GENESIS 34 and 35
As the old saying goes: ‘Insanity is hereditary – you get it from your kids!’ Certainly, the things our children get up to are often very stressful and, in Jacob’s time, it was exactly the same. Having twelve sons and a daughter would have stretched parental wisdom to its limits, not to mention having to arbitrate between two wives and two concubines! In Genesis 34, Jacob’s beautiful daughter, Dinah, is abducted and raped by the son of the local chieftain; the chieftain attempts some damage limitation by promising an extortionate bride-price to Jacob in an attempt to by-pass the legal process and to hush things up.
For some reason, Dinah’s brothers took the initiative in these negotiations – rather than Jacob, who was uncharacteristically silent – and they tricked the Shechemites into all becoming circumcised, on the pretext of being religiously acceptable to the House of Israel. (And I am sure that the brothers were also somewhat gleeful at imposing a rather appropriate pain in the body of Shechem, in rapid repayment for what he had caused their sister!) The suddenly, Dinah’s brothers’ anger came to fruition when they attacked the entire city, killing every male and looting it for plunder. Jacob is himself angry and disappointed with them – not for their indiscriminate murdering – but because they might have attracted further retribution upon his own family. Unrighteous anger only multiplies and ends up hurting its owner!
Jacob finally returns to his ‘base camp’ in Canaan, to Bethel, the place where he first encountered God in a life-changing way. “Bethel” means “House of God”. Perhaps Jacob, shaken by the terrors of Shechem, feels the need to repent and purify his family, ridding them of their foolish idols and committing himself to the Lord afresh. God reappears and confirms Jacob’s new name and the age-old promises to him; it is interesting that he describes a “nation and a community of nations” that will come from Jacob – a way of describing nearly the same thing twice. Jacob again commits himself to God’s purposes, just as he had twenty-odd years previously. It is good to revisit the ancient promises that God has made over us, and to consider the covenants that we have cut with Him. Breaking of Bread is just such an occasion that gives us room to emulate Jacob’s actions.
Then his beloved Rachel dies in childbirth, leaving this world at the same bitter-sweet moment that his son Benjamin arrives. (Her tomb is now at Bethlehem.) And further shame and sorrow is just around the corner when his eldest son, Reuben, sleeps with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine (an act that was later punishable by death in the Law of Moses). Desolate, Jacob seeks out his father, Isaac, who is still alive, but shortly, and despairingly in this annus horribilis, Isaac himself passes away too.