I need to start off right away and acknowledge that this week’s section was hard. I know you have heard me say this before, but this was a different kind of hard. I struggled with what I was going to say to you today. For two weeks I was stuck, unsure of how to proceed, unsure of how to say what needed to be said.
Chapter 34 is an ugly chapter in the history of Israel. I confess, a large part of my struggle has been “How do I address what happened with Dinah?” I know many of you, but others I don’t know much beyond your name and face – the “Hi, how are ya”. (Some of you who read this online I don’t even know at all – but welcome nonetheless!) I don’t know your histories. I don’t know how this chapter affected you. I want to be sensitive to the very real possibility that this section will be . . . impossible for you to read in its entirety because you are stuck in chapter 34.
Yet, I love you and care for you, and desire for you to grow in love with your Savior and his Word. So I am going to ask you to stick with me, to push through, and afterward, if you need to, come talk to me, your group leader, or someone you trust.
I am asking you to stick with me, because our story does not end with the rape of Dinah. And if you are one of the many women who have been abused, raped, or violated somehow, your story does not end with that either.
I want to walk through these chapters with you and discover three things:
- Jacob’s Sin
- Jacob’s repentance
- God’s promised Grace.
This section follows on the heels of Jacob’s disobedience to God’s command to return to the land of his kindred. In our homework, we noted that he was supposed to return to Bethel – the place where Abraham and he both had set up pillars to honor God. He very clearly is not where he is supposed to be, and I think that is emphasized by the complete lack of mention of God in Chapter 34. Not once.
Dinah, who is the daughter of Jacob’s least favorite wife, is heading out to the city unsupervised. Commentators believe she is around the age of 14 or 15. Culturally, young unmarried women were not permitted to go out without a chaperon for her own safety. Here, though, Jacob does not seem to have noticed or cared. While she is out she is raped, and in a bizarre instance her attacker falls in love with her, and desires to marry her. Jacob hears of the rape, AND DOES NOTHING! Does that sit right with you? I know it did not sit right with me. Some writers have suggested that his delay may have been due to political expediency – not wishing to act too soon or without backup. I might have gone along with that if he had taken steps to ensure her safety and gone to get his sons. But he waited! See in verse 7:
The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done.
The BROTHERS did not delay or wait. They were right to be angry. Why do we never hear about Jacob being angry?
Instead, Jacob allows the brothers to step in and negotiate and deal with Hamor and Shechem. This is not unheard of, for the eldest son to be involved in marriage dealings – we saw it with Isaac and Rebekah, as Laban was the one doing much of the talking with the servant. This is not your average marriage proposal, however. Where is Jacob?
I think Jacob’s sin results in a lack of faithful leadership of his family. He is not where he is supposed to be. He favors one wife over another. He favors that wife’s children over the others. He utterly neglects his daughter, leading to her destruction, and his sons are about to follow in his footsteps.
They have grown up with Jacob the deceiver. What do they do? They purposely deceive Hamor and Shechem. Verse 13:
The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us.”
There is no way we are to believe that their concern here is for the purity and preservation of the covenant with God, of which circumcision is the symbol! They have decided to take matters into their own hands, and perverted this symbol of something precious in order to have an advantage over their soon to be victims.
Where is Jacob’s leadership? Where is his teaching his children about who God is? Why do they have such a casual view of circumcision? I think much of it can be attributed to Jacob not teaching them.
Yes, I know, we can teach our children the truth, and they may still choose to walk away. But I find it hard to believe that not one of them would have hesitated if Jacob had been fulfilling his role – been where he was supposed to be, being WHO he was supposed to be.
Then Simeon and Levi take advantage of the physical weakness of the men of Shechem and slaughter them, steal from them, and exact a revenge upon them that was not theirs to enact. Vengeance belongs to God. But, again, there is no mention of God here.
There is one thing mentioned, though, that I missed before. Look at verse 26:
They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. (emphasis mine)
She was still there! It has been a minimum of THREE DAYS since the deal was struck between the sons of Jacob and Hamor. I don’t know if she was there by choice. We are not told. I tend to think she was there against her will since the word “seized” is used in verse 2. But, if she was there by choice, can you imagine how bad it must have been at home for her to want to stay with the man who had forced himself upon her?
Jacob then is not concerned with her, his son’s misuse of God’s covenant, or with their murder of the people of the town. No, he is concerned only with himself. He is concerned with his safety and the safety of his things. The sons are bewildered at his complete lack of concern for Dinah.
This is an ugly chapter. It is one that many commentators skip over altogether. Why is it here? I can’t fully answer that. I do know, though, that the story did not stop there. So let’s keep going.
After enduring an entire chapter with not a single mention of God, we see the very first words of Chapter 35 : God said..
Chapter 35:1 says
God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”
God calls him again. After all that, God still calls him. Not only that, but he is calling him to go to Bethel a SECOND time! Think about that for a moment. There was not very much about Jacob in the last chapter that makes him seem fit to be called – but God called him anyway.
How reassuring is that?!
Jacob repents. He actually begins to lead his family. He tells them to put away the foreign gods (that he obviously now knows about) and to change their clothes. Changing your clothes in scripture is often used to indicate purification. Then he takes them to Bethel. He obeys. He builds the altar, and names it El-bethel. By adding “El-“ at the beginning of the name, he is shifting the focus to God himself, instead of on the place. His repentance is made evident by his obedience in action.
Now we see God’s promised grace. Here, in verse 9, we see God not renewing, but confirming his covenant with Jacob.
God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.”
God’s reappearance to Jacob is a confirmation of sorts that Jacob is maturing and his relationship with God is developing. God confirms the blessing upon Jacob – the same one given to his father and grandfather.
Look again at verse 11:
And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.
This reminder is here as a lens, I think. It is the lens through which we are to read the next chapter – the accounting of the large and powerful family of Esau. God’s promise was not of merely physical, genetic descendants for Jacob. It was of children adopted through faith in the promise. When preaching on this verse, John Piper said this:
Paul shows that what unites Abraham and the gentiles to God is faith, not Jewishness, so that now all who trust Christ (the seed of Abraham) are true offspring of Abraham and heirs of the promises.
Look at Galatians 3:6-7 to see this:
Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are faith who are the sons of Abraham.
The key here is that faith, not Jewishness, makes you a true offspring of Abraham (and Jacob). So how is it that Abraham and Jacob become fruitful and multiply with a “multitude of nations?” The answer is that they are fruitful and multiply when Christians witness to the gospel and win unbelievers to faith in Christ. Every gentile and every Jew who puts faith in Christ becomes a “child of Abraham” and an heir of the promises. The key is belonging to Christ, who is THE offspring of Abraham (cf. Galatians 3:16). As Paul says in Galatians 3:29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
For two weeks I was stuck in chapter 34, because I forgot to take the step back, and see the entire story. The story of the promise. The story of the one who would come and make it right. The story of the one in whom I can be made perfect – in whom Jacob can be made perfect. In whom YOU can be made perfect.
All of these chapters this week serve to remind me just how UNLIKE God I am, and how LIKE Jacob I can be.
Praise God for the gift of his Son who makes my redemption, adoption, and inheritance of the promises of God possible.