Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Shechemites Consent To The Proposal -- Genesis 34:24


And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and to his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.

Here is an Old Testament verse that very oddly but accurately describes the state of many today. As I study this verse, I am reminded of all those people who have lost almost everything they had, and in some cases, their lives, because they listened to somebody making a pitch. The story of Jim Jones’ leadership comes to mind. The informal infamous name for the “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project” was Jonestown. It was a community in northwestern Guyana (South America) where, in 1978, very close to one thousand people died from a ‘cyanide poisoning’ event that was deemed to be a revolutionary mass suicide, encouraged and exampled by Jim Jones himself.

Another illustration of this phenomenon of ‘listening to the wrong people’ is the fraudulent investments called “Ponzi schemes”. These are operations that pay returns to separate investors from their own money or money paid by future investors, rather than from profit earned from a product, service or entity that the investment goes towards. These Ponzi schemes, in operation from as early as 1920, still duped thousands as late as 2008, when Bernard L. Madoff’s infamous Ponzi scheme was exposed. In essence, these so-called investment plans entice new investors by offering returns that far surpass what normal, legal investments can guarantee. Ponzi returns come in the form of outrageously high short-term gains, but in order to be maintained, require more and more funds from new investors. The system collapses because the payments outstrip any real earnings or any newly found funds from more investors.

The Shechemites in our verse were that foolish. They listened to those ‘men’ who were their leaders, but they failed to question the wisdom of what they were hearing. Many of them may have been the same men who probably had laughed and congratulated Shechem on his rape of Dinah a few days ago. They certainly were the city’s business owners who wanted more trade. The deal sounded good. Their chances of making great material gains were excellent. But they didn’t count the cost. They didn’t know the enemy (in this case Jacob’s family) well enough. They neither calculated the risk involved, nor the motives of the Israelites in offering this arrangement. They certainly weren’t thinking defensively as to what could happen during those few days of recovery, if they all got circumcised at the same time.

What scheme are you considering today? Whose pitch are you listening to? Have you counted the cost? Have you calculated the risks? What are the motives of those pitching and those behind the deal? What are your motives? Where does God come into play?

Consider the Shechemites (and these questions) whenever you are faced with a deal that sounds too good to miss.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hamor & Shechem “Sell” the Deal -- Genesis 34:20-23


So Hamor and his son Shechem, came to the gate of their city, and spoke to the men of their city, saying, “These men are friendly with us; therefore let them live in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters in marriage, and give our daughters to them. Only on this condition will the men consent to us to live with us, to become one people: that every male among us be circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock and their property and all their animals be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will live with us.”

Several days must have past before Shechem was in any condition capable of getting himself and his father, to the gate of his city after he had been circumcised. But once there, together they spoke to the men of the city, trying to convince them to follow suit.

We can see three errors in their thinking. First, their whole argument seems to lie on the basis that the Israelites were “friendly with (them)”. It appears to be for that reason that the Shechemites were to “therefore” let them live in the land and do business there as well as to allow their children to intermarry with them. What a weak premise on which to base such decisions.

Secondly, they completely missed the need to evaluate and assess the consequences or potential risk of the conditions they had to agree to. They focused instead on potential gains of having the Israelites live, trade, and intermarry with them. Imagine the blind folly of an entire population who would consider circumcising all their adult males to increase their wealth.

Thirdly, their motive was wrong. Why did they perceive the Israelites as friendly? Why did they not consider the unreasonableness of the condition the Israelites placed on them? I believe they were blinded by their greed and their intention to eventually make all the livestock and property theirs. With that inappropriate motive as their driving force, Shechem and Hamor worked hard on persuading their fellow citizens to partner with them in this arrangement with Jacob and his sons.

As we consider various business and other arrangements or partnerships today, or as we pursue the completion of what may sound like a fantastic deal that we cannot afford to pass by, we would be wise to take the matter first and foremost before God, seeking His direction and buy-in. With His help we need to assess the circumstances, count the cost, and check our motives. Only after He gives us peace as well as some signs of open doors, should we proceed to move ahead.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

The ‘Proposal’ is Accepted and Shechem Leads The Way -- Genesis 34:18-19


Now their words seemed reasonable to Hamor and Shechem, Hamor’s son. And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. Now he was more respected than all the household of his father.

In verse 17 of this chapter, Jacob’s sons and Dinah’s brothers net out the deal for Hamor and Shechem. The very next verse simply says that they (Hamor and Shechem) thought the terms (that each of their males had to first be circumcised before the Israelites would give Dinah to Shechem as wife after he had raped her), were reasonable. Shechem’s passion for Dinah as well as Hamor’s greed for the trade and business the potential integration of the Israelites with his own people would bring, made this an easy decision for them.
Shechem was so eager to close the deal and get Dinah, he willing set the example and became the first one to be circumcised as quickly as possible. Again, driven by his desire for Jacob’s daughter. By being the first and leading the way in this action that no doubt resulted in great physical pain, Shechem gained even more respect than anyone in his father’s household. The question is “respect from whom?” Did all the others in the household respect him ‘more’ or was it just Hamor that did the respecting? In the meantime, Dinah’s brothers delighted in what was happening and we’ll soon know why.
I was recently made aware of a quote by Ian Parker, writing in the New Yorker magazine, that went like this, “A country overwhelmed by evil has more dignity than one tripped up by fools.” Parker was writing about the economic woes of countries, totally unrelated to our topic here. However, the moral behind his words are, I believe, applicable. The Shechemites as a people were about to be tripped up by the follies of two of their own fools, Hamor and Shechem. No dignity awaited them.

I think back on my repeated observations of people, including Christians, acting alone or in concert with others, who blindly follow those that lead them into personal, family, or financial ruin and sometimes to their death. I am sure they are not alone in this, for we too have all been victims to one extent or another in this manner. They blindly follow “fools” that have been tricked into believing or pursuing something that is not expedient, and in so doing, become fools themselves. There is no dignity awaiting them. And scripture, beginning with this episode in the life of Jacob and continuing through the old and new testaments, often warns us against such folly. May we, as we seek God’s grace and wisdom, be wary of what we hear and what we buy into that is indeed foolishness.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

The Brothers’ Deceitful ‘Proposal’ -- Genesis 34:14-17


And they said to them, “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: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us to be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and go.”

Dinah’s brothers begin their response to Shechem and his father Hamor by telling them they cannot give her to them as a bride, not because the Shechemites do not believe in the almighty God, but because their males are uncircumcised. To do so, they said, would be a disgrace. The emphasis, all potential scheming aside, is on the physical rather than the spiritual differences. If Hamor and his people could be physically altered to be like Jacob’s males, then all the disgrace would somehow miraculously disappear.

I am aware of the importance of circumcision as God instituted it in Genesis 17 as part of the covenant He established with Abraham (verses 10-14). But in all those instances, the requirement, as far as the Israelites knew at the time of the verses we are studying today, was applied to Abraham’s household and descendents. The covenant requirement covered “every male among you” and “every servant who is brought into the household” or “born in the household”. Servants were adopted and fully owned by Abraham or his descendants and thus were part of that adopting household, no longer having a household of their own. The requirement had nothing to do with those outside of these households of Abraham and his descendants. Jacob’s sons were pursuing something that was part of the covenant between them and God alone and made no sense independently of that everlasting promise God had made to them.

For decades, almost all North American missionaries took a much similar approach in their work with Aboriginal Canadians and Native Americans. They believed that if they could change the natives’ language, dress, and culture, they would then become Christians. Our text here in Genesis uses the phrase, “if you will become like us”. That is exactly what missionaries set out to do all over the world – make converts of people to Christianity by changing their own “language, dress, and culture”. In fact, as we realized almost two centuries later, nothing was further from the truth. Language, dress, and cultural customs do not constitute one’s Christianity. God Himself is not interested in turning all His sons and daughters into “look-alikes”. In fact, God is a lover of uniqueness and diversity when it comes to His children. Even today, we sometimes miss what is really important in Christian fellowship and relationships within the body, because we focus on the non-spiritual differences in aspects of language, dress, culture, or even some practices that are beyond what is central to being a Christian.

So Jacob’s sons offer them a proposal. If all of their males would be circumcised, and “become like us” then everything will be okay and the Israelites would gladly cohabit with them. They would give them their daughters and take Hamor’s daughters in marriage, and they would become one people, living together. But if not, there would be no arrangement to inter-marry, trade, and cohabitate in the same communities. Shechem would be without Dinah and Jacob’s family would move on. The stakes were certainly high for all involved.

Now those of you who have read ahead in the text are aware of the outcome of this story. It was never meant for the proposal to be completed as those offering it spoke “with deceit”. We’ll see that soon enough. At this point we need to stop and reflect on two perspectives of our very own relationships with other individuals or groups. And here, I refer not to those relationships where we are ministering to others, or witnessing to them, or loving and caring about them because that is what we do as Christians, but rather those relationships that are so integral to our life – be it in business, recreation, or marriage.

The first perspective comes into play as we initiate and pursue relationships. Do we look for people that look, dress, talk, and do things that we do or are we more interested in where they stand spiritually – either their present relationship with Christ or their potential one?

The second perspective comes into play as others initiate and pursue relationships and friendships with us. Do they qualify to be our friends based on what they’re willing to do or say to please us, or are we more interested in their spiritual relationship with God and thus their membership in the body?

I hope that in both these situations, we value their spiritual states, actual or future, more than their externally based behaviors or evidence of being like us.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dinah’s Brothers React -- Genesis 34:13


But Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor, with deceit, and spoke to them, because he had defiled Dinah their sister.

Hamor and his son Shechem had made their pitch, asking for the agreement of Dinah’s father Jacob and her brothers to give her to Shechem as a wife, after he had raped her. This verse is packed with lessons.

First, we note the total silence of Jacob. He had clearly delegated this matter, either intentionally or by their persuasion, to his sons. We do not know all the reasons for this and thus we should not be hasty to judge Jacob. The mission I am involved with, SCA International, ministers among the Aboriginals in Canada. As I observe their ways, I see something very different to what I read here in this chapter. North American Indians (and I believe many indigenous people around the world) are known for determining all critical issues with and on the advice of their tribal elders rather than through the thinking of their younger warriors. Jacob’s family, quickly becoming dysfunctional in its own generation, demonstrates a totally opposite approach. The younger male members of the family decide the critical matters. I have also observed that among indigenous people, the decisions of the elders are, more often than not, the wise ones that bring more peace and happiness to the parties involved. The outcome of the decision to be made by Dinah’s brothers remains to be seen.

The next thing to note here in this verse is the reappearance of my favorite word in Scripture – “but”. The previous five verses were heading towards a very attractive deal if the Israelites accepted it and then along comes verse 13 that starts with the word “But” – a clear indication of some alternative thinking or turn of events. Either the message Hamor and Shechem were communicating was not going over well with the recipients or the desired outcome was not going to happen. Sometimes the “but” comes from God directly as we have seen in earlier parts of Genesis where the author says, “But God” (NASB Genesis 8:1; 17:19; 20:3; and 21:12). Other times He brings or allows the “but” to come about through others, as in this case. We need to be looking for and be totally aware of all the “but” clauses that God either puts in our lives or allows in our lives. Sometimes we realize these in retrospect many years later. But the closer we walk with God daily, the greater the chance we will take note and use to advantage any “but” He is placing or allowing in our lives right now.

The third thing we note from this verse is that Dinah’s brothers answered ‘with deceit’. As I studied the verse, I realized this answering with deceit was a separate thought than the one that follows it, “and spoke to them”. The ‘deceit’ was not only in their words, but also in their hearts and minds before any of the words had come out. These men were not in any way willing to deal constructively with the grave situation before them. Instead, they had resolved in their hearts, from the time they first heard of the situation, to take a different approach, perhaps one of revenge. We do not know their exact thinking. We can only surmise that once again sinful man knows only what comes natural to him, and in this case, it is revenge and taking justice into one’s own hands.
It is with these thoughts in mind, Dinah’s brothers, speaking in the place of Jacob but not necessarily on his behalf, now come to verbally answer Hamor and Shechem. Next, we will listen as the deceit that is in their hearts finds its way to their words and speech, and later actions. For now, let us gain insight into two facts. First, that our lives do contain a number of ‘but’ instances, some of which need not be there for long, or at all, if we walk closely with God on a daily basis. Secondly, that we need to examine what is really in our hearts and minds prior to verbalizing it or acting on it. This past week, my friend Sally K. posted the following on her social media profile, “When I want to speak let me think first, is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? If not, let it be left unsaid.”

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Shechem Adds His Offerings for Dinah -- Genesis 34:11-12


Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “If I find favor in your sight, then I will give whatever you say to me. Ask me ever so much bridal payment and gift, and I will give according as you say to me; but give me the girl in marriage.”

There is no record of any time between when Hamor spoke his words of request and when his son, Shechem, added his. The potential groom recognized the satisfaction of his desire to have Dinah as a wife lay in the hands of her father Jacob and her brothers. The plea is for them to allow him favor in their sight – a pretty tall order given what he had done to Dinah and how unacceptable that was for the Israelites.

But once again, they are faced with a potential offer hard to resist. In addition to all the freedom to live, marry, and do business in the area that his father had offered, Shechem is prepared to add tangible assets – whatever it will take. All they had to do was to ask him. He was willing to pay the highest thinkable price as a dowry for Dinah.

While the phrase, “if I find favor” leads one to believe that the Dinah’s father and brothers had a choice in this matter, Shechem’s closing words seems to imply that in fact they did not. “But give me the girl” is void of options. Shechem was determined to have her, one way or another. Undoubtedly, wisdom was called for on the part of Jacob and his brothers. At least Jacob knew that to say ‘yes’ would take them down a path of inter-marriage and social activity that they did not want to go. Certainly down a path that would not please God. To say ‘no’ may well mean they had a physical battle on their hands, one that they might not have won. If ever there was a need in Jacob’s family for God’s direction since they left Laban, this was the time. Would they ask for it? Would they accept it? Would they try to resolve the matter by their own thinking and with their own means?

The verses that we’ll study next give us the answer. What is important here is for us to stop and consider two things: First, can we look back on a time in our own life when we needed God’s direction but we failed to either ask for it or to follow it when He gave it? If so, can we learn from that experience? Second, is there something right now that requires that direction and we have failed to ask for it from Him, or failed to follow it when He gave it, or worse still, been fearful in pursuing it? If so, let us remember Who God is, Who He has been to mankind since the beginning of time, and Who He has been to us through all our years. This God can see you through any circumstance, His way, without you needing to fear or to tamper with the advice. Let it be so for you and me.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Hamor Speaks To Jacob and His Sons -- Genesis 34:8-10


But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. And intermarry with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. Thus you shall live with us, and the land shall be open before you; live and trade in it, and acquire property in it.”

The opening words of Hamor, the father of Shechem who had raped Dinah, to Jacob and his sons, are most interesting. One does not know whether or not he means them or he is being a card. After all, the Hebrew word for Hamor is indeed translated as a “he-ass”. But that aside, Hamor seems to be indicating that Shechem’s infatuation with Dinah was indeed coming from his very soul or that which gives him life and breath. He also uses words such as “please” imploring Jacob’s family to grant his son his wish. One could suppose, given that the fellow slept with Dinah, it would make sense that they get married. Even in today’s world, had there been evidence of Dinah being pregnant as a result of her rape, and providing that Shechem really did love her (a fact that I personally doubt when considering the real meaning of love), it would have made some sense for the two to marry. But unfortunately, Hamor’s request of Jacob and his sons goes way beyond that.

In his next breath, he asks the males in Jacob’s family to give their daughters in intermarriage with his family and to take his daughters as brides for their sons. From one perspective you can imagine the attractiveness of that proposal for Jacob’s sons. Clearly, getting husbands for their wives may have been difficult given that they were in essence nomads that had now settled for a while near Shechem. Going back to the land of their mothers, Leah and Rachel, as both their grandfather Isaac and then their father Jacob had done was not likely to happen again. Marrying within one’s own family was to be avoided. Hamor’s proposition had some enticement to it, especially if by marrying his daughters would bring along a handsome dowry.

I would point out that all this discussion was about the giving and taking of female children, not males. I cannot help but point out that somehow even back then daughters and females in general were indeed considered a form of property to be exchanged. I am reminded of two grave markers I recently saw in Charleston, South Carolina. One was for a husband whose name escapes me. Let us call him William Smith for our purposes. His epitaph listed some of his wonderful accomplishments. Next to him was buried his wife. We’ll call her Mary. Her epitaph simply read as follows, “Mary Smith, a relict of William Smith”. The word ‘relict’ has indeed come to mean a ‘widow’ of someone, but its more common and perhaps earlier meanings relate to a remnant of something pre-existing (usually a rock formation or a mineral that did not change when the rock in which it resides underwent metamorphosis; or species of organism suriving the extinction of a relted species). You can see how the word became associated with a widow, given how women have been viewed over the history of mankind. Even today, women are often seen as property. Following the 2010 devastating earthquake in Haiti, I heard of 40,000 women who were expecting their babies at any moment, living in tents with men who commandeered all the food and relief supplies from them and would only allow them some in exchange for sexual favors, all while organizations like World Vision were handing out “delivery survival packages”. It is time that Christian men rise up to defend, protect, and elevate to true equality, the precious gift that God gave us in womankind.

But wait, there’s more to Hamor’s package deal.

Hamor also invited the Israelites to “live with” his people. This can be understood to mean two things. First the common meaning which is to say that “as you intermarry with us, you will get to live with us more and more”. But it is also possible that hidden in the words may be the subtle hint of “this is the only way you can really be allowed to live here with us”. If they didn’t intermarry, they would always be seen as aliens and thus perceived as potential if not current enemies. Hamor was basically saying to Jacob and his sons, “you would not want that, would you?” Support for this idea comes from what Hamor said next. If the Israelites were to live with Hamor’s family, then the “land would be available to them, as would business, and of course the right to own land.” Enticing indeed.

And it is those same allurements (being allowed a piece of the secular pie in business, sports, entertainment, pleasure, and so on) that keep attracting so many of us “spiritual Israelites”, those who have come to accept Jesus as Lord, to intermarry with the world today. Esau may have sold his birthright, but we have sold our faithfulness and purity for that temporary and illusive pot of gold. God does call us to live among the world, but not to be entangled in it. May we all have the discernment as to when to say, “No, thank you”.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Jacob’s Sons Come In From The Fields -- Genesis 34:7


Now the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved, and they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done.

Somehow word gets out to Jacob’s sons who were working in the fields about their sister Dinah’s rape. So immediately they head back home. What is not clear here is whether this included all of Jacob’s sons that were working there, or whether this verse is just about Dinah’s brothers who, like her, shared Leah as their mother.

In any case, the brothers are grieved and angry, and understandably so. Grief combined with anger is a potentially dangerous combination both to the person that is grieving but also to others. The cause of their state of mind was that Shechem had done what was considered “a disgraceful thing in Israel”. Let me point out two things about this statement. The first is that this was the first time in the scripture that the name Israel was used to depict a nation or a people beyond the person Jacob whose name was changed to Israel by God. Earlier uses included Genesis 33:20 where Jacob names an altar using the word Israel and Genesis 32:32 where there is an explanation of the ensuing eating habits of the “children of Israel”.

Secondly, the phrase “a disgraceful thing in Israel” is a reminder to us as Christians today that most of what goes on in the world may indeed be a “disgrace for those who are Christians”, and some of it may even be a “disgrace for both Christians and non-Christians”. But the truth is that, for many non-Christians, much of today’s behavior is not a disgrace. This morning, just days after the great earthquake disaster in Haiti, one of the networks showed video of a couple in the U.S. stealing the Haiti Relief donation jar in a bank. How low can one stoop? Obviously, pretty low and certainly the people involved felt they had a right to it. A friend of mine reminds me of this when he often asks the question, “Ken, who says that non-Christ-followers have to see things our way?” He’s right. They don’t. And much of our frustration in life can be reduced as we accept that harsh reality.

Returning again to the text, we notice that what was disgraceful in Israel was that Shechem had sexual relations with Dinah, and that ought not to be done. The question that remains now is, “Given this was a no-no, what will these brothers do?”

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Hamor Visits Jacob On Behalf Of Shechem -- Genesis 34:6


Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him.

Recently I asked my friends what they would do if they had been in Jacob’s situation, hearing of his daughter’s rape. The responses were varied but most admitted they would be very angry and act to ‘defend’ their child, perhaps even to take justice for the perpetrator into their own hands. I must admit I was indeed taken back at the nature of many of the responses, especially from believers. I guess it all goes to point out that we are indeed human beings and that it takes a lifetime to put on the full armor of God or to be Christ-like in our reactions to events, especially those that hit at our emotion’s core.

As I study this verse, I realize that I could well ask the same question of friends, only replacing Hamor for Jacob. “What would you do if, like Hamor, your son had raped a neighbor’s daughter?” And that is a question that we can ask ourselves. The truth of the matter is that much depends on whether we were like Hamor, or whether we were indeed Christ-followers.

Given Hamor’s culture, position, and perhaps attitude towards aliens in his part of the land, he probably considered the situation as not being of great significance. He would think that boys will be boys and it is unfortunate that this happened. He would figure, “just be thankful my son wants her for a wife.”

I cannot say with certainty as to what I as a Christian would do in such circumstances. My guess is that I would acknowledge the hurt that this has brought to the girl’s family. I would talk to my son and determine his wishes, the girl’s wishes, and those of the two families. I would hope that they would align with God’s wishes and if not, I would work hard to move all parties towards that end. I would be as supporting as I could to all and I would pray for strength daily for me, my wife, and all those involved in the matter, to be able to deal wisely and lovingly in every aspect of the situation.

But let us not forget that in this case, Hamor is going to see Jacob, not because his son raped Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, but because his son is demanding his father’s help in getting her for a wife. Perhaps the reaction one would receive in that case may be quite different. While that remains to be seen, we would do well to consider such possibilities in our own lives and think about our potential actions and reactions. We need to think also of how we might be supportive or encouraging to others who are in such circumstances, reflecting on the godly counsel we may be required to give them.

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