Monday, January 18, 2010

Defaming A Symbol

They said to them, “We cannot give our sister to a man who is not circumcised, for it would be a disgrace to us.” – Genesis 34:14 (NET)

In the thirty-fourth chapter of Genesis, we are presented with pictures of brutality. The brutality begins when “Dinah, Leah’s daughter whom she bore to Jacob, went to meet the young women of the land” (34:1). The land here is that of “the city of Shechem in the land of Canaan” (33:18b). Shechem was the name of the place as well as the ruler (or the son of the ruler) of the area in which Jacob settled his family. He saw Dinah, “grabbed her, forced himself on her, and sexually assaulted her” (34:2b). Interestingly though, following the rape, something unexpected happened, in that “he became very attached to Dinah” (34:3a), falling “in love with the young woman” (34:3b). It is even said that he “spoke romantically to her” (34:3c). Though he had done this unseemly thing to her, his heart turned in such a way that he wanted her to become his wife.

As the story progresses, the sons of Jacob hear about what has been done to their sister. Understandably, we learn that “They were very offended and very angry” (34:7b) about what had occurred. Shechem, not at all surprised at this response, to his credit, was willing to do what was necessary to make things right, saying “Let me find favor in your sight, and whatever you require of me I’ll give” (34:11b). He said, “You can make the bride price and the gift I must bring very expensive, and I’ll give whatever you ask of me. Just give me the young woman as my wife!” (34:12) As we can see, Shechem’s love for this girl made him quite serious.

Having deliberated amongst themselves, Jacob’s sons provide their answer to Shechem. We’ll notice that even though Shechem (and his father) had been speaking to Jacob and his sons up to this point, that the dealings continue between Shechem and the sons, apart from Jacob’s knowledge. In utilization of character traits that had obviously passed to them from their father, they answered “deceitfully” (34:13), saying, “We cannot give our sister to a man who is not circumcised, for it would be a disgrace to us. We will give you our consent on this one condition: You must become like us by circumcising all your males…But if you do not agree to our terms by being circumcised, then we will take our sister and depart” (34:14-15, 17). Clearly, Shechem’s love for Dinah was quite strong, as we find that “Their offer pleased Hamor and his son Shechem” (34:18), and “The young men did not delay in doing what they asked” (34:19a).

Before going any further, we need to take a look back at this whole circumcision thing. What was its purpose? It is introduced in the seventeenth chapter of Genesis, when God speaks to Abraham and says, “As for you, you must keep the covenantal requirement I am imposing on you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My requirement that you and your descendants after you must keep: Every male among you must be circumcised…This will be a reminder of the covenant between Me and you” (17:9-10, 11b). With that said, we look back to the first announcement of the Abrahamic covenant, in chapter twelve of Genesis, where God informs Abraham that the purpose of His choosing and making a covenant with Abraham would be the blessing of all peoples. Ultimately, being a blessing to all peoples, for the purpose of revealing the glory of God, was the covenant responsibility of Abraham and his descendants. Circumcision, above all things that it would symbolize, was to be a reminder of that charge to be a blessing.

Returning to our story, what do we find? We find the continuation of brutality. Owing to the benefits to be had, the men had all agreed to the circumcision. However, “In three days, when they were still in pain” (34:25a), in obvious need of recovery time following a painful procedure, “two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and went to the unsuspecting city and slaughtered every male. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. Jacob’s sons killed them and looted the city because their sister had been violated. They took their flocks, herds, and donkeys, as well as everything in the city and in the surrounding fields. They captured as plunder all their wealth, all their little ones, and their wives, including everything in the houses” (34:25b-29). Now it is relatively easy to sympathize with Dinah’s brothers. We can understand their anger. We can understand their desire for revenge. We can probably also agree that their response was extraordinarily excessive, even if they tried to rationalize it by saying, “Should he treat our sister like a common prostitute?” (34:31b)

The deceit, though, was not the worst part. The killing and the looting, though impossible to justify, was not the worst part. The worst part was that these sons of Jacob, descendants of Abraham and progenitors of two of the tribes of Israel, defamed the symbol of God’s covenant. They took the very thing that was designed by their God to be a reminder of their call to be a blessing to all peoples, and through deceptive means, put it to use as the means to bring forth death and destruction. The very thing that should have signaled a people’s entry into the blessings of the covenant God, was used as a weapon of condemnation. Is there a lesson to be learned from this? Absolutely! How often do we take the message of the Gospel---that Jesus is the Resurrected Lord of all creation---and rather than understand and rejoice in the faith-gifted belief in that message as the signal of a believer’s entry into the blessings of the covenant God, use it as a weapon of condemnation to force a conformity to a subjective standard of righteousness and “Christian behavior”?

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