Scripture: 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.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” Genesis 34:30-31 ESV
Observation: Chapter 34 is another example of how the covenant people of God sometimes grossly miss the mark and commit atrocious sins. Here Simeon and Levi exact savage revenge on a young man, Shechem (son of the tribal leader Hamor the Hivite), who violated their sister Dinah. While the text states Shechem seized Tamar and laid with her, we cannot definitively deduce whether or not it was consenting sex. But we are told that Shechem loved Dinah and spoke tenderly to her (34:3). Furthermore, he asked his father to obtain Dinah as his wife (34:4). But Simeon and Levi, outraged over the shame brought upon their sister and the entire family, plot to kill all the Hivites.
Meanwhile, Hamor, wanting to bless his son and maintain peace in the land, offers a covenant of shared landholdings and fair commerce to be consummated by his son’s marriage to Jacob’s daughter (34:8-10). Shechem then interjects and offers to pay Jacob a generous “bride price” (34:11-12). Jacob’s sons interrupt negotiations and deceitfully request just one condition: all Hivite men must circumcise themselves. Hamor and Shechem happily agree and convince their fellow tribal men to comply (34:18-24). On the third day after their circumcisions, knowing the weakened state of the Hivite men, Simeon and Levi enter the city armed with swords and proceed to slaughter all the men. The rest of Jacob’s sons join Simeon and Levi in plundering their wealth and enslaving their wives and children (34:25-29). When Jacob hears the news, he expresses his dismay over their actions, but it appears his foremost concern is the security of his clan (above verses).
Takeaway: Granted, Yahweh would not have wanted Jacob’s clan to intermarry with pagan neighbors nor settle outside of Canaan, nevertheless nothing good comes from seeking vengeance. For Simeon and Levi, Jacob would exclude them from his parting blessings and pronounce their heirs tumultuous future divided and scattered among the other tribes of Israel (49:5-7). Moreover, Moses (the likely author of this story) cautioned the nation of Israel before entering the Promise Land that vengeance is the Lord’s; he will vindicate his people (Deuteronomy 32:35-36). And the Apostle Paul and the author of Hebrews pick up on Moses’ warning in their instruction to the persecuted church who had every reason to seek vengeance on their enemies (Romans 12:19 and Hebrews 10:30).
So how should we respond when others harm our loved ones or us? Spiritualizing our pain and suffering by saying the expected Christian response while pretending it doesn’t hurt will only delay the healing of our hearts and souls. But when we express our sorrow and anger to trusted friends and counselors and earnestly seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance toward forgiving our perpetrators, we circumvent the time, energy, and collateral damage resulting from seeking vengeance. And we grow stronger in our faith, all the while witnessing the grace and power of our Gospel.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for exacting vengeance on our sins and vindicating us from our Accuser through the sacrifice of your Son. Would you please help us keep this in mind when tempted to seek revenge on those who have hurt our loved ones or us? Instead, would you help us follow the lead of your Holy Spirit in seeking healing for our wounded souls and the strength to forgive our enemies? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling