Bible in a Year – Day 11: Reconciliation vs. Revenge
The Bible is full of stories of separation and reunification. As a matter of fact, that theme is at the core of the biblical narrative. After all, the story of God’s people is the story of a rift between us and our creator – a separation and destruction of a relationship that can only be restored through incredible sacrifice and grace. We have wronged God and don’t have the ability to make amends. So, he makes amends for us and asks us to accept his gift that brings us back into relationship with him.
In today’s reading, we see the power of reunification and reconciliation between two brothers, Jacob and Esau. To be sure, Esau had plenty to be upset about. After all, Jacob had taken advantage of him to get his birthright, had tricked his father to get his blessing and had run off without explaining himself or giving Esau the opportunity to get even. It would have been understandable if, even many years later, Esau held a grudge against his brother. In fact, that’s what Jacob expected.
Jacob, on the other hand, had a lot of reasons to feel guilty. His name meant “deceiver” and he had acted that out in every possible way against his brother and others. He had also tasted a bit of his own medicine, delivered by his father-in-law Laban. And so, when Jacob returns to his brother, he does so with an attitude of humility. He offers gifts and seeks forgiveness, which Esau gladly gives.
The writer of the book of Genesis, traditionally believed to be Moses (though he likely compiled his information from a number of sources), then takes a sharp turn. From Jacob and Esau’s reconciliation, we move, without any real segue, into the story of Dinah and the Shechemites. I don’t think this is any accident. I believe these stories are put together to show a dramatic difference between true forgiveness and reconciliation and feigned forgiveness and reconciliation.
In this story, Shechem does something truly heinous when he rapes Dinah. However, it is worth noting that in the culture of ancient pre-Israel, this offense, though very serious, was probably equal to the offenses that Jacob had committed against his brother. To put it another way, Jacob’s offense toward his brother would have been seen as a “raping” of his rights as the oldest son. Jacob stripped his brother’s birthright from him and violated him by securing their father’s blessing. It was an act that couldn’t be undone or taken back. Like Dinah’s virginity, once taken, Esau’s birthright and blessing could not be given back to him.
I say all of that to say this: The events that take place after Dinah’s rape serve as an illustration of what justice looks like in its rawest form. Jacob’s men enact vengeance on Shechem’s men to get even for Shechem’s actions. However, these same men had just been given an example of what grace and forgiveness looks like. They must have known about Jacob’s violation of his brother Esau, and yet they saw Esau forgive and welcome Jacob. Then, when faced with a similar situation, they acted in anger and vengeance instead of compassion and grace.
Jacob, of course, is displeased with their actions and chastises them. Their reply, as recorded in chapter 34, verse 31, seems valid:
“Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”
And yet, as we will see, it is that exact accusation that God will make time and time again about his people. That we have acted as prostitutes, that we have treated others as prostitutes and that we have violated others and allowed them to violate us. And yet, God does not exact revenge on us, but, instead, offers grace. This story, then, is a stirring example of the contrasting nature of God and man.
(It is worth noting, and can be discussed later, that this episode would play a key role in the fate of the descendents of Simeon and Levi – one tribe would be scattered throughout Judah and ultimately lose its identity and the other, the Levites, would be the only tribe in Israel to receive no land, but instead would be asked to serve God in the temple. Some scholars believe that the fate of these two tribes was directly linked to their ancestors’ roles in the events at Shechem.)
- Bible in a Year – Day 297: To The World
- Bible in a Year – Day 274: Ctrl
- Bible in a Year – Day 223: What on New Earth?
- Bible in a Year – Day 197: It’s Not That Simple
- Bible in a Year – Day 178: Hope from the Past
- Bible in a Year – Day 121: A Study in Contrasts
- Bible in a Year – Day 70: Parting, Part 2
- Bible in a Year – Day 52: What a Fool
- Bible in a Year – Day 33: Sin Equation
- Bible in a Year – Day 17: Flip-Flopped Blessings