Every single one of us, when we face an injustice, is given a decision to make. How will we respond to the injustice? Now there are many factors that will dictate our response. First, who is the victim? Are you the victim? Is the victim someone close to you? Or is the victim someone far off who has no connection to your life. Who the victim is will understandably impact the level of indignation you feel. Secondly, what steps have already been taken to correct the injustice? Are the proper avenues being pursued to bring the perpetrator to justice, or does it seem that they are getting off scot-free? To what extent you feel that justice is already being done will impact your response as well. Lastly, it’s important to know what your natural inclination is in these situations. Are you a person who leans more towards retribution at all costs, or do you lean more towards peace at all costs? One motivation is anger, the other is fear. One example of this could be a spouse who is cheated on. If the spouse who is the victim leans more towards retribution and justice, perhaps they might be tempted to go sleep with someone else as a way of getting retribution. But if they tend to be someone who strives for peace at all costs, then they might be tempted to immediately forgive the spouse and never actually deal with the situation because they are so afraid that this will break up their marriage.
With all of these factors: who the victim is, what amount of justice has already been served, and what our natural tendencies are; the key issue that we need to keep in mind here is what is our view of God in this injustice? Does he care about it? Will he do anything about it? What is he calling me to do about it? Is he trustworthy? Is he good? Is he a just God? As we look at Genesis 34 today, we are going to see that Jacob and his two sons had very different responses to the rape of Dinah, and we will look at what this story, in the immediate context of Genesis, and also all of Scripture, has to say to us today.
The first thing we see when we come to this passage, is that the location of Jacob’s family is a crucial factor in this story. At the end of chapter 33, we see that Jacob set up tent in Shechem, a Canaanite area, and there he erected an altar. And you might think, so what? But back in Genesis 28, when God appeared to Jacob in a dream at Bethel, Jacob made a vow to God that if he would protect Jacob, he would built an altar there in Bethel, to be God’s house. But now he’s built the altar in a different place than he vowed. Now why is building an altar in Shechem such a bad thing anyway? It’s bad first because Jacob already made a vow to God to build it in Bethel, but also because God’s people were set apart, and there is a huge emphasis in the Old Testament that they not intermingle with pagan nations, because God knew that they would lead the people of Israel astray into false worship. And what we see first in Genesis 34 is that the safest place to be is the place of obedience. This entire incident could have been avoided if Jacob had departed from Esau and gone back to Bethel. As the apostle John says, the commands of God are not burdensome, they are meant for our good! Every command that God ever gives his people in all of Scripture, is meant for their flourishing and prosperity. But just like children who think they know better than their parents, the Israelites constantly go against God’s loving commands. When parents tell their children, “don’t play in the street,” their motivation is not so that their kids can’t have fun, no their motivation is, “I love you, I care about you, I want you to be safe, I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.” In the same way, every command of God, even the really difficult ones, even the ones that seem to actually put us in harms way, are actually the wise commands of our loving heavenly Father, who says to us, “I love you, I care about you, and I want you to be safe, will you trust me and obey?”
So this is the context where we find Jacob’s family in Genesis 34. They’re in a place they shouldn’t be. And as would follow, they start doing things they shouldn’t do. First we see that Dinah goes out to see the women of the land. There is much we can infer about this situation. First, as Bruce Waltke points out, visiting Canaanite women would have been repulsive to earlier generations in Jacob’s family. They were not people you wanted your daughter hanging out with. Now why she went there, we don’t know? Did Jacob warn her not to go there, but Dinah snuck out through her bedroom window in the middle of the night? Or was Jacob more of a passive father who saw the protection of his daughter as someone else’s duty? She was unchaperoned going into a foreign city. Cities today are dangerous enough that most parents wouldn’t let their daughters go in unchaperoned, let alone a Canaanite city in those days.
So already Jacob’s got two strikes against him. He’s put his family in danger by camping right outside of a Canaanite city, and now he’s letting his impressionable daughter go out alone and meet with women who do not follow the God of Abraham and Isaac, in a city where its people are known not for protecting their children, but instead, sacrificing them to false gods.
And then, Shechem, the prince of this land, not a vagabond or a despised criminal, but the prince, sees Dinah, and commits a terrible, inhuman, beastial sin against her. And it’s important for us to take a moment, and recognize that this was a terrible, awful thing that happened to Dinah. Rape is not something that’s foreign to some of you. You may know someone very close to you who has gone through such an atrocity, and you know the pain it brings, the devastation is causes, and the shame it covers a person in. And for a Dinah, a member of Israel, that shame is exponentially compounded by the fact that she is now ritually unclean and an outcast. For you see, when Shechem chose to rape Dinah, he was victimizing and defiling a daughter of the Holy God, a woman of the Holy people of God. In verse 7, the author writes that Dinah’s brothers were very angry because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done. That exact phrase is used another place in Scripture. In 2 Samuel 13:12, when Amnon wanted to lie with his sister Tamar, she responded by saying, “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. As for me, where could I carry my shame?” The people of Israel were to be God’s ambassadors to the world, and as his ambassadors, there came with it a very high calling and standard, and when that standard was violated, great shame and brokenness was experienced by not only the perpetrator, but the victim as well. We will hit more on this idea of shame later.
With all of this in mind, the reaction of Dinah’s brothers, Levi and Simeon begins to make more sense, while the reaction of Shechem, Hamor, and most importantly Jacob, becomes all the more horrifying. The author of Genesis shows Levi and Simeon’s initial reaction to be completely appropriate. It says that they 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. First, Waltke shows that the word indignant, or in some translations grief, that Dinah’s brothers felt, is the same exact word in the Hebrew that is used of God’s reaction to human wickedness in Genesis 6:6. Their indignation was godly. It is how God felt! God was angry and grieved over the rape of Dinah, and Levi and Simeon were appropriately bearing God’s image at that moment. God hates injustice! God is always for the victims of injustice! God is never passive, God is never unaffected by the crimes and atrocities that humans commit against each other. But we can be so tempted to believe that God doesn’t care. We look at the 1,000s of Nigerians being slaughtered by Boko Haram, and it can be easy to ask, “God what are you doing?” Or you might be in an abusive relationship, where day in and day out, you are living in fear, and you might be tempted to think, “God, don’t you care?” He does care, he cares infinitely!
Now there is a lot we could say about Hamor and Shechem’s response to the situation, but for the sake of time I would like to focus on Jacob and his family instead. Basically, Shechem and Hamor’s response to this rape was in accordance to an extent with later Jewish law. The punishment for rape was not death, but marriage coupled with a very high penalty, but what is wrong is first that it can be inferred that they are keeping Dinah captive during these negotiations, and secondly, never once do you hear an apology from Shechem or Hamor. They give the outward of appearance of a diplomatic solution to this situation, but neglect the weightier matters at hand. And the tragedy of this is that Jacob seems completely content to let them get away with it. Jacob once again displays his passivity in addressing the needs of his family. He’d rather not rock the boat, he’d rather not have to deal with the harsh realities, and just brush the whole issue under the rug. In his passivity, he is giving license to Shechem in saying that what you have done requires no repentance and no real punishment, and that Dinah’s honor and the honor of Israel can be bought by offering Jacob the opportunity to live in the land and trade with them. Jacob chose the path of least resistance. And Waltke notes that this is the same exact temptation that Jesus went through in the desert. In Luke 4, Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world, if he would but worship him. Satan offered Jesus the path of least resistance. Satan says, you can have all the glory, all the authority, without the cross. Here’s a path that requires no suffering at all, all it will cost you is your soul. But Jesus succeeded, where Jacob failed. And isn’t this the lie that we so often buy into: That the Christian life is not a life of denial, sacrifice, and suffering. That we don’t really need to really die to ourselves and take up our cross daily and follow Christ. That we don’t really need to lose our life to gain it. That we don’t really need to consider all things loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. That we can gain the whole world and keep our souls. That you really don’t need to cut off your right hand if it causes you to sin. That we can serve two masters, that we can love both God and money. Satan’s lie is that you don’t really need to take Jesus at his word. You see, sometimes, the path of obedience requires us to walk the path of suffering. I said earlier that God’s commands are not burdensome, and that all of God’s commands are meant for our flourishing and prosperity, and I meant it. But the reality is that those who desire to follow Christ will be persecuted, and we live in a world, and we live in bodies, that are broken, and Jesus told us not to be surprised when the world hates us on his account. Yes, a life of obedience is a life of great joy and it is a life free of so many awful consequences from sin, but it is also a life of sacrifice. But the key is that sacrifice that springs from obedience, is the most life-giving thing we can do, and you will never be more free, you will never be more alive, than when you die to yourself. Satan offers us leaky cisterns, Shechem offered Jacob polluted water, while God says, come to the spring of life, come to the living water, and drink deeply and live!
Now some of you might be thinking, you know when I read this passage, Jacob’s passivity is not what stands out to me as the most horrific, it’s the slaughter of the city by Levi and Simeon. And yes this was a terrible thing that they did, but let’s seek to understand properly why it is.
As I said earlier, Levi and Simeon’s initial reaction was actually godly. But as all of us know too well, while anger initially might be righteous, it all too quickly grows sour, and becomes destructive. You see we need to see that festering anger in our hearts is like a flame-thrower in the hands of a 5 year old. It is only going to be by a miracle of God, that it would ever be used properly. And for Levi and Simeon, their anger leads them to do something unthinkable. They take circumcision, a sign of God’s grace, a sign of God’s covenant love for his people, and use it as a tool of deception. They take something that was meant to bless the nations of the world, and use it for vengeful destruction. But is this not common in our world. That we take what God created for good, and twist it for our own sinful designs. We take the amazing gift of sexuality, and use it as a tool of manipulation and selfishness. We take the opportunity for prayer requests, as an occasion to gossip about others. We take food, an enjoyable means of keeping us alive, and use it to destroy our bodies. Or we can take God’s word of grace and truth, and inappropriately condemn and cast out those who need God’s word of encouragement and compassion. In our brokenness, we can easily become masters at taking good gifts of grace, and turning them into deceptive tools of destruction.
Both Jacob and his sons ultimately failed to trust the Lord. Jacob was afraid to do anything to anger the Canaanites, even if that meant throwing his daughter to the wolves. He didn’t trust that God would be for him and protect him. In a similar way, Levi and Simeon didn’t trust that God would let no injustice go unpunished. And they let their anger consume them, instead of submitting to God who says, “Vengeance is mine.”
After the slaughter of the city by Levi and Simeon, at this point in the story, Jacob finally stops being passive, and begins to show his anger. But he’s not angry at his sons because they have polluted the amazing sing of circumcision, or because they have turned a cause for justice into unbridled rage and revenge. No, he’s angry because now they’ve put his life in jeopardy. He’s only looking out for number 1. The very reason for his passivity with Shechem, is now the reason for his anger with Levi and Simeon. He’s basically saying to them, “You guys messed up my whole plan! I wanted this deal to go through so we could live peacefully with them, and now you’ve done the exact opposite, you’ve made us enemy #1 with the Canaanites! And if we’re honest, we can easily identify with Jacob in his desire to avoid conflict. He’s just come from a situation where he was afraid that Esau was going to lay waste to him. He’s spent his whole life deceiving people and making them angry at him, and he’s escaped their wrath every time, and now he’s thinking, I just want to play it safe. It’s very easy for me to relate to Jacob’s desire to play it safe.
But what’s most telling in this passage, as Waltke points out, is that the narrator gives Jacob’s sons the last word. The passage ends with the striking blow to Jacob’s position when they say, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”
The passage ends confusingly and ultimately, unsatisfyingly. We are left with no true justice being done! Clearly Jacob’s sons were wrong in their wholesale slaughter of every man in the village. But this passage is actually a more scathing indictment against Jacob’s passivity in doing nothing at all. Where are we to go from here? How are we to understand God’s justice for Dinah and Israel? How are we to understand God’s justice in Nigeria, Syria, and Ukraine, in corrupt government systems, in racial and social injustice in this country and around the world, in our own lives, in ways we’ve been cheated out of our hard-earned money, in the ways we’ve been abused by those who were supposed to protect us. What could we possibly say to Jacob, Levi, Simeon, and Dinah, to give them hope?
I believe there is much hope offered to us in God’s word.
While God has graciously given some parts of the world, in certain times in history, governments and systems that seek to rule justly and fairly, and while there may be a certain amount of faith that we can have that if a crime is committed, justice will be served, the hard truth is that not only do we have no guarantee, but for the majority of history, in the majority of the world, injustice far too often prevails. And the tragedy is that even in the best systems of justice we have in this world, they will always fall short and miss multitudes of injustices.
And what should our response be to such a state of the world? Do we just throw up our hands and live like Jacob? Or do we act like Levi and Simeon, the Batman and Robin of the Old Testament? No. But clearly the Bible is full of commands from the Lord to seek justice whenever possible.
Proverbs 21:3 – To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
Isaiah 56:1 – Thus says the Lord: Keep justice and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come.
Amos 5:15 – Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate.
Micah 6:8 – He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Clearly there is a rally cry for justice amongst God’s people. Thus, we at Maple Glen take up that call for justice when we speak up for the unborn. Our bones ache at the thought that millions upon millions more will be taken out of this world before they are even brought into it. We feel the same indignation that Levi and Simeon felt, but we don’t take the same path, because we know that our God is a God of justice. We believe the promises of our God when Isaiah says of the Lord in chapter 42:4,
“He will not grow faint or be discouraged, till he has established justice in the earth.” The entire earth will be established in justice one day. That our ultimate boast is not in the justice that we bring about, but our boast is that of Jer.9:24, “let him who boasts boast in this, he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” And as the people of God, we have great confidence, no matter what man does to us, in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ when he said in Luke 18, “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.”
The question though is how does God do justice, especially when so many victims die never receiving retribution, and so many perpetrators die, never being brought to justice.
Ultimately, we cannot understand justice apart from the cross and hell. Without these two realities, there can be no ultimate justice in this world.
Let’s start with hell. Hell is a scary topic, it is something that most people do not want to talk about, or even think about. For many people, hell is one of the most unjust things they could ever think about. How could a just and loving God ever send people to hell? This in and of itself is a whole sermon series. But let me just make a few points. First, what is far scarier to me than hell, is a reality, where hell does not exist. For without hell, there is no justice for the millions who were slain under the Nazis, and the Soviets, and the Japanese imperialists. Without hell there is no comfort given to the millions of people enslaved today, that their perpetrators ultimately will not get away with what they are doing. A world without hell, is the cruelest thing I could think of.
But not only is hell the place where justice is performed for those who deserve it, it is also the place where those who would perpetrate injustice are held, allowing one day, the earth to be a place where there is nothing but justice and peace and prosperity. When we read the Bible, it is clear that the destruction of the wicked is meant for the flourishing of the righteous.
But this begs the question, who are the righteous? Paul, in quoting the Old Testament writes, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
You see, the sobering reality of Genesis 34 is that not only do we at times respond passively to injustice like Jacob, or that we respond in sinful anger like Levi and Simeon, the harshest reality is that we are also the perpetrators of injustice, like Shechem. We are all victims of injustice, and we are also all culprits as well. And thus while Hell may provide resolution to the heart of the victim, it also brings with it condemnation to that very same heart. If hell were to remove all perpetrators of injustice from the New Heavens and the New Earth, there would be no one left to populate it.
But this is where the cross shines most radiantly. For at the cross, we have on display, the full extent of God’s justice; perfectly coupled and tethered to the full outpouring of his mercy and grace. For on the cross, Jesus Christ became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. He became a rapist, he became a murderer, he became a liar, an adulterer, and a cheat, he took on the full weight of our injustices, and the Father crushed him for it with his mighty hand of justice! And in taking our injustices upon himself, and giving to us his perfect righteousness, we now can say with confidence, that we shall inherit the earth, and in Christ, we can say with joy, not fear, that God is a God of justice, and there will not be one iota of sin, that will not be brought to justice. Whether it is in hell, or on the cross, justice will be completely served!
But Jesus not only took on our sin and our guilt, but on the cross Jesus also dealt with the issues of another person. Jesus dealt with Dinah’s issues of shame, uncleanness, and sorrow. For to be hung on a tree was to be cursed, to be cast out. He was cast out so that we might be brought back in. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and instead of shame, Isaiah tells us that we now receive a double portion, instead of dishonor we shall rejoice in our lot, and we shall have everlasting joy! Today, if you are carrying shame with you, whether it is the shame of something you have done, or it is the shame of something that has been done to you, know that Christ has taken that on himself, he took on our nakedness, and in exchange he now clothes us in garments of salvation and robes of righteousness. Christ as our bridegroom adorns us has his bride with beauty and splendor, and he is not ashamed of you. No the opposite is true, Christ rejoices in his bride, he rejoices over you with gladness and is so unashamed that he exults over you with loud singing that resounds through out the entire universe! This is God’s gift of grace to us through Christ!
And thus when we consider justice, when we are driven to righteous indignation, may grace and mercy always be close at hand. On this earth, our aim in justice, should always come with it, the desire for redemption! We don’t know what amazing plans God might have for the vilest of offenders. And thus Paul instructs us in Romans 12 to respond to injustice in this manner:
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
I wonder if Paul was thinking of himself when penned these words. I wonder if he was thinking, “I was a persecutor, I was an enemy of the church, I was a perpetrator of injustice, I sought to overcome people with evil, but God in his mercy poured out his perfect, spotless Son, so that I might be reconciled to Him, and to the very people I was persecuting.”
This is why brothers and sisters, we are called to forgive, even the vilest of offenders. Because forgiveness is not a denial of justice, it is the very opposite. It is the acknowledgement that God is the one who performs true justice, and his vengeance will come to pass either in Hell, or by his mercy and grace, on the cross! Apart from the gospel, forgiveness is an unthinkable command for a just God to require of us. Apart from the gospel, there can be no reconciliation, and there can be no redemption!
And this is what Levi and Simeon forgot. They forgot that they served a just God who also loves mercy over justice! But even in Levi’s sin in particular, God had plans to bring about redemption in his story.
Levi’s indignation and desire for justice ran amok here in Genesis 34, and actually, Jacob later in Genesis 49 curses him for it. He says of Levi and Simeon, “weapons of violence are their swords. Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company. For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.” This curse from Jacob comes right before his blessing to Judah when he says of Judah, “your brothers shall praise you.” It’s a very different tone for Levi and Simeon.
Jacob seems to have very little hope of redemption for Levi, and he sees his anger as nothing but a curse. But God has different plans for Levi’s descendants, he means to redeem their zeal for justice. In Exodus 32, when the Israelites made and worshipped the golden calf; who were the people who rose up in righteous anger when Moses stood at the gate and asked, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.” Who came to him? The author states that ALL the sons of Levi gathered around him. Not some of them, but ALL of them, and they were the only ones who stepped forward. On that day, the sons of Levi killed three thousand men in Israel in Righteous indignation, not unbridled rage like their father. And then later, in Numbers 25, right after Balaam had blessed Israel, the people began to worship Baal and make sacrifices to the gods of Moab. And when an Israelite man brought a midianite woman to his family in the sight of the whole congregation, who was it that was filled with jealous rage for the God of Israel? It was Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, a levite! And Phinehas ran the Israelite man and midianite woman through with a spear, and the Lord blessed him saying, “Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.” What an amazing story of redemption for the tribe of Levi!
But what surprised me in reading this, was that the man whom Phinehas the Levite killed, this man’s name was Zimri, and he was from the tribe of Simeon. The Bible tells of great redemption that comes to Levi’s tribe, but little is said in way of redemption for Simeon’s tribe. Now we don’t know all that happened to Simeon’s descendants, and I have no doubt that there will be many amazing stories told in eternity of the amazing things done by Simeonites, and their great love for the Lord, but this story in Numbers 25, of a son of Levi righteously, and justly killing a son of Simeon, soberly reminds me that there but by the grace of God go I. Left to our own devices, we would all go down the same path as Zimri. And thus our call for justice must always be coupled with great humility, and a longing that the same mercy and grace that was shown to us, will be shown to many many more!
As a final thought for this morning, I want to leave you with a quote from C.S. Lewis. And this quote is a note of comfort for victims, and a word a warning for unrepentant perpetrators. That for those outside of Christ, even your joys in sin today, will turn into cries of sorrow tomorrow. But for those in Christ, in the words of David Crowder, “there is no hurt, that heaven can’t heal.”
This is C.S. Lewis in the great divorce. It reads:
“Son,’he said,’ ye cannot in your present state understand eternity…That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”