33:1Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two maidservants. 2He put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. 3He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.
4But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. 5Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. "Who are these with you?" he asked.
Jacob answered, "They are the children God has graciously given your servant."
6Then the maidservants and their children approached and bowed down. 7Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.
8Esau asked, "What do you mean by all these droves I met?"
"To find favor in your eyes, my lord," he said.
9But Esau said, "I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself."
10"No, please!" said Jacob. "If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. 11Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need." And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.
12Then Esau said, "Let us be on our way; I'll accompany you."
13But Jacob said to him, "My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. 14So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the droves before me and that of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir."
15Esau said, "Then let me leave some of my men with you."
"But why do that?" Jacob asked. "Just let me find favor in the eyes of my lord."
16So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. 17Jacob, however, went to Succoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Succoth.
Recall that, in the previous chapter, Jacob had crossed the Jabbok River alone (32:24) to get some rest in preparation for what he thought may be a battle with his brother Esau. Jacob did not get any rest, however. He ended up wrestling the angel of the Lord all night long. Having just finished his wrestling match, we find that "Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men" (33:1). It must have appeared to Jacob that Esau was coming to him in battle with "his four hundred men." However, Jacob fought a more important battle the night before. He ended up the victor in a wrestling match with the Lord, (albeit, his victory came by clinging to the Lord). After this victory, even though Jacob was weary from the battle, he was truly prepared to face Esau. Jacob here displays a new-found boldness for, although he arranges his family so that his favored Rachel and Joseph are in the rear, "he himself went on ahead" (vs. 3). I guess Jacob figured that since he could hold his own in a wrestling match with the Lord, he certainly could hold his own against Esau!
Jacob overcame Esau with humility, as he "bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother" (vs. 3). Given that Esau was coming at Jacob "with his four hundred men" (vs. 1), we must conclude that, indeed, Esau expected, even wanted, a battle. But humility is powerful; and humility, backed by the heart-changing power of God, is invincible: "But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept" (vs. 4). A very touching scene. Here we have a demonstration that God can change the heart of even the coarsest of characters. Solomon spoke truth when he taught: "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases" (Prov. 21:1). Don't give up praying for that brother/sister, husband/wife, father/mother, whose heart seems so hard and cold. Our Lord can soften that hard heart and, as he did with Esau, bring a warrior to tears.
After Jacob introduces his family (vss. 5-7), Esau asks concerning all the gifts that Jacob had sent ahead in order to appease Esau: "What do you mean by all these droves I met?" (vs. 8). Jacob replies: "To find favor in your eyes, my lord" (vs. 8). Jacob shows here that all his fear of Esau is not extinguished. First, Jacob calls Esau "my lord". This behavior of Jacob's was contrary to the hierarchy that God Himself had prescribed in His oracle to Jacob's mother Rebekah, when He told her, "the older will serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23). Second, though Esau states that he does not need such a large gift, Jacob nevertheless urges the gift on him: "No, please!. . . If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me" (vs. 10). The acceptance of the gift by Esau would be (in that culture) a sign of reconciliation and a proof of friendship. This is why Jacob urged the gift so strongly. It is as if Jacob needed further proof that God had truly changed Esau's heart. We are so funny! We pray and pray for something. We even wrestle with God all night long in prayer. Then, when God answers the prayer (as He did for Jacob), we don't believe it.
The third way that Jacob demonstrates that he still fears Esau is in his deception of Esau at their departure. Esau wanted to accompany Jacob to his home in Seir, but Jacob denied the request, making the excuse that his children and cattle needed to travel slowly (vs. 12-13). Esau then offered to have some of his men accompany Jacob's caravan (vs. 15). Again, Jacob denied the request, saying that he would make his own way to Esau's home in Seir. However, Jacob did not go to Seir. Instead, he "went to Succoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock" (vs. 16). Succoth was northwest of Peniel (where Jacob and Esau met); Seir (later known as Edom) was southeast. So, Jacob went in the opposite direction from where Esau invited him to go. Quite probably, Jacob felt that Esau's friendliness would be shortlived.
Jacob's deception of Esau is unfortunate. Jacob was a godly man. Esau lived among idol worshippers. Jacob's actions were anything but a testimony for godliness to Esau. Jacob left his family many years before as a result of his deceitfulness. Here, he comes back and sets to deceive Esau once again. If the godly cannot live righteously, who can? If the true worshippers will not live lives that are a good testimony to godliness, who will? Esau's heart had already been softened by God. Who knows? Maybe a better testimony through Jacob's life, together with the verbal testimony he had already given concerning God's graciousness (see vss. 5,11),--I say, maybe these things would have turned Esau into a godly man. As it was, Esau became the "father of the Edomites" (Gen. 36:43). The Edomites were enemies of God's people for many years to come.
33:18After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. 19For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. 20There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.
34:1Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. 2When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and violated her. 3His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. 4And Shechem said to his father Hamor, "Get me this girl as my wife."
5When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he kept quiet about it until they came home.
6Then Shechem's father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob. 7Now Jacob's sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were filled with grief and fury, because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter--a thing that should not be done.
8But Hamor said to them, "My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter. Please give her to him as his wife. 9Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. 10You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it."
11Then Shechem said to Dinah's father and brothers, "Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. 12Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I'll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the girl as my wife."
13Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob's sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. 14They said to them, "We can't do such a thing; we can't give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us. 15We will give our consent to you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. 16Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We'll settle among you and become one people with you. 17But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we'll take our sister and go."
18Their proposal seemed good to Hamor and his son Shechem. 19The young man, who was the most honored of all his father's household, lost no time in doing what they said, because he was delighted with Jacob's daughter. 20So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city to speak to their fellow townsmen. 21"These men are friendly towards us," they said. "Let them live in our land and trade in it; the land has plenty of room for them. We can marry their daughters and they can marry ours. 22But the men will consent to live with us as one people only on the condition that our males be circumcised, as they themselves are. 23Won't their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours? So let us give our consent to them, and they will settle among us."
24All the men who went out of the city gate agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male in the city was circumcised.
25Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. 26They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem's house and left. 27The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. 28They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. 29They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.
30Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, "You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed."
31But they replied, "Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?"
This episode is one of the saddest recorded in the Bible. It chronicles a horrible failure by the people of God. At the root of the failure is the negligence of Jacob to follow the command of God concerning where to dwell when he returned to the promised land. God commanded Jacob, before he left Paddan-Aram: "Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you." (Gen. 31:3). Jacob did return to the "land of [his] fathers", but he did not go back "to [his] relatives". Instead, "he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city" (33:18). Why didn't Jacob go home to Mamre, where Isaac was living? We are not told. All we know is that Jacob chose to live "within sight of" a city that was on the border of the promised land. Living on the border of the promised land is a dangerous thing to do. Many of us do this same thing. We live on the border of true godliness. We try to follow God, while keeping up the habits of our old life. We think we can follow God and not change our lives. This won't work. To turn to God is to become "a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come" (II Cor. 5:17). Jacob's decision to live on the border was tragic for his family.
At Shechem, Jacob "set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel" (meaning, "strong is the God of Israel"). While this is commendable on one level--it is always commendable to worship the Lord--it is hypocritical of Jacob to set up an altar to God, and yet live in disobedience to him by not returning "to his relatives", as God commanded. Samuel taught: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams" (I Sam. 15:22). Jacob's behavior here reminds me of those who attend church on Sunday, and so think that they can live any way they want the rest of the week. They have no desire to obey God Monday through Saturday. They offer their "sacrifice" of church attendance on Sunday, and think that that is enough to satisfy God. However, "To obey is better than sacrifice."
The problems in Jacob's family began when "Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land" (vs. 1). Dinah went to Shechem without escort. It was quite possible that Dinah had struck up friendships with "the women of the land". For a young woman to wander so freely was not proper in that culture. Dinah was somewhere between thirteen and sixteen years old (by most commentators reckoning). It was especially dangerous for Dinah to intermix so freely amongst the ungodly, idol-worshipping inhabitants of Shechem. Was there perhaps a relaxed discipline at home? I am certain of it. Evidence of a relaxed discipline by Jacob is found in other things that occurred in his house. For instance, at that time, Jacob allowed the worship of idols in his home (cf. Gen. 35:2). Jacob, it seems, was not fulfilling his duty as the head of the household.
The result of all this was that when "Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw [Dinah], he took her and violated her" (vs. 2). The language here is ambiguous as to whether Shechem raped Dinah, or seduced her. The aftermath implies the latter, for "his heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, `Get me this girl as my wife'" (vss. 3-4). Shechem, to his credit (though his sin was hideous), in the end desired to do the honorable thing and marry Dinah.
"When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he kept quiet about it until they came home" (vs. 5). This verse expresses Jacob's weakness as the head of the household. Jacob should have taken charge of the situation, investigated what happened, negotiated with Hamor (Shechem's father, and the ruler of the area) a settlement based on what truly happened. If Shechem was found to have raped Dinah, Jacob could have urged Hamor to punish him severely. If Hamor was found to be unwilling to punish his son, then Jacob's family would have just cause to war against the city. As it was, Jacob (the godly man) left the situation up to his ungodly sons.
By the way, note the statement "Dinah had been defiled" (vs. 5). Whether or not Shechem had raped Dinah, or merely seduced her, she was defiled. Any sex outside of marriage is not an act of love, but an act of defilement. A young man who urges a young woman to have sex with him is not showing love to her but being selfish and hateful in desiring to defile her.
Jacob's sons, upon hearing what had happened, "were filled with grief and fury, because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter--a thing that should not be done" (vs. 7). Hamor must have been ignorant concerning what his son did, or must have believed the action was consensual, for if he had thought that Shechem had raped Dinah, he never would have been so bold as to negotiate a marriage between Shechem and Dinah (vs. 8). In fact, rather than seeing any enmity between the city of Shechem and Jacob's family because of this episode, Hamor wants to use the marriage to start an ongoing alliance and commerce between his city and Jacob's family: "Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it" (vss. 9-10). This statement demonstrates why God wanted Jacob to return to his relatives and settle, and not settle on the border of a heathen city. God's plan was to establish the nation of Israel through the twelve sons of Jacob. To intermarry with Shechem would have thwarted this plan. The sons of Israel, rather than becoming a nation, would have just become another clan in the city of Shechem.
Hamor was very reasonable and honorable in his proposal to the sons of Jacob. If the sons of Jacob had apprised him of the their rage and fury over what Shechem did, Hamor may very well have worked out a settlement reasonable to both families. The sons of Jacob, however, chose another route: "Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob's sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. They said to them, `We can't do such a thing; we can't give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us. We will give our consent to you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We'll settle among you and become one people with you. But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we'll take our sister and go'" (vss. 13-17). The brothers make like they are willing to go along with Hamor's proposal if the entire city is circumcised. Their plan was disgraceful, horribly evil and sinful. They show contempt for the covenant of God given to Abraham. Rather than using the covenant of circumcision to strengthen the Shechemites spiritually, they use it to weaken them physically. They do not treat the rite of circumcision as the sacred rite of the covenant, rather they treat it as merely a physical rite that must be performed in order to enter into an alliance with them. They do not urge the Shechemites to the true circumcision of the heart, to the putting away the sins of the flesh and turning to the true worship of the Living God, rather they use circumcision as a ploy to deceive the Shechemites into mutilating themselves. Given the Shechemites willingness to commerce with the sons of Jacob, and their openness to the religious rites of the sons of Jacob (the whole city consents to be circumcised, see vss. 18-24), the sons of Jacob could surely have used their influence to turn the inhabitants of Shechem into worshippers of the True and Living God. Instead, they use their influence to weaken them so that they can murder them: a true act of cowardice by the sons of Jacob.
What Shechem, the son of Hamor, did was wrong, but the punishment by the sons of Jacob clearly did not fit the crime: "Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem's house and left. The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses" (vss. 25-29). Simeon and Levi, who led the attack, were Dinah's true brothers (the three of them being the children born of Leah). The rest of the sons (it appears) did not take part in the killing, but they did loot the city.
Jacob was angry when he heard what had happened. He said to Simeon and Levi: "You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed" (vs. 30). Jacob's rebuke, however, falls far short of what it should have been. He does not address the wickedness of their actions. He only addresses the potential harm their actions could bring upon the family. Jacob was correct that the family was in danger, for later (as we shall see in the next chapter) God had to miraculously intervene to keep the family safe.