Genesis 33-34, Matthew 17

Recognizing God’s Hand.

Genesis 33-34, Matthew 17

But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.  – Matthew 17:12 ESV

Jacob continued to on his toward the land of promise, having wrestled with and received a blessing from God. His new name is Israel and he is not the same man he had been before. Yes, the character of Jacob, the deceiver, is still there and it will continue to haunt him for the rest of his life. But he is much more prone to trust God than he was before. You see this in his decision to go ahead of his wives, children and possession, choosing to meet Esau first. “He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother” (Genesis 33:3 ESV). The night before, before his wrestling match with God, he had sent ahead a series of gifts for his brother, a form of a payoff, in the hopes of pacifying his brothers long-pent-up anger towards him. But now, he seems much more willing to place his future and his safety in the capable hands of God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Once again, we see God sovereignly acting on behalf of Jacob (Israel). Rather than an irate brother and a revenge-filled reception, Israel encounters a brother who is quick to forgive. While he met Israel with 400 armed men, Esau did not come to do him harm. “But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:4 EVS). What a different picture than the one Israel had been expecting. God had prepared the way and transformed Esau’s heart.

Got had kept His promise and had returned Israel to the land of his forefathers. God had told him before he left, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3 ESV). Israel had been obedient, and God had been faithful. But just because we obey God does not mean that all will go well. There is still the possibility of opposition and obstacles in our way.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Israel returns to the land, but it is far from an idyllic place. There are all kinds of people groups living in the land and their presence there will make Israel’s enjoyment of the land less than stress-free. In fact, it was not long before Israel’s household is impacted by the sinful nature of the inhabitants of the land. Not long after returning and settling in the land of Succoth, Israel’s daughter, Dinah, is raped by the son of one of the region’s influential leaders of the city of Shechem.

This same young man, obviously driven by his own lusts, decides that he wants to marry Dinah, and persuades his father to ask Israel for her hand in marriage. So Hamor approached Israel, and attempted to get him to agree to a pact between their two clans, encouraging the intermarriage and intermixing of their peoples. But the sons of Israel, who had become aware of what had been done to their sister, deceitfully agree to the arrangement, but on one condition: All the men of Shechem must be circumcised. The leaders of Shechem greedily agree, telling their people, “will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours?” (Genesis 34:23 ESV).

After having undergone the agreed-upon rite of circumcision, the men of Shechem find themselves weak and defenseless. Simeon and Levi take advantage of this moment and slaughter all the men of the city, taking all their women and children as captives and plundering the city. Once again, deception and deceit play a huge role in the story of mankind. Even the sons of Israel respond in a vengeful, deceptive manner to an injustice done to their sister. Israel is appalled when he hears the news of what has happened and fears what the impact will be on their family when all the other nations hear what his people have done.

This passage emphasizes the importance of Israel (the nation) remaining set apart and separate from the nations around them. There would always be the constant temptation to make treaties and alliances with the people of the land. Intermarriage would seem appealing and logical at times, but this story emphasizes just how important it was going to be for God’s people to remain distinctive and different. While Levi and Simeon meant well and were simply attempting to avenge their sister, they actually behaved in a manner that was more like the pagan people around them than those who were part of the household of God. If Israel had learned anything, it was best to let God handle cases of revenge and payback. Deceit and scheming never produced healthy fruit. That is why later on in the story of Genesis, Levi and Simeon would be passed over by Israel their father when he was giving out blessings to his sons.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It is clear from the passage that Jacob (Israel) recognized God’s hand in and around his life. He saw God at work, even in the years that he had spent serving his uncle, Laban. Those years of deceit and deception on the part of Laban had all been part of God’s plan for Jacob. He left Paddan-aram wealthy and blessed with a large family. But his sons were not quite so ready or willing to see God’s hand at work in their lives. The rape of their sister was an unacceptable action that they believed required their immediate attention. Rather than seek God’s will or wait for His direction, they took matters into their own hands and sought revenge, slaughtering an entire city of men.

When Jesus came into this world, most would never see Him for who He was. His own people would reject Him as their Messiah. They failed to recognize Him as the Son of God and the Savior of not only the nation of Israel, but the entire world. Their rejection of Him would result in His own death at their hands. And yet, God was behind it all. It was part of His divine plan for redeeming mankind and restoring them to a right relationship with Himself. It is hard for us to understand why Dinah was raped by that young man. But it reminds us that the world in which we have been called to live, even as modern-day Christians, is hostile to the people of God. We are living in a battle zone, filled with those who are enemies of God. Jacob’s return to the land promised to Abraham was not going to be free from problems. Sin was everywhere. Enemies were around every corner. But he was going to have to learn to see God in the midst of the trouble. He was going to have to trust that God was bigger than any foe he was going to encounter. The key lesson Jacob and his family was going to have to learn was to recognize God’s hand in the midst of any and all circumstances. I need to learn that same thing today.

Father, help me to see Your hand at work in my life. I know You are there, but sometimes I just fail to recognize it and appreciate it. Open my eyes and give me the ability to look at life with supernatural lenses that reveal You in the midst of all the chaos, confusion and conflict. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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