GENESIS-SERIES NR 33
One step forward and three steps backwards
Genesis 33 – 34
A great danger to all Christians is pride and self-satisfaction. Especially when we think we are making headway in our lives with the Lord and then become self-satisfied. It is destructive and the enemy loves it. It is as if a false sense of security and safety causes the Christian to become reckless or indifferent.
Look at Jacob. In Gen 33 he is afraid of meeting Esau and is fearing the worst, but as soon as the danger is past, it is as if he has forgotten the Lord’s promises, and is placing himself in great physical and spiritual danger.
That is the danger for Christian-believers who are living in the 21st century in South Africa and who are enjoying a fine life with plenty of security. As long as we have food and clothes and accommodation and an income and insurance and transportation and a medical aid – what more should we be concerned about? To blazes with the teaching of the Scriptures and the outreach to lost people with the Gospel-message (to mention an example).
From the life of Jacob we can learn how to overcome self-satisfaction and spiritual indolence and avoid the danger of falling spiritually flat on the face.
1 ONE STEP FORWARD (33:1-16)
When Jacob saw Esau and his troop of 400 men on the horizon, he divided his wives and children into groups and then he himself took the lead of the convoy so that – should something happen – he would be the one to bear the brunt of the attack. After all, there was a feud between the brothers.
When Esau approached him, Jacob bowed down seven times. As far as he was concerned, Esau was still angry and hostile. But to his great relief he saw Esau’s tears, felt his embrace and realised that he had been transformed from an embittered brother, to a forgiving friend!
Esau wanted to hear nothing of the great gift of livestock that Jacob insisted to give him. But Jacob said: “If I have found favour in you 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.“ (verse 10). Yes, in his brother’s loving face, he saw the Lord’s face. Because Esau’s changed attitude was a result of the Lord’s favour over him – that is certain! The Lord God Himself was the barrier to prevent Jacob from entering the promised land. Not Esau. But Jacob persevered with God and clung to Him in faith, and that is why Esau was no longer an enemy, but a friend.
Esau is a pictorial image of forgiveness and mercy. His words upon meeting Jacob almost sound like the words of the father of the prodigal son in Luke 15:20. Esau suggested that he would accompany Jacob further on the journey. The problem was however – as a result of the large size of Jacob’s entourage – that Jacob would not be able to keep up with Esau regarding speed. Yet, some of Esau’s men would accompany Jacob. But Jacob did not desire anything – only his brother’s favour. That is all that mattered.
Esau therefore goes ahead and believes that he would soon see Jacob. But we know that it did not happen. They would only meet again years later. Yes, Jacob assured Esau that he would indeed meet him at Seir. But then he went to Succoth and later to Shechem. One almost gets the impression – without saying it out loud – that as soon as Jacob was assured that his brother was no longer angry with him, he was once more falling into his old way of following his own head and deceiving people.
2 ONE STEP BACKWARDS (33:17)
The result of Jacob taking the turn-off to Succoth was absolutely disastrous. Going to Succoth was a backward step for Jacob. Not only geographically, but also spiritually. Succoth was in the opposite direction to Seir, where Jacob had promised to meet Esau.
Why he chose to follow this route, Scripture does not say. Perhaps he was afraid to face his father Isaac – whom he had deceived so horribly. Perhaps he did not want to stay too close to Esau for a while. In addition, at Bethel in 28:22, he had promised the Lord that he would give Him a tenth of everything he owned, but now he was not so keen to do it because he owned plenty and a tenth would shake him. Moreover: Bethel was in the mountains and Succoth was in the Jordan valley where grazing was plentiful for his livestock.
It also appears as if Jacob stayed there for a long time. He even built a place for himself. He settled there and did not live just in tents.
However it may be, here is a definite backward step in the life of Jacob – one that would particularly affect his relationship with the living God.
3 A SECOND STEP BACKWARDS (33:18-20)
We do not know what the reason was for Jacob to leave Succoth and move to Shechem. Shechem was situated in the land Canaan. Once more it appears as if Jacob was not really in a hurry. He bought a plot of ground and pitched his tent there. He also built an altar and called it: God, the God of Israel. Different to Isaac and Abraham who called on YAHWEH – the God of the Covenant.
To all appearances, Jacob seems to be a deeply spiritual man. A man who walks with his God. With the building of an altar etc, it looks as if he is following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
But yet, he is not in the PLACE where God wanted him. How must and can a true believer walk with the Lord when you are not THERE where He wants you? Then your religious walk and talk become mere external rituals. An empty shell.
4 A THIRD STEP BACKWARDS (34:1-31)
While Jacob lived at Shechem, his daughter Dinah went out to visit with the “women of the land” (verse 1). Perhaps more than once. Perhaps it was there where Shechem first saw her. Shechem was the son of Hamor. Hamor was an influential man – the person from whom Jacob had bought some land. We therefore have the city of Shechem and also a prominent man – Shechem. It was this Shechem who raped Dinah. It was a great atrocity. Yet, Shechem wanted to have Dinah for his wife and asked his father to make the necessary arrangements – whatever the bride-price might be.
However, Dinah’s brothers (Jacob’s sons) were very sad and angry because Shechem had defiled their sister. Hamor tried to calm them down by explaining how much Shechem loved Dinah. And besides – he said – such an alliance would have wonderful benefits for Jacob and his people, and also for the Canaanites. They could intermarry and do business with each other. Hamor was prepared to pay an enormous bride-price – hoping that Dinah’s brothers would calm down.
Jacob’s sons were not satisfied with Hamor’s offer, but they saw it as a means to take revenge. To them it was unthinkable that their sister should be given to an uncircumcised pagan in marriage. What a disgrace to God’s nation! Therefore, their deceitful answer to Hamor was: “First become like us by circumcising all your males. Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves.”
It is significant that the text clearly states that this suggestion came from “Jacob’s sons” and not “Dinah’s brothers”. It is also they who reacted to Hamor’s suggestion, and not Jacob himself. They were therefore deceiving others the same way as their father had done before. And they made the circumcision a condition for unity between God’s covenant-nation and the ungodly Canaanites! Yes, indeed, the circumcision was a very important sacramental sign of God’s covenant. But the sons of Jacob thought it was something that works automatically: If the pagans are circumcised also, then there would be unity among them. It is a total misconception of what the Lord‘s intention was with circumcision. To the Lord it was all about the HEART that had to be circumcised. Not an outward sign that unites people.
The biggest mistake that Jacob’s sons made however, was that they wanted to use circumcision as a means to take revenge. Their intention was that when the men of Shechem were circumcised and in pain and physically weakened (particularly on the third day), then they would attack them and kill all of them – for what Shechem had done to Dinah.
Add to that Jacob’s silence. Passively he simply accepted his sons’ plans and the agreement with the people of Shechem! Yes, he was quite prepared to allow the Lord’s covenant-people to mix and inter-marry with the pagans! No problem. Jacob was not aware of the plans his sons had to kill all the people of Shechem. He was not aware of their spirit of revenge. From his point of view they only wanted to promote unity between the believers and the pagans. And to him that was no problem! While it was absolutely in opposition to the will of the Lord God, His intention, His promises in the covenant with Abraham. Jacob was supposed to go with Esau to their father Isaac! But he was totally outside of the Lord’s travel plans.
Meanwhile Hamor and Shechem returned to the people of Shechem to lay the plans of Jacob’s sons before them, and they concurred! Just imagine the financial advantages! Wonderful! To be circumcised is an insignificant little price to pay for such long-term gain!
No sooner said, than done. All the men were circumcised. On the third day Simeon and Levi went in with their swords and killed all the men of Shechem. Every last one. Including Hamor and Shechem. And they removed Dinah from the city. Then Jacob’s sons looted the city and took all the flocks and herds and carried off all the women and children.
Jacob’s silence resulted in a bloodbath and a total violation of the Lord’s covenant with His people. And keep in mind: These sons of Jacob were the ancestors of the God’s nation Israel – the OT-church. They were the people from whom the Messiah would be born. Levi – the man with the sword – was the father of the OT-priesthood!
But what was Jacob’s reaction to his sons: “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they attack me, my household & I will be destroyed“. No rebuke. Just self-centeredness. No remorse before the Lord or a realization that the LORD’S honour was tainted. Nothing. Only himself, that is the only thing he was concerned about. His own survival. HIS name has been dragged through the mud.
But his sons answered: “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute? “
THE MESSAGE FOR US TODAY
Spiritually one is never more safe than when you are in danger, and never more in danger than when you are safe.
One can see this principle in Jacob’s life, not so? When he was fleeing from Esau, he met the Lord at Bethel. When he was fleeing from Laban, the Lord spoke to Laban and rescued Jacob. When he was terrified of the meeting with Esau, the Lord met him at the Jabbok and changed his heart.
But as soon as he was sure of Esau’s goodwill, and sure that Esau was moving ahead and out of sight, and that his livestock could graze on the green fields of Succoth, he felt very pleased. He felt so safe. Particularly so nicely close to the Canaanites. But it was exactly there where matters turned for the worst.
The reason is obvious: We are more inclined to seek the Lord’s face and trust Him and obey Him when we are in danger or feel unsafe. When things are running smoothly, we relax in our devotion, and imagine that we can manage quite well on our own.
Jacob thought his biggest hurdle was Esau. But when he was free from Esau he thought he could handle matters on his own. He was seeking security in the freedom from Esau and the green grass for his livestock and the nearness of the Canaanites. Suddenly everything was only about the self.
The principles for us today, therefore are as follows:
1 No human being is ever secure and safe away from the Lord. It is not something that is man-made. About this everyone must be warned. The unsaved also.
2 Safety and security are from the Lord alone.
3 The Christian-believer is safest when he loves and absorbs and follows the Lord’s Word.
4 Safety and security is not the absence of danger and insecurity. It is to live with the Lord IN THE MIDST of the danger. Think of Daniel’s friends in the fiery furnace.
5 To the Christian-believer the danger is at it’s most severe when there is self-satisfaction. The real danger is not visible to the physical eye, because it is spiritual in nature. The dangers of unbelief, apathy, worldliness, compromise and the attack from evil.
Lastly we also see how wondrously the Lord God in His sovereign might rules over man’s sin and has His object succeed in the end, in spite of the unfaithfulness of His people.
It was namely necessary that the Canaanites were wiped out, because if not, they would most certainly have intermarried with the Lord’s nation (Jacob gave his approval) and that would in turn have led to the total destruction of the covenant-relationship between the Lord and His people. The pagans would have seduced the Lord’s people into idolatry etc. These Canaanites were saturated with occultism and their worship was demonic in nature. And then the Messiah would not eventually have been born out of God’s Nation if they had intermarried with these nations and God’s promises could not then have been fulfilled.
Therefore we must take note of the TRIUMPH present between the lines of this sad history. The Lord God can and shall put into effect HIS divine plan in spite of the faithlessness of His OT-nation. THAT is the only reason why the Lord Jesus could have eventually been born at Bethlehem. It is because God is on His throne and is not influenced by the actions of people. What a triumph!
Translated by Marthie Wilson
Main source: Bob Deffinbaugh