Monday, February 15, 2010

The Brothers’ Deceitful ‘Proposal’ -- Genesis 34:14-17

And they said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us to be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and go.”

Dinah’s brothers begin their response to Shechem and his father Hamor by telling them they cannot give her to them as a bride, not because the Shechemites do not believe in the almighty God, but because their males are uncircumcised. To do so, they said, would be a disgrace. The emphasis, all potential scheming aside, is on the physical rather than the spiritual differences. If Hamor and his people could be physically altered to be like Jacob’s males, then all the disgrace would somehow miraculously disappear.

I am aware of the importance of circumcision as God instituted it in Genesis 17 as part of the covenant He established with Abraham (verses 10-14). But in all those instances, the requirement, as far as the Israelites knew at the time of the verses we are studying today, was applied to Abraham’s household and descendents. The covenant requirement covered “every male among you” and “every servant who is brought into the household” or “born in the household”. Servants were adopted and fully owned by Abraham or his descendants and thus were part of that adopting household, no longer having a household of their own. The requirement had nothing to do with those outside of these households of Abraham and his descendants. Jacob’s sons were pursuing something that was part of the covenant between them and God alone and made no sense independently of that everlasting promise God had made to them.

For decades, almost all North American missionaries took a much similar approach in their work with Aboriginal Canadians and Native Americans. They believed that if they could change the natives’ language, dress, and culture, they would then become Christians. Our text here in Genesis uses the phrase, “if you will become like us”. That is exactly what missionaries set out to do all over the world – make converts of people to Christianity by changing their own “language, dress, and culture”. In fact, as we realized almost two centuries later, nothing was further from the truth. Language, dress, and cultural customs do not constitute one’s Christianity. God Himself is not interested in turning all His sons and daughters into “look-alikes”. In fact, God is a lover of uniqueness and diversity when it comes to His children. Even today, we sometimes miss what is really important in Christian fellowship and relationships within the body, because we focus on the non-spiritual differences in aspects of language, dress, culture, or even some practices that are beyond what is central to being a Christian.

So Jacob’s sons offer them a proposal. If all of their males would be circumcised, and “become like us” then everything will be okay and the Israelites would gladly cohabit with them. They would give them their daughters and take Hamor’s daughters in marriage, and they would become one people, living together. But if not, there would be no arrangement to inter-marry, trade, and cohabitate in the same communities. Shechem would be without Dinah and Jacob’s family would move on. The stakes were certainly high for all involved.

Now those of you who have read ahead in the text are aware of the outcome of this story. It was never meant for the proposal to be completed as those offering it spoke “with deceit”. We’ll see that soon enough. At this point we need to stop and reflect on two perspectives of our very own relationships with other individuals or groups. And here, I refer not to those relationships where we are ministering to others, or witnessing to them, or loving and caring about them because that is what we do as Christians, but rather those relationships that are so integral to our life – be it in business, recreation, or marriage.

The first perspective comes into play as we initiate and pursue relationships. Do we look for people that look, dress, talk, and do things that we do or are we more interested in where they stand spiritually – either their present relationship with Christ or their potential one?

The second perspective comes into play as others initiate and pursue relationships and friendships with us. Do they qualify to be our friends based on what they’re willing to do or say to please us, or are we more interested in their spiritual relationship with God and thus their membership in the body?

I hope that in both these situations, we value their spiritual states, actual or future, more than their externally based behaviors or evidence of being like us.

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous15/2/10 16:49 that we Christians, are His messengers...we need to take direction from God, pray seeking His face, ask for His wisdom...and ask Him to make it clear for us to see (the ones we seek to bring to Him)...we need to see them through His Eyes. We need to ask Him to give us the words He would have us say. We are His vessel for Him to work through.