Dinah and the Shechemites, Genesis 34

Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and violated her. His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, ‘Get me this girl as my wife.’” –Genesis 34:1-4

Shechem was not only the name of a place, but also the name of the man that Dinah encounters. Jacob probably didn’t foresee the immediate crisis looming. But the consequence of compromising God’s directive to go to Bethel (31:3, 13) would wreck havoc not only on his family, but also on the Shechemites.

You may read Genesis 34 here: Bible Gateway.

Dinah—Leah’s youngest child—must have been at least a teenager at this time. This suggests that Jacob and his family had been living in, or near, Shechem for several years.

Who could blame Dinah—living with 11 brothers—for wanting to get out and socialize with other girls her age? After all, a girl needs girlfriends!

Jacob, Leah, and Rachel must have been somewhat uncomfortable with their children living so close to pagan influence. Maybe they planned on moving to Bethel (as God had directed) in the near future to find mates for their growing kids. Maybe Jacob remained near Shechem in hopes of spreading a godly influence. Whatever their reasons, by-passing God’s command to return to Bethel put themselves in a tangled mess.

It wasn’t long before Shechem, the city’s chieftain, took notice of Dinah. This soon turned into an obsession. Beautiful Dinah, being of a different nationality, probably held a certain charm that the Canaanite girls lacked. For they were immersed in a culture of immorality and idol worship.

Henry Morris (The Genesis Record) writes: “Unattached women were considered fair game in cities of the time, in which promiscuity was not only common but, in fact, a part of the very religious system itself. It seems likely that Dinah must have been warned about such dangers by her parents, but perhaps she felt she could look out for herself and resented their overprotective attitude.”

Scripture doesn’t say if Dinah encouraged Shechem’s affection. But in light of her age, statutory rape would probably be applied in our times.

Even though Shechem violated Dinah, he pursues her as his bride. Since marriage was arranged by parents even in pagan cultures, he asks his dad to approach Jacob in the matter.

Jacob learns what happened, but waits until his sons come in from the fields. In the meanwhile, Hamor and Shechem show up. Without a hint of an apology, or indication that a wrong has been committed, Hamor suggests that Dinah be given to Shechem as his wife.

Jacob’s sons overhear their wild proposal and burst into the room. Jacob seems to fade into the background as his sons take charge.

The brothers are furious.

Not only has their only sister been violated, but Shechem has “done a disgraceful thing in Israel,” polluting their national purity that’s necessary for God’s continual blessing upon them.

(Side note: The name Israel in verse 7 refers to God’s chosen people for the first time.)

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Because of Simeon and Levi’s sins, their father cursed them with his dying breath (49:5-7). Their descendants (generations later) lost the part of the promised land allotted to them.

Adding insult to insult, Hamor suggests a general intermarrying between his people and Jacob’s clan. He also throws in a bonus: trade and land deals.

Jacob’s sons—following Jacob’s previous devious ways—devise a plan of revenge. (Never mind the defilement of God’s holy meaning of what they are about to propose!) They pretend to go along with Hamor’s proposal on one condition only: “That you become like us by circumcising all your males,” (vs. 15).

Why did Jacob’s sons include all the Shechemite men?

Maybe they felt they deserved punishment for their indifference to Shechem’s crime. Or perhaps they reasoned that they couldn’t carry out revenge on Shechem the Chieftan as the townsmen would surely kill them.

Surprisingly, the Shechemite men agree to circumcision. I guess the temporary inconvenience paled in light of the financial gain they would reap from this alliance.

So, on the third day—when the men are most debilitated—Simeon, Levi, and possibly their servants charge the city. Going from house to house, they slay all the men (including Shechem and Hamor) and rescue Dinah. Maybe the other brothers join in the looting and capture of the women, children, animals and possessions.

So where is Jacob during all of this?

His infuriation with his boys’ retaliation shows that he wasn’t in on this plan of vengeance. But his verbal response also indicates a selfish viewpoint: “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites,” (vs. 30).

Jacob’s silence—along with Simeon and Levi’s reference to Dinah as their sister (rather than Jacob’s daughter)—could infer that Jacob didn’t give her much attention. Maybe that’s why her protective blood brothers (Leah’s sons) felt justified in their actions.

Reflect

Simeon and Levi were right to be angry at both the injustice done to Dinah and Hamor’s proposal of mixing the chosen Israelite seed with the Canaanite seed. However, taking the law into their own hands was flat out wrong. Their arrogance led to the slaughter of innocent people.

This horrific account shows the high price of compromise. If Jacob had obeyed God’s command to return to Bethel, this tragedy wouldn’t have happened.

The following questions come to my mind: Am I settling for compromise? Am I putting off what God has asked me to do (or not do)? My consequences may not seem as huge, but do I really want to just coast in my relationship with God and miss His best for my life?

Thanks for staying the course! I appreciate you!

Jacob Meets Esau, Genesis 33

Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men.” –Genesis 33:1

Twenty years have passed since Jacob cheated Esau of his birthright and blessing. For twenty long years, Jacob most likely imagined how and when Esau would settle the score.

After a unique wrestling match with God, however, we witness a change in Jacob. No longer enslaved to the domination of fear and deceit, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. This signifies his changing character, (see Jacob Wrestles With God).

Chapter 33 marks an important time in Jacob’s life. You may read Genesis 33 here: Bible Gateway.

With a new limp, Jacob boldly precedes his family in meeting Esau and his 400 men. Using precautionary measures, he bows to the ground seven times before Esau. This was an ancient court protocol used before kings.

Esau’s Response

Men didn’t run in Esau’s culture. But Esau breaks the cultural norm and sprints toward his brother. Jacob’s heart must have felt like it would explode. Would this be his end?

Amazingly, Esau embraces Jacob in a big bear hug. Esau’s kiss indicates forgiveness. And the two brothers weep. . . . I would have loved to see their reunion!

Esau’s refusal to accept Jacob’s herds as gifts shows he is not the taker that Jacob has been. But upon Jacob’s insistence, Esau finally does accept the gifts. The word gift is translated from a word that means blessing. By receiving the gifts, Esau grants Jacob the opportunity to feel forgiven.

Jacob’s Response

Jacob’s comparison of Esau’s face likened to God’s face expresses his profound relief in Esau’s acceptance of him.

Although Jacob claims he is headed to Seir, he travels to Succoth instead. Scripture doesn’t say why. But this is the exact opposite direction from Esau. Did he fear that their reconciled relationship might be in jeopardy if they lived side by side? Did he reason that the land couldn’t support both of them for pastures? Did he fear facing his father?

Sadly, Jacob would never see his father again (unless Scripture didn’t record it). In fact, the next time Jacob and Esau would meet up again in Scripture is 27 years later at Isaac’s graveside (35:29).

Against God’s directive to settle in Bethel (28:21; 31:3, 13), Jacob settles near the city of Shechem instead. This is where Jacob builds his first altar, (just as Grandpa Abraham had done when entering Canaan).

Jacob names this altar El-Elohe-Israel, which means “the mighty God is the God of Israel.” This is the first record in which an altar is named. By using his new name, Israel, Jacob not only acknowledges God as the God, but also as his God.

Reflect

In Esau’s case, time did heal old wounds. d1b6a7c0420163d15b9c1ee3cab7f99bI love that both brothers came to the conclusion that their real estate wasn’t nearly as important as their relationship.

Although Esau usually gets a bad rap, I really admire his example of not allowing bitterness to rule his life. Instead, he chooses forgiveness. Esau also demonstrated contentment with what he had.

As in Esau’s case, life dishes out times when we feel cheated. What can we do when we feel cheated and used?

The Psalms are full of honest expressions and cries for God’s help. We can also express our hurt, anger, and disappointment to God. And then—with God’s help—choose to forgive and not be bound to bitterness.

Have a great week!

Jacob Wrestles With God, Genesis 32:22-32

That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” –Genesis 32:22-24

I would love to be an owl in a nearby tree and watch this fascinating event unfold.

You may read Genesis 32:22-32 here: Bible Gateway.

Several questions surface after reading this passage. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Why did Jacob send everyone on ahead as he stayed behind prior to meeting up with Esau?

After 20 years to ponder how—or when—Esau might kill him (for cheating Esau of both his birthright and blessings), tomorrow would be the big day. Would Jacob live or die?

Distressed and terrified, Jacob lagged behind to pray. Hosea 12:3-5 tells us that Jacob’s wrestling not only involved physical tenacity, but also weeping and supplication.

Is this passage to be taken as an allegory or literal account?

It seems apparent that the writer of this passage (probably originally Jacob) meant for this account to be taken literally. Even the name Jabbok means “Wrestler” in memory of Jacob’s amazing experience. If Jacob ever chalked his experience up to just being a dream, he had a permanent limp to remind him of his physical wrestling match.

Layman’s Bible Commentary notes: “The man [Jacob’s wrestling opponent] is deliberately crippling Jacob at the point of his greatest strength [the thigh being the largest and strongest muscle connection of the body].”

“Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon,” (vs. 32).

Hmm . . . an interesting development, especially prior to meeting Esau. Jacob would be weak from wrestling all night. Definitely not in his best fighting form!

But why would God send Jacob off limping (besides a reminder of this unique encounter)?

The Apostle Paul—who had a lengthy list of credentials—said: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Corinthians 11:30). Why?

Our weakness, when given to God, gives Him an opportunity to fill us with His power. God was teaching Jacob to rely on Him instead of relying solely on his smarts and energy. Henry Morris (The Genesis Record) writes: “He [Jacob] must know fully his own weakness, but even more he must know the power of God and his right to claim that power.”

I think God was teaching Jacob to look at the big picture, instead of focusing so much on his stressful situation of meeting Esau again. There was more at stake here. God had an important mission for Jacob. For the Messiah would come through his descendants.

Was Jacob’s wrestling opponent a man, an angel, or God?

Angels often appeared in the form of men in those days. The passage from Hosea 12:3-5 also indicates that Jacob “had power over the angel, and prevailed.” However, according to Jacob, this was no ordinary angel: “Because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared,” (vs. 30). So Jacob names the place Peniel, which means “face of God”.

But how could Jacob touch (and see) God’s face and still live?

Morris writes: “This would have been utterly impossible, had not God veiled Himself in human form (Exodus 33:20; 1 Timothy 6:16).

If the man was God, why does verse 25 say He couldn’t overpower Jacob (vs. 25)?

Morris explains: “This, of course, does not suggest that God was weaker than Jacob, but does show that God desires men to persist in prayer and that He delights to yield to such prayers. . . . There is such a thing as prevailing prayer, when the request conforms to the will and the word of God, (Luke 18:7; Luke 18:1). Jacob’s experience symbolizes all such prayers.”

What is the significance of God changing Jacob’s name to Israel? a0904592003610f6889e5fdc5cab1e1e

God gave some Bible people new names to symbolize how God had changed their lives. In fact, Revelation 2:17 says: “To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”

These white stones are significant because they represent new hearts that God has cleansed from sin. The new names given show that God has accepted and declared his children not guilty.

Israel means “he struggles with God”. Jacob, the ambitious “heel-grabbing” deceiver had grown to one who struggles with God and overcomes. Morris also notes that Israel means “One Who Fights Victoriously with God.” It has also been rendered “A Prince with God” and is translated in this verse, “as a prince hast thou power.”

Reflect

I love that God answered Jacob’s prayer in such a personal way: in the form of a real wrestling match! Jacob, who had formerly twisted situations and manipulated people probably never imagined that he would literally wrestle God (and learn some important lessons in the process!) God definitely knows how to get our individual attention. He longs for a personal relationship with each of us (Revelation 3:20).

God is still in the business of transforming lives. God initiates the change, but we must press on if we want to grow in Christ-like character.

I love that God can take the weak and broken strands of our lives and weave them into something beautiful for His purpose. . . . Have a terrific week!

Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau, Genesis 32:1-21

Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home. Jacob also went his way, and the angels of God met him.” – Genesis 31:55-32:1

After Laban departs from Jacob on good terms, Jacob obeys God and travels on to Canaan. You may read Genesis 32:1-21 here: Bible Gateway.

God Sends Angels to Meet Jacob

Why did God send angels to meet Jacob?

Fear and distress overwhelmed Jacob at the report of Esau’s 400 men. How often did Jacob replay Esau’s threat of killing him over the past 20 years? Weekly? Daily?

Not only did Jacob cheat his brother of his birthright (25:33), but he also stole the family blessing from him (25:29-27:42).

But God reassures Jacob of His protection by giving him a glimpse of the angels’ presence. Jacob names the place Mahanaim, which means “double host” or “double camp”.

The Bible records many instances of angels intervening in human situations. Perhaps Jacob recognizes these angels from his previous dream (see Jacob’s Dream At Bethel).

Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau

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First, Jacob would iron out the physical details of his trip (vs. 3-8). When he learns of Esau coming to meet him, he divides the people and animals into two groups. If Esau attacks, he thought, the group that is left may escape (vs. 8).

Jacob sends messengers on ahead to shower his brother with gifts. He applies wisdom in the wording that he instructs his servants to use: He calls Esau “lord” and humbles himself as his servant.

Maybe, just maybe, he could buy Esau’s favor. Perhaps the 550-plus animals would be viewed as an act of reconciliation. Or maybe Esau would realize that Jacob isn’t returning for his inheritance after all since Jacob is already wealthy.

After doing everything he can to physically prepare in meeting Esau, Jacob preps spiritually. His prayer in verses 9-12 is the first and only extended prayer in Genesis. Jacob’s prayer could be summarized as the following:

  1. He restates God’s words to him: “Go back to your country and relatives, and I will make you prosper.”
  2. He admits that he doesn’t deserve God’s kindness and faithfulness.
  3. He pleads for safety.
  4. He reminds God of His promise to bless and multiply him and his descendants.

Reflect

How would you feel if you were about to meet the person you had tricked out of his/her most prized possession? Jacob must have been trembling in his sandals! But instead of fleeing, (as he fled from Laban), Jacob demonstrates that his faith is growing.

Instead of drowning his worries in a bowl of ice cream, or frantically running around, he makes practical plans and then releases his anxieties to God in prayer.

Now that would be a good thing to remember the next time I reach for that bowl of chocolate ice cream!

This section ends with Jacob spending the night in the camp. Next week, I’ll wrestle with—excuse the pun—the short, but intriguing passage of Jacob wrestling with God (vs. 22-32).

I hope you are enjoying spring. Despite catching a heavy cold, I am loving the warmer weather. Have a super week!