June 3, 2010 David Balzer

Genesis 34-36: Family Matters

No means no

On Tuesday the NSW Attorney General announced that there’d be changes to the laws regarding R.APE. The changes would be to do with the definition of CONSENT. John Hatzistergos said he would be writing “No means no” into the statute books.

It’s all come to a head in the r.ape trials in the last couple of years. Victims of r.ape go through a terrible time because defence lawyers often argue that whatever happened was CONSENSUAL.

It’s a terribly cruel form of defence. And it ends up meaning the poor victims are victims TWICE OVER.

The lawyers argue that The Waters Are Murky. That there are two sides to every story. And that fault is a hard thing to prove.

I’m sure it’s not REALLY murky at all most of the time. But that’s what lawyers are paid for. So any help from the government in the area of pinning down who’s at FAULT is a good move from what I can see.

And we can do with some help in TODAY’S passage TOO. Because Gen 34 is the account of ANOTHER r.ape. And the waters are pretty murky around THIS ONE TOO. It’s pretty hard to work out who are the bad guys – who’s to blame. And who – apart from Dinah – to feel sorry for. And then there’s the whole problem of what we’re to LEARN from it.

So, what we’ll do is work through the story. And then go back and look for some hints about what to DO with it.

Family matters (34)

Just at the outset, I want you to notice it’s a chapter filled with the language of FAMILIES. And I think it’s done in a purposeful way. Every character, almost every time they’re described, they’re described with their family tag attached.

Like usually, if I mention Caron, my WIFE, at the start of a conversation, from then on I can just call her Caron. And you know who I mean. Do it every time and it’s like I’m trying to emphasise something.

Here in Genesis 34, it’s emphasised almost every time. And in a way that’s maybe quite ironic. Because even though the LABELS of family are there, maybe relationally they’re not ACTING like it.

Have a look at what I mean. “Now Dinah THE DAUGHTER LEAH HAD BORNE TO JACOB,” verse 1, Who you’ll remember is the wife Jacob DOESN’T love. “went out to visit the women of the land.” Verse 3, it’s there again. “Dinah, DAUGHTER OF JACOB.”

Verse 5, Jacob hears about HIS DAUGHTER DINAH; JACOB’S SONS in the field, verse 5 and verse 7. Jacob’s DAUGHTER. Shechem says to Dinah’s FATHER AND BROTHERS, verse 11; and because their sister Dinah verse 13. And on it goes. Verse 25, two of Jacob’s SONS, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s BROTHERS.

The language of family is EVERYWHERE. Problem is, when it comes to the ACTIONS, they’re not ACTING like a family should.

Chapter 33 ended with Jacob and his large family setting up their tents within sight of the city of Shechem. And, at the start of Ch 34, Dinah, his only daughter, goes out with some of the local women. Apparently on her own. She’s probably only about 15.

But tragedy strikes. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, who’s the ruler of the area, when Shechem sees her, he takes her. He’s used to getting what he wants. And verse 2, he r.apes her.

But then he decides he rather LIKES her. And wants to KEEP her. So verse 3, he decides to chat her up. First the sex. Then the romance. “His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob,” verse 3, “and he loved her. And he speaks tenderly to her.” And then in verse 4, speaks less tenderly to his father. “Get her for me. get me this girl as my wife.”

Nice piece of work. But then, in v5, the attention shifts back to Jacob. Who’s somehow found out about it. But KEEPS QUIET ABOUT IT until his sons come home.

Now when your daughter doesn’t come home when she’s meant to and you get word she’s been r.aped, how are you meant to react? Because the bizarre thing is, when Jacob gets the news, HE DOES NOTHING.

I’m not sure what exactly I WANT him to do. But I want him to do SOMETHING. To show that he cares. I want him to do something like the parents of those kids in jail in Bali for drug running. There’s not a whole lot they CAN do, but they just want to be there and hug their kids through the bars. So they drop everything and get there as fast as they can.

Jacob SAYS nothing. Jacob DOES nothing.

Notice, from here on in, how it’s his SONS who fill the void left by Dad. Hamor comes along to talk to JACOB (v6). But it’s his SONS who take over. They come in from the fields as soon as they hear, and they’re FURIOUS. Because it’s A DISGRACEFUL THING that’s been done to their sister. And Jacob’s sons are intent on making Shechem pay. As usual with this family… in a devious way.

So Hamor turns up with smooth words. And a dangerously deceptive offer.

Hamor says to Jacob, “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter.” (Okay, he might have gone a bit far. But let’s turn this into a win, win.) Let’s do a deal. Intermarry with us, verse 9. You’re living on the edge of town anyway. Come and join us. Give us your daughters, and take our daughters for yourselves. Settle among us. Live with us, trade with us. Do real estate deals.

Except you can see the danger spelled out in verse 20; where you get to hear Hamor talking to his townsmen. He says, let’s do the deal. But the reality is, he’s planning a takeover. He says, “Let’s do what they’re asking. Because then,” verse 23… “won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours?”

He’s been dangling a very attractive sounding offer to the Israelites. But his plan is to absolutely ABSORB them. Til there’s nothing left. It’s the danger of God’s people getting too close. And losing their DISTINCTIVENESS.

But notice TOO, Jacob’s sons have got a plan of their own. In verse 13, they reply DECEITFULLY – typical for this family, There’s a kind of a mock indignation, as they spell out their conditions.

They say, “There’s no way we can give our sister to a man who isn’t circumcised.” We’ll only agree on one condition. That you… and all your men… get circumcised. Do that, say the brothers, and we’ll settle among you and BECOME ONE PEOPLE WITH YOU. Otherwise, we’ll take her and go.

And Hamor and Shechem agree. And the rest of the townsmen agree too, which is perhaps even MORE astounding. Once they point out the ECONOMIC benefits of the deal. As we saw in verse 23, all Jacob’s livestock, property and all his other animals will become theirs.

So Verse 24, every male in the city is circumcised. Which means they’re in considerable pain. At which point Simeon and Levi, verse 25, Dinah’s full brothers… take their swords. And storm the city. And kill EVERY MALE. Verse 26, they put Hamor to the sword, they put Shechem to the sword; they take Dinah from Shechem’s house, and they leave. Mission accomplished.

And then Jacob’s OTHER sons, verse 27, come and loot the city… where their sister’s been defiled. And all the TOWN’S flocks and herds become THEIRS. And all the wealth, all the women, all the children, everything in the houses… it’s theirs. In a reversal of Hamor’s plan.

And it’s EXTREME revenge. Way beyond justice.

  • For ONE man’s lust… they kill EVERY man in town.
  • For one man’s impulsive decision to take ONE woman… they take EVERY woman in return.
  • For the one deceptive plan to take Israel’s livestock by ASSIMILATION… the sons of Jacob have taken Hamor’s livestock… by ANNIHILATION.

Terrible vengeance that goes way beyond the original crime. The exact scenario, by the way, that God’s law to Moses of an eye for an eye was meant to PREVENT. To STOP this sort of unjust justice.

And notice that we still haven’t heard from Jacob. Not a word. In previous chapters, he would have been at the front of the queue when it came to being deceptive, and putting plans into action. But Now… nothing.

But now finally he speaks. Verse 30. He says to Simeon and Levi, “Boys, you’ve gone too far.”

Well, no thanks to Jacob’s leadership, mind you. He sat on his hands for the whole episode. But he’s right. They’ve gone way too far. Not that he’s critiquing the horrific INJUSTICE of it, mind you. Just that they’ve upset the neighbours.

“You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in the land. We are few in number; if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

He doesn’t seem to mind the huge over-reaction. The blood filling the streets. Just the CONSEQUENCES FOR HIM. Like the mother who says to her son. “Stop punching your brother – you’re getting blood on the carpet. Take it OUTSIDE”.

To which the boys reply, SOMEONE had to stand up for her. “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”

And that’s how the chapter finishes. With A QUESTION MARK. Which says something, I think, about the whole chapter. One big QUESTION MARK. What SHOULD they have done? Who DOES behave RIGHTLY?

And what IS the point FOR US? And what can we LEARN?

Let’s be honest. There’s not really anyone to copy here. Anyone to follow. Everyone’s behaved disgracefully.

  • Whether it’s Shechem – with no self-control, and lust in his heart.
  • Or Jacob who does nothing and says nothing.
  • Or Hamor and the townspeople, who are so greedy, they’ll do ANYTHING to make a dollar. And I mean ANYTHING!
  • Or Simeon and Levi who make the OPPOSITE mistake of Dad. And OVER-REACT. With Calculated white hot rage. And Who exact revenge way out of proportion with the crime.

Geography Lesson

Well, it’s at this point that God steps into the mess. At the start of Ch 35. And tells Jacob to go… where he SHOULD have gone in the beginning. Go to BETHEL – where you promised you’d go. Build your altar there. Where you promised. Chapter 35 verse 1.

“Then God says to Jacob, ‘Go up to Bethel, and settle there. And build an altar there to God who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.'”

Do you remember that? Way back in Ch 28. More than 20 years ago. Time for A GEOGRPAHY LESSON. Have a look at the map in the outline.

20 years earlier. When he’d run away from Mamre, on his way to Haran. When he’d dreamed about the staircase leading from heaven down to earth. God had promised to bring him back to that spot. “I will not leave you until I’ve done what I’ve promised” he said.

And Jacob set up his stone pillow as A WITNESS. He’d come back to that spot. To testify that God had done what he’d promised. Back to the stone called “God’s house” – Beth-el.

But Jacob seemed to have forgotten.

Have a look at where he went wrong. Have a look at the end of Ch 33. Just before today’s chapter. Jacob’s arrived back into the Promised Land. And he and Esau make up. And Esau said “Let’s travel home together”. Back to Seir, way down south.

But Jacob had OTHER plans. And so he gives an excuse about looking after the baby sheep. I’ll catch up with you in Seir.

So Esau tries again. v15. “Then let me leave some MEN with you.” To keep you SAFE. But Jacob INSISTS. By this stage we’re starting to get suspicious. ‘Cause he’s got no intention of joining up with Esau. And so, instead, in v16, Esau heads home. But Jacob doesn’t head for Seir, or to Mamre where his Dad is, or even to Bethel, where he promised God he’d go.

He only gets as far as the city of Shechem, where he bought a field nice and close to town. With city views. Close enough for the kids to walk into town. Very handy. Which is where all the problems started.

That’s THE GEOGRAPHY LESSON. And the point of it all/ is that Jacob’s mistake and disobedience is the cause of the whole mess.

But now God says to set things right. To go to Bethel like he should have in the beginning. And so Jacob goes. And he SEPARATES HIMSELF from the surrounding people like he should have in the first place. They get rid of the stench of the people of Shechem. They bury their foreign gods, and their earrings. They purify themselves and change their clothes.

And in v6 of Ch 35, they make it to Bethel. Jacob needn’t have been worried, because God protects them. They build the altar and worship God. Like they SHOULD have done at the start. And none of Ch 34 would have happened.

Back on track

And it seems like things are back on track. Have a look down to v9 of Ch 35. We get the familiar refrain. God blesses Jacob, and reminds him of his new name. And then he renews his promises.

9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.

11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.”

It’s all very familiar. In fact, SO familiar, some scholars reckon it’s just been grabbed from somewhere else and put in here by mistake by someone way back.

But I think it’s here for a reason. It’s COMFORTING. For Jacob and for us. Like a plane that goes through a terrible storm, with turbulence that causes everyone to panic. But then the storm’s over. And when the captain’s calm and steady voice comes over the intercom, everyone knows it will be alright. That the captain’s got things in control.

And it’s the same here. Despite the questions and the mess, the pain and the sin. THINGS ARE BACK ON TRACK. Jacob’s disobedience has led him off target for a while. And people have suffered. And yes, there will still be more consequences for those mistakes.


And there’s more we could talk about. Three events worth mentioning in passing.

  1. Down in v16, Rachel dies in childbirth. And Benjamin survives.
  2. And then, in v22, Reuben, the oldest son, sleeps with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah. The mother of his brothers Dan and Naphtali. It’s a rebellious insult against Jacob. Wishing him dead. And there’ll be a price to pay down the track. But for now, once again, Jacob hears about it but does NOTHING.
  3. And third, down in v29, Isaac dies. Finally. We all thought he was on his death bed YEARS ago. But he hangs around until Jacob gets back – just like God promised. And Jacob and Esau bury him.

Which brings us to the end of the section. A section all about FAMILY MATTERS.

Building a Better Israel

I don’t know about you. But it leaves me with a nasty taste in my mouth. Jacob’s family is a disaster. This dysfunctional family with multiple wives and out of control kids, And yet it’s the line God brings to BLESSING.

Because one of those kids, Judah, will be the descendant of Jesus. The ULTIMATE king. God’s king. The king over sin and death. The king of ETERNITY. OUR king.

And following Jesus, Jacob’s family will be replaced by A NEW FAMILY. God’s church. Followers of Jesus from every nation. Including us. Called to be different. Called to do our part in building A BETTER ISRAEL. A more distinct and holy and separate people of God.

And so there are warnings here. Mistakes not to make. Especially, perhaps for dads. But for sons and daughters as well.

Mistakes of DISCONNECTION when you should be connected. Which is so typical of dads. I know. Because I’m one. The mistake of thinking “she’ll be right” – when perhaps she WON’T. The mistake of keeping quiet for the sake of a bit of peace and quiet. When perhaps we need to be doing a bit more standing up for what’s important. And who’s important.

The mistake of NOT protecting when you should protect. Of compromise. Of abdicating your role. Of being HANDS OFF when you should be HANDS ON. All failures in fathering.

But there’s a BIGGER mistake to avoid. A lesson for ALL OF US. The mistake of BLENDING IN. When we should be remaining DISTINCT. Of letting the world contaminate and pollute you. When we should be DIFFERENT.

That’s the point for the FIRST people to hear these stories. To Israel wandering in the wilderness. About to enter the Promised Land. And God was telling them to AVOID the nations. Don’t marry them. Don’t mingle. Don’t follow after their gods. Don’t eat their food.

This happened to your ancestors. Learn from them. Be a HOLY PEOPLE.

Lev 20:26 You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy , and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

(pause) And King Jesus tells US the same thing. Mt Ch 5. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men so that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.

Be DISTINCT. Be different. Be pure. Be HOLY.

Make your ATTITUDES different. How you TREAT people. Especially those that other people IGNORE. Be different in the way you work – especially when the boss ISN’T watching.

Be different in the way you SPEAK. Walk away when people are gossiping, or running someone down.

Be different in the way you play sport. In the way you do business. Show integrity and patience and honesty when those around you/ AREN’T.

Be DIFFERENT in the things you WATCH. Keep your eyes PURE. Watch out for the internet, and movies, or magazines.

Parents, be different in the way you LEAD. Lead as servants. Wanting what’s best for your children. Follow the example of your Servant King.

Children, be different in the way you OBEY AND HONOUR your parents. And your teachers and your bosses and your coaches. Show RESPECT. Be HONEST. Be OPEN. TRUST their judgment as people God’s placed OVER you.

Be different in your attitude to MONEY. And to possessions. Be CONTENT. Be GENEROUS. Don’t let the world INFECT you with GREED and SELFISHNESS.

Be different AS INDIVIDUALS. Be different AS FAMILIES.

And be DIFFERENT as a people of God. As a better Israel. If we are serious about being DIFFERENT. Then it should affect the way we TREAT each other. We should be REMEMBERING each other. A phone call during the week can mean a lot. Or an invitation to coffee. A card, even an SMS can hit the spot at just the right time.

Be hospitable. Be welcoming. Be generous.

Be courageous at church. WORK at it. Talk to DIFFERENT people each week. Don’t leave someone standing on their own. Church isn’t just about YOU.

That’s the way the WORLD treats people. But we’re to be DIFFERENT. NOT to take on their attitudes and behaviour.

Matt 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

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