Family stories include the good, the bad, and the ugly. How do we respond to terrible events? The stories in Genesis 34-35 are set in a different cultural context and are not easy to understand, but it is easy to recognize the hardship in Jacob’s family.
First of all, Jacob’s family were not saints. I have heard a lot of different angles on the story of how Shechem defiled Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, taking her when she was away from her family. It sounds a bit like a modern love story, getting carried away too quickly and going past boundaries. What he did was bad, and Jacob’s sons took it as a personal offense. But then the story turns ugly. Jacob’s sons were strong-willed and vengeful. And they took out their anger against one man by deceiving the entire city. They used the act of circumcision which God had given them to set them apart from their neighbors into a weapon to weaken their foes. And then they killed a city. How did Jacob respond? With fear of further retaliation, not any discipline for his sons.
The family is in an ugly spot. It would have been so easy for someone to come wipe them out. But God told Jacob to go back to Bethel, the place where God had first spoke to him as he fled from his family in a dream. And Jacob obeyed. They traveled safely under God’s protection, and Jacob built an altar.
While this was a high point, there was much more sadness to come for the family. Dinah, Rebecca’s nurse, died and was buried. And then Jacob’s dearest Rachel died as she gave birth to Benjamin. And then Isaac died. And Jacob was alone with his other wives, his brother, and his wild kids. What would stop them from simply marrying into the peoples around them until the family slowly splintered away? Yet at Bethel, God reaffirmed his promise (Chapter 35):
“10 And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. 12 The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.”
How in the world would that happen? How could this ragtag group of rascals become a mighty nation? And why would God use a family that was so painfully messed up?
But then, all families are like that. And God did use them. This was the precursor to Joseph being taken to Egypt. And becoming second in command. And then Israel was isolated in Egypt to grow and flourish until God brought them back to take control of the land. He had a plan to save the messed-up family. And He offers us a similar opportunity, no matter how bad, ugly, and messed-up our lives are.
God, thank You for using messy lives. It reflects on who You are – not only powerful, but so compassionate and full of grace for us! Thank You. God, please show me where I go wrong in my life, and help me see all the places where You are guarding and guiding me. Thank You for saving, protecting, changing us. To You be the glory. Amen.