Today’s Scripture Lesson: Genesis 34
The Converted Con Man
Genesis 34 finds us in about the midway point of the story of Jacob. If you’ll recall, Jacob managed to swindle his brother, Esau, out of his birthright for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:31-33), and out of the firstborn’s blessing from Isaac (Genesis 27:35).
By all accounts, Jacob had a well-documented history as a deceiver. But, by this point in his story, Jacob had wrestled with God who told him that he would no longer be called Jacob, but his name would be Israel. Thus, God had revealed to Jacob his covenant identity.
Here in the 34th chapter of Genesis, Jacob’s understanding and acceptance of his God-given identity are put to the test. As we join the story, a man named Shechem has taken Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, and laid with her by force. Being deeply attracted to Dinah and desiring to marry her, Shechem asks his father Hamor, a Hivite, to get Dinah as a wife. Jacob heard that Dinah had been defiled by Shechem, but remained silent on the matter until his sons came in from the field. Upon hearing the news, Jacob’s sons were angered and grieved that such a disgraceful thing was done to their sister – a daughter of Israel.
Contract, Covenant, or Con?
Knowing that Shechem wanted to marry Dinah, Jacob’s sons devised a scheme wherein Shechem, Hamor, and all the rest of the Hivites would enter into covenant with them and become one people. The condition of the covenant was that every male, including Shechem and Hamor, must be circumcised.
Swiftly agreeing to the conditions, every male in the land was circumcised. Then, on the 3rd day after the circumcision, while the men were in great pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, took their swords and killed Shechem, Hamor, and the men of Shechem. Jacob’s sons looted the city, taking livestock, all the wealth, as well as the women and children because Shechem defiled their sister.
What Grabs Your Focus?
One may simply view this passage as a story of a rapist being served justice by the brothers of the victim. It is easy to look at Jacob in this story and assume he had simply checked out of his fatherly duties. Likewise, it is easy to assume Jacob had an incredibly selfish and bizarre response to the actions of his sons.
In our 21st-century mindset, we tend to focus on the victim, Dinah; and, when we have vengeance in our hearts, it’s easy to relate to how her brothers dealt with Shechem. Keep in mind, though, that this is a piece of the overall narrative of Jacob’s transformational and covenantal journey as God’s representative. Thus, Jacob, a seemingly small character in this chapter, still garners our focus.
I don’t make light of rape, and before we go any further, I want to acknowledge with utmost compassion the long-term physical and emotional pain of rape. Having said that, and without condoning, we can concede that, historically, the culture we read about in Genesis 34 viewed women differently than we do today. If we take a moment to trade in our 21st-century lens for an early historical lens, we may take away a different lesson.
Revenge or Redemption?
Jacob and his sons were all concerned about Dinah’s circumstance, but probably less so as a victim and more so as a damaged commodity. Her worth had been completely diminished among her people. Furthermore, Jacob’s sons were more likely concerned with their own personal honor and reputation being damaged.
As a result, Jacob’s sons came up with a solution which would redeem her from this defilement and bring greater power to their own people. By entering into covenant and giving their sister in marriage to Shechem, this would naturally satisfy a culture of arranged marriage. Dinah could walk with her head held high in this culture.
The question still remains: Why was Jacob silent?
As a father, I can only imagine my gut reaction. I can only imagine the rage I would have in my heart. Jacob’s response is counterintuitive, especially for a guy with a sordid past.
I wonder what Jacob’s internal struggle must have been. He must have felt a sense of anger, a sense of failure to protect his daughter, and likely a battle between his fleshly desire to hurt the one who hurt his kid versus providing for her ultimate need to be restored. While this was still his fatherly duty, he may have believed his sons were able to address this need better than himself. I can only imagine Jacob’s thoughts as he humbly watched his sons present a solution to restore Dinah and, had the two sons not acted of their own accord, probably prevent a lot of bloodshed between his men and the men of Shechem.
Ultimately, he watched his sons bring a new people into covenant.
Are you starting to see why Jacob was so angry with his sons for killing Shechem? Jacob, the former con-man’s transformation is critical in this response, but so also is his focus on covenant.
The Heart of Covenant
We usually equate “covenant” with “contract” here in America, but the two are not the same. By entering into covenant with Shechem, Jacob and Shechem said to one another, “Everything I have and everything I am is yours.” The two men were now representing, protecting, and providing for one another.
Even bigger than that, this was an invitation for Shechem to enter into the family of Abraham. Hence, the two men were representing God Himself to one another and the world. Simeon and Levi didn’t simply destroy the men of Shechem, they destroyed God’s covenant people. And, they did so in the name of justice, using God’s covenant to manipulate the situation.
When we reduce this story to that of only rape, swift justice, and a con-man being conned by his own sons – and cheer that on – we miss out on the transforming power of God’s Word and His covenant.
Jacob, a transformed man of God, set aside his fleshly desires and focused on redeeming his daughter. He focused on healing and restoring his daughter. Sadly, Jacob’s sons took a few lessons from his old play book and focused on vengeance. Simeon and Levi allowed their thirst for vengeance to trump any loyalty in representing God’s character by misusing the fruits of His covenant.
SO, WHAT’S THE PLAY CALL?
The transformed life is counterintuitive to that which our world presents. James 4:10 tells us, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.” In other words, surrender your past, your anger, and your vengeful desires to your Creator, because your heavenly Father is focused on redemption, healing, and restoration.
This isn’t the message the world sells you. But, in accepting God’s grace, we begin to live transformed lives as salt and light in a dark world.