|BIBLE STUDY SERIES: #14-15|
2 February, 1992
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
We have been following the Genesis story wherein Almighty God is establishing His Great Plan of Salvation and Redemption for His fallen Creation. We had come to the point at which the Patriarch, Jacob, has fearfully approached his re-union with his brother, whom he last saw twenty years before when he had departed from his family to evade the intense anger of Esau. Now, as he arrives back in his home territory, Esau is approaching him, accompanied by four hundred men. Advanced news of this approach has created a crisis in Jacob's life. He has ominous foreboding in his mind. Jacob's past lifetime experiences of spiritual contact with his God had not, until the previous night, fully prepared him for the encounter, and the prospect of Esau's approach appeared fraught with danger. Jacob has come to this crisis having little confidence left.
As the experiences of Jacob's life form such a forceful example, I think it might reward us to "step back" so to speak, and take a brief look at the mental, moral and spiritual condition of the Patriarch at this time.
Prior to his encounter at the Brook Jabbok, Jacob's life bears all the marks of a person morally "correct" according to the world's standards, but not committed heart and soul to God. We can see that Jacob's spiritual condition would be that which we might term morally correct according to tribal mores, but unsaved according to God's reckoning. We saw throughout the first part of Jacob's life that, while enduring the terms of his contractual obligations, he was none the less, constantly seeking ways to advance his own circumstance by every legalism, and sharp business practice which could be used to gain an advantage without actually stepping over the line which his society would accept.
At Mizpah, we noted that the God by whom both Jacob and Laban had sworn was not their God, but the God of their parents! Laban swore by "The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor" while Jacob had sworn by "The fear of his father Isaac" (Genesis 31:53). But as has been so truly said, God has no grandchildren! We cannot enter His presence counting on His relationship with our parents. We must meet God face to face, for ourselves, and commit our own lives personally to Him.
In modern parlance, Jacob had been an average "good citizen", "good businessman", and outwardly "correct." He even had a prayer life of sorts. Such traits had been sufficient to his needs up to this point, but when he faced mortal crisis, he felt quite alone. He could not gain the confidence of reliance upon a God to whom he had made no total lifetime commitment of his whole life and its priorities, and all he possessed.
God was using this dangerous moment in Jacob's life to reveal how shallow his manner of life had been. Many veterans will, I think know what I am talking about when I speak of a time of desperate danger which God uses to shuffle and to totally re-assign a person's priorities in life.
While Jacob had encountered God in the vision of the ladder at Bethel, and while this had to a certain extent guided and sustained him along the way, yet without a total personal commitment to God, he would stand, in the final analysis, feeling quite alone.
Thus it was that Jacob, having sent his family over the brook, had at last come to his all important, crisis encounter with God. Wrestling with God's angel at the Brook Jabbok, Jacob had finally come to a realisation of his true personal need of God, and here, with his change of direction and his acceptance of God's total authority over his life, he received a new name, "Israel."
That name, "Israel", has been interpreted as "ruling with God", "ruled by God", or "Prince with God." All three phrases may show us some aspect of the truth. The name "Israel" contains within it the name of God, "El", and the letter sequence "s-r-a", in which we can see the name "Sarah", which means "Princess." While Jacob was a man, Jacob's descendants were destined to be God's wife, taken in marriage at Mount Sinai. In that sense, the name Israel would mean "God's Princess", and that is what Jacob's progeny were destined to become!
On our last programme, we saw how Jacob had made his decision at the Brook Jabbok. Now, he has a new name and a new attitude, because he is a man under the authority of Almighty God. Although he is still wary of what may happen, he is not alone in facing his problem. Let us follow the Biblical account, starting with Genesis 33:1:
1. And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids.
2. And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost.
While he has made his commitment to God, Jacob is not perfect in all knowledge and wisdom. He is still a man, with man's limitations. We can see that he has, perhaps somewhat unwisely from the human standpoint, graded the various members of his family to present the least danger to his favourites. However, even in this, God is working out His Plan, for that favouritism will, as Joseph reveals it many years later (Genesis 45:5-7), be the method by which God will save the children of Israel. Let us read further:
3. And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
4. And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.
Here, we see that Jacob, not yet knowing the potential of Esau's intentions, is bravely willing to place himself at the point of greatest danger, at the head of his family. He bows seven times to Esau, which could be taken to represent prophetically the later period of seven times, or in other words, 2520 years, of Gentile dominance over the earth while Israel went into captivity. However, Esau appears to have been mellowed with the passage of time, and the greeting proceeds well, God having, no doubt, prepared the way, as we see in what follows:
5. And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, Who are those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant.
6. Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves.
7. And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves.
8. And he said, What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord.
9. And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself.
10. And Jacob said, Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me.
11. Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. And he urged him, and he took it.
12. And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee.
Jacob has by this means returned to Esau some of the product of that blessing of Almighty God which he had received of Isaac. Now, as Esau sees all that Jacob has gotten in Haran, Esau issues a welcome to come and join his own tribe. Jacob, however, having just recently endured the situation with Laban, and having just experienced the tensions which accompanied his departure from that tribal unit, is not about to enter a similar situation with Esau. He acts wisely in declining the offer with a diplomatic and reasonable explanation.
God wishes to bless and use the offspring of Jacob. His will is not to use Esau's seed. If we question this we should glance once again at Paul's words in Romans 9:13: "As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." If Jacob were to take a decision which would mingle his family with that of Esau, it would become an act totally contrary to God's plans for Israel. We hear Jacob's reply:
13. And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die.
14. Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir.
15. And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee some of the folk that are with me. And he said, What needeth it? let me find grace in the sight of my lord.
16. So Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir.
17. And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him an house, and made booths for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.
Our time has gone, so we shall pick up the story on our next programme.
9 February, 1992
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
We have been following the Genesis account wherein Almighty God is proceeding to establish His Plan for the Salvation of His Creation, using the tribal family of one man, Abraham, and that line of descent which passes through his selected son Isaac. We had traced the outworking of that Great Plan in the earlier life of Isaac's son, Jacob as he fled from Esau's wrath to Haran. There, Jacob has gained four wives, many sons, and much wealth. He has now returned to Canaan, and we pick up the story where we left him, just as Esau, now mellowed in attitude, has greeted Jacob, received of him gifts, and then departed for his own home in Mount Seir. Now that Jacob has returned to Canaan, he must find a place to dwell. Let us pick up our account at Genesis 33:17:
17. And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him an house, and made booths for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.
18. And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padanaram; and pitched his tent before the city.
19. And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem's father, for an hundred pieces of money.
20. And he erected there an altar, and called it Elelohe-Israel.
Jacob makes a good start in his new spiritual relationship by erecting an altar, the name of which, according to the translation in Young's Concordance, means "God, the God of Israel."
When he had parted from his uncle Laban at Mizpah, you may remember, Jacob had referred to God as the "Fear of Isaac", Now, having wrestled alone all night with the angel of God at the brook Jabbok, and having at last made his personal life-changing commitment there, his name has been changed to "Israel", and God is no longer just the "Fear of Isaac"; no longer just his father's deity. God has now become "God, the God of Israel"! By thus naming the altar, Jacob, has signalled his recognition that God is now no longer just the deity of the tribe, the one worshipped by his ancestors, but the God of Jacob himself. Jacob, as "Israel", has found a new relationship. He now enjoys that new name of Israel, meaning "Prince with God." What a change is symbolised by this altar! It signals that Jacob now acknowledges The Almighty God as his own personal God.
He has committed his life into God's hands, and God has seen him through the first stress-filled experience in that new life, that of meeting his brother, Esau, whom he had half expected might attack and seek to kill him with a vengeful heart.
But Jacob is seeking to make a home for his clan by settling near a Canaanite city. He will soon discover the problems which such proximity to the Canaanites can engender. You may remember that a genetic characteristic in the Patriarchal family was that most of the womenfolk of the clan were extremely, and excitingly beautiful. Jacob, having now eleven sons, Leah had at last borne him a daughter, called Dinah, whose youthful beauty must have been quite an exceptional delight to all her brothers. It obviously attracted the admiring attention of strangers as well. Let us read the account of what followed, beginning at Genesis 34:1:
1. And Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land.
2. 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.
3. And his soul clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spake kindly unto the damsel.
4. And Shechem spake unto his father Hamor, saying, Get me this damsel to wife.
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.
I wonder how Jacob must have felt at hearing this news. Here he was, a relative stranger in the countryside, probably not yet an accepted element amidst the society of the region. What questions must have arisen in his mind as he sat awaiting the return of his sons from the field! His only daughter, the extremely beautiful young Dinah, probably the very joy of the hearts of all her protective brothers, has been seduced and raped by a youth of the Hivites, a Canaanite!
Should he have settled farther from the city? Was his choice faulty? Had Dinah been too young to allow her to go amidst the Canaanites without her brothers along to protect and watch over her? Had God allowed this to happen in order to test him? What was he to do? What laws applied, Canaanitish, or those of the God to whom he had just recently fully committed his life? Was his future seed, which The Almighty had promised would become as the dust of the earth for multitude and as the sands of the sea, to be gendered with the uncircumcised Canaanite? How would this fulfil God's strictures regarding his clan? What decision was he, as the responsible patriarch of the tribe, to render?
And what of the youth concerned? Shechem was probably the best that Canaan could offer. But then, Canaan's sexual excesses would be proverbial in years to come, and their religious defilements would eventually bring down the wrath of God upon their descendants.
All these questions and many more probably tumbled through his thoughts as he saw the Hivite approaching.
6. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out unto Jacob to commune with him.
7. And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob's daughter; which thing ought not to be done.
8. And Hamor communed with them, saying, The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife.
9. And make ye marriages with us, and give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you.
10. And ye shall dwell with us: and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade ye therein, and get you possessions therein.
11. And Shechem said unto her father and unto her brethren, Let me find grace in your eyes, and what ye shall say unto me I will give.
12. Ask me never so much dowry and gift, and I will give according as ye shall say unto me: but give me the damsel to wife.
Can we place ourselves among Dinah's brothers, as one of them. How did they feel? Did they inwardly reproach themselves for not having seen to her protection? And what of the invitation to marry the Canaanite girls, and to allow the tribe of Israel to yield wives to these uncircumcised strangers? Did they want the fair girls of Israel in exchange for those deemed of lesser worth? They offered land and economic opportunity. How could they treat thus with the violation of a pure virgin of Israel on crass economic terms? We may see their thoughts forming as we read:
13. And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father deceitfully, and said, because he had defiled Dinah their sister:
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:
15. But in this will we consent unto you: If ye will be as we be, that every male of you be circumcised;
16. 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.
17. But if ye will not hearken unto us, to be circumcised; then will we take our daughter, and we will be gone.
18. And their words pleased Hamor, and Shechem Hamor's son.
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.
At this point, the Canaanites are presenting what appears to be an honest face. In their terms a matter of rape counted for little, so the proposal would seem to be in character, considering their moral tradition. But as they discuss the matter back in the town a baser element begins to emerge. We then see another factor entering the picture:
20. And Hamor and Shechem his son came unto the gate of their city, and communed with the men of their city, saying,
21. These men are peaceable with us; therefore let them dwell in the land, and trade therein; for the land, behold, it is large enough for them; let us take their daughters to us for wives, and let us give them our daughters.
22. Only herein will the men consent unto us for to dwell with us, to be one people, if every male among us be circumcised, as they are circumcised.
23. Shall not their cattle and their substance and every beast of theirs be ours? only let us consent unto them, and they will dwell with us.
24. And unto Hamor and unto Shechem his son hearkened all that went out of the gate of his city; and every male was circumcised, all that went out of the gate of his city.
Circumcision, as Israel understood it, was to be a sign between the people of the tribe and Almighty God. To these Hivites, it was merely a relatively small price to pay in order to obtain cattle and possessions. But God would not have such an amalgam of peoples. Even the intemperate wrath of hot young blood can serve His purposes, as we see.
25. And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore, 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.
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.
27. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled their sister.
28. They took their sheep, and their oxen, and their asses, and that which was in the city, and that which was in the field,
29. And all their wealth, and all their little ones, and their wives took they captive, and spoiled even all that was in the house.
30. And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye 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.
31. And they said, Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?
Certainly, though fewer in number than the local inhabitants of the area, these sons of Jacob, no doubt like their fathers before them, must have come of warrior stock! Their great grandfather, Abram, had led his 318 armed men to battle against the four kings who had captured his nephew, Lot, and won that battle. Little wonder, then, that the clan of Jacob should be so effective in their attack against these Hivites! And we may appreciate that Dinah's elder brothers, also born of Leah as was Dinah herself, would feel particularly duty-bound to take the lead among the rest of the tribe in this stroke of vengeance.
We shall follow the continuing story of God's dealings with His people next week.
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