This story is a very unpleasant one but it does teach us about the depravity of man. When we talk about mankind being totally depraved we do not mean that they are as bad as they can be or that they are always at their worse. What Shechem did was bad but he sought to marry Dinah because he loved her. Jacob’s sons far surpassed the evil of Shechem and did so with no remorse. When we say people are totally depraved it means that there a person can do nothing to earn salvation. You can’t earn the grace of God at all. For in the heart of humans comes things like what Shechem did and the murderous anger of Simeon and Levi. The root of all kinds of sin lies in the heart of man and it is only by the grace of God that any are saved. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit who reaches into the heart of man and changes the soul. We must be careful as we judge the actions of these sinful men that we do not become arrogant for we were born with the seeds of the same sin in our hearts. It is only by the mercy and gracious restraining hand of God that we have not acted in the same way. We ought to give thanks to God for the wrongs that we have not committed. And if we have committed wrong then we must flee to God. We ought not to point a finger at someone else. We ought to follow the example of King David when he was confronted for his similar action: “I have sinned against the LORD.” We need to make Psalm 51 our personal cry out to God. PRAYER Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out our transgressions. Wash us thoroughly from our iniquity, and cleanse us from our sin! For we know our transgressions, and our sin is ever before us. Against you, you only, have we sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Purge us with hyssop, and we shall be clean; wash us, and we shall be whiter than snow. Let us hear joy and gladness. Hide your face from our sins and blot out all our iniquities. Create in us a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within us. AMEN!
a. Hamor’s persuasion. In the last twelve verses, we find that none of the main players in the story make it out of the story without sin. First, we see Shechem and Hamor. Shechem is the most honored in all of his father’s house and from his words and actions is accustomed to getting what he wants. And so they use their status and position to convince the men of the city to be circumcised. They make the case that Jacob and his sons are at peace with them (so far). They should allow them to dwell in the land because there is enough room for everyone. And they should intermarry with them. But here comes the real selling point. “Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours?” Wait a minute. Wasn’t this about the love of a young woman? How did this become about possessing Jacob’s wealth? Not only was it bad enough that this marriage proposal has come about through the defilement of Dinah but now covetousness has been brought in. But these are pagan men and not God followers and we should expect pagans to act like pagans. b. The vengeance of Simeon and Levi. So all the men of the city are convinced that they will benefit from this marriage and they all agree to be circumcised. On the third day, when all the men are sore Simeon and Levi, take their swords and storm the city, and slaughter all of the men who are at a great disadvantage due to the surgery they experience three days prior. They were sitting ducks. And so the young men murdered all of the men in the city and left. Now, the death of Shechem could be justified because of what he did to Dinah, but the rest of the men were not at fault. Vengeance belongs to the Lord and what Simeon and Levi did was a vengeful slaughter. After they leave the city, the other brothers come to the city and took all of the animals of the city as their own. They also took all of their wealth, all their children, and all of their wives. What Shechem did was wrong and inexcusable. But Jacob’s sons murdered the men of a city and then took their wives and children. The Shechemites might have wanted to gain the wealth of Jacob’s family through intermarriage, but Jacob’s sons gained wealth through murder. Whose sin is worse? c. Jacob finally speaks. The last recorded words of Jacob are back when he was speaking to Esau before he entered the land. Now, years later, we finally have him speaking again. Why he did not speak and stop all of the atrocities that have occurred in this chapter, we do not know. We only have a record of his inaction. Jacob does not reply to Hamor and the marriage contract, his sons do. When they say everyone in the city must be circumcised, Jacob does not correct them for their misuse of the covenant sign. In the end, he does not rebuke them for their sin but only what it means for himself. In two sentences he uses “me” four times, “my” twice, and “I” twice. It is clear where Jacob’s thoughts are centered. He is now afraid that since his sons went and wiped out a whole city that the people around them would not like that and would attack them to prevent the same thing from happening to them. This is a valid fear, if God had not promised to protect Jacob and that his household would be like the dust of the earth. d. The sons’ response. In the last verse of the chapter and the end of this story, Jacob’s sons say, “should he treat our sister like a prostitute.” No, of course not. But does that justify the destruction of a whole city? Because Jacob kept his peace are they implying that Jacob was okay with the way Dinah was treated? It often happens that when people run to one extreme that they will accuse those that stay in the middle of the opposite extreme. Jacob did not flat out condemn Shechem nor did he approve of his actions. In the eyes of Jacob’s sons, he approved of what happened to Dinah. We see this sentiment occurring in society today. Side with our extreme ideals, the world says, or you are a white supremacist. Agree with our outlandish life choices or you approve of bombing gay bars. The middle ground disappears when this happens.
a. Must not be done. As Hamor is on his way out to meet with Jacob, the sons of Jacob came back in from the field. Word of what happened to Dinah had made its way to them as well. Gossip in every age travels fast. Jacob’s sons are indignant and very angry when they hear what happens to their sister. The reason that is given as to why they are angry is that Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel. His action is a thing that must not be done. First, notice that they say “in Israel”. Now, some attribute this to Moses, as if this is a narrator’s note that what happened to Dinah is not something that is to happen in the nation of Israel. It is against the will of God. This could be a probable answer. But it also has been several years since Jacob wrestled with God where his name was changed to Israel. Since they are a household that follows God and his ways that have been passed down through the years, starting with Adam and Eve, they could be saying that you do not do this sin to the house of Israel. Either way, what Shechem had done enraged the boys and they were not going to put up with it. b. The Proposal. And so, Hamor arrives at the tent of Jacob and begins to lay out the marriage contract. Hamor addresses not only Jacob but also his sons. The word “you” in his address is plural. He says to them that his Shechem is in love with Dinah and desires to be married to her. He invites them to intermarry with the people of the city. He also opens up the land to Jacob and his sons. Where before Jacob had only the land upon which he pitched his tent and built his altar, after this marriage contract, the land is open to them to purchase. They will be welcome to buy, sell, trade, and acquire real estate in and around the city. Shechem, who also accompanied his father to the negotiations, speaks up at this point. He tells Jacob and his sons that they could name whatever they wanted for the bride price and he would pay it. No price is too high. c. Like father, like sons. Verse 13 says that Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father deceitfully. They lie straight-faced to them. We’ve seen this sin happen over and over again. Jacob lied, Laban lied, Rachel lied, and no Jacob’s sons lie. This is a lying family. In their wrath, they tell some truth mingled with lies. They are right in saying that they cannot give their sister to someone who is uncircumcised, or in other words, outside the covenant of God. The Shechemites were pagans and not part of the covenant people and that would disgrace them. What they do next is fairly blasphemous. They tell the people of Shechem that for this marriage to go through all of the men in the city must be circumcised like they were. No circumcision was the sign that was given by God to Abraham because of God’s covenant with Abraham and his family and because of Abraham’s faith. These Shechemites do not meet any of the requirements to take the sign of the covenant. They are not saying that they will follow God. The brothers are not telling the Shechemites that they must first give up their idols and follow the one true God. No, they use the sign of circumcision as a pretense for the evil they plan to do. The brothers say, be circumcised then we will intermarry and we will live in your city and we will be one people. But if all of you don’t get circumcised then we will just take Dinah and move away. Hamor and Shechem hear their proposal and they were happy with the agreement. And so Shechem runs back to the city and does not waste any time on fulfilling his end of the marriage contract.
a. Dinah’s error. In verse 1 we find Dinah who we haven’t talked about in some time. We saw her birth mentioned back in 30:21. She is a child of Leah and was born after all the six sons that Leah had with Jacob. She was only a small child when they left Haran, and so some time has passed since the meeting of Esau and our story for today. Though the text does not specifically tell us how old Dinah is we can deduce from her actions and the timeline of Jacob’s life that she is probably a young teenager. Moses simply states that she went out to see the women of the land. Apparently, Dinah leaves the tent city of her father Jacob outside the city of Shechem and goes, unaccompanied into the city. Even from ancient times, a young woman never ventured out alone in public. It wasn’t something that proper women did. It also left the young women vulnerable to many dangers including young men. There is a warning here. There is no excuse for what is about to happen in the story. My heart breaks like I am sure that your does as well, for women who are assaulted. However, in Dinah’s case, she finds herself in the situation because of her actions. If she stayed at home or would have gone out with her brothers or anyone, she would have been safe. b. The Sin of Shechem. As Dinah is in the city she caught the attention of Shechem. Shechem was the son of the local ruler, Hamor, and the city was named after him. So Shechem has power and prestige which are often a recipe for disaster. The Bible tells us that Shechem seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. Verse 5 says that he defiled her. It is clear that this act was against her will. But after Shechem did this his soul was drawn to Dinah and he began to love her and he spoke tenderly to her. He kept her in his house. And so, Shechem goes to his father and asks him to help set up a marriage contract with Jacob so that he might marry Dinah. At this time, and even in some parts of the world today, this would be a legitimate way to conduct yourself. However, we know that what he did was wrong. c. Jacob holds his peace. Word of what has happened makes its way to Jacob somehow, but we are told that since his sons were with his livestock in the field, he held his peace until they came. His inactivity here is surprising. If Jacob’s sons were there when the news hit, what would have Jacob done, I wonder? He held his peace because his sons weren’t there which implies he would have done something if they were. Of course, we will never know because Jacob does virtually nothing when he hears that Dinah is in the house of another man. But not too long after, something will have to be done as in verse 6, Hamor goes out to speak with Jacob about the marriage proposal.
When you commit to teaching your way through a book of the Bible, these are the days you know will come. There are the stories or the commands that make us squirm a little. The story we have to look at this week is one of those stories. There is nothing pleasant about the story and there are really no bright spots. No shining examples of faithfulness to God in these people. But God is faithful despite the actions of all the men involved. First, we will see Jacob’s inaction as Dinah is taken and Jacob holds his peace. Then we find a marriage proposal from Shechem and a counterproposal from Jacob’s sons. Finally, we find just a multiplication of sins as the story concludes and the evil heart of man is exposed.
Proverbs 16:7 says, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” We saw in Jacob today a man that by God-given right could have demanded that he receive what is due him, namely the subservience of his brother and the land which God had given him. Instead, Jacob chooses to humble himself before God and man. Even though he feared greatly, Jacob did not cower or run from his problems. He approached them with a humble reliance on God. His humility did not negate his fears but it allowed him to face Esau and 400 men who had come out for his destruction. Humility is not the same as cowardice. Humility is not weakness. Jesus was our perfect example of this. He had a humble boldness that disarmed his enemies and left them dumbfounded. He humbled himself even to death on a cross and yet in that very act triumphed over sin. You see God has put humility and his strength together. “The LORD lifts up the humble,” Psalm 147:6. “For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation,” Psalm 149:4. “To the humble he gives favor,” Proverbs 3:34. “With the humble is wisdom,“ Proverbs 11:2. Whoever humbles themselves like a child is “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 18:4. “He who humbles himself will be exalted,” Luke 14:11. But there is also a warning here. We are to humble ourselves, now. God has promised that if you are haughty, prideful, and arrogant then he will humble you. God opposes the proud and great is the fall of the prideful. God will see that all will be humble before him, either you come before him in humility or you come before him in humiliation. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,” 1 Peter 5:6.
a. Let us journey on our way. After the matter of the gift is settled, Esau suggests that they begin their journey to his home, and he will accompany Jacob and his household. Jacob refuses Esau’s offer by saying that if he tries to drive his animals and family to keep up with Esau and his 400 men it will be too hard on them and he will lose his flocks. Jacob also does not expect Esau and his men to continue at his slow pace and says that they should pass on in front of him and he will meet him in Seir. We don’t know why Jacob said he would go to Esau in Seir but the fact remains that it is never recorded that he does. b. Succoth. Esau agrees to go ahead but he offers to leave some of the men who are with him. Jacob refuses again and asks “what need is there?” which is a rhetorical question. Jacob saying he needs nothing from Esau except that he finds favor in his sight. Jacob is content with Esau’s grace. So on that day, Esau takes all of his men and makes his way back to Seir. Jacob, however, does not head towards Seir but turns in the opposite direction. He comes to a place and builds himself a house and made booths for his livestock. This place came to be known as Succoth or booths. You may have heard this word if you have some Jewish friends because in the fall they celebrate Succoth or the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Tabernacles. The feast they celebrate was named after the booths that the people of Israel built to live in the wilderness. So Jacob builds a home for himself on the east side of the Jordan River, outside the land of Canaan. It was right that Jacob did not take his household down to Seir. Remember what God had told him. “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.” And so Jacob does not go down to the land of Edom but crosses over into the land of Canaan, the land of his kindred. c. Shechem. The chapter ends with Jacob making his way safely to the city of Shechem in the land of Canaan about a day’s journey from Bethel. Jacob approaches the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, and he buys a piece of land on which to pitch his tent. Though Jacob is the rightful owner of the land by divine fiat, he pays for the use of the land and tries to avoid any conflict with the people living there. This is completely upended by Simon and Levi in chapter 34. On this piece of land, Jacob builds an altar and calls it El-Elohe-Israel or God, the God of Israel. Remember the vow that Jacob made. “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.” Jacob has returned in peace to his kindred’s land. He is ready to call God his God, the God of Israel. At the end of chapter 35, we find that Jacob does indeed end up in his father’s house once again.
a. Esau runs. Now if Jacob’s fears were correct, Esau would be running to meet him with sword drawn and rage in his eyes. The four hundred men would secure Esau’s ability to exact revenge. But we read something quite different and surprising here. “Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him.” Was this Esau’s intent all along? The messengers that spoke to Esau and Jacob both believed that the 400 men were not there to bring gifts or had come out merely as an escort of a tribal leader. They believed Esau was there to kill everyone and that is why Jacob was so greatly afraid and distressed. But instead, Esau does not even say a harsh word. Is this the same man that we have read about before? Why the sudden change? Jacob says in verse 11, “God has dealt graciously with me.” The answer for the change is the grace of God. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Esau had a plan. Esau’s stated will was to destroy Jacob. Jacob had a plan as well. But God made both their plans come to nothing. That is what God does. This is his world, his time, his creation and he upholds the universe by the power of his word. The bending of Esau’s will and the change of his heart by God should not surprise us. b. Children graciously given. After the two hug and weep together, Esau looks around and sees Jacob’s wives and children. Esau asks, “Who are these with you?” Jacob’s response: “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Now, Jacob could have said that he worked 14 years to get the wives that gave him these children. He could have complained about the bickering and complaining and dishonoring of his wives, but he does not. He says that his children were given to him by God as an unmerited, unearned, undeserved favor. This is the right way to look at children. Psalm 127 says that the fruit of the womb is a reward and 128 says that they are a blessing of God. Those of us that have children don’t deserve them. We as a church do not deserve the many children that are sitting in the pews or are playing in the nursery. I make no apologies for the time I spend working with the children and the youth of our church. They are an undeserved gift and not things to be tolerated. I pray that the children will be like olive shoots around the table of our church. c. The gift. After Esau meets his sisters-in-law and his nephews and niece he asks about all the animals that Jacob had sent the day before. Jacob honestly answers, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” The gift was his attempt at seeking reconciliation. It was appeasement. But Esau rejects the gift and says that he has enough and doesn’t need to be appeased. And so we find that it was not the gift that changed the heart of Esau. Jacob then changes the nature of the gift. If the gift was not the reason that Esau is looking favorably toward him then Jacob wants him to just accept the animals as a present as a token of friendship and love. He says that seeing Esau’s face was like seeing the face of God. This has been interpreted in various ways. It could mean that Jacob is saying that I have seen you at peace with me like I seek peace with God. Or it could mean that Jacob sees God’s graciousness in Esau’s response or it could mean that seeing Esau’s face and finding acceptance and surviving is an undeserved favor like seeing God’s face and surviving. Whatever his intent, Jacob presses Esau to take the gift and he finally agrees. Again we must take note of the change in Jacob. The early stories of Jacob were all about how he preyed on his brother’s weakness and how he stole the blessing. And now he bows before him and offers a gift of kindness. Holiness is at work in him. Like all of us, Jacob’s sanctification was not perfected until God called him.
a. Final preparation. “Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him.” Jacob sees from far off that Esau was coming with the four hundred men. Esau does not come under the cover of darkness, nor does he lie in ambush but approaches by day in full view. As Esau makes his way toward them Jacob goes to his family and divides his family according to the mothers. I find it interesting how he arranges them which is a foreshadowing of what is to come. Jacob takes Bilhah and Zilpah and their children and puts them in front, followed by Leah and her children and finally Rachel and Joseph. He does not arrange his sons by birth order but according to his affection towards their mothers. Joseph is the last son to be brought forward but he is also the most favored by Jacob as we will see in chapter 37. Now with his family ready to be presented to Esau, Jacob steps forward. b. Bowing seven times. As Jacob walks toward Esau, he bows seven times. From archaeological research, we have found this act of bowing seven times as a common way of greeting a tribal king. This is the way that you would greet a superior. Now Esau is the older son by minutes and according to the law of primogeniture, would be deserving of Jacob’s respect. However, we must remember the context. If you turn back to Genesis 25:23 the LORD told Rebekah that, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” Then flip forward to Genesis 27:29. “Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.” Jacob by the word of God and the blessing of Isaac and the promise of God is to rule over Esau. And yet he bows before his brother. Perhaps he is following the old proverb, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Instead of provoking those that are his enemies, Jacob has learned to show respect and honor to those who have opposed him. This he learned in the 20 years with his uncle. Matthew Henry said, “Many preserve themselves by humbling themselves: the bullet flies over him that stoops.” By twenty years of servitude, God had taught Jacob that those that humble themselves God will exult. Many years later Jesus will also teach this same lesson to his disciples. When the mother of the sons of Zebedee come and ask Jesus to allow her sons to sit at his left and right hand, he concludes his reply by saying, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” As Christians, we humble ourselves before God and others and allow God to lift us up.
We started this journey with Jacob back in Genesis chapter 31 when the sons of Laban were complaining, Laban turned against Jacob, and God told him to return to the land of his fathers. Jacob took his family and his belongings and made a run for it while Laban was away shearing his sheep. Laban heard what happened and chased down Jacob and confronted him. But God prevented Laban from saying anything good or bad to him and Laban went home empty-handed. Jacob left Mizpah and continued south until he reached the Jabbok River. There he was met by the angels of God and he named the place “Two Camps”. Jacob, drawing nearer to the land Edom, sends messengers and a peace offering to Esau hoping to appease the wrath of his brother. The messengers came back with the report that Jacob did not want to hear: Esau was coming with 400 men. That night as Jacob fearfully waited for Esau to come, a mysterious man appeared and wrestled with Jacob until morning. After the encounter, Jacob says that he has seen God face to face and yet lived. Jacob receives the blessing of God and names the place but walks away limping from the ordeal. This leads us to the story that we have before us in Genesis chapter 33. In our text for today, surprisingly we find Jacob’s humility in verses 1-3. And equally as surprising we see in verses 4-11 the kindness of Esau. We also see Jacob changing his offering of appeasement to a free gift. And finally, we follow Jacob as he makes his return to the Promised Land.