THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL
We come now to a defining moment in the history of the children of Israel. We shall see how Jacob’s (Israel’s) children estranged themselves from Jacob and from the people of the land. But first let us continue the story of Jacob’s meeting with Esau.
JACOB AND ESAU REUNITED
Jacob and Esau were reunited. They both wept and kissed each other. If Esau had any intentions of harming his brother, when he saw the gifts Jacob had sent on ahead to make peace with him, and beheld his brother, his children and his wives, his heart went out to him. He loved him, so much so, that he urged Jacob to journey with him to his home in the land of Sier. (Genesis 33:12) Jacob’s prayers were answered. God had prepared the way for the two brothers to be united contrary to Jacob’s fears and Esau’s anger. Nevertheless, they were not able to journey together for Jacob was a shepherd and Esau a hunter, and the pace of Esau was too fast for Jacob’s flocks and his children. Thus Jacob pleaded with Esau to let them journey alone at a pace suitable for his children and flocks in case they die along the way. Esau was eager for Jacob to accompany him back to Sier where he lived, and be reunited as a family but he saw immediately Jacob’s point. So Esau returned home with his men and Jacob made his way slowly to Succoth. There he rested with all his family, his sons and daughters, his servants and flocks and built himself a house and pens for his cattle. It was a half way mark in which Jacob, no doubt, reflected on God’s love and protection and rejoiced in the safety and security of the God of Abraham and his father, Isaac. Succoth was a place to rest and gather strength to go on to the land of Canaan.
SHECHEM IN THE LAND OF CANAAN
From Succoth Jacob journeyed west across the Jordan valley to Shechem, a land sheltered by a fertile valley and watered by numerous streams. Once there Jacob purchased a piece of land outside the city of Shechem, from the sons of Hamor, ruler of that region. (Genesis 33:19) By so doing he quelled any fears they might have had of hostile intentions. But what followed was unexpected and caused a breach that led to Shechem’s extinction and Jacob’s dishonour in the eyes of all Canaan.
It happened in this way: Dinah, Lea’s daughter, went out to see the daughters of the land. She was indeed a beautiful girl who wished only to meet with other girls of her own age, and other daughters of the families of Shechem. Shechem, a favoured son of Hamor, saw her and took her, dishonoured and disgraced her. (Genesis 34:2) He was infatuated with her and wanted her to become his wife. He spoke to Hamor, his father, and said, “Get me this damsel to be my wife.” In view of what had happened, and realising the gravity of the situation, Hamor approached Jacob and spoke to him. “The soul of my son longeth for your daughter,” he said. “I pray you give her him to wife.” (Genesis 34:8 NRSV) And, to show his respect and apology for his sons actions, said, “And make marriages with us, and take our daughters unto you. And you shall dwell with us and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade ye therein.”
Shechem also implored Jacob and his sons who stood by listening, “Let me find favour with you, and whatever you say to me I will give. Put the marriage present and gift as high as you like and I will give whatever you ask of me; only give me the girl to be my wife.” (Genesis 34:11-12)
Jacob’s sons replied, We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: that you will become as we are and every male among you be circumcised. Then we shall give our daughters to you and we will take your daughters for ourselves and we will live among you and become one people.” (Genesis 34:13-17 NRSV)
This was not their intention. They were outraged by their sister’s disgrace and said this only to deceive Shechem and Hamor, his father. Their intention was to revenge their sister, not only on Shechem but all the male inhabitants of the city.
Meanwhile Hamor and his son, Shechem came to the gate of the city where disputes were settled, and spoke to the men of the city. They said, “These people are friendly with us; let them live in the land and trade in it, for the land is large enough for them; let us take their daughters in marriage and let us give them our daughters. Only on this condition will they agree to live among us to become one people, that every male among us be circumcised as they are circumcised.” (Genesis 34:20-22 NRSV) The matter was settled agreeably and they were all circumcised. But on the third day when they were all in pain from the circumcision, Jacob’s sons entered the city unawares and killed all the men in the city. They then took all their flocks, their herds and donkeys and everything else they could lay their hands on. They also took their women and children and made them their victims.
Their violence grieved Jacob. He spoke to Simeon and Levi rebuking them for this slaughter and plunder of the city.
“You have brought trouble on me,” he said, “making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizites. My numbers are small and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.”
Still, they replied, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?"
Let us here ask what kind of men Jacob’s sons were? They had not consulted their father, Jacob but had carried out a massacre against a people who wanted to be friendly and appease them for Shechem’s wrong. Jacob’s sons were undoubtedly wild, lawless and thoughtless. They did not inherit their father’s faith or walk with God. That much is obvious by their actions. Most of Jacob’s sons were young men over which he had no control. They considered themselves to be a law unto themselves. They had their own gods which they worshipped.
* In fact, faith in God is never inherited. It has no succession from father to sons for it is the gift of God and a personal faith. Whilst it is certain that Jacob’s sons had learned about the covenant made by God with Abraham, their great grandfather, and their grandfather Isaac, and their father Jacob, to them there appeared to be no difference between Abraham’s God and other Deities and other legends of which there were many in the ancient world.
As with Abraham’s son Ishmael, Jacob’s sons lived by the sword and paid only lip service to God’s covenant with Abraham. Isaac and Jacob. Believing in God was no more than believing in the sun, the moon and the stars. Unlike Jacob they had no personal knowledge of God, no realization of how God had protected and loved them; no awareness of their father’s walk with God. That is because, by nature, Jacob’s offspring, his children were sinful and spiritually blind. These were the first children of Israel, the new name God gave to Jacob.
GOD’S LOVE FOR THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL
Despite their sinfulness, God, nevertheless, loved them. He would show them his sovereignty over their lives, teach them to know themselves and to repent of their evil ways. This he would do in the lifetime of Israel. He would show them and the world at large, that he really was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and humble them before one of their brothers whom they despised and hated.
REMOVAL FROM SHECHEM
It was not possible for Jacob to remain in Shechem. The news of what Jacob’s sons had done spread far and wide across the land of Canaan. God said to Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel and settle there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” (genesis 35:1 NRSV) So Jacob called his household together and ordered them to put away their foreign gods and purify themselves and change their clothes. “Then come,” he said, “let us go up to Bethel, that I may make an altar there to the God who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” (Genesis 35:3 NRSV)
They one and all gave Jacob their foreign gods and the rings that were in their ears and Jacob buried them under the oak that was near Shechem.