Gen 33 ended with Jacob moving to the city of Shechem. What was so significant about this move? Shechem was not Bethel, where God made a covenant with Jacob. In Gen 28:20, Jacob made a vow, where he promised that he would return if God was with him and protected him and provided for him. Throughout Gen 29-33, we read of God's fulfilment of His part, yet, Jacob did not return to Bethel.
(A) Being in the wrong spiritual place leads to suffering when we wander away from the covenant promise to God (Gen 34:1-12).
In verses 1-7, the people in the narrative make mistake after mistake.
- Gen 34:1 -- Dinah went out to see the women of the land. This was not a wise move, not because the Bible is against independence of women. Rather, remember the context -- it was a patriarchal society and women were not usually seen roaming alone. This act of going out to understand the foreign culture also implied some form of idolatry.
- Gen 34:2 -- Shechem seized her and humiliated her. (Note the description and the language. The literary style implies that she was abused badly.) Remember, the Bible does not support such a treatment (see Gen 34:7).
- Gen 34:3 -- He tried to court her after because he was in love with her. This was adding insult to injury.
- Gen 34:4 -- He appealed through the proper means of courtship to get hold of her. This was utmost humiliation for the young woman.
- Gen 34:5-6,13,30 -- Jacob waited until his sons returned and held his peace’. In fact, there was no mention of his outrage and he seemed to his sons like he was useless. It also seemed inappropriate that the father did not speak on behalf of his daughter, and had to depend on the sons to stand up for his daughter.
- Gen 34:7 -- The sons were incredibly angry but likely because of pride (family dishonor). Western cultures would not understand this passage, because the individual's rights and privileges are not being considered.
This messy situation does not end here. Hamor and Shechem tried to reason with Jacob. In verses 9, 16 and 21, the language of trade and economics was used. The mutual exchange of daughters in marriage between Jacob's people and the people of the land were spoken of in pure financial terms.
12 verses into Gen 34, the situation looked dire. And Jacob was strangely silent throughout much of the proceedings. Why was Jacob silent? His fear was real. By this point, Jacob had limited resources and he was a sojourner in this land. He had limited security. He was a stranger amongst strange people, people who could rape his daughter and then come to make some sort of business dealings thereafter. Who were these people and what could he do?
(B) Being in the wrong spiritual place leads to sin and temptation when we wander away from the covenant promise to God (Gen 34:13-31).
While Jacob was silent, Genesis records for us the reply of Jacob's sons to Hamor's proposition (Gen 34:13-17,31). This was strange on so many levels. Firstly, it was strange that Jacob did not reply. Not only that, the sons replied deceitfully, and chose to wield the circumcision as a tool of revenge. The writer of Genesis made their deceitful scheming clear (Gen 34:13). They proposed to Hamor that the people could join their family through marriage only if every male was circumcised. Hamor and Shechem brought this proposal back to their people. In their deliberations with the leaders of the land (Gen 34:20), the wealth of Jacob and his family was highlighted. There was no doubt that in their minds, circumcision was just a means to an ends.
The passage ends with a massacre of the city by Simeon and Levi, Jacob's sons, when the men of the land were recovering from the ritual (Gen 34:25). They did not stop there. Verses 28-29 also record for us the plunder of the land. Because of their actions, Jacob was now a "stink to the inhabitants of the land" (Gen 34:30).
What can we learn from this depressing passage? Many things. God made a covenant with Jacob in Gen 28, promising (1) land and wealth to his family (Gen 29:13), (2) the spread and increase of his offspring (Gen 28:14), (3) that the nations will be blessed through him and his offspring (Gen 28:14b), and (4) God's continual presence, security and protection (Gen 28:15). In Gen 28 too, circumcision was given as a sign of separation, a mark of distinction between God's people and the rest of the world.
Gen 34, stands in stark, ironic contrast to the promises and picture painted in Gen 28.
- Jacob was promised wealth, but now, he was a stink to the inhabitants because they plundered the locals when they were vulnerable. Jacob brought conflict to the land that he lived in, a land that he was not even supposed to be in, because it was not Bethel.
- Jacob was promised the spread of his offspring, but here, his family was broken. His daughter was humiliated and was not married by the end of the chapter. Her only role in this passage was to suffer. Her brothers were a disgrace to Jacob, following in the footsteps of Lamech by showing incommensurate retaliation.
- Jacob's sons slaughtered the land, bringing violence with them to a land they were sojourners in.
- Jacob was promised the presence and protection of God, but God's presence was absent in this chapter as they dwelled in a land they were not supposed to be in.
In the previous chapter, God delivered Jacob from Esau, and that was a high in his life journey. Just a chapter later, Jacob and his family do not seem secure at all. The covenant family bring violence and vengeance to the land, instead of blessing it and bringing peace as they were supposed to. The covenant family are a bunch of murderers, schemes and plunderers. These are the people that God chose to carry on the covenant promise.
At the end of Gen 34, we see the sin and temptation and suffering of the world after Gen 3. It shows us, through the life of Jacob, how we cannot keep our promises to God and we break it time and time again. What hope is there for us?
Years later, the Bible records for us an encounter of Jesus with a centurion in Matt 8:5-13. The centurion was a Gentile, yet he displayed faith and recognised the authority of Jesus. Jesus commended him for his faith, and spoke of a day when "many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven". Jacob failed to keep his promises and obey God fully. Jacob's family did not live to bring blessings to the nations around. But years later, Jesus came, who obeyed God perfectly, and in Him, all promises find fulfilment. Because of Jesus, peace with God to all, from the east and west is available, through faith in Him.