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The Vengeance of the Sons of Jacob

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jan 2, 2000

Genesis 34:1-31

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Genesis 34:1-31

If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Genesis chapter 34. As we continue our study of the life of Jacob, we have not too long ago reviewed the well known passage in which Jacob wrestles with the Lord Himself in Genesis 32, verses 24-32, and we saw there Jacob emerge as a broken and a named and a blessed man. And we saw that as part of the whole work that God had been doing on Jacob from Genesis 30 all the way through 32, where God is preparing Jacob to trust in Him and to acknowledge Him alone. And that lesson continued in chapter 33. After a surprisingly warm and peaceful reunion with Esau, we did however go on to note that Jacob failed to follow through on God's call to go to Bethel. And he had instead first settled at Succoth and then at Shechem. And we said then that that seemed to be a portent of trouble to come. And indeed it was. After you have read Genesis 34, you will never again read the final verses of Genesis 33 without a shiver, or a wimp, because in Genesis 34, we see the drastic consequences of Jacob's disobedience.

Now, I thought about warning you that tonight's reading and message might be rated PG-13. I simply want to let you know that it is going to be as uncomfortable for me to read it as it is for you to hear it. But let's now hear this sordid tale as Moses tells it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In Genesis 34, this is God's word. Let us hear it attentively.

Genesis 34:1-31

Our Father, as we shutter at the incidents that are recorded for us in Your word, we recognize that this is Your truth and You mean it for our hearts in our various circumstances, in our various places and times. We pray that You would speak to us and that You would instruct us by Your word, and that You would be honored even in our hearing and obeying of it. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

When you read Genesis 33, verses 16-19, now, it reads a little differently, doesn't it? So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. Jacob journeyed to Succoth and built for himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the place is named, Succoth. Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan. When he came from Paddam Aram, and camped before the city, he bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father for one hundred pieces of money. No wonder Derek Kidner could say "Shechem offered Jacob the attractions of a compromise." His summons was to Bethel, but Shechem, about a day's journey short of Bethel stood attractively at the crossroads of trade. Chapter 34 shows the cost of it, paid in rape, treachery, and massacre. A chain of evil that proceeded logically enough from the unequal partnership with this Canaanite community. I would like to look at this sad story with you for a few moments tonight.

In verses 1-5, Moses describes for us the circumstances surrounding the violation of Dinah. And then in verses 6-19, he describes for us, Hamor, the father of Shechem coming to Jacob and making a proposal for not only a marriage between Dinah and Shechem, but a marital treaty between Jacob's family and the Canaanites living there in Shechem. And then finally in verses 20 and following to the end of the chapter, to 21, we see first, Hamor and his sons argue to their community the reasonableness of the request that they be circumcised, verses 20-24. And then in 25 to the end of the chapter we see Simeon and Levi and their brutal and immoral vengeance which they extracted against this whole town. And there are lessons for us in this passage. Many lessons, more than we would be able to cover tonight. But let's look at a few of them.

I. Consequences of disobedience.
First, let's go back to verses 1-5. Here we see the description of the violation of Dinah. And immediately having read Genesis 33:16-19, we see the consequences of disobedience hit home for Jacob. Dinah went out, apparently without parental permission and without accompaniment, and that is the important thing to note, to fraternize with some of the young local women. She was probably around fifteen years old. Moses, by the way as he describes her actions, is probably implying that she acted unwisely if not wrongly. Now you should note that even in the near east today Arab women and Muslim women never go out into public alone. They are always together. And there are reasons for this which we will see partly in this passage. Now while Dinah was afoot, Shechem, who was the son of the local tribal ruler saw her and he seized her and he raped her. Now, he had very strong feelings for her and apart from his initial treatment of her, and he was apparently very gentle and affectionate with her. Now as we have already been told by Moses, she was one of Leah's children. And so he approaches his father and he says, ‘Father, I want you to help me contract for this woman's hand in marriage.’

And then as we read verse 4, we note that Jacob's response is very strange. His sons are in the field. When word comes to him of this event, he gives virtually no reaction. He is silent. His sons are in the field and so he simply waits. Now as grotesque as it sounds to our ears, you need to know that rape was apparently one strategy that was frequently employed in the ancient near east in order to force a family into a marriage contract. This was the way certain tribes behaved towards one another. In fact, there are law regulating and bring punishment for this practice that are recorded in scripture. In Exodus chapter 2, verses 16 and 17, there is a law respecting this very thing and also in Deuteronomy 22, verses 28 and 29. But there are also middle Assyrian, Hittite, and Sumerian laws which deal exactly with this practice. And so Alders can say this: "Shechem, in complete accord with the customs of his day, considered this lovely stranger to be fair game, and picked her up and promptly defiled here." Now, needless to say, this situation inaugurated a crisis in Jacob's relationship with the locals. But the important thing to see here is it is his failure to carry through on his duty which places him in a situation in which he is tempted to sin and susceptible to its consequences. Kidner says it this way: "By halting his own pilgrimage, Jacob endangered others who were more vulnerable than himself." And that is exactly what we see in the passage before us. The consequences of Jacob's disobedience hit home.

II. Hamor's marriage proposal.
Now, in verses 6-19, we see Hamor make a proposal of marriage to Jacob between Shechem and Dinah, but go even further than that. He asked for a marital treaty between Jacob's clan and his tribe. And again, in seeing this, and the proposal for intermarriage, we come face to face with the danger of compromise in Canaan. Hamor came to Jacob to initiate this marital negotiation. But Jacob's sons were enraged. They were indignant at the way their sister had been treated. And even though they sit there and participate in the negotiations, Moses lets us know in verse 13, that from the very beginning they were planning to extract revenge against Hamor and Shechem and the whole tribe.

Now the word that is said in verse 7 is very important. Let's look at it. The sons of Jacob, came in from the field and when they heard it, the men were grieved and they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel. That phrase, a disgraceful thing in Israel, indicates a number of important things. First of all, it indicates that already Jacob's sons had a realization that they were different from the world. That because of the covenant of God with them, there was something different about them. They were set apart. They were distinct. But it also recognizes, it also lets us know that they had high moral notions about the institution of marriage and family and of sexual purity. At any rate, while the sons of Jacob are seething in their indignation, Hamor is making a specific pitch to Jacob for intermarriage between Jacob's clan and the Shechemites.

Look at verses 8-10, and you will see three parts to that proposal. First of all, Hamor makes it clear that Shechem, really does love Dinah. Now this is different than a story which will occur amongst the sons of David many, many years later. In that instance in the wake of violation, the man who commits the act hates the one he has violated, in this instance Shechem apparently genuinely loves Dinah.

Secondly, having argued that Shechem truly loves Dinah, Hamor goes on to argue that general intermarriage will be beneficial to Jacob and his family. He basically promises in verses 9 and 10, that Jacob's family will be given the right of citizens. They will be given the right to purchase property. They will be given the right to trade with whom they want and where they want. In other words, he is saying, it is going to be very economically beneficial for you to gain this citizenship by agreeing to a treaty of intermarriage. And then finally, Shechem, himself interjects in the negotiations here. And he offers an unusually high bride price, which was in accordance with the customs and laws of the land in light of his crime. In fact, you see this specifically in Exodus and Deuteronomy in the passages to which we have already alluded.

Now let me just mention a couple of things in passing. First of all, the request of the brothers of Dinah, to the family of Hamor to be circumcised, would indeed sounded familiar and reasonable to the family once they heard it. Circumcision was employed in other near eastern cultures for a variety of things. One of the things that it was used for was to mark a man's initiation into marriageable status. So this would not have been unfamiliar to the Shechemites. And so the request probably seemed common and reasonable to them. However, the procedure crudely performed would have been very painful and debilitating to the men for several days. And so the brothers of Dinah enter into a deceitful agreement with the people of Shechem.

Now, I want you to notice here in this section that by the proposal of intermarriage, we already see that Jacob is in danger of becoming Lot, part 2. Lot settled down in Sodom, he fraternized and intermingled with the people of the land. And he himself was corrupted. And we see in this proposal for intermarriage that Jacob himself is being tempted to draw much closer to the people of the land than he ought. And in fact, we could go on to say that apparently, in God's providence it is this incident which was required to preserve the distinction between the church and the world. It is another example of God overruling the wickedness of man for His own purposes. But the principle is there, when we intermarry with unbelievers, we sow unbelief with belief, and it is always a danger. That kind of compromise always brings spiritual disaster, and that kind of compromise is a danger here in verses 6-19.

III. The Schechemite response.
Then we come to verses 20-31. Here the Shechemites respond to the proposal from the sons of Jacob by going out to the city gate where business was transacted, calling all the men of their little village out and then Hamor and Shechem make a pitch to them. You remember that Hamor had already tried to sell Jacob on the benefit of this plan. Now he has to sell his own tribesmen on the benefit of this plan. Now, Moses has already told us of the deceitfulness of the sons of Jacob in verse 13. And now he is going to show us in this passage, especially in verses 25-29, their vile crime.

Hamor, as we have said, has already appealed to Jacob regarding the advantages of intermarriage and now, Hamor and Shechem appeal to their kinsmen and notice if you will look in verses 20-23, they stress the benefits of this arrangement. It will be economically beneficial for them to do this. And they stress the reasonableness of this request of circumcision. And apparently according to verse 24, everyone who was there, went along with the proposal and was circumcised. On the third day after the procedure when the pain and inflammation and fever which would have been the result of this procedure were at their peak, Simeon and Levi, who were the oldest brothers of Dinah, the oldest full brothers of Dinah, except for Reuben, and Reuben we have seen elsewhere didn't quite have the same cold-bloodedness of Simeon and Levi - Simeon and Levi who were the oldest full brothers of Dinah were taking on themselves the responsibility of avenging her and of revenging her good name -They came in and wiped out the entire male population of the village. They recaptured Dinah. The looted everything valuable and they took the women and children as captives.

When Jacob finally heard of the deed, his response seems to show more concern about his own welfare than the horrendous immortality and blasphemy that had been done, or committed by Simeon and Levi. He seems more concerned about his own welfare than the moral wrong done by his sons and their dishonoring of God and his covenant. But his sons still persisted, even after he argued with them about it. They responded to him, basically saying, nobody is going to treat our sister like a prostitute. It is very interesting when I was in college, I had a professor who had spent some time in the near east and had taught in a university where he had a number of Jews from Palestine and Arabs from Palestine who were members of his classes, and he had a young friend in one of these classes who was a Jew from Palestine. And he had become accustomed at this major northeastern university to western ways of fraternization. He went back to Jerusalem on one occasion on a Christmas break. And he saw a friend of his who was a Muslim Arab student at the same university. So they knew one another and talked with one another regularly. And she was with a group of young women and he approached her in the street, and took her aside a little ways and they simply had a conversation. Her brothers were nearby. And saw this young man simply take this young woman apart from her sisters by a few steps. That night they came to his apartment, they kidnapped him, they chained him to a car, and they drug him through the streets of Jerusalem and left him for dead. This gives you some idea of the customs about the proper way of relating between male and female in public that are even in some quarters and families held to this day in the ancient near east. And so perhaps it puts some reflection upon the actions of sons of Jacob. However, there are several important lessons that I think we need to learn from this particular passage.

And the first is, to note their abuse of the holy. The sons of Jacob took the sign of the covenant and their word of promise and they utterly sullied it. They used the sign of the covenant to enable them to commit murder. And they used their word of promise that they were going to enter into a covenant relationship and become as one people to cover for their particular crime. Listen to what Donald Grey Barnhouse says; ‘The sign of the covenant was appropriated by Shechem to gratify his lust. By Hamor to increase his cattle. And by the sons of Jacob as a cover for murder. The sons of Jacob had taken what God had given as a holy religious sign and used it for their own wicked ends.’ And it is a reminder to us about the exceeding wickedness of using things which God has given us for our own purposes. Whether it might be an oath, whether it be simply our word. Using things to take people in by religion for our own ends. Listen to what Candlish says; Their devices were very base doubly so, because it is in the name of religion that it is practiced." And this leads us to a second thing that we learn from this passage. And that is this.

Though God had appointed Abraham and his successors to be a blessing to the nations in this passage they were a curse. Even though they were to be distinct from the nations and not to intermingle with the nations, their purpose of their distinctness was so that they would be a blessing to the nations and lead the nations into a relationship with the one true God. And here, we see the people of God simply exploiting those who were around them. And so again, we see a negative example of the behavior of those who are part of the covenant community. And that leads us to a third point.

This passage very clearly reveals for us the sinfulness of believers, or of those who profess faith. The Bible never attempts to candy-coat the failings and the wickedness of those who profess to believe in the one true God. And it doesn't do that because it is very important for us to be realistic about the potential for the sins of even those who profess faith in Christ. This passage reveals to us the depth of sin that professing believers are capable of stooping to.

But finally, this passage shows us the truthfulness of the Scriptures. Now, how in the world do I get that? If you were attempting to fabricate the story of the origins of the religion among men of the one true God, would you write a story like this about the founders of the faith? About the Patriarchs? About the fathers of old, who trusted in God and believed in the face of the world? You would never ever write a story like this. Jim Boice says this: "Whenever the Bible contains material that reflects so badly, not merely upon the general sins of humanity, but upon the particular wickedness in the hearts and lives of God's people this is evidenced of the divine and not merely the human origin of the Scriptures." The Bible is brutally faithful in recording the sins of even the greatest of God's people. And it does it not only as a testimony of its truthfulness, but as a warning of the potential wickedness of our own hearts.

Now as we have said, Jacob's reaction to this whole mess is disappointing. He has gone from a moment in which God fulfilled every promise to him in bringing him together and reconciling him to Esau peacefully, to disobeying God, falling short of the obedience and of the call that God had given to him, and here in chapter 34, we see Jacob at his absolute worse. And he responds to the travesty committed by his sons by saying, you are really going to get me in trouble with the people of the land. However, Jacob's perspective on this incident apparently changed a little bit when he himself was on the edge of eternity. Would you turn with me to Genesis 49? Even in his final words to his sons, as Jacob is preparing to die he says this to Simeon and Levi in Genesis 49, verses 5-7: "Simeon and Levi are brothers. Their swords are implements of violence. Let my soul not enter into their counsel. Let not my glory be united with their assembly, because in their anger, they slew men. And in their self-will they lamed oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce. And their wrath for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel." The final words of Jacob to his sons and their tribes, Simeon and Levi.

Jacob, as he stood on the edge of eternity, had a very different perspective because he was looking at this deed the way that God looked at the deed and perhaps the whole deed itself is representative of the way that Jacob had allowed his family and himself to be conformed to the ways of those around him. Surely this passage, as hard as it is to read, as hard as it is hear, is a warning to all of us. All of us need the forgiveness and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's pray.

Our Heavenly Father, we bow before You and we acknowledge this to be Your word. We ask that You would speak to our own hearts, if we have been tempted to abuse the holy of our own ends, convict us of it. If we have failed to see our responsibility to be a blessing to the nations, convict us of it. If we have been blissfully unaware of our own potential for sin, even as believers, convict us of it, O Lord, and even as we read this passage, and its sadness, we pray that You would convict us of the truthfulness of Your word. You are holy, and You are pure, and You are good. Your people are not yet. And so O Lord, we look to You and to You alone.

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