The Consequences of Compromise
The Consequences of Compromise
One of the things I appreciate most about Genesis is that it tells us so vividly about the lives of some of the earliest saints of God’s Church: Adam and Enoch and Noah, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. These were all men of faith, but what I find particularly encouraging is that they were also sinners. God chose sinners, he graciously called them to himself, and then he worked to turn them into saints. Their lives, as we’ve seen, were often far from perfect, but where their sin abounded, so did God’s grace as he made them holy. I find that encouraging, because it gives me hope when I look at my own life. God has chosen a poor sinner, he’s graciously called me to himself, and despite the ups and downs of my faith, he never ceases to pour his grace into my life. Sometimes I walk faithfully, setting sinful desires aside and doing what I know pleases God; but other times, temptation confronts me and I knowingly and willingly embrace it. These men and women in Genesis give me hope, because they’re proof that God is pouring his grace into me whether I’m on the mountaintop of obedience or in the dark valley of sin. No matter what I’m doing, the Father continues to call, the sacrifice of the Son for my sins is always good, and the Spirit continues to live and work in me. This is the great mystery of the Christian life. Martin Luther famously put it in the Latin phrase: simul justus et peccator, at the same time both just and sinner. By the blood of Christ we have been justified and made new, but at the same time we are not perfect; our sanctification is a process—it has its up and downs—but through it all God continues to walk with us. He has declared us holy and applied the reality of Jesus’ perfect life to us, but then he continues to work in us, giving us his transforming grace so that we actually do become really holy ourselves, growing into Christ-likeness.
While they give us hope, these Old Testament saints also serve as warnings; they show us the pitfalls that we’re prone to fall in. They hold up warning signs: “Keep Out!” or “Beware of Sin”. Chapter 34 serves as one of those warning signs. We’ve seen the transformation that took place in Jacob’s life when God took him from the place of struggling to the place of clinging. Jacob limped away from his encounter with God full of faith. He took responsibility for his past sins and he confronted Esau in humility and made things right. We saw Jacob at his best and as he walked in faith. But from his meeting with Esau, he walked straight back to his old ways. He had vowed to build God an altar at Bethel, but instead of going to Bethel, he settled just outside the Canaanite city of Shechem. Instead of giving God what he had promised, he gave God his second best, thinking he could make up for his disobedience by building an altar at Shechem instead.
The whole story reminds us of Lot, who pitched his tent on the outskirts of Sodom, and as a result, compromised his family. His daughters ended up betrothed to pagan men and adopted the twisted sexual ethics of the Canaanites. Ultimately Lot lost his wife, who chose the easy life of the immoral city over walking with God. Jacob’s family is now going to face a similar experience because of his compromise with the worldly Shechemites. As we begin Chapter 34 roughly ten years have passed since Jacob’s return to Canaan—ten years of delayed obedience. His children are now in their teens and early twenties. Look at verses 1-4:
Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl for my wife.”
Dinah at this time is likely about fifteen or sixteen years old. Going “out to see the women of the land” was inappropriate behaviour. A girl of marriageable age wouldn’t normally have left her home to visit the city without a chaperon. Other ancient Jewish and Near Eastern literature uses this kind of language in connection with prostitutes or to describe housewives who comport themselves immodestly outside the home. And remember, Genesis—not to mention the rest of the Old Testament—condemns intermarriage with the pagan peoples of the land. Shechem does something evil, but the storyteller doesn’t let Dinah off the hook. She may have gone out with the local girls, but the behaviour of those girls was not innocent. Remember that the “women of the land” repulsed Abraham, Isaac, and Rebekah. Abraham took pains to ensure that his son did not intermarry with the Canaanites. Isaac and Rebekah sent Jacob away for just that reason and, we’re told, that Rebekah’s life was made unbearable as result of Esau’s Canaanite wives. And, our course, hanging out with the girls meant meeting up with the local boys. Dinah is “rebelling” if you will. But Jacob’s not off the hook either. The storyteller makes a point of reminding us that Dinah is his daughter. As a father Jacob’s not living up to his obligations. He put his family in this compromising situation and throughout the story we’ll see Jacob being sinfully passive as his family faces the consequences.
While she’s out with the girls, Dinah attracts the attention of the king’s son, Shechem, who forces himself on her. The narrator stresses the evil of the act with two strong verbs that both have negative connotations: he “lay” with her, which implies forced rape, and he “humiliated” her, which always describes illegitimate sex outside of marriage. But despite however brutal Shechem’s acts might have been, he shows tenderness afterward. He doesn’t use Dinah and throw her away; he wants her to be his wife. This suggests that Shechem may have used rape to get around the usual practise of arranged marriages. He was infatuated with Dinah, but knew that Jacob would never give his approval; or it may have been that Hamor, his father, had plans for him to marry someone else. Shechem pre-empted all that by raping Dinah. The violation left her essentially unmarriageable and would have put pressure on Jacob to marry her off to Shechem in exchange for a higher than usual bride price. The Old Testament law addresses situations like this, but the practises it stipulates weren’t new. They had been common in the ancient Near East for a long time.
The remarkable thing in all this is Jacob’s passivity when he learns of his daughter’s rape. Most fathers would be outraged. We’ve Jacob him show intense emotion before, but here we see nothing. But then remember: Dinah is the daughter of Leah, his unloved wife. We’ve already seen how dysfunctional Jacob’s family has become as a result of polygamy. We see even more dysfunction here.
Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah. But his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. 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. (Gnesis 34:5-7)
Dinah’s brothers—also Leah’s sons—Simeon and Levi are the ones outraged by what’s happened. And while Simeon and Levi fume, Shechem’s father tries to negotiate with Jacob. Look at verses: 8-12.
But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him to be his wife. Make marriages with us. Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. You shall dwell with us, and the land shall be open to you. Dwell and trade in it, and get property in it.” Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. Ask me for as great a bride price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me. Only give me the young woman to be my wife.”
This is exactly what Abraham and Isaac dreaded and what the later law would forbid. God’s people are not to flirt with the world, not to compromise with it, not to become one with it. This has the potential to be the story of Lot all over again. Jacob’s been living near Shechem for some years now. He compromised because he saw the economic advantages of living with the Canaanites. And as a result of those interactions, Hamor has seen how rich Jacob is. He wants Jacob’s children to intermarry with his people so that they can be one big, wealthy clan. Hamor’s looking at this as a way to enrich himself and his city. Shechem is simply smitten with the girl; he knows that he owes Jacob a high bride price and writes him a blank cheque: “I want to marry your daughter and I’ll give you whatever you want!”
At this point, Simeon and Levi speak up as Jacob sits by passively.
The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to ourselves, and we will dwell with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter, and we will be gone.” (Genesis 34:13-17)
If it weren’t for the fact that the narrator tells us up-front that Simeon and Levi “answered deceitfully” we might think that this is the first act of overt evangelism in the Bible. Jacob’s sons object to Hamor’s offer of marriage on the grounds that the men of Shechem are uncircumcised. But they also stipulate that if the men of Shechem are willing to be circumcised, then these two clans can become one. Notice that they say nothing of the significance of circumcision. They say nothing of God’s covenant. They present circumcision as a superficial outward act. It’s just something that’s done in their clan and that sets them apart. Considering that circumcision was often associated with marriage and the joining of two families in that culture, the brothers’ demand wouldn’t have been considered entirely unreasonable by Hamor and Shechem.
Hamor not only agrees, but verse 18 says that he and Schechem were pleased by the offer. Shechem was happy to endure this painful procedure because he “delighted in Jacob’s daughter” (verse 19). But circumcision wasn’t quite as easy a sell when it came to the rest of the town. Hamor gathers the men of Shechem at the gate of the city and convinces them to go along by stressing the economic advantages. If we do this, he says “will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours?” (verse 23). In the end Hamor convinces the men of his city and they are all circumcised. That’s when the story turns truly sinister. Look at verses 25-29:
On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.
Because Jacob failed to act, Simeon and Levi took matters into their own hands. But Jacob’s sons respond like shameless barbarians. The men of Shechem were convalescing and Simeon and Levi strike at the peak of their pain, which makes their actions all the more barbaric. The two brothers enter the city, probably with a group of their warriors, and murder every last one of the Shechemite men. In retaliation for the rape of their sister by one man, they effectively rape the entire city. They never had any plans to intermarry with the Shechemites; they simply wanted revenge. They had no interest in witnessing the God of the Covenant to these pagans; they simply used circumcision to incapacitate the men of the city. They degraded God’s covenant in the most crass way possible—like coaxing an enemy into the river with the forgiving promises of God, only to drown him as you dunk him into the baptismal waters. Jacob was always the schemer, but his schemes were petty by comparison. He stole his brother’s birthright and blessing. He manipulated Laban’s sheep and goats to his advantage. Jacob may have given up his scheming ways when he wrestled with God, but his sons have already learned from him. And yet Jacob’s sons take their father’s scheming to new lows: deceiving the Shechemites, then ruthlessly murdering them, and, in the process, dragging God’s covenant through the mud.
To make matters worse, after Simeon and Levi slaughter the men of the city and rescue their sister, they seize their livestock, their property, and their wives and children as spoils of war. Presumably these women and children were absorbed into Jacob’s clan, but imagine what a farce the faith of Jacob and his family was to them. Every act of piety made by Jacob and his sons was forever overshadowed by the fact that Simeon and Levi used their piety and their God’s name to deceive and slaughter the husbands and fathers of these women and children. All their talk about God and his gracious covenant was forever associated with the barbaric atrocities of Simeon and Levi. This is not how God’s people are called to witness his light.
Jacob’s response is shameful too:
Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” (Genesis 34:30-31)
Jacob berates his son for their barbarism, but there’s no moral outrage in his rebuke. He’s angry because they’ve destroyed his reputation and made the Canaanites hate him. Again, we see the old Jacob, only truly concerned for his own skin. He whines that if the Canaanites should attack, it will mean the destruction of his household, but ironically, Jacob himself has put his own household at risk through his compromises and inaction. And Simeon and Levi make just this point as they rebuke their father. The storyteller gives them the last word: “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” They reacted with vengeance, not justice as their goal, but their point is that at least they were morally outraged by the rape of their sister. Jacob would have done nothing. In fact, Jacob only steps up to his duties as a father to Leah’s children when they do something that puts his own welfare at risk.
Though he doesn’t know it, Jacob’s hold up a big warning sign to us: “Don’t compromise with the world!” Jesus tells us that he has chosen us “out of the world” (John 15:19). We still live and work and, most importantly, live out our faith in this world, but our ways are not the world’s ways. Just as Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, we are calling to be witnesses of God’s kingdom in the midst of the world. Think of the mission that Jesus gave his people before ascending to take up his throne in heaven. Our King has sent us out into the world to carry his life-giving message, to baptise people out of the world and into his kingdom, and to make disciples of them. But, brothers and sisters, it’s difficult to witness the kingdom of God when we live like people of the world and when we use the ways of the world to do the work of the kingdom. At times in history, Christians have thought they could make converts through war and conquest or through torture and coercion. Too often we still think that we can solve the world’s sin problem by legislating it away and by using the coercive authority of the State to force people to live as if they were citizens of God’s kingdom. But those worldly means can never convert a heart or save a soul from hell. Only the Holy Spirit can convert the heart and we can never substitute political action for the proclamation of the Gospel the world so desperately needs to hear.
When it comes to how we “do church”, we need to realise that we will never fulfil our calling so long as we try to win people to Christ by turning the worship of God into entertainment and the preaching of God’s Word into the scratching of worldly itches or the proclamation of materialism and self-help. When the Church uses worldly means to draw people, we’re not making converts to Christ. We may fill pews, but we’re simply appealing to and confirming the worldliness of the unconverted.
And what about our personal lives as Christians? Consider that the Canaanites saw Jacob worshiping at the altar he had built, but what good did that witness do in light of how Jacob lived from day to day and in light of how his family responded like barbarians to the men of Shechem? Abraham and Isaac had been enriched as they followed God and their blessings became a witness to his grace. Jacob, on the other hand, became rich through compromise and those riches served only as a witness to his worldliness. Bishop Joseph Hall tells the story of Thomas Aquinas’ meeting with Pope Innocent IV. Thomas looked with wide-eyes on the treasures that had been amassed in the Vatican. The Pope saw his amazement and proudly said, “Lo, you see, Thomas, we cannot say as St. Peter did of old, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” To which Thomas responded, “No, but neither can you command, as he did, the lame man to arise and walk.”
How often are our Gospel witness and our Christ-given authority compromised by our worldliness? How much is our witness compromised as we spend out lives following the world’s pursuit of the “good life” and the materialism that’s so common in the modern Western world? How often is our witness compromised as we bow the knee to Caesar and accept—or even affirm—the evils that our rulers perpetrate in our name? Our churches have too often turned into pious, Bible-themed social clubs because of our compromises with the world and as we’ve become lukewarm to Jesus and to his kingdom. Why did the Church grow so rapidly in those early centuries? She grew because her light was bright and strong. She grew because our brothers and sisters who lived in those days were uncompromisingly committed to their Lord and to his kingdom. They were committed to lives that were truly set apart. They were truly committed to the Church as the one and only ark of salvation. They were the first to give of themselves to help each other and to care for the poor. And they were willing to be stoned, crucified, fed to lions, and burned alive rather than confess loyalty to the worldly lordship of Caesar.
Dear friends, you and I are simil justus et peccator. We are sinners justified by the work of Jesus, but let us never be complacent in our sin or in our compromise. Let us remember what it cost the Lord Jesus that we might be declared just and holy. God became human that humanity might once again bear the image of God. The Son of God gave his life to pay the penalty for our sins. God’s love for us is so deep, so broad, so wide that he spared not his only Son. Through Jesus we sinners, enemies of God by nature, have be justified and restored to his presence, but as we consider the amazing love of God in that act, let us never be satisfied with simply being justified sinners; let us pursue holiness with all our being. Let us give up all compromise and pursue with all our being the new life that Jesus has made possible.
Let us pray: Almighty God and Father, through the death and resurrection of Jesus you have restored us to life and called us to be witnesses of your kingdom; remind us each day, we pray, of your deep, deep love and of the cost of our redemption that we might be moved to an ever-greater appreciation of who you are and what you have done for us; remind us our calling, and give us grace to pursue righteousness and your kingdom with all our being; through Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. Amen.