Renewing Commitment

Explore the Bible Series

March 30, 2008

 

Background Passage: Genesis 34:1-36:43

Lesson Passage: Genesis 34:30-31; 35:1-7, 9-12, 14-15

 

Introduction: This portion of the Jacob narrative outlines a series of difficulties faced by the patriarch.Resettlement in Canaan brought deep grief to Jacob; yet, faithful readers can mark his growth in grace as he encountered life-changing calamities.In particular, Chapters Thirty-four and Thirty-five describe heart-rending episodes, some unique to Jacob, and some common to the human condition.

 

Chapter Thirty-five recounts the rape of Jacobís daughter Dinah and the subsequent murderous revenge of Levi and Simeon.As we shall see, a young Hivite man named Shechem was overcome by his lustful passion for Dinah, and he violated her.Though he tried to rectify the situation, Shechem met a violent end when Levi and Simeon conspired to murder the young man and his family.This text provides a useful case study of the anatomy of hatred and helps Christians to know how to respond when they have been wronged by someone.As you study the chapter, note these patterns.

 

  1. Hatred is more than an attitude of the heart.It is normal, when mistreated by someone, that a person might harbor hard feelings toward their opponent.The wronged person may have difficulty trusting and interacting with the abuser; however, hatred goes beyond hurt feelings and social reluctance.After Dinahís rape, Levi and Simeon, fueled by the hatred for Shechem, determined to follow a course of violent revenge.In a sense, they determined to play God and seek vengeance for their sisterís defilement. Levi and Simeon were rightly outraged by the unseemly, cruel behavior of Shechem; however, they moved beyond Godís boundaries when they conspired to deceive and murder the Hivites.
  2. Hatred, in this case, led two young men to deception, and they employed the guise of religion to carry out their conspiracy.Levi and Simeon pretended to agree to the marriage of Dinah to Shechem, but, as a condition to their agreement, the brothers required the Hivites to submit to circumcision.On the surface, this request seems religiously motivated, but the demand had a sinister undercurrent.Levi and Simeon planned to murder the Hivites when the circumcision rite rendered the men of the city incapable of defense.While the Hivites recovered from the circumcision procedure, Levi and Simeon murdered all the men of the city.The killings, of course, reveal something of the bloody cruelty of these two brothers, but their religious subterfuge makes the situation even more odious.
  3. Above all, the brothersí hatred led them to murder.In retaliation for the actions of Shechem, Levi and Simeon decided to kill all the Hivite men in the city.Their plan revealed not only their cruelty, but their cowardice as well.They did not challenge their rival; rather, they tricked him into an indefensible position, and murdered him.

In addition to the unusual circumstances of the murder of Shechem, Jacob faced, in Chapter Thirty-six, the normal hardships of life: the death of a parent and the death of his beloved wife, Rachel.We live in a dying world, and the experiences of life teach us to cope with the loss of those dear to us.Thankfully, many of us have faithful friends and family who help us during times of grief, but poor Jacob did not benefit from such support.In the aftermath of Rachelís death, Reuben, Jacobís eldest son, had illicit relations with his fatherís concubine, Bilhah.This, of course, was an unspeakably callous act, but, above all, it was an act of defiance toward his father. This sexual misconduct treated Jacob like a dead man.Reuben defiantly assumed his position as the ďrightfulĒ head of the family.His actions were disgraceful.

 

Thankfully, we have a brief respite from this unseemliness, recorded for us in the first fifteen verses of Chapter Thirty-five.Jacob returned to Bethel and renewed his covenant with Jehovah.There, the patriarch built an altar to God, and the Lord appeared to Jacob with a warm reaffirmation of the divine promise to Abraham and Isaac.

 

Chapter Thirty-six details the continued prosperity of Esauís family.Jacobís brother married several Canaanite women and raised a large, influential family.As we observed in an earlier lesson, Jacob and Esau, though courteous to one another, never really resolved their differences, and Esauís prosperity must have proved a bit unnerving to Jacob.After the death of Isaac, we have no indication that the two estranged brothers ever interacted again.

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   The Defilement of Dinah and the Violence of Jacobís Sons (34:1-31)

A.    Shechemís disgraceful act (vv. 1-3):Apparently, several years passed between Chapters Thirty-three and Thirty-four. Jacob, in disobedience to Godís direction, purchased land from the Hivites.God had told Jacob that he would give the patriarch the land of promise.In time, Dinah grew curious about the women of the area, and, as she visited them, a man named Shechem assaulted her.Derek Kidner raises questions about the nature of his sexual liaison, but the text seems clear that Shechem forced Dinah to have relations with him (terms like ďhumiliateĒ and ďdefileĒ indicate something other than a consensual relationship).In the aftermath of the assault, Shechem tried to make things right by seeking to arrange a marriage with Dinah.

B.     The response of Jacobís family (v. 5-7): Jacobís restraint seems startling; yet, he remains silent about the assault until his sons return from the fields.Note the contrast between Jacobís restraint and his sonsí indignation.Of course, the sons were right to express outrage about the cruel, violent act of Shechem.

C.     Hamorís proposed compromise (vv. 8-12): Hamor hoped to stabilize the volatile situation by proposing a marriage, including a generous bridal gift.Shechem accompanied his father to Jacobís household, and the young man pledged his love for Dinah and a willingness to give a large gift to win her hand.

D.    The shameful conspiracy of Levi and Simeon (vv. 13-31):The text says Jacobís sons arranged a marriage between their sister and Shechem; however, the further development of the story indicates that Levi and Simeon led the conspiracy.These two sons convinced the Hivites to submit to circumcision as a prerequisite for the proposed wedding.Hamor and Shechem enthusiastically agreed to the proposal, and without delay, they circumcised all the men in Shechem.Obviously, this submission to circumcision did not mark a religious conversion for these men; rather, they believed this act would bring peace to a volatile situation and open economic opportunity for both Shechem and the household of Jacob.When the men were sore from their circumcision, Simeon and Levi entered the city, killed all the men, and carried off the spoils of Shechem. Remarkably, Jacobís concern about the slaughter centered on his own selfish interests.Kidner points out that neither the appeaser nor the avengers reveal a godly response to this unfortunate situation.

 

II.                The Renewal of the Covenant and the Deaths of Rachel and Isaac (34:1-29)

A.    The renewal of the covenant (vv. 1-15):

1.      God gave Jacob three commands: (1) go to Bethel, (2) build an altar, (3) put away the foreign gods.

2.      Godís protection of Jacob (vv. 5-8): The Lord protected Jacobís household and the patriarch returned to Bethel to build an altar, as God directed.Verse Eight recounts the death and honorable burial of Rebekahís nurse, Deborah.At first reading, this verse seems oddly placed; however, perhaps the Genesis author meant to emphasize the laudable character of this woman, in contrast to the deceitful personality of Rebekah.

3.      Godís appearance to Jacob (vv. 9-15): The Lord reaffirmed Jacobís name change and the certainty of the Abrahamic Covenant.Jacob built an altar, a pillar of stone, in honor of the Lordís appearance to the patriarch.

B.     The death of Rachel (vv. 16-26):As the family journeyed from Bethel to Ephrath (Bethlehem), Rachel went into heavy labor.She gave birth to a son, but she died from the difficult delivery.As she died, Rachel called the boy ďson of sorrowĒ, but Jacob changed the childís name to Benjamin, ďson of my right handĒ.After Rachelís death, Reuben, Jacobís eldest son, had illicit relations with Bilhah, Jacobís concubine.The timing of this disgraceful action could only mean that Reuben sought to take over the headship of the family.It was as if he regarded his father as dead.

C.     The death of Isaac (vv. 27-29):This chapter ends with the death of Jacobís father, Isaac.Jacob and Esau buried their father near Hebron.

 

III.             The Descendants of Esau (36:1-43): This lengthy chapter recalls the prosperity of Esau.Though the line of faith did not did not pass through Esau, the Lord did bless him.Esau became a wealthy man, and he fathered a very large, powerful family. Edom became the home of Esauís descendents, and, for many generations, the Edomites and Israelites shared a unique bond.