learn more at