Corrupted by the Kosmic System. Genesis 35
This is one of those chapters that describes the under-belly of Israel. And what that always tells us is that this is emphasizing the grace of God that is far beyond anything that we can imagine and is not based on anything that we do, anything that we have done. It is a depiction of an event in the Old Testament that depicts grace. It is the story of a sexual assault, vengeance and retribution. It involves the rape of Dinah who is the daughter of Jacob and Leah. Then, following that, there is the attempt to make things right by the man who raped her—Shechem who was a prince of the town of Shechem which was named for him. He tries to purchase her as his wife which really aggravates and angers her brothers because they view this as just minimizing the whole situation and that he is treating here as if she is nothing more than a common prostitute. As a result they enact a rather brutal vengeance upon all of the inhabitants of Shechem, and they use the Abrahamic covenant as a cover and a justification to attack and destroy all of the inhabitants of Shechem.
When we look at this account we ask the question as to why this appears in Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 says that all Scriptures is breathed out by God and is profitable. So what is the profit in reading about a bizarre situation like this and where we see just the worst of the family of Jacob. There is a purpose to this and it is rather simple. Beginning with this chapter God the Holy Spirit is revealing why it was necessary to move the Jews with Joseph down to Egypt. Remember we have to interpret this in the context of the entire Pentateuch. The Pentateuch was written by Moses to the Jews as they came out of Egypt there they had been slaves and were on their way to the promised land. So they are asking a lot of questions: Why did call us? Why are we here? How did we end up in Egypt? Why do we have to execute holy war against the Canaanites? Why do we have to kill every man, woman, and child? They are loaded with questions like that, and so part of what is being answered in the book of Genesis is laying the foundation for why God has given this land to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and all of the ways He has faithfully worked since the promise to give the land to Abraham in Genesis chapter twelve. It reveals to them why it was necessary to go down to Egypt and to become enslaved, and what God's purposes were. Furthermore, it is for them and for us a graphic portrayal of the characteristics of paganism and a warning to the people of that time not to assimilate to the thinking and culture of the Canaanites. For us by application it is a warning of what happens when believers in any age, any era, assimilate to the cultural thinking of their time, whatever it may be.
What we have here is a portrayal of certain characteristics of pagan culture and a warning of what happens when there is that assimilation.
Introductory principles to keep in mind as we go through this:
1) When you lie down with dogs you are going to get up with fleas. When you associate with certain kinds of people who always think the same way and have the same value system then you can't help but be influenced by that kind of peer pressure and assimilate to that culture around us. Every believer in every culture is constantly exposed to the input of the pagan culture around it. When you live and operate in a pagan culture without the protection of Bible doctrine functioning as a filter to keep the pagan viewpoints, ideas, and values out, then what will inevitably happen is that you will begin to live and think like the people in the culture around you.
2) In this chapter we see several characteristics that are typical of different types of paganism. First of all there is a lax attitude towards sex and sexual norms and standards which are designed by God to be restricted to marriage as a celebration between a man and a woman, which excludes polygamy and homosexuality. In paganism, sex is reduced to simple physical gratification, a physical need and nothing more. With that diminishing of the value of sex comes a diminishing of the value of men as men and women as women, as they are designed by the plan of God. The second characteristic which is typical of paganism is that the role of the sexes is perverted so that males as a class become tyrannical and oppressive toward women as a class. And women as a class seek to subvert the authority of the men.
3) Justice is perverted into vengeance. The issue is not vengeance but justice. Vengeance is very different from justice, it takes place when we no longer have an objective external standard and we are concerned about righting a personal wrong from our own personal vantage point.
4) We see here two different and wrong responses to evil and injustice. The first is passivity, and this is seen in Jacob when here his daughter gets raped by this man in Shechem and is more concerned about his social acceptance in the community, and the fact that people would accept them and they could live and operate in the community, than he is about the honor of his own daughter. He is conspicuously silent throughout the entire episode. After the brothers overreact at the end of the chapter he accuses them of overreacting and says he will have to move, the people wouldn't accept him and let him live here any more, and look what you have done to my reputation. So one side of it is this passivity toward evil: that somehow we are going to appease evil and compromise with evil, and everything will be okay, just don't rock the boat. Then we have the opposite, which is a harsh overreaction, demonstrated in the actions of the twelve sons of Jacob. An injustice, which is clearly an injustice and a crime, is used to justify an even greater injustice and crime, and it is committed almost in the name of religion. But in neither case is justice served or the victim honored. In both cases it is a self-centered, arrogant type of reaction to evil and injustice and there is little appeal for an external standard.
5) The end justifies the means. This rationale is typically operative in paganism because there is no external objective. So the sin nature always seeks to justify itself in terms of its own carnality.
6) This event in chapter thirty-four is part of a mosaic which gives us a picture of the spiritual and moral status of the twelve sons of Jacob. All of the sons of Jacob are morally and spiritually bankrupt, and yet God is still true to His promise that He is going to bless all the world through these individuals. The over-arching doctrine in this chapter is the importance of separation from the cosmic system. That is the real issue here. The reason God has to move the descendants of Jacob down to Egypt is because they are assimilating with paganism. The point of all these episodes is to show that as they have rejected doctrine they begin to act just like the pagans around them and if God doesn't do something they are going to assimilate within a couple of generations around them into the Canaanite culture and they won't be any different. They will be lost. So in order for God to achieve His purposes in history he is going to bring them through various means down to Egypt and isolate them so that they can grow to a substantive number and then go back to the land and defeat the Canaanites. This shouldn't be taken as a physical separation per se. There are always legalists who come along and say we need to go off and live in a monastery, etc. Isolating from the world completely is not the right answer. There is a physical element of separation that will be necessary but it is first and foremost a mental separation based on the priority of Bible doctrine. We have to get our thinking aligned with the Word of God and then the consequence of that is that the more we think biblically the more we will be able to rightly discern where to bring about those other separations.
7) Another key doctrine in this chapter is the grace of God. It is God's grace that He brings about His plans and purposes, and they are not dependent on who we are and what we do. God's plan is always dependent on His character, not our character.
8) A negative theme which we see working itself out in the chapter is that of deception.
What has just happened in this chapter is that Jacob has come back from the north and has had this encounter with God, and wrestled with the angel at Peniel. The children that Jacob had with Leah are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun, and a daughter who was Dinah. Dinah is a full sister to Simeon and Levi and they are the ones who seem to lead this charge of vindictiveness.
Genesis 34:1, 2, "And Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bore unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her." "Prince of the country" tells us that Shechem is in the aristocracy and is son of the key leader in this city of Shechem. Dinah "goes out," and this foreshadows the whole attraction of the children to paganism. She wants to get involved with the daughters of the land. She doesn't want to stay home with her brothers, she wants to go out and be with the women in the Canaanite cities. She wants to learn all about them and is attracted to them.
Shechem "saw her." There is a lot that is skipped over here. Where did he see her? What was involved in this? How did he get in a position where he was alone with her where he could rape her? All these details are skipped over in the text, but what we can see reading between the lines is that they got involved. This is probably what we refer to today as date rape, or perhaps he is just abusing his authority; but whichever is the case he violates her. There is no Hebrew word for rape, but it is the threefold use of these words that indicates that he is raping her.
Genesis 34:3, "And his soul clave [was strongly attracted] unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spoke kindly unto the damsel." The word that is used for "strongly attracted" is the Hebrew word dabaq. The first place we run into that word is back in Genesis 2:24 when a man is to leave his parents and cleave to his wife. This is not a term for sexual activity, it is a term for strong attraction or authority. But what has happened here is that Shechem has lust, not love. He tries to woo her after this, it says he loved her and he spoke kindly to her. He is trying to make up to her because he wants to have her as his wife.
Genesis 34:4, "And Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, Get me this damsel to wife." This sounds harsh and demanding but that is not the case in their culture. This is just a standard custom.
Genesis 34:5, "And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter: now his sons were with his cattle in the field: and Jacob held his peace until they were come." What we think when we read that is that Jacob is going to do something once his sons are there, but Jacob isn't heard from again until the end of the episode. He is completely silent and in the background as if he abdicates his whole role, and then when the sons do what they do Jacob is angry with them because now he is not going to be able to associate with the men of Shechem any more and conduct business with them. He is taking the passive appeasement role to handling evil.
When the brothers come together they are going to negotiate but they have an ulterior motive. They have a plan already; they are going to execute vengeance.
Genesis 34:6, "And Hamor the father of Shechem went out unto Jacob to commune with him." Then the next five verses, from 7-12, basically give the negotiation.
Genesis 34:7, "And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very angry, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob's daughter; which thing ought not to be done." Their reaction is correct, it is what they do with their reaction that is wrong. Jacob didn't negotiate, the sons did. Notice that we don't read that Jacob is angry. That is the influence of paganism. This is an example of how paganism affects how men and women relate to each other in marriage. Leah and her children are minimized and he just doesn't care. The sons are properly grieved and angry because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel. They have a sense of right and wrong, just has been violated, and there is a cry for justice. Unfortunately their thoughts on justice have been completely destroyed by the pagan culture around them.
Genesis 34:8, "And Hamor communed with them, saying, The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife. And make marriages with us, and give your daughters to us, and take our daughters unto you."
Notice verse 9. Verse 9 and verse 30 are the interpretive keys to this passage. "And you shall dwell with us: and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade therein, and get you possessions therein." Assimilate with us; become one with us. Verse 30, "And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, You have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house." Their goal is to assimilate, and now God has used this to prevent that assimilation. So God is even using all of this evil of the brothers to work out His purposes of protection. Another thing to note is that under girding this is an economic motive on the part of Hamor. He looks at Jacob and his wealth and thinks that if he can get his daughter as a daughter-in-law and they start intermarrying with us, we are all going to get richer. That is going to be one of the major reasons Shechem uses to convince all the men in the village that they need to go out and get circumcised.
Genesis 34:12, "Ask me never so much dowry and gift, and I will give according as you shall say unto me: but give me the damsel to wife." He is going to pay anything for the bride price. The custom among the Hebrews was to pay a dowry or bride price. It wasn't the purchase of a wife but this is how he is expressing it, and that is how the brothers take it. In verse 31 their understanding can be seen: "And they said, Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?" That is how he comes across to them and so they come up with a plan.
Genesis 34:14, "And they said unto them, We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised; for that were a reproach unto us." They have no care or concern about the Abrahamic covenant or their relationship to God whatsoever, but this is an opportunity to use the cover of religion to bring about their injustice. They are going to use circumcision to do this.
What was circumcision? It is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant—that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were unique, set apart, and it was a reminder that God had promised them the land.
Genesis 34:15-17, "But in this will we consent unto you: If ye will be as we be, that every male of you be circumcised; then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people. But if ye will not hearken unto us, to be circumcised; then will we take our daughter, and we will be gone."
Genesis 34:18, "And their words pleased Hamor, and Shechem Hamor's son." They were thinking of all the money they were going to make at the end when they intermarry.
Genesis 34:19, "And the young man deferred not to do the thing, because he had delight in Jacob's daughter: and he was more honourable than all the house of his father." In the Hebrew it says "he was more honored among the people." He was in a position of respect among all the people so he uses his position to go back and motivate the men to go out and get circumcised without benefit of anesthesia. He must have been a good public speaker! Of course, that is exactly the plan that the brothers had. They are going to have these men go through this surgery without anesthetic and it will pretty much knock them out of the combat mode for awhile. After three days, when they are in a lot of pain (the third day after surgery is the most painful day), they are going to come into town and execute vengeance. And this is exactly what they did.
Genesis 34:25, "And it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males." Remember, in Jacob's prophecy in Genesis chapter 49 he says, "Cursed are their swords." That is the problem. They are violent. This isn't justice, this is vengeance, and they are completely out of line. They are acting like pagans and executing vengeance and not justice.
The Mosaic law states that if a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and rapes her, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman's father fifty shekels of silver ( the bride price) and she shall be his wife because he has raped her. He shall not be permitted to divorce her all of his days. If she was betrothed he got the death penalty; if she is not betrothed it is not as harsh. But this is Jew to Jew. If a Jewish woman was raped by a Canaanite then it would be the death penalty—for him, not for his whole family and the whole city. So this is an overreaction of vengeance against everyone.
Genesis 34:26, "And they slew Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem's house, and went out."
In verses 27-29, the sons of Jacob came upon the slain and they plundered the city. "They took their sheep, and their oxen, and their asses, and that which was in the city, and that which was in the field, and all their wealth, and all their little ones, and their wives took they captive, and spoiled even all that was in the house."
Then Jacob finally shows up and is angry with the brothers, not because they have illegitimately executed vengeance but because he has to move. He can't hob-knob with the aristocracy in Shechem any more.
Genesis 35:1, "And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel." An interesting transition.
The point of this is that when we don't use the Bible and doctrine as a filter for paganism then believers will succumb to their sin natures, rationalizations and justifications of their sin natures, and believers will look, act and behave like pagans. But what the Scripture tells us is that we are not to be conformed to this world, i.e. the thinking of this era. We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Romans 12:2, 3. So we are to stand firm against assimilation with the cosmic system's thinking around us. That involves a lot of thought, a lot of effort, a lot of study, in order to think biblically.