Dinah Part 5: Come Out From Among Them
The patriarch Jacob was in a precarious situation. In response to Shechem violating his daughter, Dinah, his sons plundered a city and killed all of the men. Although his daughter was delivered safely home, Jacob was concerned that the violent actions of his sons would cause the end of his tribe:
Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” —Gen. 34:30 [ESV]
Click here to read last week's post: Dinah Part 4: Rescue and Revenge
If the inhabitants of the land gathered themselves together and attacked, Israel would be no more. In this moment of despair, God spoke to Jacob, and told him that it was time to depart:
God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” —Gen. 35:1
Bethel is a place of great significance to Jacob. It is there that the Lord first appeared to him in a vision when Jacob had nothing more than a staff in his hand. There, God promised Jacob the same land that He had promised to his father Abraham.
It is not clear why Jacob took so long to return to Bethel, and instead chose to settle in different lands, living first in Succoth, now in Shechem. But, he had slowly made his way South toward home, and now, (in his time of distress) the Lord was calling him back to the land where He made the promise. So, Jacob gathered his camp together and told them to prepare themselves to travel to the holy place:
So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” —Gen. 35:2–3
Before standing in the presence of the Lord, Jacob knew that purification was necessary. His sons had just killed all of the men of Shechem and increased their tribe by taking women and children as their plunder. They had taken possessions from Shechem as well, which means idols were likely in their camp. Now was the time to make a clean separation. The tribe listened to Jacob and obeyed, surrendering the idols and earrings. Then, they buried the lot.
So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. —Gen. 35:4
SIDENOTE: It is unclear if the rings were in the ears of the people or in the ears of the idols. It is also not clear why removing the rings was important. In Exodus and Deuteronomy, a ring in the ear is used to symbolize the status of a bondsman in a household. Some commentaries interpret this to mean that the rings were used in the worship of idols, possibly to portray the connection between the worshipper and the foreign God.
Once the people were purified, they journeyed from Shechem to Bethel under the protection of the almighty God:
And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. —Gen. 35:5–7
A story that began with pain and desecration ended in purification and worship. The Bible makes no statement as to the righteousness or unrighteousness of the acts of the sons of Jacob, but we can clearly see the hand of God over the fledgling tribe of Israel in their hour of need.
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