The Chain Reaction At Shechem
Text: Genesis 34
Proposition: Sin has a chain reaction to it that rarely considers the final consequence. God often uses that chain reaction to shape and direct His people.
Introduction: Do you know what a chain reaction is? On a pool table it’s the white ball hitting green ball which hits the red ball into a corner pocket. In 1913 German chemist Max Bodenstein put forth the idea of chemical chain reactions. If two molecules react, not only molecules of the final reaction products are formed, but also some unstable molecules which can then react with the parent molecule…in the new reaction, further unstable molecules are formed besides the stable ones, and so on. This morning we are going to read a story about a chain reaction of a different kind, one that begins with a small, seemingly innocent action but leads to a genocide. It shows how sin at the outset can seem small but in a very short period of time can become catastrophic. Turn with me to Genesis 34.
I. The Cold Case of Dinah. There are many questions that present themselves as we read this, perhaps the greatest being the silence of Dinah. Perhaps we could call this a cold case in the sense that there are many things that aren’t clear, aren’t quite solved. The account begins by saying that Dinah left her fathers tents and went to the town of Shechem to see the daughters of the land. We need to recognize that Shechem is a town but also the name of the young man that is a leader of this town. This young man it says, saw her, he took her and lay with her and defiled her. The Hebrew word for defiled is ‘anah’ and in this tense it means ‘to humble, to be humiliated’. Jewish historian and author Jonathan Kirsch says, “the word defiled is used elsewhere in the Bible (84 times) to describe forbidden sexual relations rather than forcible ones.” What’s peculiar is that after Shechem has laid with Dinah he speaks kindly to her, it says he loved her. He seeks to propose marriage to her, it even says in verse 19 that he was more honorable that all the household of his father. This seems an unlikely response from a man who saw her but once and sexually assaulted her. In verse 5 it tells us that Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled Dinah, again the word ‘anah’ is used. What we don’t know is who told Jacob, it wasn’t Hamor the father of Shechem, that doesn’t happen till verse 6. Was it Dinah that came and told her father that she had lain with the Hivite Shechem? The response of Jacob in verse 5 is also perplexing, he hears the news and then keeps silent. Perhaps Dinah’s mother, Leah, came and told Jacob and he does not chastise her or scold her or send her away, nor does he go after Shechem. I’m wondering if Jacob sees this union as a potentially good merger between his people and the Hivites who were led by Shechem and Hamor. One last piece of the puzzle is that when Simeon and Levi attack Shechem in verse 26, they forcibly remove Dinah from the house of Shechem even though the arrangements for her to be given to him are not yet final. Was it possible that Dinah was well known by Shechem, was this more a hidden love affair than an assault, was Dinah at Shechem’s home because of his love for her and her love for him? Certainly there are many unsolved questions in the first piece of this chain reaction.
II. The Closed Case of Simeon and Levi.
A Jewish woman by the name of Ruth Friedberg penned these words from what she felt was Dinah’s perspective:
My brothers speak of honor,
Theirs, not mine.
And they write their words
In the blood of a man who cherished me.
I speak of nothing,
Listening to the wind blow round my tent
As the sun sets red, over Shechem.”
As Hamor and Shechem present their marriage proposal to Jacob it is the sons who answer and who set the terms of the trap. The idea of using circumcision may have begun as a way of intimidating Shechem, they might have expected him to back away from such an idea. When he doesn’t back away it is possible that the idea was simply to punish Shechem but what is evident is that Simeon and Levi at one point move with pre meditated murder in their hearts. The murder of Shechem becomes the murder of Hamor and that being easily done the entire male community of Shechem are then slaughtered. That’s when the other brothers join in the pillage and absolutely plunder Shechem. Was it all a chain reaction that resulted from their sense of being offended, was it the honor of Dinah or the pride of the brothers that fuelled the rage? Whatever the case the idea of using circumcision, a sign of being in covenant with God showed contempt for the very covenant itself. The sign of circumcision was first given to Abraham in Genesis 17, it stipulated that circumcision was only for those born in their house or bought with their money, it was not to be used as a political device much less a murder weapon. At the end of Jacob’s life he blesses his children but of Simeon and Levi Jacob says, “Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place…for in their anger they slew a man and in their self will they hamstrung an ox, cursed be their anger for it is fierce and their wrath is cruel…”. Simeon and Levi were the birth brothers of Dinah, their mother Leah was the woman Jacob was tricked into marrying. Does sin have a way of slowly accumulating, have Simeon and Levi suddenly become godless in their contempt of the covenant, have they suddenly become homicidal, have they suddenly become the force of decision in their family, a louder voice than even Jacobs? Sin it would seem is like a chain reaction, it’s been likened to yeast, a little bit will influence the whole if unchecked. James 1:14,15 says, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then when desire has conceived it gives birth to sin and sin, when it is full grown brings forth death.” Do you see the chain reaction, it’s what caused the genocide in Shechem, in part.
III. The Showcase of Jacob.
The cold case of Dinah and the closed case of Simeon and Levi are connected to the showcase of Jacob. A showcase is a display, a place where what is valued is made evident to others. The values that Jacob held in his heart were showcased to his children. The value of being clever in order to gain wealth, that got showcased. They saw that in all the ways that Jacob dealt with Laban. There was the value of a straight faced lie, being able to look at someone and lie to their face and get them to believe it. They saw that when Jacob met Esau and assured him they would follow him to the land of Seir all the while knowing that Canaan was the destination. There was the value of having favorites, it was value that cut them deeply. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, he loved Rachel’s son Joseph more than all the sons of Leah, Zilpah and Bilpah. They saw that it the way he lined up his family the day they met Esau at the Jabbok, Rachel and Joseph at the very last, the most precious. I suppose that what they saw the most in Jacob was not a value at all, it was something that got put into the showcase that should never have been there. It was like dirty laundry or half eaten bread, sitting there in the showcase. What I mean is that Jacob always wanted more, despite God directing him and telling him that the promises of Abraham and Isaac were now promises to Jacob, he wanted more. It’s why he came to Shechem and stopped there instead of going the whole distance to Bethel. Shechem was a prospect, Bethel was a promise. Discontent was showcased in Jacob, his children saw it and then owned it for themselves. In part it was why they ruined Shechem the way they did. What they didn’t see is that all that wealth, all those flocks, all those women and children they had plundered now made them a target. With all this wealth Jacob says that they have become a stink, a stench, this unrestrained greed, this discontent has made them uproot, leaving behind the first piece of land that Jacob had ever owned.
Sin has a chain reaction to it that rarely considers the final consequence. Amazingly, God often uses that chain reaction to shape and direct His people.
Jacob is now on his way to Bethel.