The big fluffy flakes of snow yesterday were such a gorgeous surprise and delight. But as so many evidences of grace and amaze, it was all for the moment and meant nothing about the cancelling of school on Friday. From Genesis on through yesterday’s snow flakes it’s clear that if there is a God then God is a great tease.
I’m much looking forward to hearing what you all have wondered about further in the Jacob & Esau story to bring to break and share on Sunday. There is so much in their strange relationship that surprises even them. I’m also struck how the Biblical narrative so often does not make clear whether something is praiseworthy or not. Jacob expects to be slaughtered by a raving Esau when Jacob returns to Canaan, but Esau welcomes him with open arms and gladness. The Bible doesn’t say that that is good of Esau, or bad of Jacob to have expected the worst. Genesis 36 is a full chapter of the descendants of Esau who, from Esau on, are all mixed with the various other peoples of the area, Canaanites, Hittites, Horites, Edomites and more. Unlike Abram seeking a wife for Isaac from his own people, and Isaac’s wife sending Jacob back to her brother Laban to find a wife of her own people, Esau and his descendants who settle at last in Edom are a mixed bag of peoples. The line of Esau is, in modern parlance, interdenominational and generously diverse.
But that’s not the story of the line of Abraham bearing the blessing and the promise through Sarah, through Isaac and Rebekah, through Jacob and Rachel and Leah and their handmaidens. The covenant of Abrahamic blessing is a rigorously restricted cataract of narrow promise.
In contrast to Esau and his descendants, once Jacob settles in Shechem in Canaan at the end of Genesis 33, we are given the story of Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob. Dinah “went out to visit the daughters of the land”, i.e., the Canaanites at Shechem, and Shechem, the son of the chief of the country, rapes her. Shechem, tho’, is no brute, and falls in love with Dinah, and asks his father to arrange for a wedding. In touchy negotiations Jacob remains in the background, but his sons are very angry. They arrange to agree to Dinah’s marriage to Shechem if he and all the Canaanite men of Shechem agree to join with Jacob’s family by undergoing circumcision, which they do.
Three days after the circumcision of the men of Shechem, “when they were in great pain”, Simeon and Levi, two of Jacob’s sons, enter the city and kill all the males. The other sons of Jacob come and make off with all the goods and still living people of Shechem. Jacob is dismayed and afraid all of Canaan will attack his vulnerable family, but his sons answer, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” Jacob and the narrator have no answer.
The subsequent story of Joseph’s conflict with his brothers in Genesis 37 which sees Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt, and then of Judah, another of Jacob’s sons, uneasy relationship with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, in Genesis 38, give no cheerier picture of this family of God’s chosen people.
What does this all mean to remember? How do we remember it and why? If this is the book of God’s revelation to us, what is being revealed? Who wants to look or listen?