As the Blog through the bible experience continues, here are some thoughts on Genesis 34-37
Revenge is the theme of the first part of chapter 34, and in it, we see how sin affects everyone. D.A. Carson notes that we tend to think that there are only good guys and bad guys, “but in the real world, it is far from uncommon for sin to corrupt not only those who do evil but also those who respond to it with self-righteous indignation”. This story is heartbreaking. The only ones with no blood on their hands are the victims, Dinah herself, and the people of Shechem who, while unconnected with the guilt of Shechem and Hamor, are either killed or enslaved.
The story is just dark. Jacob has camped near Shechem,and Dinah, Leah’s daughter, went into Shechem to check out the town. But something happens, she’s seen by Shechem, son of Hamor the king, and he takes her and rapes her. Now, this would be a terrible fate for a girl in the Ancient Near East. Rape is always terrible. But in the ANE, a girl who had been raped had no prospect of ever marrying, or of ever having any real, normal restored life. She was defiled. A strange twist occurs here, because Shechem wants to marry her. When Jacob hears about this, he reacts strangely. He keeps his peace till his sons come home. When the sons come home, they are incensed. Hamor makes an offer, a very generous one, but a deceitful one. He wants to incorporate the riches of this family into his city-state. Notice in his speech, he never acknowledges that a wrong has been done, and he is motivated by greed.
The brothers answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully and say, “We have standards. Our sister can’t go to someone who is uncircumcised (Jonathan summary)”. But they offer a deal. You get circumcised like us, and we will go for it. At this point Hamor is cracking his knuckles.He’s about to get a rich ally or subject. But what happens? The brothers wait until the men have been circumcised, and in their fury, Simeon and Levi do the indefensible. In essence, what they did was use the central religious rite of their faith as a means to incapacitate the men of the village (the word city refers to a community of any size), then slaughter them and take their wives,children, and wealth as plunder. This is beyond the pale, they have a right to be angry, but how does this hone their sister, or please God?
In all this, it’s hard to see Jacob’s role. He was initially silent. This may have been nothing more than biding his time, but it comes off looking calculating and unloving, and it is certainly not principled.His assessment of the dangers of the situation is accurate, but it offers neither justice nor an alternative.
So what’s this story got in the way of lessons?
First, we see the reoccurring lesson, the fact that God has graciously intervened, does not mean they are out of danger, and not prone to wander from Him into sin.
Furthermore, just because they are chosen, does not necessarily more righteous, kind, just, or superior than those around them. In fact, they are shown to be far less righteous. Remember Christians, we are in many ways, the same. We cannot stand there in pride, saying, I’m a Christian,and therefore, I’m more righteous then that person over there. The gospel takes the legs out from this, reminding us, we are justified by grace alone through faith alone. It’s very possible (and even probable), that someone from another religion may be more outwardly upright than you. Christians recognize our need for salvation, and cry out. We know we’re not saved because we are better. This passage reminds us why we should cry out in faith. It says clearly, we are not necessarily more righteous, just called and forgiven.
Finally, see God using even this mess. The crisis at Shechem is what brings the family back to Bethel, the house of the Lord.
Genesis 35 is the end of the trip, and the last chapter that centers on Jacob. The story is about to move to the next generation. Here,we see that finally Jacob arrives back in Bethel. Decades after he left, God says, go to Bethel. Finally, he returns to where this all started for him. Before he goes, He purifies his home. He has Jacob remove the idols that Rachel, stole, and any others that were in their possessions. They also got rid of jewelry that was associated with false Gods,and they went to Bethel, under the protection of the Lord. There were repercussions for the events at Shechem.
When he arrives at Bethel, he built an alter, and worshiped, calling the place El-Bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. There, the great love of his life dies, and he is renamed, and once again, the promise is restated.
Once again, we have another tawdry detail, in the story of Reuben; it’s a sad tale. This is followed by the death of Isaac.
What’s the lesson in this chapter? Deal with sin. Don’t let it get swept under the rug, and ignored. Here, Jacob cleans out his home,and says, no more idols.
Genesis 36 tells the story of Esau’s descendants, the Edomites. It tells how Esau took his family and possessions, and went into a land away from his brother Jacob, because the two of them were so rich that they couldn’tdwell together. Esau settled in the hill country of Seir, what became Edom, and became the father of the Edomoites.Notice again, the structural hint in the book. The line outside of the promise has its story told first, and it is followed by the line of the promise.
The story of begins to shift to the next generation in37, as the focus becomes Jacobs’s children.
Here, we get the sad story of Joseph and the Technicolor dream-coat (couldn’t resist). In all actually, it’s probably just a long road,signifying that he is the one that will be the head of the family, and the one that receives a larger portion of the inheritance. He is the one that his father is blessing most. This ticks off the older brothers, as does his dreams.How would you like your kid brother to tell you he will rule over you? Yeah.That’s how they felt. They hated him. When they get their chance, they take their revenge. They throw him in a pit, and then sell him. The story ends with him in slavery.
In this, notice that they were not all equal partners in the plot. Reuben tries to do what’s right, but his plan doesn't work.
Notice, just as Jacob deceived and brought pain, he is now deceived, bringing him pain.
Notice, a similarity between Jacob’s story and Josephs story. Both stories have a 20 year separation, and then, reconciliation with their brother.
Furthermore, note that there is also a parallel betweenJoseph’s bondage and freedom, and Israel’s, bondage then freedom. They both move from slavery, to freedom.
Finally, notice the place that he is sold. Dothan. Only two things are recorded at Dothan. In the first, Joseph is sold into slavery.And I imagine that he cries out to God for rescue, and it seems that God ignores him. Later, an army surrounds Dothan to Capture Elisha, and God sends an army of angels. One prayer answered, one ignored. Did God not hear Joseph?No. He heard, but he had a bigger plan. Never presume that because you don’tknow what God is doing, that he isn’t working.