This week we will see Jacob return to the land of Israel after an absence of 34 years. Fourteen of these years are unaccounted for in Scripture and the sages of Israel surmise they were wisely spent in Eber’s house of study. The remaining 20 years were spent in toil in Laban’s house, where Jacob’s children were born in the midst of fierce competition between his wives. Sage Iben Ezra estimates Reuben to be 12 years of age at the time of Jacob’s departure for Israel. Jacob’s return to the land portends much for the return of his children at the end of days.
Jacob’s dread to face his brother must have been exceedingly great. No doubt, during the long years spent shepherding Laban’s flock on the fertile plains outside of Haran, the events that led to his exile must have replayed over and over in Jacob’s mind. Most certainly he had wished more than once that he had firmly refused Rebekah’s snare and, instead, placed his confidence in God alone to grant him the role of the elder brother for which he was destined from the womb.
Two Houses – Two Camps
The contention between his wives and children in the Two Tents of Jacob—the high cost of his presumptuous sin—was ever before him. In all the years that Jacob was away, there is no record of his contacting his father, Isaac. Rebekah, as we discussed two weeks ago, simply disappeared off the pages of history. Isaac seems to be left with only Esau and his proliferation of offspring via the two daughters of Heth, which means “terror” (Hittites) and the daughter of Ishmael, the “wild man whose hand shall be against every man.” We can only imagine Isaac’s grief over the long absence of one son and the utter hedonism of the other.
This week we find Jacob fresh from the encounter with Laban, who, as we saw last week, was divinely restrained from lifting a finger against Jacob or in any way interfering with his plans. Afterward, we read a remarkable statement:
Commentary suggests that the Heavens were opened to reveal two companies of angels: one that had escorted Jacob from Haran and restrained Laban’s hands; the second standing ready to escort him back to his father. No matter how it came to be that Jacob “saw” them, his confidence must have soared at the sight of the two angelic hosts. But, in addition to his spirits being buoyed, the idea of “two camps” made an impression upon him.
Hoping to find as much favor with Esau as he had with Laban, Jacob sent a message ahead to him. The Rabbis see Jacob’s instructions as being very carefully worded.
“Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.'”” (Gen. 32:4-5)
Jacob makes sure his servants present him as a humbled man who desires peace. But, Jacob’s message was either ignored or misunderstood and the messengers returned with a frightful report.
“We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him!” (Gen 32:6)
Jacob was a shepherd, not a soldier, while, Esau, in contrast, was a “cunning hunter” and, by this time, very practiced. Jacob’s band had no protection from such an entourage. His children were youths and babies, his flocks included kids and nursing mothers.
“Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.” (Gen 32:7)
It being impossible to outrun his foe, Jacob accepted the cue from the angelic hosts and re-arranged his camp.
He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.” (Gen 32:7-8)
Secondly, he cried out to God for protection, reminding Him of His instructions, His promises, and His covenant:
“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.'” (Gen 32:9-12)
In addition to dividing his camp and making supplication to the LORD, Jacob demonstrated his desire for reconciliation by preparing a sizable gift for his brother, a total of 580 sheep, goats, cows, bulls, and donkeys, with male/female ratios for optimal reproduction. This gift would be fruitful and multiply, continually reminding Esau in years to come of his brother’s humility and generosity. Jacob spaced the animals and their drivers strategically, so that waves of animals would successively appear over the horizon as Esau and his men looked on. Each of Jacob’s servants bowed to Esau, saying, “They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present sent to my lord Esau. And moreover, he is behind us.” (Gen 32:18)
It is interesting that Jacob charged his servants, “You should say these things to Esau when you find him.” (Gen 32:19) The sages have interpreted these actions is to be a blueprint throughout the ages for encounters with Esau. The Stone Chumash (pg. 170) reports that in the days of the Roman Empire, rabbis who had to approach Roman officials in hopes of counteracting oppressive decrees studied this chapter before doing so.
After sending the gifts of the animals and their drivers ahead, Jacob and his family continued their preparation. Sometime in the night (Gen 32:21), perhaps after a few hours of sleep, “he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. (Gen 32:22-24)
Gen 32:22 – And he rose upH6965 thatH1931 night,H3915 and tookH3947 (H853) his twoH8147 wives,H802 and his twoH8147 womenservants,H8198 and his elevenH259 H6240 sons,H3206 and passed overH5674 (H853) the fordH4569 Jabbok.H2999
I have inserted these two verses in the King James Version with Strong’s numbers so that you can see something very unusual. The phrases underlined are actually the identical Hebrew words translated three different ways in English.
In other words, the scripture is saying “sent over,” “sent over,” “sent over;” or, it could be saying, “passed over,” “passed over,” “passed over.” Jacob is going to experience three deliverances.
The Torah generally is very stingy with words, so we have to stop to consider that this portends that Jacob’s children will also experience three “crossing overs.” Immediately comes to mind the crossing of the Red Sea at the Exodus and the crossing of the Jordan, when the Joshua generation entered the land. Could the third be the second exodus that we discussed last week?
Seeing God Face to Face
His family now settled on the other side, Jacob had an unexpected visitor:
And Jacob was left alone and a man [Heb. אִיש – ‘iysh – man, champion, great man] wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” [see Judges 13:18] And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered [I lived to tell about it].” (Gen 32:24-30)
Much has been written about this encounter. Some argue that it was Esau’s angel who wrestled with Jacob; some say it is a picture of the evil inclination who wrestles against the spirit of God in all mankind. But Jacob insists he saw God, and he even named the place Peniel, which means “face of God.”
So, why did God, who knows everything, come to wrestle with Jacob at the most inconvenient time? Isn’t He aware that Jacob is worn out from re-arranging his sheep and goats, separating out a portion for Esau, giving instructions to his servants, drivers, and family, followed by a night of breaking camp, moving his family across the Jabbok, and re-settling them? Why would God choose this particular time to wrestle with Jacob? Why would God injure Jacob? Why would Jacob, in fact, have to hobble the remainder of his life as a result of this encounter?
Emptied Out and Marked for Life
Consider that Jacob had left Laban’s house a very wealthy man, having “increased greatly [with] large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys.” (Gen 30:43) Laban was furious when he realized that Jacob had covertly removed his family and belongings. Laban and his sons tore off after Jacob, most assuredly to try to force his return. But God worked deliverance.
Foreshadowing the epic “stand firm and see the salvation of the LORD” scene on the banks of the Red Sea (Ex 14:13), as Jacob watched, God effectively muzzled Laban, tied his hands, and prevented him from hindering Jacob’s return in any way, just like he did with Pharaoh. Laban ended up kissing his daughters and grandchildren and blessing them, just like the Egyptians blessed the children of Israel at their departure. Further, as Jacob went on his way from there, the sky opened up to reveal two heavenly hosts, one (according to the sages) that had been with Jacob all the time that Jacob had been in Haran and had delivered him from the wrath of his father-in-law; and the second that stood ready to escort him back home. In this we see a type (foreshadowing) of the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud.
Could all of these miracles cause Jacob to be a bit overconfident? Is it possible that God had to bring him to his weakest point before he encountered Esau, and even injure him, before he would completely surrender himself and his family, as well as their futures, to God? Didn’t God have to allow the children of Israel to suffer hunger and thirst in order to teach them to trust Him so that they could learn to walk a different way?
Jabbok” means “emptying.” This is a stop that each of us will have to make on our spiritual journey if we would be useful for the kingdom. It is the place where we recognize our utter futility in fighting our enemies. It is the place where we have to let go of our plans, dreams, hopes, and ideas, and, and other idols we hold dear, as well as to our past, our mistakes, and our messes, to wholly submit ourselves to God’s ways and God’s plans. Many commentators see Jacob wrestling with a pre-incarnate Yeshua, the “stone of stumbling” (Isa 8:14) that we mentioned last week.
In out day, one of Jacob’s “two camps” one is blinded to His first coming; the other, for the most part, is blinded to His being the Living Torah. But, in the end, the blinders will fall off and the two will make the final crossing back into Eretz Israel.
Jacob was hobbled because, being charged with keeping the statutes, ordinances, and commandments of Yahweh, Jacob and his offspring have a “walk” that is distinctly different than the rest of the world. “The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.” (Gen 32:31) The darkness was dispelled by Jacob’s walk.
The wrestling match appears to have been the source of divine inspiration, for, once again, Jacob rearranged his camp. Instead of greeting Esau as foe, he would greet him as royalty, according to the opinion author John Hartley in “Genesis,” the first volume of Understanding the Bible Series. Having surrendered everything to God, he was now as confident as Abraham when he bound Isaac to the altar: God would preserve the seed of Abraham. Jacob, therefore, boldly placed the maidservants and their children in front, with Leah and her children second, and Joseph and Rachel last. But, limping ahead of them all was Jacob. He bowed low seven times before Esau, demonstrating, complete remorse for his sin, complete deference to his brother, and, complete trust in God.
And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming! and four hundred men with him! So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. (Gen 33:1-3)
Regardless of what Esau’s plans had been when he assembled his four hundred men, by the time he laid eyes on his brother, his heart was tender.
“But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” (Gen 33:4)
The sages arrive at various conclusions concerning this verse due to six dots being placed over the Hebrew word for “kiss” in the Masoretic text. Some suggest Esau’s intent was to bite Jacob, though nothing in the plain meaning suggests that. However, since God told Moses that Israel would fight Amalek (Esau’s grandson) “from generation to generation” (Ex 17:16), it appears to be a spiritual principle that Esau in every generation will hate Jacob/Israel. But, at least for the moment, Esau’s revenge was averted – surely the result of the spiritual battle that took place in the heavens while the wrestling went on at the Jabbok.
And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it. (Gen 33:5-11)
God had touched Esau. His anger melted and the brothers separated in peace. The parsha later informs us there was not enough room for all of their flocks to dwell in the land. Therefore, just as it was with Abraham and Lot, material blessing became the test of faithfulness to the covenant.
Esau dispossessed the Horites south of Eretz Israel in the land that then came to be known as Edom. By making no claim to the Promised Land at this meeting with Jacob and making no attempt to destroy his brother when he had the chance to do it, Esau effectively acknowledged the birthright rightly belonged to Jacob.
But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth. And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel. (Gen 33:16-20)
Hamor was a Hivite, a descendant of Canaan, Noah’s cursed grandson. The Hivites were one of the nations which Yahweh commanded the Israelites to dispossess. Wikipedia reports that according to traditional Hebrew sources, the name “Hivite” is related to an Aramaic word meaning “snake,” which immediately reminds us of the serpent of old. “Hamor” means “male ass or donkey” and brings to mind Ishmael, “the wild donkey of a man” whose “hand is against everyone.” So, we have to understand that Jacob purchased a plot of ground from the “sons of the donkey” and erected an altar in a place that reeked of Satan. Whereas, Abraham had purchased ground only for a burial place, Jacob’s purchase appears to be with the intent to establish residence. James Burton Coffman writes that Jacob’s settling down in Shechem would inevitably have led to the assimilation of the Jews with the pagan populations of Canaan, just as Esau did, as clearly demonstrated by the final verses of this parsha. Therefore, says Coffman,
“God overruled such a patriarchal mistake by the tragic events of this chapter. If Jacob had been permitted to do as he evidently intended, the purpose of God [to keep Jacob set apart] would have been frustrated. There could be no compromise with the Canaanites. Israel must remain a sojourner until all the land is theirs.” Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible
The troubling story of Dinah is the only recorded incident of sexual abuse in the Torah. Few details emerge from the text, so we will have to dig and piece together the evidence to understand what God wants us to see.
“Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land.” (Gen 34:1)
The Torah makes a point to remind us that Dinah is Leah’s child. The name Dinah means “justice.” Dinah was Leah’s seventh child, conceived after the mandrake incident which we discussed last week. To briefly review, Reuben brought fruit to his mother which is believed even today to aid women who wish to conceive. Whether its effectiveness is by herbal remedy or magic depends upon which web site one views. Rachel bargained with Leah, effectively offering her a night with Jacob for the fruit. Leah, who had stopped bearing children with the birth of her fourth son, Judah, agreed to the exchange and she “went out” to inform Jacob that she had hired him with the mandrakes. (Gen 30:16)
It is significant that Leah did not make use of the fruit for herself. Instead, the Torah is quite clear; “God listened to Leah.” (Gen 30:17) Leah’s faith was not in the external, as, perhaps, was Rachel’s. Remember, it was Rachel who took her father’s gods with her. In any event, Scripture is clear. Through intense prayer, Leah conceived Issachar that very night. His name means both “reward” and “hired.” She went on to give birth to Zebulun, which means “gift or endowment,” as well as to Dinah, which means “justice.” The bottom line is that Leah gave Jacob a child for each of the seven years that Jacob had worked for Leah. That, at least in Leah’s mind, was justice.
Some rabbis believe that Dinah was raped because she “went out.” Several commentators refer to Josephus’ report that Dinah, who was likely between the age of 13 and 15, went out, unescorted, to a festival. In Jacob’s day a festival was actually a religious feast to a foreign god, therefore a great temptation, and the last place where a godly parent would send an unescorted daughter.
Some believe the attack happened because Jacob hid Dinah from Esau out of fear that he would want her as a wife. Some believe it occurred because Jacob failed to build an altar immediately after his deliverance from Esau or because he did not fulfill his vow to go back to Bethel. God had told Jacob while still in the employ of Laban,
“I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.'” (Gen 31:13)
Indeed, we have to ask why were angels on hand to restrain Laban and Esau, but not Shechem? Why did God prevent Pharaoh and Abimelech from molesting Sarah and Rebekah and not shield Dinah? Was this part of Jacob’s punishment for deceiving Esau or is something entirely different going on?
Commentators on this event all agree the attack happened as a result of sin; they just can’t agree on which sin.
The Torah makes a point of telling us that Jacob arrived at Shechem “safely” or “intact” or “whole,” depending on the translation. (Gen 33:18) The word is closely related to “shalom,” meaning wholeness, safety, and wellness. But, though Jacob had returned from Haran having been made whole, and came through the encounter with Esau without damage, he is not going to remain that way very long, for his precious Dinah is about to be taken, defiled, and humiliated.
And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl for my wife.” Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah. But his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. (Gen 34:2-5)
How Jacob learned of Dinah’s abduction is not clear; but he chose to wait for his sons to return home. When they heard, they were enraged. Jerry Rabow, author of “The Lost Matriarch—Finding Leah in the Bible and Midrash” (pg. 152), suggests that, perhaps upon realizing the political ramifications of his rash act, Shechem attempted to use the incident to avoid warfare. Alternatively, Rabow argues, perhaps the whole thing was cleverly designed to humiliate Dinah and then make a pretense of love for her in order to gain the wealth of Jacob and his sons through intermarriage.
Hamor and Shechem go to great lengths to convince Jacob and his sons of Shechem’s “love” for Dinah. What manner of love is this? Does love “take,” “defile,” and “humiliate”? Their real objective is exposed in Hamor’s wily speech to Jacob. “Make marriages with us. Give your daughters to us.”
And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done. But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him to be his wife. Make marriages with us. Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. You shall dwell with us, and the land shall be open to you. Dwell and trade in it, and get property in it.” Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. Ask me for as great a bride price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me. Only give me the young woman to be my wife.” (Gen 34:6-12)
To their credit, Jacob’s sons recognized Hamor’s motive. They presumptuously offered to accept Hamor’s proposal if all of the men of Shechem would become circumcised. Perhaps they thought the Shechemites would flatly refuse such an outrageous request and that their refusal would pave the way to receive their sister back unharmed and with an apology. In any event, Satan, who was behind the evil scheme, will stop at nothing to convince Jacob and his children throughout the ages that it is to their benefit to assimilate into pagan cultures.
Shechem and his father, thrilled at the prospect of being able to secure in one fell swoop the triple prize of Shechem’s pardon, Jacob’s wealth, and Dinah’s beauty, bid Jacob to name a the bride-price. Then, lo! and behold! ALL of the men of Shechem circumcised themselves!
We are not privileged to hear the conversations inside the Two Tents of Jacob. We do not know what Jacob might have said to Leah and to her four eldest sons, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah about their sister. We do not know what manner of prayer Leah undertook. We do not know what the four eldest sons of Jacob said to each other. These were mere youths! What we do know is that, on the “third day,” when the discomfort of the men of Shechem would have been at its worst, Levi and Simeon apparently took matters into their own hands and—
“took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.” (Gen 34:25-29)
There are so many missing details. How can two mere youths possibly accomplish a thing of such magnitude? And, what happened to the women and children who were captured?
Jacob, who has been silent during this story, speaks now, for the first time.
“Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” (Gen 34:30)
Jacob feared for the lives of his family. Surely, he thought, the nations around him would unite and wipe out his family in revenge for this deed. And, no doubt, they would have done exactly that, except for God!
God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” (Gen 35:1)
In response, Jacob issued instructions to all in his company to prepare them to meet his God.
So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. (Gen 35:2-7)
The answer to what happened to the woman and children, in my opinion, can be seen in this text. “All who were with him” includes the captives! Regardless of Levi’s and Simeon’s intent, Jacob showed mercy by bringing the captives into his camp, thereby giving them an opportunity to become disciples and learn the ways of the Hebrews. Foreshadowing the Egyptians who would by faith paint the blood of the lamb on their doorposts and leave Egypt, the captives saw for themselves that Jacob was miraculously protected from their enemies. Jacob required them to hand over their foreign gods and earrings. (We can’t help but wonder if Rachel, by this time, still clung to her father’s idols?) Is it possible that these converted Shechemites became Jacob’s daughters-in-law?
As tragic as this story is, we have to remember that Abraham expressly forbade his servant from taking a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanites and Isaac likewise forbade Jacob. We have to reason to believe, therefore, that God would not in any way be pleased by Dinah being married to these people. Moses confirms this, speaking these words of Yahweh to the children of Israel:
“Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.” (Ex 34:11-16)
Moses would later command the children of Israel to completely eradicate these people.
“But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.” (Deut 20:16)
Yet, in the book of Judges, we are told that Yahweh intentionally left some of these people in the land to “test” Israel, “to know whether Israel would obey [His] commandments.” (Judges 3:4-5) And, what was the result of the “test”?
So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia…(Judges 3:5-8)
So, can we say that in Dinah’s case Simeon and Levi passed the test, even though things got out of control, and, perhaps, went farther than they meant? Certainly, God’s redemptive purposes were fulfilled. Dinah was rescued, the family remained intact and set apart, and the captives had an opportunity to partake of the blessings of Israel.
Although Jacob will bring up this incident when he blesses his children before his death, God in no way punishes Simeon and Levi! To the contrary, Levi is honored to bring forth Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, as well as to be chosen for the priesthood. Levi’s and Simeon’s names were called first in the list of tribes that would bless Israel from Mount Gerizim. (Deut.27:12) Further, Simeon’s lot came up second as Joshua made tribal assignments of land and Simeon was honored to be placed Simeon inside Judah’s territory, meaning he dwelled in close proximity to the Temple. (Joshua 19:1) In my opinion, God was as pleased with these young “sons of Jacob” as he was with Pinchas, whose sword was later thrust through an Israelite and his Midianite consort at the door of the Tabernacle:
And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. (Number 25:6-8)
And, so, Jacob, his family, and “the mixed multitude” made aliyah [went up] to Bethel, the house of God, foreshadowing the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah that at the end of days many peoples and nations shall make aliyah to Israel.
And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:3, Micah 4:2
Jacob had come full circle back to the place where he beheld the ladder that extended from Heaven, where God had promised:
“I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen 28:13-15)
A New Name
At Jacob’s return to Bethel God re-appeared and renewed the covenant, having brought him safely through three “crossing overs.”
God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him. And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it. So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel. (Gen 35:9-15)
I know this is getting long; but one final thought before we leave this chapter: In my view, what happened with Dinah foreshadows Antiochus’ takeover of Jerusalem in the days of the Maccabees. In the very place where “justice” was proclaimed to the nations by the light of the world that “went out” to the four corners of the earth, the reigning “prince of the land” took the Holy City, defiled her, and humiliated her. But, Levi and his brothers dared to take a stand. By the hand of God, their tiny, rag-tag army defeated the Greek legions. They took back the Temple, cleansed Jerusalem, and restored Israel to sovereignty. Therefore, as we quickly approach the days of the Feast of Hanukkah [Feast of Dedication] this year, let us remember the main focus of the holiday is to be set apart unto God.
Death – All Families Face It
Quickly, in closing we will review three deaths that are reported in this sidrah and will consider one that is strangely missing.
First, with Benjamin’s birth, comes Rachel’s death. (Gen 35:16-21) Though she called him “son of my sorrow,” his father called him “son of my right hand.” Herein, we have the picture of both Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David, whom we introduced last week.
Next we come to the report of Isaac’s death. But, first, father and son most certainly held a sweet reunion at Hebron after a 34 year absence. We are left to imagine the joy on Isaac’s face as he was introduced to his grandchildren and the rest of Jacob’s entourage and received the reports of God’s faithfulness. Although Isaac’s death is reported here, it doesn’t actually occur until after Joseph is abducted. Thus, Isaac’s heart will be broken yet again. The Torah reports his death at this point to shift the focus entirely to Jacob as the reigning patriarch. Isaac lived 180 years and was buried [at Machpelah] by Jacob and Esau. (Gen 35:27-29)
In between these deaths, we have the report that Reuben lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine. (Gen 35:22) This prepares us for a future substitution of the birthright.
Next we come to the roll call of Esau’s descendents. An article by Tamar Kadari explains that, according to the sages, Esau’s wives lived for adultery and idolatry. Adah (also Basemath Gen 26:34, Gen 36:2) was known for adorning herself with jewelry and perfume to attract men. Esau’s second wife, Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, whose birth was the result of an adulterous union, earned the additional name of Oholibamah because she built places for idolatry (bamot). It is said that she dwelled in Esau’s tent, but “performed her needs elsewhere” (meaning she freely engaged in adultery). The Canaanite culture was rife with such, which is precisely why Abraham emphatically told his servant that Isaac’s wife must not come from among them and why Isaac instructed Jacob likewise.
Oddly, there is no mention of Esau’s death. He simply fades away, assimilated into the nations of the Canaanites and Ishmaelites through his whoring wives, only to resurrect in every generation as Amalek, Esau’s grandson, of whom the LORD said to Moses,
“Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exo 17:14-16)
Therefore, Amalek is the Esau in every generation who despises Israel.
I have saved the death of Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, for last. We know nothing of this woman who has served faithfully in the background. Most likely, she departed from Isaac to join Jacob’s company after the death of her mistress.
Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. So he called its name “oak of weeping.” (Gen 35:8)
This is the only time her name is mentioned. This should be a great encouragement to those who are ministering in the background and who seemingly have no reward or notoriety in this life. Be assured that God sees your sacrifice. Personally, I believe it should read “he called her name “oak of weeping” because I suspect that Deborah was a dedicated prayer warrior for Israel, weeping before her God for His purposes to come to pass in Jacob’s life and family. In my opinion, it is no coincidence that her death occurs after the victory of the sons of Jacob at Shechem and after Jacob’s return to Bethel. The sages calculate her age at death to be 150 years. Oak trees, as you may know, can easily live that long.
We who are able to look into the Scriptures and glean such wonders as we have seen today are truly the most blessed people who have ever lived on the planet!
Until next week, shalom!