Jacob and His Sons Fail to Walk with God
Passage: Genesis 34:1–31
How do God's people fail when responding to sin?
Thanksgiving just passed and if you are like us, you went to more than one Thanksgiving meal. We always go to a meal with my family and with Katie’s family but even though we are getting together for the exact same tradition, they look and feel much different from each other.
Every year, Katie’s coworkers ask her about “Camp Swamp Donkey.” During her first years working at Jacobs High School, she revealed to them that every Thanksgiving we head out to Camp Swamp Donkey, which is my dad’s affectionate name for our hunting cabin. They weren’t only intrigued by the name, but by the experience at Camp Swamp Donkey. There is no running water so we go to the bathroom in an outhouse and bring water in a big jug. There’s no electricity so my dad hooks up a car battery that runs the lights. The whole cabin is one room with bunk beds, table, kitchen, and wood stove. We go out there to stay up late into the night playing our annual cribbage tournament.
This is much different from what we do with Katie’s family. And Katie’s coworkers find it so interesting because it is completely different from they normally see and experience. Our families can look different in many ways and that makes them stand apart.
This evening we are continuing our series called Beginning the Journey Home in the book of Genesis. We are following the life of Jacob. Last week, we saw him have a transformative experience. He experienced grace up close and personal. He should have died at the hands of both God and his brother and yet he was accepted. He was delivered. He got what he didn’t deserve. God changed his name from Jacob to Israel which shows us this was a turning point in Jacob’s life. This experience of grace would have an effect on who he is going forward.
But even though this is true and Jacob just had a life-transforming experience, Jacob’s life does not transform instantly. He still deceives his brother immediately after it and in our passage today, we see that he fails to walk with God in a difficult situation. Can you relate? Haven’t we all had experiences that we would say were life-transforming but took time to make a real difference?
God called Jacob and his family to be different from the rest of the world. God told Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, that he had chosen Abraham’s family so that they would keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice (Gen 18:19). In other words, they are to walk a different path than everyone else.
This is the way God wanted all of humanity to walk. God’s desire for humanity is that we would trust his definition of what’s good and what’s evil and walk in his ways. But in the garden in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve, the first humans, choose to define good and evil for themselves and walk in their own ways.
God’s desire is that when people look at Abraham and his family, they see a family different than what they have ever seen before. His desire is that others see what God originally intended for humanity. His desire is that all the other families of the earth see what it looks like to walk with God in a loving and trusting relationship. This is how they would be a blessing to the world.
Walking in God’s ways doesn’t only mean doing righteousness and justice. It also means responding rightly to unrighteousness and injustice. In other words, it means responding to sin and evil in a way that shows our love of and trust in God. This is exactly how Jacob and his sons struggle in Genesis 34.
The big question this passage answers is: How do God’s people fail when responding to sin? How do God’s people fail when responding sin?
Let’s walk through the story then answer our big question.
Story (Genesis 34:1-31)
There are four main characters in this narrative and none of them are either wholly innocent or wholly evil. First, Dinah goes where she shouldn’t. Remember that Jacob married two sisters. He really wanted to marry Rachel but her father tricked him into marrying his other daughter, Leah, first. So Rachel is his favorite and Leah is the one he got stuck with. Dinah is the daughter of Leah. In verse 1, we are told that she has a habit of going out to see the women of the land. This insinuates that she is running with the wrong crowd. Instead of being at home with her family, she is out with the women of Canaan.
Second, Shechem does what he shouldn’t. Instead of going to reunite with his father after being gone for 20 years and returning home, Jacob delays. Perhaps he is afraid to see his father again after lying to him and tricking him 20 years prior. Jacob settled down near the city where Shechem lives. While Dinah was out with the women of Shechem’s city, she caught Shechem’s eye and instead of going through the proper course of action for marriage, he instead seized her, laid with her, and humiliated her. In other words, he raped her.
The fact that Dinah was where she shouldn’t be doesn’t make her any less the victim. But Shechem doesn’t act as we’d expect. He doesn’t sleep with her then send her on her way. We are told he loves her. His soul was drawn to her and he spoke tenderly to her. So now he tells his father, “Go talk to Jacob to get this girl for my wife.” Having failed to control himself, he now seeks marriage.
Third, Jacob doesn’t do what he should. Dinah goes where she shouldn’t. Shechem does what he shouldn’t. Jacob doesn’t do what he should. Jacob hears that his daughter has been raped but he holds his peace. Shechem’s father, Hamor, comes to ask for Dinah in marriage and Jacob says nothing. It seems that Jacob is not that concerned about the daughter of his less favored wife was raped.
Lastly, we come to Jacob’s sons. Jacob’s sons do more than they should. Jacob doesn’t do what he should but Jacob’s sons do more than they should. When they hear about what happened, they are angry probably both at their dad for not doing anything and at Shechem for what he has done.
Hamor, Shechem’s dad, proposes that their people intermarry. Shechem wants to marry Dinah, so how about we all dwell together in this land, trade in it, and intermarry. Then Shechem speaks up and says to Jacob and his sons, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. Ask me for as great a bride price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me. Only give me the young woman to be my wife” (Genesis 34:11-12).
Since their father isn’t doing anything, they take matters into their own hands. They’ve learned a thing or two about deception from their dad and they answer Shechem deceitfully. They say, “We can’t intermarry with you because you aren’t circumcised. We can on one condition: you become circumcised like us.”
Let’s hear Shechem and Hamor’s response in verse 18:
18 Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor's son Shechem. 19 And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob's daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his father's house. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, 21 “These men are at peace with us; let them dwell in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters as wives, and let us give them our daughters. 22 Only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us to become one people—when every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. 23 Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us.” 24 And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city. (Genesis 34:18-24)
They present the arrangement to their people but they leave out how it will personally benefit them. They present it as advantageous to them as a city and they imply that all of Jacob’s livestock and property will become theirs. The men agree to circumcision.
Here is where the deceit of Jacob’s sons comes in. Look at verse 25:
25 On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. 26 They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem's house and went away. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. 29 All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered. (Genesis 34:25-29)
While Shechem and his people are still laying on the couch icing themselves and taking Advil every four hours for their circumcision, Simeon and Levi and probably some servants with them enter the city and kill all the males. Here we learn that Dinah has actually been at Shechem’s house this whole time, making a negotiations for marriage unfair. After the males have been killed, all the sons of Jacob plundered the city, taking their valuable possessions and taking their women and children captive.
Their actions certainly don’t look or feel like justice and righteousness. Jacob’s sons do far more than they should. They answer deceitfully. Then they use circumcision, a sign of God’s special relationship with them and desire to bless them so they will be a blessing, as a means to weaken their enemy. Then they murdered not only Shechem, who was the one that committed the wrong against their sister, but Shechem’s father and all the males in their city. Then they plundered it and took the women and children as captives. Jacob’s family was enriched this day, but it came with blood on it.
We see even more of Jacob’s passivity in the final two verses. Look at verse 30:
30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” 31 But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” (Genesis 34:30-31)
Is Jacob concerned about the immoral, wicked actions of his sons? No, he is concerned with how it has endangered him. Simeon and Levi paint the situation in blunt terms, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” Shechem slept with their sister then came to them offering to pay the bride price and to give them a gift in exchange for her. He slept with her, then wanted to pay them. They find the whole thing appalling.
This whole story shows that Jacob’s family is a mess. His sons have all the bad traits of their father and then some. They take advantage of someone’s eagerness. They deceive. They trick. They don’t take the things of God seriously. But even more, they are vengeful. They murder and they plunder.
As we read this, you may wonder: “What in the world is this doing in the Bible?” More specifically, what is it doing in the book of Genesis? If you are reading along, it almost seems like a detour in the story. Remember, the book of Genesis was written for us but not to us. The original audience was the nation of Israel. Genesis is part of their origin story. God chose to bless them so they could be a blessing to all the other nations of the earth. Their nation grew out of Abraham and his family. Jacob is Abraham’s grandson who was renamed Israel. HI sname becomes the name of the nation. His twelve sons become the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel and those tribes are named after them.
The author of this book is a man named Moses. He was chosen by God to be the leader of his people during a time when they were enslaved by Egypt. God wanted to lead his people out of slavery through Moses. But when God leads them out, he doesn’t just say, “You are free, do whatever you want.” He desires for all the people to worship him by walking in his ways. He wants this nation that grew out of Abraham’s family to be different than everyone else.
The book of Genesis is part of Israel’s foundation documents. Chapter 34 is part of those documents as well. to lead his people out of slavery. What does this say to a people who are free for the first time about to enter the land that God had promised them?
First, it’s an explanation. It’s an explanation for why Simeon and Levi are not the tribes of Israel’s kings. We will see later in Genesis that they are passed over for their violent natures. They cannot be Israel’s leaders. Second, it’s a warning. It’s a warning about how the nation can go wrong and abandon their calling from God. This warning is what gives us our big question.
The big question this passage answers is: How do God’s people fail when responding to sin?
Like Jacob, we can do nothing. We ignore it. We sweep it under the rug. We tell people, “It’s ok.” We don’t want to rock the boat or make somebody upset.
On the other side, like Jacob’s sons, we can do too much. We take revenge. We take justice into our own hands.
Jacob critiques his sons and Jacob’s sons critique Jacob. There’s truth in both of their critiques. After his son’s take vengeance, Jacob says that they have made him stink to the inhabitants of the land. When we take vengeance like the world takes vengeance for sin, people look at us and they don’t like what they see. We stink. People say, “You claim to follow Jesus, but you are no different than anybody else.”
Jacob’s sons are rightly upset by their father’s passivity and ask, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” They are appalled at their father’s lack of action in the wake of their sister and his daughter being raped. They are right to be critical of his response, but that doesn’t make them right in how they responded.
The problem with both of them is that they do all of this without consulting God. There is not one mention of God in this whole chapter. Because of this, they do not show the Shechemites the way of the LORD and they fail to be a blessing.
God’s family is called to show a different way of responding to sin and evil. This passage speaks to the people of Israel who have just been freed from slavery in Egypt and it speaks to us as God’s people who have been freed from slavery to sin and who now live as part of Jesus’ kingdom. What does it say to us who are to live as citizens of that kingdom in this world?
Know that God responds to sin with grace. God responds to sin with grace. Grace is neither passive nor vengeful. Grace does something. Grace deals with our sin. Grace pays the penalty and forgives but not only that, grace leads us out of continuing to sin. Grace gives us the power to stop sinning.
God will one day judge sinners and execute punishment, that fate is for all those who reject his grace. God will take vengeance on those who do not receive the offer of salvation and forgiveness in Jesus. But God made a way out of that fate by paying for the punishment we deserve himself.
When it comes to respond to sin in others, we often fail to respond with grace. We often either do nothing or we take vengeance.
What keeps us from doing something when we see wrong?
Which 4Gs would encourage us to do something despite those things?
When someone has wronged us, what are ways we might take revenge?
These actions make us stink to other people. They don’t smell of grace and don’t show people the way of the Lord.
Which 4Gs help us not to take revenge?
As God’s family, we need to respond to sin rightly if we are to be different from the world. Responding to sin rightly starts at home. It starts with us responding to it in one another with grace. We need to neither be passive or vengeful toward one another, but gracious.
In January of this year, the team doctor for the national USA gymnastics team, Larry Nassar, was convicted and sentenced as a serial child molester. Under the guise of medical care, Nassar sexually molested and abused the girls to whom he was giving medical treatment. More than 150 women and girls spoke of his sexual misconduct at his trial. The last to speak was Rachael Denhollander, who was the first woman to public accuse him of sexual abuse. What she describes is heartbreaking. After addressing the judge and Michigan State University, she addressed Nassar. Here is part of what she said.
You have become a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires, a man defined by his daily choices repeatedly to feed that selfishness and perversion. You chose to pursue your wickedness no matter what it cost others and the opposite of what you have done is for me to choose to love sacrificially, no matter what it costs me.
In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.
You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.
If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.
The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God's wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me -- though I extend that to you as well. (https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/24/us/rachael-denhollander-full-statement/)
She responds to Nassar’s sin much like you see Jesus responding to people’s sin in the gospels. We can learn something from her. First, she doesn’t minimize sin. She calls it for what it is. She doesn’t sugarcoat it. She doesn’t say it’s ok. She doesn’t brush over it. She makes clear how bad sin is and how bad the consequences are.
Second, she doesn’t minimize grace. Despite the terrible things Nassar did not only to others but to her personally and repeatedly, she holds out the possibility of forgiveness both from her and from God. She says:
Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
The gospel of Christ extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. That’s the reality for each of us.
Third, she shows compassion, not vengeance. She prays he would experience guilt so he can experience repentance and forgiveness. She later goes on in her testimony to tell Nassar that she pities him because he has hardened himself to true love and joy. Even while not minimizing his sin, Rachael has compassion on him because she knows that his selfishness is ultimately self-destructive to him.
As I said before, we need to be SAFE people inviting others to safety when we confront sin in one another. SAFE means we are Secure in Christ, Accepted by God, Forgiven of Everything, and Embraced in Love. We need to know that is true of us. We need to stand in the safety of God’s grace before we can call others there.
The good news of Jesus is that despite all our sin, failures, and selfishness we are safe with God. We are secure, accepted, forgiven, and embraced. We become messengers of that good news when despite all of the other person’s sin, failures, and selfishness, we can express the safety of grace to them and invite them into it without minimizing how bad their sin is. That’s the beauty of grace, that no matter how bad we are, grace is better. No matter how many our sins, grace is more.
With Jacob and his sons, we too so often find that change is hard, slow, and sometimes feels non-existent. We hear the truth about God from a sermon and the call to live different lives, but then we close our Bibles, walk out, and everything looks and feels the same on Monday as it did before we gathered to worship God. Usually it doesn’t even take until Monday to feel that nothing has changed. By the time we get to our cars and are on the car ride home, the truths that we heard, sung, and even tasted and touched in the Lord’s Supper have already faded and are in our rear view mirror.
That’s why we need to be SAFE people to one another because change doesn’t come instantly. We need grace, patience, kindness gentleness, and faithfulness from one another. And we need to call out sin in each other without minimizing it, without minimizing grace, and with compassion. Grace sounds like, “I love you and want what’s best for you. That’s why I am talking to you about this. So you can own your sin, repent and receive forgiveness. So you can experience grace.”
We need more than a worship gathering. We need more than just this time together. That’s why we also do Gospel Communities and Gospel Fluency Groups to apply gracec to our sin.
As the people of God, we need each other to help us grow out of sin and into grace. We need to live life together and be SAFE people calling one another to safety.