WISDOM FROM THE BEGINNING - PART VII -SECTION I
JACOB AND HIS
SONS – CHAPTERS 33-34
I. After the reconciliation with Esau, the situation begins to settle down, but only in preparation for an explosion.
A. After the night with the angel, Jacob seems to have received more confidence, although he still uses cleverness in dealing with Esau.
1. When Esau
is coming, he goes first with the women and children following in waves,
starting with the handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah (who are not named), followed
by Leah and then Rachel. Each woman has her children with her.
The procession is meant to create an aura of good feelings and give
a sense of family setting. There is perhaps a sense that Esau
will not show forth as much rage with these women and young children
1. Esau himself
seems eager for the reconciliation, for he runs to Jacob to embrace
him. The text does not see any need to explain Esau's emotions,
nor whether he forgave Jacob on his own or whether God warned him that
he must do so. But here the positive side of his impulsive spirit
is clearly on display. In the parable of the prodigal son, the
father runs to his son and embraces him in a similar fashion.
See Luke 15:20. Jesus may have been drawing a connection between
the events, emphasizing that even pagans can show the love of God.
2. Esau begins
by asking why Jacob sent the wealth ahead of him. Esau almost
certainly knew it was to gain his favor and forgiveness, but he is acting
as though there is nothing to forgive and no need to buy him off.
3. Jacob then explains the reason all the same and, when Esau at first refuses the gift, insists he take it.
1. Esau first
offers to travel with Jacob, apparently back to the south at Seir.
It is possible that Esau intended to visit Isaac before returning home,
and thus thought that Jacob would want to accompany him. The offer
is both a matter of brotherhood and a matter of better security.
Jacob demurs, saying that his people and animals must travel slower
than those of Esau. He says that he will rejoin Esau in Seir,
which he apparently never manages to do.
1. At first, Jacob proceeds only a small distance to Succoth, still on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Here, he builds a temporary house for himself and shelter for his livestock. The house is the first permanent building for the living that Genesis records the family of Abraham establishing. Although Abraham and Isaac may well have built permanent dwellings, this reference indicates a more stable life in the Promised Land. Jacob, now with a large family is beginning to settle down.
- Here, the
land was perhaps plentiful enough that he did not have to purchase it;
there is at least no reference of him doing so.
E. At the end of chapter 33, there seems to be the restoration of peace, as Israel has now patched matters up with Laban, Esau and (apparently) his neighbors in Shechem. However, the looser connection with piety indicates a looming problem.
- Shechem had
been one of the first places Abraham had visited when he entered the
Promised Land. See Gen. 12:6.
II. Chapter 34 describes the rapid descent from this peace into violence and chaos, with no record of prayer or trust in God.
1. Dinah was
about 8 when Jacob left the land of Laban. Given that the family
was in Succoth for a few years, it is likely that they have been in
Shechem for a few years at most, perhaps for a shorter time.
2. The implication
is that Israel and his family were at peace with the people of Shechem
and thus that Israel trusted them. Dinah was probably curious
about the new people; and, being with 11 brothers, she probably wanted
female companionship. It does not appear that she wished for a
1. The young
man's name is fitting, for he stands in for the whole town; and his
guilt will bring catastrophe upon it.
2. The name Hazor,
which is also the name of the town's founder, means donkey.
Apparently donkeys were a sacred animal in Shechem.
3. The text describes
Shechem's desire for Dinah in particular as the cause of his abduction
of her. Unlike the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, this was not a
generalized violence for the sake of lust or power. He wanted
her in particular. If Israel wanted a leading man of Shechem to
fall in love with and marry Dinah, the plan has now gone terribly astray.
1. Jacob hears
about the terrible events. However, being about 70, he does not
do or say anything until his sons, who are aged about 16 to 24, return
from the fields. On the positive side, he does finally become
concerned for Dinah, whom he seemed to be neglecting until now.
On the negative side, the absence of prayer and asking God what should
be done is striking, especially given the fact that he was prayerful
when the confrontation with Esau was approaching.
1. Hamor simply ignores the violence and acts as though the matter was simply a proposal for marriage. He expands the notion even further to say that future daughters (presumably the daughters of Israel's 11 sons) would marry the young men of Shechem, and that the women of Shechem would marry the young men of Israel. There would be thus one people together; and, he thinks, they would be stronger than either alone.
a. The audacity
in ignoring the violence is astonishing. However, he may have
been hoping that the issue of her consent was ambiguous. In any
case, he must deal with the situation as it is.
1. They all act
together, unlike Hamor and Shechem, who obviously have not agreed on
a strategy. This unity will later become frayed. Jacob seems
to be sidelined at this point, possibly because he has no plan
of action. In chapter 35, he will take over again, indicating
that he can be in charge if he chooses.
1. They present
the proposal to the people of Shechem for intermarriage. It is
noteworthy that Dinah is currently the only daughter of Israel.
It will be some years before any daughter of one of his sons is available
for intermarriage. Thus, the people of Shechem were either deceived
regarding the situation or were very patient and long planning.
The former seems likely, given the fact that they hold the impulsive
Shechem in such high regard.
1. Dinah's second and third oldest brothers, Simon and Levi then take the opportunity to kill the Hamor and Shechem.
of the arrangement, they probably got past the city's and Hamor's
b. The injustice
has already started, for Hamor, although he acts on behalf of his son,
did not apparently consent in the original crime.
- The sons
then show that they are not interested in justice by taking the women,
children and wealth of the city for their own. The oppressed have
become the tyrants.
3. Shechem would
later be rebuilt and have both a holy and a violent subsequent history.
The city would be rebuilt and become the capital of the a central kingdom
in the area. It was at Shechem, a central city by that time, that
Joshua renewed the covenant given at Sinai around 1300 B.C. See
Josh. 24. A couple of hundred years later, Abimilech (no relation
to the Canaanite king), Gideon's unjust and violent son, seized control
of the Chosen People at Shechem. However, the city later rebelled
again him and overthrew him. See Judges 8-9. After the division
of the kingdom between north and south in 930 B.C., the new northern
king Rehoboam was crowned at Shechem. See 1 Kings 12:1.
However, the southern king Jeroboam recaptured it and made it one of
his central locations. See 1 Kings 12:25. The town was destroyed
by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. as a prelude to the takeover of the northern
kingdom and attempted takeover of the southern kingdom. It was
rebuilt by the Samaritans around 350 B.C. and then rebuilt again after
being destroyed during the conquest of Samaria by John Hyracanus, an
Israelite king who ruled the country during its brief independence after
the Maccabean revolt of 173 – 143 B.C. It was then rebuilt as
Samaria regained a distinct status under the Roman Empire. And
it was probably the place, or at least near the place, where Jesus met
the woman at the well. See John 4:5.
1. Jacob addresses
only Levi and Simeon, indicating that they were in the leadership position
both for the killing of Hamor and Shechem and for the slaughter of the
men of the town.
I. The chapter has been referring to Jacob, not Israel. There is an indication that, with his lack of prayer and control over his children, he is losing the right to the name Israel. That name will be restored in the next chapter.