On the Run Again

After a long period of silence Jacob's story picks up again as his sons cause trouble and we see Jacob in the familiar role of being on the run.
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We've looked at the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau as Jacob returned home after being with his father-in-law, Laban, for twenty years. We saw how he prepared to meet Esau and the way God strengthened his faith:

  • He enabled him to see the angels who were protecting him.
  • He appeared to him while Jacob struggled in prayer.

This episode demonstrates Jacob's developing faith as his reliance on God increases, and God reveals Himself more clearly to Jacob. In the end, Jacob meets with Esau and both brothers are reconciled.

Afterwards Jacob goes on his way to settle in the land of Canaan which had been promised to him by God.

There is now a long period of silence where neither Isaac, Esau nor Jacob is mentioned. The story picks up again as Jacob's sons cause trouble and we see Jacob in the familiar role of being on the run.

The Rape of Dinah – 34:1-31

1Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land. 2When Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her by force. 3He was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. 4So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, "Get me this young girl for a wife."
- Genesis 34:1-4

The problems of raising children in a pagan society are evident here. Dinah, the only daughter, seeks companionship with the young women of the pagan surroundings. Her brothers have each other as companions but she, lacking friends, makes friends with unbelievers. Her closeness to pagan friends gets her noticed, and eventually seduced and raped by the local chief's son.

Note that there is no remorse or rebuke by the father who did not see anything wrong in what his son had done. The young man is infatuated with Dinah, however, and wants to marry her (she is different from the pagan women he has known).

Even in this culture and circumstance marriages were difficult to arrange and so the young man's father begins to negotiate with Jacob's family to propose a marriage between the two.

5Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; but his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob kept silent until they came in. 6Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. 7Now the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved, and they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done.

8But Hamor spoke with them, saying, "The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. 9Intermarry with us; give your daughters to us and take our daughters for yourselves. 10Thus you shall live with us, and the land shall be open before you; live and trade in it and acquire property in it." 11Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, "If I find favor in your sight, then I will give whatever you say to me. 12Ask me ever so much bridal payment and gift, and I will give according as you say to me; but give me the girl in marriage."

But Jacob's sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit, because he had defiled Dinah their sister.

14They said to them, "We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. 15Only on this condition will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, 16then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people. 17But if you will not listen to us to be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and go."

18Now their words seemed reasonable to Hamor and Shechem, Hamor's son.

Jacob learns of the news and is distressed. Soon after the young man's father arrives to propose not only a marriage but a complete amalgamation of both peoples. It would be one way Hamor could assimilate Jacob's family and wealth without war or competition.

Of course, the danger here is the destruction of the nation by diluting their family and their faith by intermarrying with pagans. The first step had already begun with Dinah being taken by force.

The brothers propose that if the men of the town are circumcised, they would consent to intermarry, since the circumcision would satisfy their religious convictions. Of course, we will soon see that this was a plot for revenge as we will see.

Vs. 18-24 – Upon hearing this Hamor (Dad) and Shechem (son) readily agreed. They returned and convinced the men of the town to be circumcised with the argument that it would be an economic advantage to inter-marry with the Israelites.

A couple of points to note:

  1. Jacob is not present when this plan is proposed. He may have known later but he did not approve.
  2. Reuben and Judah, the older brothers, were also excluded from the plan and demonstrated (Gen. 37:21) with Joseph that they did not have much stomach for bloodshed.
  3. The two main protagonists were Simeon and Levi who, we will see, do the killing.
  4. Neither side gave any significance to circumcision:
    • The Hamorites accepted it simply to gain access to marriages with Israelites. Much like modern day unbelievers who simply come to church and are even baptized to impress future spouses.
    • The brothers took advantage of the circumcision to kill them. In the Christian era this would be like drowning your enemy in the baptistery.

The Hamorites were punished for their blasphemy, and the brothers brought great trouble, because of their irreverence and deceit.

25Now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male. 26They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem's house, and went forth. 27Jacob's sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; 29and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses. 30Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, "You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household." 31But they said, "Should he treat our sister as a harlot?"

Simeon and Levi go in and kill every male, destroy the town, take back their sister, take the women as slaves and the property as their own. Jacob worries that they will now be attacked by the surrounding pagan tribes. However, his sons pose a question that brings out the real issue:

  • What should we have done with our sister raped and treated like a piece of property to be bought and our family purity threatened?

They acted like the rash, zealous young men that they were, but the real question to Jacob was, "Where were you when all this was happening?"

  • Jacob was the head of the family, he should have taken the lead to resolve the problem.
  • He did not consult God when this happened, he simply left it in the hands of his sons.

Jacob had a leadership problem, was easily swayed (by his mother, by Laban, by his wives and now by his sons). He was an intelligent man of great faith but he was spiritually dry at this point and not providing the leadership that his family needed, and this episode dramatically highlights this.

Jacob's Renewal – Chapter 35

1Then God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau." 2So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; 3and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone." 4So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.
- Genesis 35:1-4

Once again Jacob goes to God in earnest prayer and God appears to him with the instructions to go to Bethel only 15 miles from where he is. It was the place where God had first spoken to him and he had mounted a pillar with the promise to build an altar there one day (which he never did). Perhaps the fact that he never completed the altar symbolizes his lack of resolve to follow through on his initial zeal and faith.

Jacob had grown indifferent spiritually. He was wealthy, had young adults living at home, his faith was unfocused, and this crisis was demonstrating how far he had drifted.

However, we see the renewal in his faith as he gives instructions to his family and household:

  1. They purified their surroundings by removing the idols and pagan influences out from their homes and lives. Their 10 years living among pagans had influenced them as they slowly were including their neighbors' idols, customs, and habits in their own lives. The way Levi and Simeon dealt with Hamor and Shechem was more in the character of pagans than believers.
  2. There was a re-dedication of each person in the family. By washing and putting on clean garments they were, in essence, saying that they recognized their impurity and were dedicating themselves to a Holy God by themselves being holy. The change in garments signaled a change in attitude: repentance for their sins.
  3. There was also a re-direction of their lives. The move to Bethel was not only a geographic move but a spiritual one as well. Bethel was only 15 miles south of where they were but 1000 feet higher in elevation. They were also moving up to a higher spiritual plane.

The building of the altar neglected for so long (he should have done it long ago) and the burial of the idols and pagan influences under the tree represent the burial of the old and resurrection to a new life in serving God.

Let us go back, he says, to the way God has set for us, and the altar at Bethel represented a new beginning for Jacob and his family.

Vs. 5-8 – We see God protect the family as they traveled to Luz (which he re-named El-Bethel = The Strong God of the House of God). Here, his nurse Deborah, dies which means that his mother, Rebekah, had probably died before and the nurse had come to live with Jacob.

Vs. 9-15 – Once there, God appears to Jacob once again to renew the promise to Him:

  • That he is indeed a prince (Israel) in case he felt unworthy because of his failure, God reassures him that he can and shall wear this name.
  • That great nations will come from him, and that he will not be destroyed by his enemies.
  • That the land, even though he moves around on it, will belong to his descendants.

At this point Jacob offers a sacrifice and renews his worship as well as faith at Bethel (House of God).

16Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and she suffered severe labor. 17When she was in severe labor the midwife said to her, "Do not fear, for now you have another son." 18It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20Jacob set up a pillar over her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel's grave to this day.

Rachel dies giving birth to the 12th son.

  • She calls him "son of sorrow" but Jacob re-names his "son of my right hand."
  • They were on their way from Bethel south to where his father, Isaac, lived.
  • She was buried in the area near Bethlehem.

The trauma, the moving and the pregnancy were too much and Rachel becomes a casualty of this time in Jacob's life.

Vs. 21-26 – Another episode tells of Reuben, the oldest son, having sex with Bilhah, Rachel's maid and Jacob's concubine. No mention is made of any rebuke here but later on Jacob will deny Reuben his birthright as oldest son because of this indiscretion. (Genesis 49:3-4) The twelve sons are named once again before Jacob finally arrives at his original home to present them to his father, Isaac, before his death.

27Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre of Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned.28Now the days of Isaac were one hundred and eighty years. 29Isaac breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. - Vs. 27-29

Jacob (now Israel) finally comes home to his father, Isaac. The writer mentions Isaac's death in this passage but in reality this happened later on. In any event, Isaac is buried by his two sons who are in fellowship with each other. He is buried in the same place as his wife, Rebekah, his father, Abraham, and his mother, Sarah.

Esau's descendants – 36:1-43

Chapter 36 lists the descendants of Esau in one complete section. There is no description of his life or times but simply a record of his sons, daughters, and the location of his descendants.

The Edomites, as they were called, were a mixture of his descendants and the Canaanite people that lived around him. This record is given to show the separate development of Esau's family line from Jacob's descendants who had the promise.


1. You marry who you date

This is an ancient story but teaches a modern and consistent truth. Dinah had no other friends and sought fellowship and companionship in a pagan setting and was the object of pagan custom and practice.

We cannot expect our Christian sons and daughters to form Christian friendships, and relationships if we do not promote Christian socializing influences on them:

  • Youth groups
  • Camps
  • Church attendance
  • Christian colleges
  • Christian friends in our homes

If 90% of our children's contacts are with non-Christians then the odds are 90% that they will end up marrying non-Christians and raising non-Christian children.

2. Leadership abhors a vacuum

When leaders do not lead, someone or something will lead in their place. Jacob was absent in leadership, he was asleep at the wheel and his sons took over and did what they thought was right. Their actions simply caused more problems.

If leaders in the church do not lead in a pro-active way, then someone or something else will take over:

  • Apathy
  • Division
  • Competition
  • False teaching

Leaders can let the ship steer itself for only so long, but sooner or later God will send a wake-up call and, like Jacob, it is usually not very pleasant.

3. Renewal requires continual repentance

Jacob's renewal required that he remove the idols, cleanse his household, get to work changing his home, build the altar at Bethel and start worshipping again. We cannot go forward spiritually unless we repent of our sins on a continual basis. We usually blame someone else for our spiritual apathy, but the person responsible is usually ourself. You do not experience renewal or revival by having a meeting or organizing a project. Renewal comes when we recognize what is coming between ourselves and God and get rid of it.

Jacob got rid of the idols, the indifference, the involvement with pagans – our renewal comes in exactly the same way.

  • Remove the sins and purify ourselves.
  • Remove the indifference and become faithful to our ministry, our Lord, our church.
  • Remove the involvement with the world and sinners and begin to draw closer to Jesus and His people.

If we do these things, renewal will come.

Discussion Questions

  1. Summarize the events of Genesis 34:1-36:43
  2. What concerns do we share with Jacob as we raise our families in a society that does not honor God?
  3. How did God renew His promise to Jacob (Genesis 35) and what can we learn from this?
  4. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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