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Year 1, Week 6, Day 3

I have a brief observation for today’s reading of Genesis 33-34.

Today’s reading records the reunion of Jacob and Esau. It had been at least twenty years since they last saw each other. Their face to face meeting is prefaced by another face to face meeting that Jacob experienced, as mentioned in the previous day’s reading. Genesis 33 records that after Jacob and Esau met and experienced something of a reconciliation, they departed and went their own ways. Today’s reading also records a tragic incident that happened to a daughter of Jacob, Dinah. Genesis 34 records that Dinah was either seduced or assaulted (both are wrong) by a Canaanite named Shechem. While Jacob seemed to downplay the significance of the wrong done to Dinah, even working out a cooperative agreement to intermingle with the Canaanites, the sons of Jacob took a different approach, and killed all the Shechemites as an act of justice, stating that Shechem “had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, for such a thing must not be done.” (Genesis 34:7b).

What struck me from today’s reading was how it shows God’s desire for His people to, on the one hand, not live adversarially toward others outside the covenant, but on the other hand, not live indistinguishably from outsiders. Today’s reading provides some insight as to have to live in between these extremes, but also offers some considerations as to the difficulty in achieving this: “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.” (Psalm 119:66).

Jacob’s encounter with the LORD is transformative: “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32:30). Jacob limps the rest of his life as a result, but his method of choice in dealing with others through deceit is also greatly crippled. Jacob connives less and comes to grips with taking the initiative to make things right with his brother Esau. Jacob still retained some measure of fear or at least caution concerning the danger he faced, but he led out and approached Esau with humility: “He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.” (Genesis 33:3). Jacob bows before the brother of whom it was said would bow before him. Jacob, who had deceptively stolen his brother’s blessing, seeks a reconciliation through restitution: “Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” (Genesis 33:11). While the “blessing” Jacob took was not the same “blessing” that he now offered, the use of the same term suggests that Jacob is seeking to make amends for wronging his brother. What had gotten into Jacob? The LORD had changed him: "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28). Jacob makes things right, but Jacob remains distinct from Esau. The two brothers, which will soon become two nations, represent two distinct ways of life. The nation of Israel will need to take note of their father’s decision to not intermingle with the Edomites.

Jacob’s transformation, however, is not complete; it is somewhat intermittent. The clarity in which he faced his brother and made things right, while remaining distinct, is not evident in the other big incident from today’s reading. Genesis 34 is a troubling and complicated chapter as it records the wrong done to Dinah. I would suggest that Dinah was wronged, not only by Shechem, but probably by her own father as well (perhaps leading up to the incident in not protecting his daughter, but in the aftermath as well). Dinah is the daughter of Leah. Tragically, Jacob does not show much favor to either Leah or her children. This awful working of favoritism will show itself in more family troubles in the subsequent chapters of Genesis.

But troubling complicated aspects of this chapter are not finished. Jacob seems agreeable to the proposal of a union between, not only Dinah and Shechem, but between his people and the Shechemites. The sons of Jacob introduce the need for circumcision for such a union to occur. If there was to be an intermingling of the two parties, it would need to occur by all parties becoming a part of the people of the covenant, which would be indicated through circumcision, a sign of the covenant. But this proposal was offered deceitfully: “The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah.” (Genesis 34:13). The sons use the procedure of circumcision as a ruse to go in and kill them all. These actions leave us wondering how to make sense of what is recorded. Jacob is subdued (with fear) while his sons are incensed with rage. Jacob fails to take proper action; his sons take improper actions as they pull a play from their father’s old playbook on deceit.

Without commending the actions the sons took, it should be noted that the Shechemites are not truly honorable either. They have Dinah in their possession and are indicating that actually they will absorb the Israelites into their life and not visa versa. As the nation of Israel will later read of this incident perhaps a take away for them will be to underscore that alliances in the land—particularly remaining distinct in their marriages—but more broadly, the intermingling of two peoples will only breed covenant unfaithfulness.

What struck you in today’s reading? What questions were prompted from today’s reading?

Pastor Joe