Wednesday, July 6, 2005

A Violent Attack and the Wrong Reaction

GENESIS 34
Now we are faced with something that could be out of a newspaper story. Jacob's daughter, Dinah, is raped. Not only does Jacob not deal with it himself, his sons Simeon and Levi make a deceitful deal with the rapist who wants to marry Dinah. Then after everyone has gone along with the terms (circumcision), they kill them all. Yowsa! Not exactly what we were expecting from anyone. Catholic Scripture Study helped me to see why it was a bad idea for Shechem to marry Dinah and also underscored what I already saw as terrible actions from Jacob and his sons.
Shechem loves Dinah and wants to marry her. Hamor not only asks for her on Shechem's behalf, he suggests to Jacob that Israel settle among them, intermarry and make their home among them. On the surface this seems a generous offer. But what did Hamor's people have to gain? Why were the men of that city willing to submit even to circumcision so that Shechem could marry Dinah? Clearly they wanted to absorb Israel, which was a potential threat to them, and benefit from God's blessing in people and possessions. This would prove a continuing problem for Israel as it is to us today: the world, if not attacking God's people, seeking to absorb them into itself.

If Jacob's sons appreciated the true meaning of this Covenant rite, it is hard to imagine that they would ask it of another nation not so they could be joined, but so they could take advantage of the men in their pain and destroy them. They are deceitful like their father, only to an evil end.

... This is the future family of God, His chosen people! Certainly Simeon and Levi are accountable for their own actions. They are deceitful, violent, and lacking in remorse. They use a covenant rite for their own purposes, emptying it of meaning and disregarding its sacredness and value. They show no compassion for Dinah, only outrage. Where there might have been a peaceful solution, she was kept lonely and isolated and shamed. But Jacob must take some share in the blame as well. We have already seen that he has abdicated power to his sons. He does not appear to have brought at least the older ones up in the knowledge and love of God and His commands, as evidenced in their light treatment of circumcision and in the presence in the household of foreign gods (see Gen. 35). When his sons massacre the Shechemites, Jacob's reason for anger seems to be not over the Shechemites' loss, but rather over how the act affects his safety and status in the community. And finally, Jacob seems to have forgotten all God's care and leading over the years. When he hears of his sons' atrocities, his main worry is for the safety of his household -- the household God promised and gave him and promised to protect -- and he does not go to God for help.
Certainly, this is the sort of situation that comes up all too often today. Sadly, we have all too many examples of people who use religion for attacks on others, especially if we think of the recent sex scandals. There is a message in this long ago Old Testament chapter that we can apply to our lives in this very situation.
How can God allow a bad man to be a pope, or a bishop or priest? Why does He allow sinners into His family at all?

The obvious answer, that sinners are all He has to choose from, doesn't satisfy. We all know people who are better than others and those, we think, are the ones who should be the Christian leaders. Remember that God called Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Jacob's sons -- and He has called the popes and bishops and He calls us today -- not because we are worthy, but because HE is worthy, and because He loves us. Chapter 34 is not the end of the story. God is constantly calling us as He will call Jacob's family to return to Bethel, to the House of God; to obedience; to worship. As we will see with Simeon and Levi, God does not leave sin unpunished. But His goal is first and always to reconcile his children to Himself.
All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

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