The Purpose of God Will Not Be Overthrown
So the Book of Genesis is a strange book. We’ve just heard the first twelve verses of Genesis Chapter 34, and the rest of this chapter only gets worse. In fact, from here in Chapter 34 all the way to Chapter 39, we find the darkest section in Genesis overall. So if you think it has been strange already, just wait.
This is a strange book — and that shouldn’t really surprise us that much because hopefully by now we know what Genesis is all about:
The Book of Genesis is a book that tells the story of a God beyond our understanding who carries out his purposes among a people who are extremely broken and sinful.
when you have a God who is self-determining, who depends on nothing for his being but who instead has all things dependent upon him;
when you have a God who speaks the universe into existence with words and who governs every event toward the completion of his will…
— when you have a God like that ruling over people like us — it can get strange.
And that’s what we’re dealing with tonight in Genesis 34.
And what I’d like to do for this sermon, which is a little different than usual, is that I want us to take a step back and be a little more conscious about the approach we take to chapters like this in the Bible. This is not the last difficult chapter in Genesis or in the Bible, and so when we come to these difficult chapters, how should we approach them? How should we read a chapter in the Bible like Genesis 34?
Approaching Difficult Passages
Well, there are basically three things we do, which I think applies to every difficult passage in the Bible, and here they are. These are three things to do when we come to difficult passages:
#1. Understand the context.
The first thing we need to do is to look around at where the passage stands in light of the Bible’s storyline. We need to check out the surrounding chapters, and then the surrounding books, and just try to get a panorama on where this passage is.
#2. Listen to the passage.
This starts with the genre of the passage. In the case of Genesis, we’re dealing with a narrative, and so we need to pay attention to the elements of this story. We want to look closely at the details, which means we’re looking for people, places, things; we’re looking for repeated words; we’re looking for allusions — all the details matter.
#3. Mine for the message.
Every passage in the Bible has a message. The Bible is the word of God, and it’s always a word about God and his realness. There is always something for us learn, but sometimes it’s not so obvious, which means we need to mine for it. We need to dig for it. What are the major themes, and the minor themes? What are the important truths? We have to mine for the message.
So those are the three steps for how we approach difficult passages:
Understand the context
Listen to the passage
Mine for the message
And that’s basically the outline we’re going to follow for this sermon. So let’s pray and then we’ll get started.
Father, you are the God of great wisdom and love, which means that you know what we need before we ask it, and you delight to provide us what we need through our asking. And so now, Father, we ask that you would feed us with your word. By your Spirit, speak to our souls tonight in Jesus’s name, amen.
Understand the Context: Back in Canaan
Okay, so the first thing we need to do with Genesis 34 is get a grasp on where we are in the story. You’ll remember that two weeks ago we saw that Jacob and his family have left Haran after 20 years and they are finally on their way back to the land of Canaan. We saw in Chapter 33 that Jacob had a surprisingly positive reunion with Esau, and then in verse 18 Jacob arrived at the city of Shechem, which is in Canaan, and he camped out right outside the city. And we’re told that Jacob arrived there safely. So finally, after everything he’s put up with, he tries to relax a little bite, which doesn’t last for long.
And iIt’s important how Chapter 33 ends because we’re told in verse 19 that Jacob buys land in Shechem from the sons of Hamor, who is Shechem’s father.
Here’s how that works: Shechem is the name of this city, and it’s also the name of Hamor’s favorite son. The chapter tells us that Shechem the son was the prince of Shechem the city (see 34: 3, 19).
And Shechem is introduced to us right before we get to Chapter 34 because in this story of Chapter 34 Shechem the central character on the Canaanite side. And then when it comes to Jacob’s side, Jacob actually doesn’t do much in Chapter 34. Jacob is passive and quiet, and instead, we see for the first time the sons of Jacob emerge. Over and over again in Chapter 34 we see the phrase “the sons of Jacob.” So there’s a transition happening in Genesis overall. Jacob is moving back, and the sons of Jacob are now taking the stage, and it does not go well —
In Chapter 34, all of Jacob’s sons are guilty of deceit and violence, starting with Simeon and Levi;
and then in Chapter 35 Jacob’s son Reuben sleeps with Jacob’s concubine;
and then in Chapter 37 all of Jacob’s sons sell their brother Joseph into slavery;
and then in Chapter 38 Jacob’s son Judah sleeps with his son’s widow.
So for the context here, in Chapter 34, we are beginning to walk into the intense moral decline of God’s covenant people, and it makes God’s purposes seem extremely volatile and vulnerable. That’s the context; now here’s the story.
Listen to the passage: Four Acts to Follow
If we listen to this passage, we see there are basically four scenes, or four acts to this story, and the different acts are signaled by the same word. It’s the little word “went out.”
Notice verse 1: “Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land.” That same word “went out” is used in verse 6, verse 24, and verse 26, and each time it shows up it’s used to move the story along, and it just drags in more drama. Watch how this goes.
Act 1: Dinah Went Out
So Dinah went out to see the women of the land, and we don’t know exactly what this means; we just know she was vulnerable because Shechem the prince of Shechem sees her and he violates her, and then we wants to marry her.
So he tells his father, Hamor, to get Dinah for him as a wife, and meanwhile the word gets back to Jacob that Shechem has violated his daughter, but we’re told in verse 5 that Jacob doesn’t do anything.
Act 2: Hamor Went Out
So Hamor, taking orders from his son, went out to meet with Jacob and tried to make marriage deal. And meanwhile, as this meeting is happening, the sons of Jacob find out about what Shechem did, and this is verse 7:
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.
So Jacob’s son are angry, not just because this was their sister, but they see this as an attack on their entire family. This is the first time that the name “Israel” is used to refer to a whole people. So there is a corporate identity here, and this attack by Shechem on Dinah was viewed as an attack by the Hivites on Israel the people. So they’re angry.
But, the sons of Jacob hide their anger from Hamor, and instead they deceive him. Hamor doesn’t just want Shechem to marry Dinah, but we wants everyone in their families to marry one another. Hamor says in verse 9: “Make marriage with us. Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves.”
And Hamor is desperate to make this deal. He says he’ll do whatever he has to. So the sons of Jacob say: Hmm, okay. We’ll make this marriage deal, but on one condition: every male in Shechem the city has to be circumcised.
And Hamor and Shechem agree to this deal; but now they have to convince all the other men in Shechem to go through with it. So they go back to the city and they tell all the men the terms of the deal, and they say, basically, the sons of Jacob are becoming one people with us. Hamor says in verse 23 that everything that belongs to Jacob will be theirs, but they just have to be circumcised.
Act 3: All the Men Went Out
Verse 24 says that “all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, who who went out of the gate of his city.”
So Hamor and Shechem convinced all the men to be circumcised, and then on the third day, in verse 25 — while “they were sore” and while the city “felt secure” — Simeon and Levi, two sons of Jacob, went inside the city and they murdered every man, including Hamor and Shechem.
Acts 4: Simeon and Levi Went Out
After Simeon and Levi killed Hamor and Shechem, they took Dinah and went out of the city, and then verse 27 says that all the sons of Jacob went back into the city that was full of men slain in the streets and in their homes, and the sons of Jacob plundered the city. They took their livestock and all their wealth, and their children and their wives. The sons of Jacob took it all.
And then finally in verse 30 Jacob speaks up and he rebukes Simeon and Levi because they have caused “trouble” — they are going to cause Jacob’s family to get a bad reputation in the land, which is dangerous because Jacob’s family is smaller than everybody else, and that means that the other Canaanites are going to want to come and destroy them. So Jacob rebukes Simeon and Levi for their diplomacy. And then they reply in verse 31 that Shechem can’t be allowed to treat their sister the way he did. And that’s the last word; the chapter ends; and there you have it.
This is a dark and troubling story. And I want to be very clear about this: there is nothing in this story that is commendable. This is a horrible chapter, and I don’t like it.
And yet this is God’s word, and we know that God has something for us here. And so now we want to slow down and mine for the message. What’s the point of this story? What do we learn here?
Mine for the Message
This is where things start to connect for us between the context and the details of the story.
I think there are at least two important things we learn in Chapter 34. One is an important allusion we see elsewhere in the Bible, and then the other is the main theme of this particular story. So I want us to slow down and look at both, starting with this first one. Here’s what we learn:
First, sin is always the same.
Look at verse 2 for a minute. Remember Dinah went out to see the women of the land, which means that she is out walking around, and then in verse 2 we read: “And when Shechem the son of Hamor, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.”
So there four verbs here that show the downward spiral of this situation: saw, seize, lay, humiliate. The writer doesn’t waste any time in telling us what is going on here. This is a horrible thing, and what’s interesting is that the first two verbs should already give it away that this is going to be bad. Shechem saw and then he seized — and seized is the same Hebrew word for took. So Shechem saw and he took. And this is not the first time we’ve seen this combination of seeing and taking.
Saw and took — [can anybody think of another place that shows up in Genesis?]
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…” — Genesis Chapter 3, verse 6! There are the same Hebrew verbs — saw and took.
And this is not the last time we see this combination in the Bible.
You don’t have to turn there, but think with me for a minute about the book of 2 Samuel Chapter 11. This is the story of King David and Bathsheba. Things had been going well for David. He had experienced success as king, but in the springtime, when all the other men were out at battle, David was on the roof of his house, and we read that David “saw” Bathsheba, and then he “took” her. It’s the same words again. Saw and took. Which means there is something here we need to learn about sin.
So going back to the very first sin, and then with the sin of Shechem, and then also with the sin of David, right up to this very day, the essence of sin has not changed. Sin is basically “the seizing of a legitimate good at times or in ways that God has forbidden.”
That’s the way Pastor Joe explained sin way back in his sermon on Genesis 3, and it still applies here in Genesis 34. The text tells us several times that Shechem really liked Dinah. He loved Dinah. He spoke tenderly to her. He longed for her. And that is all fine and good. The problem is not Shechem’s attraction to her — the problem is that Shechem ignored the boundaries that God has put in place and he seized what he wanted on his own terms.
Shechem acted as if the whole world belonged to him. He acted like like he can have whatever he wants any time and in any way. And that is always the lie of sin. Sin starts with what we are believing about reality.
Every time we are tempted to sin, no matter how big or small, we are tempted to believe the lie that the universe exists for me, and that what God says doesn’t really matter because I will have what I want no matter what. Sin is grabbing for our desires apart from God and in rejection of God, because we think we are God.
And this one reason of so many why I do not want us to sin.
Sin believes lies about God and sins spreads lies about God — and we don’t want to do that.
Going on the Offense
This is also why the best way to fight sin is to not merely be on the defense against lies, but it’s to go on the offense with truth.
For example, we don’t have a lot of high schoolers in our church. We have just a few, and I want you to know, if you’re here tonight, I appreciate you. High school is not an easy time, and I want you to know I see you. One day we’re going to have tons of high schoolers at our church, because our little kids are going to grow up, God willing, this place is going to be packed with teenagers.
And there’s a lot of discipleship that needs to happen now and then, and when it comes to a chapter like Genesis 34, how are we going to teach it?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this. My kids are going to be in high school one day, and few of you are already there, and so how would I explain this chapter to you?
Well one way is just say the obvious: Shechem is evil and what he does is evil. Don’t be like Shechem. That is defense against the lies. And we say that.
And also the Bible gives us more. We have a whole book of truth. We have a whole vision for this world and God’s design and his gifts, and that’s what I want our children to know in high school. This is what we need to know.
And so when it comes to the evil done here by Shechem, our sons will learn not to be evil like Shechem not just by knowing the lies to reject, but also by knowing the truths to embrace. Humans are created in the image of God, and every single human — every single man and every single woman — have dignity and worth. And God gave us marriage as a gift. And he gave us sex as a gift. These are good and holy things. We have truths here to embrace and celebrate.
Sin has always been the same — we see that in Genesis 34. But that’s not who we are.
Okay, so here’s the second thing we learn, and this is the main theme of the chapter.
Second, God’s purposes will not be overthrown.
This is where the context and the details really matter.
Remember back at the end of Chapter 33, before we even get into this story in Chapter 34, we read that Jacob camps in Shechem, and that he buys land from Hamor.
Then in Chapter 34, verse 6, we read that Hamor went out to meet with Jacob about their two families marrying one another. Remember he said in verse 9, “Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves.”
And the reason Hamor would propose a deal like this is because he and Jacob have already made a deal about the land. Jacob came into Shechem, into Canaan, and he started making deals with the Canaanites, and so Hamor thinks: We’ve already made a land deal; now let’s make a marriage deal. And again it was about just one couple; but Hamor wanted their families to marry. That’s a clear detail in the text.
Now according to the context, what has Genesis told us about the family of Abraham and marriage with Canaanities?
Don’t do it.
Abraham told Isaac back in Genesis 24: do not marry a Canaanite.
Isaac told Jacob back in Genesis 28: do not marry a Canaanite.
The only person who did marry a Canaanite was Esau and that made life bitter for Rebekah (see Genesis 26:34–35; 27:46).
So going back to granddaddy Abraham, it is not good to marry a Canaanite — and the reason why is because they worship false gods. They will lead the family of Abraham astray from the one true God. So don’t do it. Do not marry Canaanites.
And now it’s Jacob’s turn to pass down that same command to his sons. As the readers of Genesis, we’ve seen what Abraham says to Isaac, and what Isaac says to Jacob, but now what will Jacob say to his sons? We are kind of on the edge of our seats here, waiting for Jacob to do what he’s supposed to do. But he doesn’t do anything. As far as we can tell, Jacob is into making deals with the Canaanites.
And by verse 6, they are moving toward a this marriage deal, and the outcome of this marriage deal is that the sons of Jacob and these Canaanites become “one people.” That phrase is used twice, in verse 16 and in verse 22. And it’s not that these Canaanites were to become part of Jacob’s family; it’s that Jacob’s family were going to become Canaanites — because they were the smaller family (see verse 30). They were not going to absorb another people; they were going to be absorbed by another people. Which is why Hamor says in verse 23 to the men of Shechem: “All that belongs to the sons of Jacob is going to become ours.” We’re going to be one people.
And just a little heads up here: the last time the phrase “one people” was used was back in Genesis 11 with the Tower of Babel.
So this potential marriage deal with the Canaanites was not good. For the family of Abraham to become one people with the Canaanites was for the family of Abraham to become no people at all. This deal would have meant the complete erosion of God’s covenant people. Which means we’re not just talking about a threat against Israel, but this is a threat against God’s plan to save the world. Ultimately this is an attack against God’s purpose to send his Messiah and bless the nations.
And so God does not let that happen. And the way God does not let this marriage deal happen is through the dark vengeance of Simeon and Levi. The reason that the daughters of Jacob can’t marry the sons of Shechem is because Simeon and Levi killed them all. And the Bible is clear that this is not okay. At the end of Jacob’s life, when he was giving a farewell blessing to his sons, he actually pronounces a curse on Simeon and Levi because of what they have done here in Chapter 34 (see Genesis 49:5–7). This was evil.
So here’s what we know:
Simeon and Levi’s actions are evil
Simeon and Levi’s actions prohibit assimilation with the Canaanites, which means they overcome the threat against God’s people, which is good.
So there is evil that somehow results in ultimate good, and it happens in a chapter that makes no mention of God. We read nothing about God in Chapter 34. So what do we do with this?
This is deep water, but I’m going to try to put it in one sentence. This is the main theme in Genesis 34:
God’s purposes will not be overthrown, even when the circumstances involve human sin, and even when it feels like God is not there.
God’s purpose is the everlasting joy of his people. God’s purpose is that his people from all nations be blessed, not cursed. And that purpose will not be derailed by extremely broken and sinful people. And in fact, even when it seems like it is, even in the darkest moments of human sin, even when God seems to be no where in sight, even there God’s purposes are not overthrown.
And we know this. See, there was another moment in history much worse than Genesis 34. It was the moment when human sin was its most atrocious, and when God felt most absent. It was the moment when the Savior of the world was brutally murdered; it was when he was nailed to the cross at the hands of evil men, bearing the punishment for evil men; and in his dying breath he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God, where are you?
And then he died. And it was silent. For three days.
And then the God beyond our understanding who carries out his purposes among a people who are extremely broken and sinful, this God gave us resurrection. Even sin and death will not overthrow his purposes, but instead he overthrew sin and death. Jesus has conquered the greatest attack against our souls. And in him we are blessed forever.
That’s what this Table is about.
Each week as we come to this Table, we come in the faith and joy that Jesus who died for us is raised from the dead. We come to this Table in gratitude that God’s purposes for our good have not been overthrown and will not be overthrown, but we are more than conquerors through him who loved us — that is true for everyone who puts their faith in Jesus. And so tonight if that’s you, if you are here and you’re united to Jesus by faith, if you trust him, we invite you to eat and drink with us at this Table.