If you’ve ever had whiplash then you’ll know what encountering this story feels like. Jacob had just wrestled with God, reconciled with Esau, and demonstrated true faith instead of trickery in the process. Things seem to be looking up. Jacob is obediently on his way back to Bethel where he had his vision of the ladder.
A Surprising Evil
In one of the towns where he stopped to give rest to his flocks and children, an appalling incident takes place. His daughter Dinah is raped by the prince of the land. Jacob’s sons are appropriately furious, but Jacob is surprisingly, even offensively, passive about the whole thing.
The prince, Shechem, begs to marry Dinah because he’s fallen in love with her.
So Jacob’s sons, like their father before them, engage in trickery and deception. They convince the prince and all his people that in order for Dinah to intermarry with their kind, they will all have to be circumcised. But this was not a genuine invitation into their people group or into a relationship with their God. It was a trick.
Three days after everyone was circumcised, when all the men were recovering from their painful surgeries, two of the brothers, Simeon and Levi, kill every male in the city and reclaim their sister Dinah. The rest of Jacob’s sons, then plunder the dead, steal livestock, and capture the women and children.
Enraged with his sons’ acts, they are forced to flee the city, should the allies of Shechem discover what has happened.
A Surprising Blessing
If the story of Dinah is the crash that initiates the feeling of whiplash, then the next story is the recoil. God miraculously provides safe passage for Jacob and his family to Bethel and meets with Jacob again. Surprisingly, the covenant with Jacob and his sons is not canceled, but re-confirmed.
How is this possible? How can God choose to work with such horrible, violent, passive, deceitful people? The truth is, that’s all he’s got to work with. We are all like Jacob and his sons. We often fall on either side of our response to evil - we seek unjust revenge like Jacob’s sons or become passive and disinterested towards it like Jacob. But God keeps loving us, forgiving us, and providing a way for us.
The story ends with the completion of Jacob’s family and an overview of Esau’s. The twelfth and final son is born to Jacob, but his wife dies in childbirth. The inclusion of Esau’s line shows us that God’s blessing really is for all nations. He can make great nations and bless people even when those who are supposed to be the carriers of that blessing fail.
Where is Jesus?
A Surprising Remedy to Our Evil
He does this ultimately through Jesus who we defiled like Dinah, but unto death. And we actually deserved much worse than what the Simeon and Levi did to the people of Shechem. However, Jesus did not stay passive like Jacob nor did he avenge himself on the world like Jacob’s sons. Jesus became active. He bore the vengeance we deserved. Jesus is, therefore both Dinah the defiled, and Shechem the destroyed. He is both the offended party and the one who bears the penalty of the offense.
A Surprising People For A Blessing
Grace can feel like whiplash to us as well. We know how evil we are and what we deserve. But, because of Jesus, we are offered a blessing instead. This is such good news. For Jacob’s sons not only failed here but will fail again and again as the people of Israel. Nevertheless, God’s plan to bless the world was never thwarted by these failures. For the final son of Jacob, Jesus has been faithful on behalf of the whole world.
Because of the gospel, we who constantly fail over and again can have the blessing of salvation re-confirmed to us, especially in the times when we know we deserve it the least.
See For Yourself
I pray that the Holy Spirit would show you the God who forgives even the worst of sins and upholds even the biggest promises. And that you would see Jesus as both the defiled one and the punished one, who allowed both to happen to him so he could extend an undeserved promise to us.