Richard Agee

Genesis 33-34: Ya’akov reconciles with Esau, returns to the Land; Shimon, Levi avenge Dinah

Richard AgeeHumility and loyalty are underlying teachings of Genesis 33-34. The phrase “women and children first” is held up as selfless chivalry, but it it seems Ya’akov (Jacob) wasn’t so chivalric in his sending his wives and children ahead of him toward what he thought would be his heavily armed and bloodthirsty brother, Esau. Then there’s the disaster that followed the defilement of Ya’akov’s daughter, Dinah, whose forceable conquering at the hands of a city’s “first son” led to the deaths of all the men and the enslavement of the women and children of that city by the hands of two of Ya’akov’s sons.

We have to be careful when reading the English translation of the Bible. Oftentimes, the nuance of the Hebrew scriptures don’t translate over very well. 

In Genesis 32, Ya’akov, renamed Yisra’el (Israel), divided his family into two “camps,” in a similar way to how the Heavenly messengers Ya’akov encountered were divided. But we see in the start of Genesis 33 that he divided them even further, into four camps based on matrilineal descent: First were the handmaidens and their children, then Leah and her children, Rachel and Yosef (Joseph) in the rear and Ya’akov at the forefront of the line. The fact that Joseph is the only son mentioned by name is prophetically significant. 

Both Ya’akov and Esau are about 60 years old and seeing each other for the first time in 20 years. Ya’akov bowed before his brother Esau seven times simply as a sign of complete respect. He was not worshipping Esau or giving Esau something that belongs only to God. Americans, who are often anti-authoritarian in their outlook, can’t relate to this degree of respect and humility. God have just given Ya’akov a real good beating and humbled him. Ya’akov didn’t just bow to Esau once, but seven times. 

Ya’akov readied for war, but Esau did not come in a spirit of war, even though he did have 400 men with him when he came to meet Ya’akov. When he approached Ya’akov, he gave him a warm embrace kiss him and they wept with one another.

Then Esau saw Ya’akov’s wives and the children and Ya’akov introduced them to Esau. The wives and children followed Ya’akov’s lead and bowed before Esau and greeted him.  

Esau acknowledged the gifts Ya’akov brought him and was reluctant to accept them but Ya’akov insisted until Esau relented. Esau extended an invite to Ya’akov to visit him in Seir, which Ya’akov seems to accept but it is not recorded whether Ya’akov went to Seir to visit Esau or not. There’s a time gap between Gen. 33:16 and Gen. 33:17. It wasn’t important enough for God to record it one way or another. 

After this Ya’akov travels to a place which was later called Sukkot and from there, he traveled to Shechem, which is between two mountains: Ebal and Gezerim. 

Abraham bought some land and a cave in Hebron, which is south of Shechem. There’s no record of Isaac buying any land. Ya’akov bought some land outside the city of Shechem and built an altar there, which he named אֵל אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל ’El-’Elohey-Yisrael, which can mean unto [the] God of Israel or mighty God of Israel.  This would be Ya’akov’s place in the Promised Land. 

Shechem falls for Dinah

This leads us to the account in Genesis 34 of Dinah and the subjugation of Shechem by her brothers Shimon (Simeon) and Levi. Many read this account and heap criticism on her for visiting the young girls in Shechem. There’s nothing recorded here that indicates that Dinah was disobeying her parents at all. 

Remember that Dinah didn’t have any sisters her own age. All she had was a bunch of brothers and a handful of women who were much older than her. There was no one her own age for companionship. There’s nothing here that indicates that Dinah was sinning by wanting to find friends her own age. She is a young girl, younger than Joseph, and probably a teenager, but we can’t know from what’s recorded. 

She was kidnapped and taken away by the king’s son, Shechem. He took her (לָקַח laqach, Strong’s lexicon No. H3947, to take), had sex with her (שָׁכַב shakhav, H7901, to lie down, a euphemism for sex) by force (עָנָה ’anah Strong’s H6031a, which means afflict, humiliate, oppress). Then Shechem tried to appease Dinah by treating her with kindness after he had utterly humiliated her. 

Ya’akov didn’t do anything in response to Dinah’s rape. Was he a coward? No, he waited until his sons came back. We don’t know exactly what Ya’akov told the sons but we know that they were grieved and broken-hearted when they heard what happened to Dinah.  

Shimon and Levi made a decision that did not please Ya’akov at all. They carried out a death sentence on the men of Shechem. They deceived the nobles of Shechem by claiming they would accept the men of Shechem as family if they would be circumcised, but they never had any intent to accept them. Shechem was able to talk the men of the city into doing this because he was “was more respected than all the household of his father” (Gen. 34:19). That’s pretty pathetic in our eyes that the “most respected” man in the city was a rapist. 

Dinah, whose name means judgment, was defiled. So judgement came upon Shechem, his father and the entire city for his lust. The men were all killed, and the women and children were taken captive and probably sold. 

When Ya’akov found out how Shimon and Levi handled the situation, Ya’akov wasn’t happy about that, but Shimon and Levi replied, “Should he treat our sister as a harlot?” (Gen. 34:31) Ya’akov had no response to that.

More than the “heart condition” of the leaders of Shechem that led to the rape of Dinah was the “heart condition” that led them to conspire to assimilate and weaken the lineage of Abraham, Yitskhak (Isaac) and Ya’akov through intermarriage. To prevent such mixing of God’s people with a heart-sick culture is why Yitskhak sent Ya’akov to Laban’s household to find a wife, rather than having him marry in Canaan.

Reader: Jeff. Speaker: Richard Agee. Summary: Tammy.


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