“An Ugly Chapter”                                                                       April 22, 2012

Genesis 34:1-31

 

INTRO:  This is an ugly chapter of the Bible. 

   Not the ugliest, but certainly in the top ten.  Some commentators have

   responded to the ugliness of this chapter by simply saying very little about it.

A.W. Pink’s commentary Gleanings in Genesis skips right over Genesis 34.

   It goes right from Genesis 33 to Genesis 35.

   The only comment Pink makes is this:

   “We pass over the sad record of the intervening chapter, asking our readers to turn to it for

   themselves.”

 

H. C. Leupold, the great Lutheran commentator, has a portion at the end of every

   chapter called “Homiletical Suggestions”—preaching tips.  He said this:

“We may well wonder if any man who had proper discernment ever drew a text from this

   chapter.  It is rightly evaluated by the more mature mind and could be treated to advantage

   before a men’s Bible class.  But we cannot venture to offer homiletical suggestions for its

   treatment.”

Don’t try to preach on this chapter.  You’re lacking in discernment if you do.

   Maybe you could cover it in a men’s class—but you’re on your own.

 

I fully appreciate the concern to be appropriate and to consider your audience.

   Obviously, this is not a story you would read in children’s Sunday school.

But this is precisely the sort of chapter that a preacher should never skip over.

   It contains in invaluable lesson that Christians of all ages need to be reminded of,

   maybe especially our age—it’s the danger of assimilation.

This story is a vivid warning of what can happen to a believing family—

   how easily they can get sucked into the world and lose their distinctiveness

   and very identity as Christians.

 

Think for a minute about the book of Genesis, when it was written and by whom.

   The Bible tells us that it was written by Moses.  Moses wrote it for the new

   nation of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land.

Why would he have included such an ugly story?  Why would he tell something

   like this that casts such a negative light on one of the Patriarchs?

   Why didn’t he leave this out?

 

Because he wanted to warn them.  You’re about to enter the Promised Land.

   The greatest threat to your faith will not be armies attacking you.

It will be the temptation to assimilate with the Canaanite culture.

   To lose your distinctiveness as a people and disappear as a covenant community.

And if you think that can’t happen to you—look who it almost happened to. 

   Were it not for God’s grace, Jacob would have destroyed his family.

 

God is the hero of this story.  He remained faithful to the covenant promisesmade

   to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—even after this episode.

He continued to work through this terribly flawed family to bring about

   his salvation plan and form them into the nation from which would come Christ. 

It’s God who is keeping the promises.

 

Jacob is the failure in this story. 

   The Bible often teaches us this way.  It teaches us by the negative.

   Teaches us to close the barn door by showing what happens when cows get out. 

It doesn’t always teach this way.  Sometimes it gives us positive example.

   But very often, by way of warning, it shows us the lives of believers and says—

   don’t do that.  Fear God and walk a different path.

 

Everybody does something wrong in this episode, even the victim, even Dinah.

She foolishly goes out among bad people, she leaves the protection of her family

   Schechem, Hamor, Simeon, Levi, the men of Schechem, the sons of Jacob—

   they are all motivated by lust, greed, deceit, violence, vengeance.

But the person who is cast in the very worst light by this story is Jacob himself.

   Just when we thought that Jacob would walk with God faithfully for the rest of his

   days and be the spiritual leader of his family God called him to be, what happens?

By his own passivity he threatened the spiritual life of his family

   and put his children in moral jeopardy.

 

God’s grace sometimes come to us in the form of warnings.

That’s what this ugly chapter is—it’s a warning to all Christians,

   but I think especially to Christian dads and heads of households. 

Here’s the warning.  Beware of assimilation. 

   Beware of the fatal attraction of the world.  It can destroy you.

 

Three point:

   1.  Assimilation with the world threatens subtly.

   2.  Assimilation with the world targets the family.

   3.  Assimilation with the world pushes aggressively.

 

MP#1  Assimilation with the world threatens subtly.

The great dangers in life are usually subtle, not frontal.

   When it’s a frontal attack, you’re on guard, not as vulnerable.

But a subtle attack is like the frog in the proverbial kettle—

   you’re not aware of your danger until it’s too late. 

   This is what happened to Jacob.  He fell to a subtle attack.

The Bible gives us clues as to why this episode happened.

 

When Jacob was still in Paddan Aram, back working for Uncle Laban,

   The Lord came to him and said:  I am the God who appeared to you at Bethel.

Remember, Bethel was where Jacob had the vision of the stairway to heaven.

   God reminded him, I appeared to you there and you made a vow to me.

What was that vow Jacob made way back then, 20 years earlier?

   God, if you provide for me, and take care of me, when I come back to the

   Promised Land and I will take this stone and set it up as a pillar in your house. 

 

So the Lord identified himself as the God of Bethel.

   He reminded Jacob of the vow he had made, and then he said:

   Now Jacob, return to the Promised Land.

And what is implied in that exchange is—go to Bethel. 

   Keep the vow you made with me 20 years ago.  Set up that place of worship.

But what did Jacob do when he finally got to the Promised Land?

 

He started south to Bethel, but only got as far as Schechem, before he stopped,

   bought some land, pitched his tents, and built an altar.

The fact that this was a mistake is made more clear in the first verses of the next

   chapter, right after the disaster of this chapter.  God says to Jacob:

   “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there.”

The implication is that Jacob should have gone straight to Bethel when he came

   into the Promised Land.  Instead he stopped at Shechem, settled among pagans.

 

Why did Jacob do it?  We’re left to speculate, but I think he was tired.

   He had come through an exhausting stage of life, those 20 years with Laban. 

   20 hard years martially, he had become the father of 11 sons, one daughter.

   He had gone from having nothing, to being a very wealthy man.

He had the emotionally draining conflicts with Laban, and then his reconciliation

   with Esau—which ended well.  But you know how you can go into a slump after

   you go through something that intense—even when it ends well.

 

He was on his way to Bethel.  He had every intent of going there.

   But here before him were the green fields outside Schehem.

He probably didn’t even make a decision as much as fall into it.

   They stopped for a night, and then another—before long he had settled down.

It wasn’t as if he had entirely strayed from God.

   He was in the Promised Land, he was worshipping—he set up an altar there.

He wasn’t exactly where God wanted him to be, but he was ok with that.

   It seemed ok just to cruise for a while.  Just to take it easy.

But because Jacob dilly-dallied, because he didn’t pursue his pilgrimage—

   his family was in a place of moral jeopardy.

 

Dr. Rayburn tells the story of a young man in his church who asked him:

   Is it ok for me to buy a new Mercedes Benz?

This young man had gone into business for himself and had done very well in

   a very short time—he was very successful and had lots of money.

I’ll read you what Rayburn said happened:

   “We talked for a bit about the implications of our faith in Christ for such a question as that and I left him with the counsel that, whatever he did, he must do it, in good conscience, out of loyalty to the Lord Jesus.  Clearly there are wealthy Christians and well-to-do Christians, and there is no law in the Bible against owning and using expensive things.  But the way the question was troubling this young man was the indication that his loyalty was being tested.  He failed that test and is today living in open rebellion against the Lord.”

 

That’s exactly what happened here. 

   Is it wrong for me to pitch my tents near Schechem?

   Of course not, I’m traveling.  I have to stop somewhere. 

   God didn’t say not to stop at Schechem.  We can’t make it to Bethel all in a day.  I’ll get there.  I’m committed.  Just a few more days here.

   And because he gave in to this subtle temptation—all hell broke loose.

 

The subtlety of the world.  I spoke to someone in Cullman about a year ago who

   told me that he knew of seven couples in his church that had divorced.

Do you know what the common denominator was?  Facebook. 

   Every one had re-connected with old high school flames through Facebook. 

Come on.  Is there anything wrong with Facebook? 

   Well, is there anything wrong with camping for a while near Schechem?

   Is there anything wrong with buying a new Mercedes? 

 

Assimilation with the world is a subtle threat—be wise.

MP#2  Assimilation with the world targets the family.

God works salvation through families. 

He pours out his grace through lines of generations.  He’s a covenant God.

   I will be your God and the God of your children after you.

   And by the same token, believing families the target of assimilation by world.

 

You can’t help notice the family dynamics of this chapter. 

   How does it start?  With a teenage daughter from a Christian home going out on

   her own without any warning, supervision, cherishing, guarding by her father.

You get the distinct impression that this girl was going out looking for happiness

   in the wrong places.

 

HC Leupold, who I quoted earlier, says that among the Egyptians and Canaanites,

   unaccompanied women were considered fair game. 

She caught the eye of Schechem, who was the son of the ruler of that town.

   She was probably flattered.  She probably went with him, being naïve. 

   It would be like a 14 year old girl being asked to the homecoming dance

   by the captain of the football team. 

But then when they were alone, he lay with her and violated her.

 

The details give us reason to think that this was not an act of raw sexual violence. 

It says his heart was drawn to her, he spoke tenderly to her, he loved her, he wanted

   her as his wife.  What was this if it wasn’t simply a rape?

This was the Canaanite way of doing things. 

   For them, you didn’t get to know the girl and her family, respect her purity,

   go to her father for her hand.

No, you took her sexually, and if you liked her and thought you wanted her

   permanently, you keep her, romance her, and then go and arrange to marry her.

 

Another commentator I read said that the forced marriage of a girl from another

   tribe was a way that Canaanites would often establish business relations.

We need to be connected with that group over there, it would be beneficial for us.

   Let’s abduct some of their daughters, present them with a marriage that’s

   already done, and then they will have to be a part of us.

 

That was the situation Jacob was faced with.  Schechem and his father Hamor

   coming and saying—my son wants your daughter, and by the way,

   she’s at his house, he’s already slept with her.

 

But this is a great arrangement.  You live here now, let’s give our children

   to each other in marriage and do business together and it will be good for all of us.

Settle in with us.  Marry us.  Do business with us.

   It was perfectly reasonable to them.

And the most shocking thing is that Jacob was about to do it.

 

 

What would have happened if this had been carried out? 

   Within a generation or two, the children of the covenant would be no different

   from the pagans in the land.

 

Then Simeon and Levi spoke up and said—You have to be circumcised first.

   What did the men of Schechem say—Sure, we’ll be glad to accommodate your

   religious beliefs as long as you become part of us.

The world is always glad to assimilate believers.

These men didn’t know that Simeon and Levi were violent men, who had a huge

   chip on their shoulder because they were the sons of the unloved wife—

   more family dynamics. 

 

But the really shocking thing about this is that Jacob heard all this and said nothing.

He heard this proposal by these worldly Canaanites—intermarry with us,

   become partners with us, live with us—Yes, you want us to be circumcised,

   we’ll be glad to accommodate your religion with ours.

When he heard it should have sent a shiver of horror through Jacob’s soul.

   Because it was a plan that guaranteed the spiritual death of the children

   of Abraham.  If carried out, within a generation or two, the children of the

   covenant would be no different from the pagans in the land.

 

Listen Christian dads and moms, the world is not shy about wanting your children.

   It’s not shy about wanting to suck your family in.  Sure you can keep your

   religious trappings—just become one with us.  Marry us, live with us.

Do not for a minute buy into the lie that you should let your children decide for

   themselves what they are going to believe, make their own decisions

   about whether or not they should go to church or not.  Lifestyle and friends.

I guarantee you the world does not respect their decisions. 

   Make every effort to impress on them the vital importance of who they are—

   that they are from a household of faith.  Heirs of the promises of God.

Remember that it is possible for Christian faith to be lost to a family in

   a generation.  Take this warning to heart.

MP#3  Assimilation with the world pushes aggressively.

In a way I’ve already made this point, but it needs to be emphasized.

   Assimilation is subtle—it comes in often without overt threats.

   But it’s not passive, it’s aggressive.  It’s a negative spiritual force.

If you are passive against an aggressive foe, you will lose.

   We’re in a war and you don’t win wars by being passive.

Dwight Eisenhower said: 

“War is a terrible thing.  But if you’re going to get into it, you’ve got to get into it all the way.”

 

Throughout this chapter, Jacob is passive. 

   He never warns or stops Dinah before it’s too late. 

But long before this incident, he was completely passive in the spiritual upbringing

   of this daughter of his.  He wasn’t making careful arrangements for her to marry

   a believer.  Abraham did that for Isaac.  Isaac gave the same advice to Jacob.

   Actually pleaded with him.  Don’t marry a Canaanite.  Marry our people.

But here was Jacob, and with this child, he just let himself be carried along.

 

And after the incident, he was passive in dealing with Schechem and Hamor.

   He let his sons do all the talking.  As I’ve already pointed out, it seems that

   he would have just let things take their course and his family would have

   been swallowed up.

The only emotion that Jacob expresses in the whole chapter is not over his daughter,

   but his worry that what his sons have done, their terrible revenge, will come back

   and cause him troubles.

 

What kind of active role or action should Jacob have taken?

   More specifically, what does this look like for us?

This is a hard question.  We live in the world.  We can’t withdraw from it.  

   We are surrounded every day by unbelievers and worldly influences and ideas.

   There is this constant, subtle yet aggressive attempt to suck us in.

 

The way Christians deal with the aggression of the world is by publically

   identifying themselves as believers.

It requires declaring commitment to Christ and to the life that pleases him.

   Jacob could have done that by caring for his daughter as a Christian dad should.

   Not just by loving and guarding her—every father should do that.

But by guiding, preparing, and teaching her how important it is that she marry

   in the faith.  And doing all he could do to make those preparations for her.

 

Jacob could have made a public stand by going to Bethel, building the sanctuary

   that he had promised—that would have identified him as a believer.

He could have done it by saying—this not how it’s done. 

But he didn’t do those things, and the dividing line was blurred—

   and Dinah decided to cross that line and mingle with pagans—this was the result. 

There are so many ways that you have to take a stand and identify yourself.

   And if you don’t, the world will absorb you. 

   Let me give you a positive and negative example. 

 

Once read a biography of a Christian man who joined the army.

   In the barracks the first night, he was surrounded by a bunch of very profane

   talk and corrupt morals.  He knew that they would make a mockery of his

   Christian commitment.  He feared their scorn if knew what he stood for.

But here was his dilemma.  All his life, from time a little boy, knelt by bed to pray.

   His parents taught him that.  It was a symbol of who he was.

What would he do?  Just pray under the covers? 

   He knelt to pray and immediately became the object of disdain. 

   But the line was not blurred.  He took the fight to the enemy. 

And as a result, he did not assimilate. 

 

Negative example one mother told me a while back.  Family she met who were

   professing Christians, but their children had become completely unchurched.

Public commitment to God’s people, life in body of Christ meant nothing to them.

   Here’s why:  Years earlier oldest child showed great talent for a particular sport. 

   The people around them said:  You have to develop this.  You must. 

   There was this pressure, the expectations, their children pressed them.

They went along.  It meant that for months, years, the Lord’s day was not spent

   in worship but at tournaments and events.

Of course, they made all sorts of commitments—going to have devotions. 

   But the thing is that children are more consistent than their parents. 

   They quickly picked up on what really mattered, what was really valuable.

And they did not develop that taste for the life of the church during formative

   years, did not learn to love the church will all of its blessings and faults.

As a result, a once-Christian family became practical pagans.

 

Work this out for yourself.  There will be many ways you are going to have to take

   a stand, wave your flag, say—This is who I am, this is who we are as a Christian

   family.  Don’t be passive.  God’s word gives you warning.

 

CONC: