Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Genesis 34-35 The One Where Rachel and Isaac Die

Sorry, I had to make a Friends reference.  

Genesis 34 see the rape of Dinah and the wholesale slaughter of a people at the hands of Isaac's sons.  The pleasant feeling I had at the end of chapter 33 is quickly washed away.

Isaac once again flees for his life after the massacre of Hamor, his sons and people but God directs him to a safe haven.  I really can't blame them for their anger, but considering men have used women as a commodity up until this point, it's a new and odd behavior.

After giving birth to Joseph and Benjamin, Rachel dies.
"And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing." 
I do love some of the writing in the OT.  It can be very poetic.

The end of chapter 35 brings us the death of Isaac but the start of the story of Joseph, which I believe is one of the longest stories of any character in the OT, save Moses.  Spanning over a dozen chapters.

My question, that I've wanted to ask since early on is:
Why is God only blessing one family, The linage of Abraham?  He seems to be a personal god to the one family (Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, etc) and others must win favor with the family to benefit from God's power.  To me this comes off not as a god that loves and provides for his creation so much as a personal mentor/bodyguard for a wealthy family.

As always, show me the truth dear readers!


  1. Bruce, I wrote you a thoughtful answer to your question over at my own blog. I used a picture and wrote a lot, so I thought the comments section here wasn't the place for me to post the whole body of what I had to say. I hope what I have to share with you will shed some light on what you've read so far.

  2. This was a weird story to me. Dinah gets raped, so in retaliation, her brothers kill all of the rapist's male family members and rape the women.

  3. Bruce, God is gathering a people to Himself and in Gen. 3:15 he promises a Savior. Abraham believed God's promises, for the land He would give him and the blessing of all the earth He would bring through him, and Abraham's faith is credited to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). This is the lineage and the nation that God will preserve unto the coming of the Christ. If scripture is a puzzle to us at times it is a good reminder to look at the box top and see Jesus - He is what the story is all about. A good book on this topic is Edmund Clowney's The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament.

  4. The past week or so I have been having troubled dreams. Last night I had a dream involving rape that seriously troubled me. My husband asked if anything has changed and I said no. This is what has changed. I have read along every day. I can honestly say the Bible gives me nightmares. o.O

  5. @Adam - very good post. Thanks for writing it.

  6. 35:1 And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.

    I was wondering if this is the same place where Jacob had the dream about the ladder to heaven.

    I was also wondering about the other gods that seem to reside in trinkets held by the other householders. There are quite a few places in the OT that refer to other gods as though they were rivals close at hand. I always think of Solomon and his collection of other dieties.

  7. I've wondered about the seemingly preferential treatment shown in the Bible as well. Especially as the Children of Israel trounce larger, more established nations.
    1. what God wants most from humans is willingness. Those willing to submit often receive the benefit of working with him - albeit working with him comes off as a scary and surprising road most of the time.

    2. In reference to the "Conquering of the Promised Land" (don't let me get ahead, just bank this in your head for when we're there), I've been told that God worked with those other nations for a while until their un-willingness became too great. The Old Testament is not the history of those people - it's the history of the Israelite and some of their ancestors. It is recorded and passed down to tell their story, and to inspire people sympathetic to them.

  8. 35:4 first Geo cache?
    To answer your question for today. For the people of Israel, and Christians to follow, God used this one family to bring about His redemption for man. As we read more we will see that God also worked with other people.
    (2 Chronicles 35:20-24) Also the favour they have with the Creator is not all blessing. As it will become very clear, especially in the later books, there is a responsibilities and obligation/commitment that comes with being God's people. And the penalty for violating the covenant is grave. This is the focus part. People of Israel this is what God has done, this is what He has called us to do, and this is what He will do.
    @Jesse you are correct Genesis 15:16 The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. God does not give up easily. He gave them over 400 years to repent.

  9. @momof atheists
    I Corinthians 10:19,20 as Paul taught it the things people sacrifice to idols they sacrifice to devils. There are demons aka devils. We will learn more about them later.

    Sorry to hear about the bad dreams. Try this just to humour me, if you remember, next time it happens call out to Jesus Christ with a sincere heart. See what happens. I have learned from other people from different parts of this planet that that name has good results. I would like to know yours. I will pray for you... not that many around here will think it will do any good, however i know it will.

  10. @Edward Whenever I call out Jesus Christ I usually get frowns.

  11. Sorry not trying to be rude by that. I grew up in a Christian household and went to a Christian private school for Preschool, K, 7th, and 8th grade. During elementary school I went to VBS almost every week in the summer.

    I have studied Christianity quite a bit but this is my first time reading the Bible front to back. I questioned it back then and I take it with a grain of salt now. I feel religion brings out hatred even in those who dont realize it does. Science and Nature produce results I can see and verify. Prayer to me is no more than self affirmations to bolster the person to overcome challenges, not an external being guiding the person.

  12. @momofatheists.

    Yes Bethel is the same place; it means house of god (beth, house; El, god).

    I note Isaac is buried with Abraham and Sarah but Rachel is buried elsewhere. We are never told when Rebekah dies, but, we are told when her nurse, Deborah, dies (and, oddly enough, she seems to be with Jacob and his family rather than with Isaac and Rebekah and their household).

  13. There's a duplicat here - when Jacob wrestles with the angel the angel tells him his name will now be Israel, but in this section God tells him that again at Bethel.

    I have to remark about how much Shechem must have loved Dinah. Getting circumcised as an adult with no anesthesia? Too bad for Dinah because he's a keeper!

  14. I've often seen Chapter 34 decried by atheists as a typically horrible evil Bible story. But it actually may have been contrived to explain the eventual decay of the tribes of Simeon and Levi.

    The "Blessing of Jacob", Genesis 49, is an older poem, and here is what is says about these two brothers:

    Simeon and Levi are brothers,
    their spades became weapons of violence.
    My soul shall not enter their council,
    my heart shall not join their company;
    for in their anger they killed men,
    wantonly they hamstrung oxen.
    A curse be on their anger because it was fierce;
    a curse on their wrath because it was ruthless!
    I will scatter them in Jacob,
    I will disperse them in Israel.

    One theory goes that J's stories of the 12 sons was based on this poem, which was then included. (I haven't looked into that myself.)

    Chapter 35 is a mess of E and P. We get P's version of Jacob's re-naming, we already heard JE's in chapter 32. According to a linear read, this event happens twice to Jacob. Contradiction!

  15. At 35:7, Jacob builds an altar and names the place El-bethel.

    "Bethel" might not mean "house of god". There was actually a god named Beth-el; he's referenced in Jeremiah 48:13.

    Bethel was home to a major Canaanite temple/sanctuary thing.

  16. @ Bruce;
    I tend to agree with your assessment - he's favoring this one family over everyone else. It seems an inefficient and circuitous method of demonstrating your superiority as the one true God. Aren't there other people he could work through as well? Maybe he is, but we aren't told about it in this narrative. (Let's be honest, the bible is long enough already!).

    I can't help but wonder at the willingness of the men in Shechem's tribe to go along with the circumcision plan. I think I would have opted out. Scratch that - I KNOW I would have opted out. (sorry dude, I know you love her and all, but no way! You shouldn't have raped her on day one!!)

  17. What if Dinah's brothers just left Shechem's crowd to wait until the festering ends of their personal bits caused gangrene, blood poisoning and death. Just as gruesome don't you think?

  18. I can't help but notice that Gen. 34:2-5 seem to be from a male-owner point of view, or at least not from Dinah's point of view. "Defiled" by whose standards?

    I don't think it any more or less likely that she was raped, but I wonder if "defiled" in this context would refer to any sexual activity involving an unmarried Dinah, consensual or no. If "defiled" covers even consensual non-marital sex on Dinah's part, then it seems it'd be almost definitely the opinion of her "owners" (her father and brothers), rather than her own opinion. Which would make this a story about protecting property, not avenging assault. (Alliteration is fun!)

    On the other hand, she could indeed have been raped. Which still makes the punishment meted out by Simeon and Levi grossly disproportionate to the crime, but at least it'd imply they see their sister as a person.

    LOL moment: I first read Gen. 35:29 as "And Isaac gave up the goat, and died...."

    @momof atheists: "the festering ends of their personal bits" sounds like a death-metal album. ;)

  19. Doesn't Gen. 34 seem to parallel the Iliad (Dinah=Helen)?

    On the question of why one family, we can take an even longer view: Out of hundreds of billions of galaxies spread over a hundred billion light-years, out of five hundred billion stars in this galaxy, why choose this little medium-sized planet around this one star to care about? Of the millions of species on this planet, why choose this upright-walking primate and why only start revealing yourself in the bronze age, hundreds of thousands of years into the species' existence? And why to a select few in a tiny corner of the Middle East? Kind of an arbitrary dude.

  20. @Brian Hitt
    I think you are missing something.
    "why choose this upright-walking primate?" Sorry no i am not an upright-walking primate. I was made in the image and likeness of God. Genesis 1:25-27. Space is the handywork of God. (Psalm 19:1) and were given for a sign for days,seasons, and years (Genesis 1:14). However this little small planet with these people. Ya i and others have questioned that as well. (Psalm 8:3-5, Hebrews 2:6,7)

  21. @hdauria
    The reason it is said here again is because, in my view, Jacob has not taken the name. So God has to tell him again your name is Israel, not Jacob any longer. As you continue to read you will see where God has to repeat Himself several times when He deals with man. We seem to be hardheaded at times.

  22. @hdauria: I agree with what Edward says.

    But notice that the change in Abraham's name accompanies a change for Abraham in the "objective sphere." However, Jacob's name change derives from a subjective personal experience.

    So contrast the two: Abraham's name is changed, and the narrative is consistent in sticking with the name change. On the other hand, Jacob's name is changed, and yet continues to be used interchangeably throughout the narrative.

    Here is what Geerhardus Vos says about this:

    "As before, side by side with Jacob's perversity, there had been an element of spirituality, so also afterwards, side by side with the now matured spirituality, there remained traces of the old nature. Hence God continued to subject [Israel] to the discipline of affliction even to his old age."

    @BrianHitt: Your comment about it being "kind of arbitrary," is right on the money. It's supposed to be. We think of "arbitrary" as "random," but in reality, arbitrariness represents God's freedom. The abritrariness is not accidental or an afterthought.

  23. @Dani - Read the novel "The Red Tent" for an interesting version of this story from Dinah's point of view. On the one hand, grabbing a woman and sleeping with her to make her your wife was a common practice. On the other, Shechem seems to care about Dinah an awful lot for someone he just wanted to rape.

  24. About god choosing only one family to bless: haven't you noticed that the story is told from the "chosen" one's point of view?
    Jacob was a cheat. He cheated his brother and he cheated his father-in-law, but now he claims that god promised him all these goodies, so everything is copacetic.

  25. hdauria has got in ahead of me - I was going to recommend 'The Red Tent' too. I find - and this is a purely personal thing - that changing the point of view of bible stories is a useful means of making myself think about what (in my opinion, again, as an atheist) they're actually saying, rather than what I assume, from my upbringing/education/sheer laziness in reading/what I've been told, they're saying.

    I picked that up in a Creative Writing class when the tutor invited us to take any famous story and rewrite it from the POV of someone not generally believed to be the main character. I wrote Abraham being prepared to sacrifice Isaac from Isaac's POV - and suddenly thought 'well, this is yippy, isn't it?'

    But I commend it as a mental exercise: how do you feel about the way the plot turns out if you're Jacob? If you're Dinah? If you're Shechem?

  26. Another interesting Bible project: state the message of the Bible in one sentence. See several answers to the challenge at http://dogmadoxa.blogspot.com/2011/01/whats-message-of-bible-in-one-sentence.html

  27. On the topic of God only blessing one family, the professor of the Open Yale class recommended by someone on an earlier post has an interesting take. (btw, the lectures are fascinating, I also highly recommend them: http://oyc.yale.edu/religious-studies/introduction-to-the-old-testament-hebrew-bible)

    She states that god has already tried with all of humanity, failed, and decided to narrow the field:

    "In the myths of the Bible this is replaced by a struggle between the will of God and rebellious humans. So these myths are telling also of a struggle, but it's on a different plane. Adam and Eve, Cain, the generation of the flood, the builders of the tower of Babel--God has been continually spurned or thwarted by these characters. So he's withdrawing his focus, and is going to choose to reveal himself to one small group, as if to say, "Okay, I can't reach everybody, let me see if I can just find one person, one party, and start from there and build out.""

    The story of Dinah is so disturbing. Like many other commenters, I find it distressing that we never hear from Dinah directly. Has she been raped and kidnapped, or did she just fall for the wrong guy? Regardless, the punishment her brothers mete out does not seem to fit the crime.

    Reading the Bible is also one of my resolutions for the new year, so I've really been enjoying your blog. Thanks!

  28. @bethg

    Thanks for posting that link! (I kept meaning to go back through the comments a look it up, just hadn't gotten around to it.) I have started watching the lectures and they are quite interesting. I should say that the first lecture is quite interesting as that's as far as I've gotten, but the Professor seems like a great teacher. I'm looking forward to watching more as we progress through the text.

  29. @Bruce - why is god blessing only one family - it's a novel about one family, that's all.

    The winners write history.

  30. @Dani: I had the same reaction to "defiled." It always disturbs me the extent to which men's dignity is tied up in the sexuality of their female relations in most ancient cultures (and many not-so-ancient ones, unfortunately).

    @Barbara & @Cunni: I think you're right on with the chosen/winner POV. Many people groups have been "chosen" by many gods throughout the ages. We just happen to be reading the story told by this particular group.

  31. Guys it's only the first book, don't be so quick to call winners just yet. There is a whole lot more to come.

  32. Adam, thank you for the reply on your site. Everyone can find it at http://www.bringthebooks.org/2011/01/why-only-one-nation-response-to-bruce.html

    If you don't mind, I'd like to add your blog in my links section

    I'm still not on board with God's long term plan. I can understand that the OT is the story of the Israelites. My follow up question would be "Did the other family members mentioned in the bible that wandered off, never to be mentioned again continue to be blessed by God? If so, where are their documents/stories?"

  33. Good question(s) Bruce. I would ask the question....why is there the bible? Is it just because there's a story of a family that is blessed by God?

    I would venture to say that its a story about God and how His creation glorifies him. When His creation rebels then to show His Glory he makes a way to bring them back....in this way God determined he would be MOST glorified. Again, lets get a perspective of the Story of God. Are we looking at it from the perspective of man or God? Are revolving everything around us or God? What's more important the creation or the creator?

  34. It's already been mentioned by an astute commenter above, but be on the lookout for the development and outworking "Abrahamic covenant".

    This one-sided, staggeringly comprehensive promise made by the One true and living God to Abraham and his Seed is foundational.

    Keep your eyes open dear readers...there's a scarlet thread that runs from Genesis through Revelation, from everlasting to everlasting...

    In Christ,

  35. I just recently came across your blog. Very interesting; I hope to contribute to the conversation from time to time.

    I don't have anything specific to say regarding this post at this time except that you are ahead of many of my fellow Christians...in that you are seeking to read the whole story.

    I appreciate your honesty in approaching the text; again, sadly, many Christians do not.

    I appreciate your willingness to read large chunks together; again, sadly, many Christians do not.

    As a Christian, here are a few presuppositional ruberics I bring to to the text:

    1. There is purposed, authorial intent.

    2. There is a single plot line threaded throughout the whole of the Bible (no secret key or hidden code; just cooperate with the text).

    3. There is redemptive purpose for the ears of the original audience AND for subsequent audiences (for example, keep in mind that the original audience of Gen-Deut were the Israelites in the desert post-liberation from Egypt; they are hearing the unfolding connection that the Creator God is the same God who has redeemed them out of the hands of the Egyptians).

    I will close this comment with a saying one of my profs loves to say: "Start with the Bible, not with the commentaries; Context is king."

    I loved your closing question. I have found the unfolding story of that question to be so beautiful. I look forward to following your blog.