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The Stench of Sin

Date: Oct. 21, 2018

Author: Michael Mark

Genesis 34:1-31

Key Verse: Genesis 34:30

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

How many of you love the smell of BBQ?  You know it’s summer when you can smell burgers on the grill.  How many of you love the smell of bacon?  I love the smell of fresh strawberries in the car. Have you ever went grocery shopping, and left strawberries in the car on a warm day for a few hours?  The car smells awesome.  It’s too bad you have to take it out before the day is over though, or the strawberries begin to spoil.  I also love the smell of coffee.  It draws me to the coffee shop, or that area of the house.  Recently we bought an oil diffuser, and Mary puts these little drops of lavender oil.  It covers up the smell of my body odor in the room and makes it smell quite nice and relaxing.  Now, how many of you like the smell of urine?  I don’t think anybody does.  A bad smell is known as a stench.  Earlier this week as I was on my way to work, I got on a train car that reeked of urine. I could not stand it, and at the next stop I got off and moved to the next car.  It was so repulsive and so odious that I wanted to get away.  What types of things typically smell bad? It’s waste, or things that are decaying, rotting or toxic that usually smell bad.  Perhaps it’s God’s natural safety mechanism.  In the same way, our sins can make us repulsive or odious to other people, but most of all, to God.  We will see in this passage, how the sins of just about everyone in this passage, has made everyone obnoxious to each other, but also keep in mind, that all sin is offensive to God.

Our passage begins in v.1: “Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land.”  Before we proceed further, let’s look at why Dinah went out to visit the women of the land. At the end of the last chapter, Jacob and his family set up camp outside of Shechem, after some difficult trials with Laban and Esau as he fled from Paddan Aram.  If you recall from Gen 12, Shechem was where Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather, first stopped when he was called out of Harran, and God gave him a promise there.  He built an altar there to the Lord, and not long after, he was tested in Egypt.  I don’t know exactly why Jacob stopped at Shechem, but he set up camp outside of the city.  He may have been careful not to mingle with Canaanites.  But here we see Dinah heading into town to see the women there.  Why? Perhaps it was because she had 11 brothers and no sisters (as far as we know), and may have wanted to see how other women dressed and behaved.  She was curious about outside cultures, but did not exercise caution.  We have seen from the stories of Sarah and Rebekah the people in the region were particularly attracted to these Hebrew women, and how even their husbands feared they would be killed so their wives would be taken from them.  Shechem might not have been a good place for a young girl, especially a Hebrew girl, to wander around unaccompanied by those who could protect her.  Jacob had set up camp outside of Shechem to avoid intermingling, but here it seems Dinah wanted to intermingle.  Jacob may not have taught her well, not to go to such places on her own, or might not have kept a good enough watch over her, to let her go into the city.  At this time, she may have been 15 or 16 years old, considered in those days to be of mature or marriageable age.

The terrible incident happened in v.2: “When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her.”  His lust went out of control that he took her captive and forced her into sex with him against her will.  This is a serious and traumatic event – it was an attack on Dinah, and there was pain and violence involved.  In most cases the rapist will cast away their victim, but in this case Shechem was drawn to Dinah and spoke to her tenderly.  After this incident he may have tried to convince her to marry him, that he would treat her well, and that she would live a nice life with him.  Verse 3 says he loved her, but whether or not the love was sincere, he had already done the damage.  This love could also be a superficial attraction.  His request to his father seemed a little bit selfish and rash: “Get me this girl as my wife.”  “Get me.”  That didn’t seem very tender.  What if 8 years ago I asked Sh. Bob, “Get me Mary as my wife.”  Sh. Bob would’ve said “Get lost, and repent.”

Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, but his sons were in the fields with his livestock, so he did nothing about it until they came home.  Jacob heard of it before Hamor and Shechem arrived.  He may have heard of it from some maids who might have accompanied Dinah, who might have also went out to inform his sons. But he did nothing.  Wasn’t he furious?  He might have been, but people react differently to traumatic news. Sometimes they get shocked and angry. Sometimes they get shocked and fear, or paralyzed.  Maybe Jacob was paralyzed with shock and fear, thinking … “What just happened?” … Maybe Jacob’s fleeing response was activated, and thoughts of running away came to mind.  I think verse 5 can also suggest that he was waiting to discuss it with his sons, because it says, “so he did nothing about it until he came home.”  The word “so” seems to connect the idea of his inaction to them being in the field. When the sons came in from the field, they were shocked and furious.  Verse 7 says exactly that – that they were shocked and furious.

Verse 7 also reads, “because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter – a thing that should not be done.”  This is some additional commentary by Moses, the author of Genesis. At this point in time, Israel is just Jacob and his family, but Moses is referring to Israel as a nation, a preview of Canaan that will soon belong to Israel.  But his commentary was – this was a thing that should not be done. Shechem did wrong, and Moses highlights that this sexual assault is a crime against the nation of Israel. Sexual assault, including rape, is one of the most offensive crimes towards another human being.  We are seeing the fallout of this in our nation and around the world today.  For those who might not know, #MeToo is a social movement, primarily on social media, that encourages victims who were once afraid to tell their stories of sexual assault, with the goal of promoting social and moral reform.  The #MeToo movement has been exposing wrongdoers who have it seems for a long time got away with their abuses, and giving a voice to the victims.  Shechem had become a stench to the sons of Jacob, and in the same way, the offenders in the #MeToo movement have also become a stench in public.  It’s shocking to see how much of it was hidden but going on.

Hamor, the father of Shechem, tries to make a truce with Jacob and his sons.  He says to them in v.8, “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter.  Please give her to him as his wife.”  He offers Jacob the hand of communion, to be one with them through intermarriage and living in the land.  But what is absent here?  He does not bring an apology, he does not admit any guilt, and there is no indication that he has punished or disciplined his son for what happened.  In fact, he is quite liberal with his son and does what he asked.  Shechem then adds to the conversation: “Name your price, I’ll give you whatever you want, just give me the young girl as my wife.”  This seems almost like an unintentional insult to Jacob’s family. Sure, there is a custom of giving a dowry or a bride price to marry a girl, but here Shechem, like his father, does not apologize or admit that he did anything wrong.  Deep down he must have known he did wrong, rape, like any other assault against a human being, is universally morally wrong.  But maybe his morals were twisted.  Maybe this is like a case of wealth privilege, and overconfidence in his power.  He could try to buy forgiveness, good will, or silence.  But his lack of remorse might only make the sons even more furious.

The sons of Jacob make a reply.  Look at v.13, “Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor.”  They seemed to have hijacked the negotiations.  Where was Jacob, why didn’t he speak up?  Maybe he was still grief-stricken and his mind was cloudy.  But the brothers were angry and determined to get revenge, so they did that which ran naturally in their blood: deception.  The lie was that they would be willing to become one with the Shechemites, to give their daughters to them and live in their land with them.  They never had that intention.  But the condition they gave was even more sinister. They required every male in Shechem to be circumcised.  Circumcision was the covenant sign God gave to Abraham.  It was a holy rite, meant to identify the people of God.  But the brothers did not intend to teach them how to worship God in the right way.  They in a sense prostituted the rite of circumcision.  They gave it away when it was not their authority to do so.  They also just gave it to anyone.  Like throwing pearls to pigs.  There was no need to repent, no need to change.  It’s like baptizing someone who doesn’t confess faith or repent of their sins.  9 years ago we went rafting for our summer conference in Wisconsin.  As we were rafting, we passed by some college students in another raft, and one girl screamed, “I want to get baptized, topless!” They saw us float by, and got quiet. Then when we rafted far enough away, we heard some screaming and shouting.  The girl had evidently did the sinful thing.  That was not a baptism.  It was a disrespect for God’s sacred ordinance.  It was sacrilegious, and in the same way, the brothers had defiled the holy practice of circumcision.  Circumcision was to mark a new life consecrated to God, but instead it was used by the brothers to facilitate murder and vengeance.

The bait was taken.  The proposal seemed good to Hamor and his son Shechem.  Shechem wasted no time, and got circumcised right away.  Then they called the townspeople together at the city gate. Look at v.21a, “These men are friendly toward us.”  It’s really sad to see the duplicity of this deception.  The brothers had given these men a false hope.  They were so happy at the agreement that they met the conditions right away.  They even told the townspeople, “These men are friendly toward us.”  Hamor and Shechem thought the sons were sincere, and even friendly.  Psalm 12:1-2 describes the situation: “Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.  Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts.”  Psalm 55:21 shows the brothers’ hearts, “His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.”  Hamor and Shechem continue to convince the townspeople in v.21-23, that their property and animals “will become ours.”  The promise of wealth sealed the deal.  The Shechemites wanted to acquire and control the wealth of Jacob, and motivated by greed and economic prosperity, every male in Shechem was circumcised(v.24).

Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attached the unsuspecting city, killing every male (v.25).  Two sons are named here, and they are Dinah’s full brothers.  They came and killed the whole city.  It might be just the two brothers at this point, but perhaps some of their more powerful servants came along.  They murdered all the men of the city in blind rage.  The people could not even fight back because they were weakened. Imagine the horror of the women and children who were watching.  They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left.  Dinah might have been held at Schechem’s house for the past few days after she had been violated.  As if massacring the whole city hadn’t been enough, now the rest of the brothers come and loot the city – taking anything valuable, including animals, and the surviving women and children as slaves.  The brothers, at least the older ones, are now accessories to murder.  The sons were indignant and merciless.  They took vengeance into their own hands. They felt as if they were above the Law, and so this anger also revealed the pride and self-righteousness of this family, which would be a preview of their descendants to come.

Jacob took Simeon and Levi to task, and rebuked them.  Look at v.30, “Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land.  We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.’”  It seems the main concern is on the safety of himself and his household.  He didn’t say anything about Dinah, or how they defiled circumcision, or their sin of deceit and murder.  His focus was on himself and his preservation.  Because of their sin, he has now become obnoxious to the people around him.  It means that they will hate him, and try to destroy him.  I think Jacob did have faith in the promise of God, but it was still a real concern – that maybe this sin was too great, and it could forfeit God’s promise.  If his sons murdered a whole town for the crime of 1 person, what would become of his small family for the crimes of 2 people?

The sons replied in v.31, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”  They might have felt that way, especially because Shechem had offered money after defiling her, but they overlooked the fact that he wanted to marry her.  They were so blinded by rage that they could not see that these neighbors, though unapologetic, were doing their best to make up for their wrongdoing.  Of course Shechem should not have violated Dinah, but the brothers were not justified for the murder of the rest of the innocent people of the town.  Their sin became greater than that which caused this mess.

This passage stinks, doesn’t it.  It is full of sin and darkness, even of the holy family.  Notice that God was not mentioned at all in this chapter.  He appears at the end of the previous chapter, and at the beginning of the next, but he is not found in this one.  No one sought God’s counsel in this dark time. This is what happens when God is absent. Who is right or wrong?  No one here is right.  There is none righteous, not even one.  For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Almost every sin you can think of appears in this passage – and it doesn’t just describe Jacob, his sons, and Dinah, and the Shechemites – it describes all of us.  Who here is guilty of these sins: worldliness.  I know I am guilty of loving the world too much.  Lust.  There was a book called “Every Man’s Battle,” but I read an article recently that women struggle with this too.  But I am also guilty.  Anger. I get heated when people disagree with me.  Pride. Blasphemy, deceit, greed, hatred, self-righteousness and self-centeredness.  Even if we have a little of these things, they are what lead to adultery, murder and slander.  We all reek of these things before God.  This is unholiness.  This is unrighteousness.  It stinks and is offensive, obnoxious to God.  It’s worse than urine smell on the train, and has caused God to move away from us. 

So what can we do? In Isa 45:22 God tells us the answer, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” God says “Turn to me.”  “Repent, and turn to me.”  Some translations say, “Look unto me, and be ye saved (KJV).”  We do not need to take matters into our own hands.  We do not need to try and clean ourselves.  God simply says “Look unto me.”  Any person can do it.  Look, just look to Christ, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! In Christ, there is forgiveness for all of your sins.  In Christ, there is mercy.  What could save Jacob in this dire situation?  He was right, he would be destroyed if God does not intervene.  But we will see in the next chapter, God does step in.  But for now, look to Christ, and he will cleanse you.  See Eph 4:31-5:2, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  You see, God has covered up our stench.  More than that, he has cleaned up our stench.  We were once a stench, but we have been made like Christ, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  A pleasing aroma to God.  2 Cor 4:14-15 says, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”  Captives, you say?  Doesn’t that sound bad?  But look – we are marching in a triumphal procession and spreading the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ.  The stench of sin stinks, and it is all over the world, but that’s why the world needs the aroma of Christ, an aroma better than BBQ, better than bacon, better than strawberries in a hot car or coffee from the coffee shop, better than the relaxing scent of lavender, an aroma that draws us in and satisfies our soul.

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