Anger and Murder
Sunday, December 9, 2007—Yesterday I started discussing the “blessing” Jacob gave Simeon and Levi; today I want to pursue that further. The incident that led to this “blessing” is recorded in Gen.34 which actually precedes the incident with Reuben sleeping with Bilha in ch.35. Simeon’s and Levi’s sister, Dinah (she too was a daughter of Leah, thus making her a full sister to Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun) had been raped by Shechem. Jacob held his peace and did not protest to Hamor because his sons were away. When the sons returned however, they were indignant and angry. Hamor spoke with the family and clearly stated that Shechem’s desire to marry Dinah. In vs. 23 however, we see that Hamor was thinking more of the economic benefits their city could reap by having a marital alliance with Jacob’s clan.
The brothers answered Hamor deceitfully, requiring the men of the whole city to be circumcised in order for the marriage to take place. Their plan become apparent- while the men of the city were all hurting from the painful procedure of circumcision, they were planning to attack the city. This story has some clues to a much larger story. If Jacob’s family only consisted of the 11 sons (Benjamin is not yet born) I cannot see the people of the city thinking there would be that much economic impact. Furthermore, I cannot see the prince of a city, Shechem, being attracted to a humble shepherd’s daughter. We need to understand that while the scriptural narratives focus on Abraham, Issac, Jacob and the 12 sons, they are the leading family of what is likely a larger, prosperous tribe that wielded considerable influence. The Bible gives us other glimpses of this larger story in places like Gen. 14 where Abraham and his 318 trained men in battle to rescue his wayward nephew, Lot. This family is a wealthy family with a lot of other semitic clans under their leadership. Hamor approaches the family as equals.
I would interpret Gen. 34:25 “On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males.” as meaning Simeon and Levi led their small army into Shechem and they destroyed the whole town. Instead of seeking justice against the rapist Shechem, they over reacted and waged an unjust war (remember that The Iliad of Homer is a story about a war caused by one king running off with another king’s wife- it is a familiar theme). Although ch.34 does not mention cruelty to animals, Jacob does in 49:6c “they hamstrung oxen. This would be a useless act of violence when from the Gen. 34 account they took the other livestock. Here again, we see a mean streak in these two sons of Jacob that is exceptional. (At this point it would be fun and profitable to pursue a brief study of the biblical view of how to treat animals, but I must save that for another time. I did do a sort of memorial service for a cat once, for a friend whose pet lost a long and valiant struggle for life. I believe there will be animals in the new heaven and new earth. Christians need to speak out biblically and sensibly on behalf of humane treatment of animals without going to the wacky position of some, like the hindu peoples of India and other places that allow monkeys to ransack cities, cows to roam the streets, while people in poverty starve.)
Why is this war for a city in the promised land unjust, but the war to conquer Canaan in the days of Joshua was just? God had not yet commanded Israel to take possession of the land, the time was not right. At this point Jacob and his sons are to be still walking by faith, trusting in God to ultimately fulfill the promise of land, but they have taken matters into their own hands and tried to force the will of God. They were trying to hold on too tightly to the here and now, not trusting in God to provide in his time. Anger at an unjust act led to a loss of faith and an unjust action.
Now back to the blessing in ch49…Jacob uses words like weapons of violence, their anger, they killed, their willfulness, they hamstrung oxen, fierce, wrath, cruel. All of this is to show that Simeon and Levi were angry, bloodthirsty men who were out of control. This was not a time of Victorian virtues, peace and mercy. The mid-east has always been a hard, cruel place and Jacob was not naive. Yet in this violence filled land, he singles his sons out as being extreme!
Jacob not only curses their anger, he divides and scatters them in Israel. In Deut 33 Moses gives a final blessing to the tribes of Israel and Simeon is not mentioned at all. In the partitioning of the land in Joshua 19, Simeon is given a few cities in the land given to Judah. Simeon, like Benjamin, is gradually absorbed by the ruling tribe, Judah, “and they disappear from history.” (TableTalk, Dec. 2007, p.23).
What does this passage mean for us? 1)We must not remain silent when evil strike. Jacob did not go to Hamor with the rape charge against his son Shechem. 2)We must not allow our anger (anger itself is not a sin) to lead us into unjust acts of vengeance. 3)We must not run ahead of God’s will and timing to claim the promised land too soon. 4)We must not treat animals with cruelty. 5)As a society we must wage war using just means that is proportional to the attack against us.
A connection with the news of the past week is appropriate due to the Omaha mall shooting by a seriously deranged 19 yr old who killed 8 before taking his own life, just because he wanted to be famous and he was tired of his life. This evil trend is increasing in our violence filled society.
While some will blame the guns, I think we need to realize that murder existed long before their were firearms; it goes all the way back to Cain and Abel.
but neither should we over react and resort to unjust means in a personal struggle or in war as a society.