Genesis 33-34 Solving Conflict the Lord’s Way

jacob-and-esau-reuniteGenesis 33 contains the wonderful story of the reunion of two brothers that were at odds. When Jacob left Esau 20 years before their reunion, Esau vowed that he would kill his brother Jacob (Genesis 27:41). After both men have matured over 20 years, we read that, “Esau ran to meet him (Jacob), and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.”

Jesus Christ has the power to heal broken relationships. As a believer in Christ, I take the time to point out that this reunion could very well symbolize the heavenly reunion that will take place when we again meet the Savior. The principle that both of these chapters (33-34) illustrate is that when we resolve conflicts the Lord’s way, we are entitled to the Lord’s blessings.

Chapter 34 is an excellent foil to chapter 33. Unlike the events in chapter 33, things do not go so well for the family of Jacob in this chapter. Dinah is raped by Shechem in Genesis 34:2, and the fathers of both families sit down to work out an arrangement to make things whole. The law in Deuteronomy 22 that deals with virgins who are raped stipulates that “If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold of her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days”(Deuteronomy 22:28-29). In other words, the rapist must pay the father the bride price, and then marry his victim, and he cannot ever divorce her. Without getting into the morality of such a law, it is important to see that this arrangement is what Shechem and his father are looking to secure after Dinah is raped. How things play out after this is where things go from bad to worse.

I like to point out to students that even though things go really bad in this chapter, there are a couple of excellent principles that they can pull out of this horrible situation. Jacob illustrates three principles of conflict resolution that are worth our time examining.

  1. Genesis 34:5 mentions that when Jacob heard of the rape of his daughter that he “held his peace”. This is a good illustration of self restraint. Jacob took time to be calm and not make any rash decisions, unlike his two sons Simeon and Levi.
  2. Genesis 34:6 tells us that both Jacob and Hamor (the father of the rapist) took the time to talk things out. We cannot overcome the conflicts in our personal relationships if we are unwilling to get together and talk things through. Of all the relationships that we must learn to resolve problems in, I would say we need to learn how to do this in our marriages. While those in my class are not married, they can practice the steps of conflict resolution in their families, specifically with their siblings.
  3. Genesis 34:7 says that, “the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because they had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter…” The sons of Jacob make decisions in this chapter when they are angry. It is good advice to make decisions when we are level-headed and not when tempers are flaring. I have never looked back at a decision I have made when angry, and thought to myself, “Now that was a great decision!”

Massacre of the Hivites by Simeon and LeviIf you have read Genesis 34, you know what happens next. The brothers (specifically Levi and Simeon) encourage the males in the city to be circumcised, stating that they will not consent to the marriage otherwise. The males in the city agree to the stipulation, for the benefits of intermarriage with Jacob’s family and for trade as indicated in the text (Genesis 34:20-24). After the men are circumcised, Simeon and Levi then kill all the males and take everything of value.

Jacob does not approve, stating, “Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land… they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.” The covenant is once again threatened. From Jacob’s point of view, he and his house will be slaughtered once word of his sons deed gets out. Only by divine intervention (Genesis 35:5), are God’s promises fulfilled and the House of Israel is preserved once again.

It is easy to see that the Law of Chastity matters to the Lord. We see this brought up again and again in the text of Genesis. From Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18, to Shechem’s behavior towards Dinah, to the foil that occurs in Genesis 38 and 39, the author of this text goes out of his way to illustrate the moral cleanliness matters. I also believe that these chapters also show God’s ability to make the best out of a horrible situation, something that will be revealed at the conclusion of the text of Genesis.

With regards to this specific situation in chapter 34, the reprehensible and inexcusable behavior of Levi and Simeon does bring about something that was in the will of the Lord, and that is that the children of Israel were not to mix with those that did not believe in the Jehovah. As awful as this action was, the result was that Israel did not mix with the seed of the Hivites, who were descendants of the Canaanites (see Genesis 10:17). As John Walton put it, “If God can only work through godly behavior, there is little he can do in our sinful world. He does not, of course, guide Jacob’s sons to act as they do. His sovereignty in these cases is demonstrated not by overriding the free, wicked choices that people make but by dovetailing those acts of wickedness into his own plan.” (Genesis, The NIV Application Commentary, p. 634)

Other Insights

The deception of Jacob’s sons (Genesis 34:13) shows them following in the footsteps of their grandfather Laban. Just as Laban promised Jacob that he could marry Rachel in return for 7 years of labor (Genesis 29:20-28), then double-crossed him, Jacob’s sons promised Dinah in return for Shechem’s circumcision, then double-crossed him.

John Walton asks the question, “Is there a reason why he (the narrator of this account) places (this story) here and situates it literarily as he has? Since the brother’s question (“should Shechem have treated Dinah as a harlot?” Genesis 34:31) is left hanging in the air at the end of chapter 34, there is good cause to seek out a literary function for this chapter.

Turning the brothers’ question into a statement results in: “They had no right to treat our sister as someone whose favors were for sale!” What an intriguing statement to transition into the account of Jacob’s paying his vow to God for all his favor. The juxtaposition of the question left hanging in the air with the account of the paying of the tithe in chapter 25 invites the question as to whether Jacob and his family are treating God like a prostitute. They get what they want from him (in accordance with Jacob’s earlier vow: protection, provision, and return to the land), then they pay the price (the tithe) and go their way. Like Shechem, they are willing to pay their bride price and undergo circumcision (= the tithe) to reap the benefits of this relationship.

This makes especially cogent sense in light of the fact that chapter 35 opens with Jaob’s instructing his family to get rid of their foreign gods. In later Israelite literature, the prophetic warning against using foreign gods accuses Israel of playing the harlot to those gods. We realize how serious this becomes when we remember that in the Jacob narratives God establishes a modus operandi of subjecting people to the same kind of treatment they give others. Does Genesis 35 then carry a veiled threat that if God is treated like a prostitute, the Israelites can expect no more favorable treatment than the Shechemites received at the hands of Simeon and Levi? Is there a hint that if the Israelites’ circumcision is not sincere but only an inconvenience leading to long-term gains, they can expect their greed witll get them slaughtered rather than favor with God? The curses pronounced for failure to keep the covenant in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 make what was done to the Shechemites pale in comparison. Jacob should beware lest he treats God as someone whose favors are for sale. (Walton, Genesis, The NIV Application Commentary, p. 635)

 

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About LDS Scripture Teachings

I write about ways scripture applies in our lives: LDSScriptureTeachings.org
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