Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Genesis Chapter 34 ~ Vow, Violation, Vigilante, Vengeance, & Vexation

Genesis Chapter 34 

Jacob's only daughter, Dinah, daughter of Leah, went to see the "women of the land". This was inappropriate for women to leave a rural encampment to go into an alien city, a Canaanite one no less (Sarna, 233). Also, it's difficult to tell if she went "to see" the women of the land, or if it should be rendered "to be seen" by the women of the land. Either way, she was doing something she shouldn't have been up to.

The prince of the land, Shechem, son of Hamor the Hivite, saw, seized, lay with, and humiliated Dinah (34:2). It's difficult to tell for sure if this was seduction into intimacy or if it is intimacy by force, although it seems to have been forced because of the humiliation in verse 2 and the defilement in verse 5 and verse 27.  He loved her and asked his dad, Hamor to, "Get me this girl for my wife." (34:4) It seems that she remained in the house of Shechem while Hamor went to Jacob.

Jacob heard about all of this, but not his sons, and Hamor went to speak with Jacob. Meanwhile Jacob's sons came in from the field when they heard what had happened, and they were angry for Shechem's lying with their sister, because this shouldn't have been done "in Israel". They were to be separate from the culture of Canaan, set apart to and for the Lord.

Hamor spoke with all of them saying to give their daughters in marriage and they will give their daughters to them in marriage. This is a means to dwell in the land in good relations (34:10). Shechem said he'd give anything they asked, "[o]nly give me the young woman to be my wife." (34:11)

Jacob's sons answered in deceit, and said they must be circumcised in order for them to give her to them (during all this she was still at Shechem's house). This pleased Hamor and Shechem, so without delay they and every male who went out of the gate of the city who listened to them were circumcised. On the third day, when they were still sore, Simeon and Levi (Jacob's 2nd and 3rd sons by Leah), took their swords and came against the city and killed all the males (34:25), including Hamor and Shechem (34:26). Jacob's sons then took Dinah out of Shechem's house (vs. 26), and plundered everything in the city, because Shechem defiled Dinah (vs. 27).

Then Jacob told Simeon and Levi that they brought trouble on him making him stink to the people of the land of Canaan. And he pondered how his numbers were few and they could be attacked and destroyed, he and his household (34:30). But the sons justified their action saying, "Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?" (34:31)

Reflections on Genesis 34
God commanded Jacob to go to Bethel (31:13), but he stopped here in Shechem, about a day short. In essence this is a breaking of his vow to set up an altar to worship the Lord at Bethel. Jacob stopped here with his family to settle and bought land and built an altar and named it El-Elohe-Israel (33:18-19). So their settling here appears to be a breaking of his vow to follow God's command to worship Him at Bethel. Bruce Waltke summaraizes this well writing, "One cannot worship God as one pleases." (Waltke, 468).  This is certainly part of what's going on here. This is one part of the overall biblical theological picture that David Peterson draws out in his book Engaging with God, A Biblical Theology of Worship. Peterson writes of worship, "Most of us are more conditioned by custom and personal preference in this matter than we would care to admit!" (Peterson, 15) Jacob in Genesis 34 seems to be conditioned by personal preference (although we don't know the exact reason he stopped here). And here's Peterson's thesis after examining the biblical evidence of what proper worship is: "[T]he worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible." (Peterson, 20) Jacob here appears to be assuming he can worship the Lord as he pleases instead of obeying what the Lord has commanded, and in the process he exposes his family to the tragic events of rape, vengeance, etc.

Moving to application don't ask this question, "What are our Shechems that we are settling in as opposed to the Bethel's that the Lord has for us?" We should always ask how we try to worship God on our own terms, but we shouldn't be parsing out what our "Shechems" and "Bethels" as if this is some kind of allegory. Let's ask this instead, "What is the specific function of this in this period of salvation history, and how should we apply this in light of Christ?" It's only after we consider this question that we can then can we apply the text to our lives.

Salvation-Historical Implications
By Jacob disobeying God it appears that he has opened his family to the opportunity for trials here. As hideous as this sounds, violation by rape seems to have been a common and even acceptable way to pursue marriage to the Canaanites, at least it seems that way to Shechem and Hamor. By settling in the middle of this culture in disobedience to Yahweh, Jacob is exposing his family to a terrible threat from the surrounding culture.

Not only has Dinah made a poor choice to go into an alien city by herself, she is also a victim of Shechem's attack (this doesn't seem to be consensual intimacy). Then it appears that Jacob is actually willing to negotiate for her marriage to Shechem. Jacob's reaction is not what one would expect from a man in covenant with Yahweh. For whatever reason, diplomatic or otherwise, he seems to be too easily convinced to marry his daughter off to Shechem (all while she's kept at Shechem's house!). Her brothers, Simeon and Levi, wouldn't have it though (they all shared the same mother, Leah). After they take matters into their own hands and rescue Dinah out of Shechem's house, Jacob again is only worried about diplomatic relations with the Canaanites. He seems to be taking the future of the nation of Israel and fulfilling the covenant into his own hands/power, not worrying about justice for the sake of God's glory or his daughter.

First, Jacob seeks to worship God on his own terms by settling in Shechem. This brings his family into peril. Second, Jacob seems to assume that the future of his posterity lies in how well he can pursue diplomacy instead of going to Yahweh and pleading for justice, and then waiting to hear from God as to how justice should be pursued. Neither Simeon nor Levi pursue God before they pursued justice either, and in the process they may have gone too far in seeking to exact justice/revenge for the rape of their sister. Their anger against Canaan is a foreshadow of how God will later judge Canaan through Israel in the future, but Simeon and Levi's response is not necessarily pursuing what God would have them do, but how they think they can take justice into their own hands. In a sense their reaction equally shows a sinful independence from Yahweh. Jacob almost seems oblivious to the offense of these men (Shechem and Hamor) against his daughter; however, Simeon and Levi hold the entire culture responsible for this sin against their sister/family. Jacob doesn't seem to be phased, until he begins to worry and be vexed about how Canaan will now treat him and his family. Jacob, seems to mistakenly think that He is responsible for guaranteeing the fulfillment of God's covenant promises to his family. Bruce Waltke frames this up writing, "[I]n this scene he exemplifies weak leadership based on prudence and fear." (Waltke, 468)

How This Points to Jesus Christ and Us
Where Jacob is a weak leader, and Simeon and Levi are rash and ruthless in their leadership. We see here that none of these three are the Messiah that was promised to Eve who, in perfect reliance upon God, would exact perfect justice and judgment on the devil, evil, and sin. God's promise to bring an heir through Jacob's line has not been lost, but we can see here that neither Jacob, nor Simeon, nor Levi are that promised Messiah. 

Only Jesus is the perfect Messiah. He perfectly exercises leadership over His people. He did not fall short in perfect covenant obedience to His heavenly Father. He does not abandon His people to the world when it seems to overtake them. He will hold every person who violates His children accountable with a perfect judgment. He does not react to sin too slowly or too quickly, but He deals with sin and evil at just the right time, and in just the right way.

We should trust in God to exact perfect judgment, not merely take it into our own hands. What trials do you face? If you are a child of God, He is much more angry with the things that are attacking you than even you are. Have you ever considered this? Lean into Christ and put your hope in Him, because our greatest trial was conquered when Jesus was nailed to the cross.

It can be easy to externalize evil to everything in the world outside of myself. This is partially true, there is a ton of evil in this world that we face (outside of us). But we know that at best this is a half-truth. Have you ever done anything wrong? Have you ever deceived or manipulated someone? Have you lied, cheated, or stolen? Are you ever selfish, angry, or prideful? Do you ever rebel against God's rule in your life? When we compare ourselves to God's perfection we come to see that we are the evil ones. We are the ones who have rebelled against God for our sin, and His justice demands that we undergo His eternal wrath in hell. But Christ, has died in our place. Jacob's sin, Simeon and Levi's sin, Dinah's sin, and the Canaanites' sin in a sense foreshadow our sin. We become the wicked ones, and perfect justice would demand for us to be destroyed. That's God's just judgment, eternal wrath against us for our sin. But Jesus Christ came to die for our sin, absorbing God's just wrath, so that if we believe in Christ and turn from our sin we can be saved. Jesus is God's Messiah, not Jacob, not Simeon, nor Levi.

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