The Majesty of God
Chapter Sixteen – Brothers in Strife
Jacob lived in the land of Canaan separate from his father. Like Abraham and Lot, their combined wealth was too much for the land to support all their flocks.
Jacob's sons were too young and not experienced and responsible enough to have their own holdings. Reuben, the oldest, was only 18 when they returned to Canaan and Joseph was six years old.
It was a heartache to Jacob that his mother was dead, but her nurse was still alive, old Deborah who travelled from Haran with Rebekah when she was a bride. Deborah was overjoyed that her darling Jacob had returned and she gladly joined his household. She remained with his family until she died, providing a comforting link for Jacob's wives and sons to the land of their nativity.
Jacob lived in Succoth at first, long enough to build himself a house and booths for his cattle. He was likely forced out of the area due to jealousy of his wealth. Then he came to Shalem, a Hivite city, where he bought some land and pitched his tent.
Jacob's daughter, Dinah, like a normal, young girl, was eager to meet other girls her age, take a closer look at their clothes and jewelry, and make new friends, but she made the mistake of going off on her own. She didn't see any point in asking a brother to go with her. He wasn't going to be interested in girl talk, and if a man was there, the girls would probably just be silly and giggle and flirt.
Perhaps Dinah felt smothered by her mother's attention and protectiveness and felt that she needed to get away from her for a while, not to mention all those big brothers who might have thought it their duty to correct her every time she did or said something that did not meet with their standards for her. Dinah was probably barely in her teens.
A Hivite prince named Shechem caught sight of her out and about on her own. Dinah was an astonishingly lovely girl. Shechem ventured to speak to her, asking who her family was, but the girl became wary and ran away. He chased her down and raped her. Afterwards, as she lay crying in his arms, he felt remorse.
As Shechem tried to comfort her, he desired to keep her. She would grow into beautiful woman. She was a foreigner, but her differences made her more interesting. She also had more innocence than the girls in his tribe, which was appealing to his more noble side for, in spite of this crime, he was a better man than the rest of the men of his household. We can surmise by that comment in the Bible about his character that he did not intend to make her merely a concubine.
He discovered from Dinah who her family was, then took her to his home, ordered his servants to generously attend to her needs, but prevent her from getting away, and then he went to confer with his father about how to approach the girl's father to ask him to sell her to him for a wife.
The Israelites had demonstrated that they were disdainful about intermarriage. The old chief had gone to his own relatives to take wives rather than marry any of the Canaanite women.
Rape was no big deal to the Hivites; we can deduce that by how none of the Hivites seemed shocked by what Shechem did. The Israelites were not so casual about rape. They didn't engage in any type of religious rituals that involved having sex with men or women who represented gods or goddesses. Their moral code, if they adhered to its ideals, required them to marry a woman first before they engaged in sex with her. They certainly intended to apply their highest standards in regards to their sister.
The negotiations with these sexually uptight people (from the Hivites' point of view) were going to need some careful handling. Shechem could have just kept Dinah without making any deals with her family, but he wanted her to fall in love with him, and she wasn't likely to do that, if he cut this petted, little princess off from her family.
Also, though the Hivites outnumbered Jacob's little tribe, there were still enough of these Israelites to become a nuisance, if they felt they had been abused. He had to convince them that it was to their advantage to let him have their daughter. He was wealthy, powerful, and of noble birth, so he figured that they would come around.
Before Shechem contacted Jacob, Dinah was missed and a search was made. It was discovered that she had been abducted by the prince of the land. Jacob didn't know what to say. He was astounded and grieved that his daughter had been raped. He sent a messenger to his sons and they were told what had happened. They were infuriated.
Jacob had a cooler head. Dinah was being held prisoner. They were foreigners surrounded by the people of this land. He needed to think about what they should do to get his daughter back. He was standing outside his tent, after sending messengers to his sons, when Hamor approached him to bargain for his daughter. Shechem waited a short distance away with their warriors, hoping for a positive response from the girl's father.
When Dinah's brothers got home, they were incensed that their father even discussed the matter of marriage with the Hivites, but held their peace in front of them. They were outnumbered, but there had to be a way around this.
Hamor could see that the boys were hostile, more difficult to convince than he had anticipated, and they needed to be won over. He and Shechem sat in Jacob's tent with them and their father, explaining their intentions for Shechem to marry her, saying that he sincerely loved her. Hamor said, "Let's be friends. Live among us, trade with us, marry our children, and prosper among us." Shechem sensed that the tension wasn't being eased. He exclaimed that he would pay any price for Dinah. They just had to name it.
One of the older brothers, probably Simeon, as he was hot–headed, devious, and an instigator of nefarious plans, said, "We can't let you marry our sister because you and your people are not circumcised, and it would be a disgrace to us to let you marry her. However, if all of you get circumcised, then we can let you marry our sister." He caught the eyes of his brothers and they remained silent because they knew that he had thought of something that would allow them to take revenge.
Joseph watched the byplay. He suspected that something was up, but he wasn't sure what it was. He was the youngest in the group, was never taken into his brothers' confidence, and had no voice in the proceedings. He was furious, too, about what had happened to Dinah, and probably was not happy that his brothers seemed to be agreeable to intermarriage with these heathens who had no respect for God. Possibly he had no ideas what should be done about it, so he would not have said anything anyway, even if his brothers were not inclined to tell him to keep his yap shut. Simeon went on to say, "If you do this, then we will become one people with you, but if you don't, we will take our daughter and leave."
Jacob was surprised at the suggestion. Would his sons really be content to let Shechem marry Dinah, if his people did this? Well, if the Hivites were willing to enter into the Creator's covenant with Israelites, then they would not be pagans anymore. Shechem and his father were delighted that there was a way to propitiate these Israelites who took the matter of forcing a woman so seriously and could make trouble for them; they readily agreed to the offer.
Shechem left right away with his father, urging him to get the matter settled without any delay. The next time he had sex with Dinah, he wanted her to be his wife. Giving her respectability would hopefully mollify her about the outrage he had done to her. Not that Shechem considered that what he had done was an outrage, but the girl obviously thought so and she was scared of him and his servants. If he honoured her with marriage, she would, hopefully, stop being so tense.
His father persuaded the men of his city to be circumcised. They had no intentions of adopting the Israelites' beliefs. They were after their wealth. They figured that they would gain it through marriages and absorb the tribe into their own, until all their former identity as Israelites was lost.
The third day after the Hivites were circumcised, Simeon and Levi, sons of Leah, entered the city and went directly to Shechem's house. Their presence in the city was not questioned. These were brothers of Shechem's betrothed. There were only two of them, and possibly a servant who accompanied them. The house was quiet, out of consideration for the suffering men who lay on their beds too sore to move. Simeon and Levi asked the female servants to take them to their master. Thinking that they wanted to console their future brother–in–law about his pain, the servants complied and left them in the chamber.
Dinah may have been present, waiting on Shechem, supplying him with wine and herbs while he made the most of his suffering, letting her see how much he was willing to endure for her sake. As soon as the servants left, the brothers probably pulled out their swords and held them to Shechem's throat and told him how much they despised him, both as a pagan and for what he had done to their sister, and informed him that they were not fooled by his and his father's promises to convert to their religion.
I reasonably imagine that Dinah went into shock. It is possible that her feelings towards this man had softened and she was flattered by the efforts he was making to win her heart. The brothers made short work of Shechem. I wouldn't be surprised if they castrated him after they killed him, seeing as they were so fierce and their father rebuked them later for their wanton violence. Taking Dinah by the hand, they led her out of the room past the bloody body of her rapist, then told her to stay put while they took care of the rest of the men.
There wasn't much else she could do, even if she was capable of crying out a warning to the rest of the house. Any possibility of her living peacefully among the Hivites was now gone. They would have considered her nothing but trouble and put her to a painful death for being the cause of the death of their prince. Besides that, these were her brothers, though they may have seemed like monsters to her at the moment. She stood numb while her brothers made the women servants, on the threat of losing their lives, tie and gag everyone in the house who was mobile, so that nobody could leave to sound a warning and no wailing would alert the rest of the city as to what was happening.
After tying up the last servant, they searched all the rooms and killed all the men in the house. They may have handed Dinah over to a servant keeping watch outside of the house, and given him instructions to take her home while they finished off the rest of the men in the city.
When the rest of the older boys found out what Simeon and Levi had done, they hurried to the city. They found all the men killed and everyone else bound, so they looted the city and took all the women and children for slaves.
Jacob was aghast at what they had done. He was a man of his word. He hated that his daughter had been raped, but he had sent the Hivites away in peace, agreeing to his sons' proposal. He ranted at them, telling them that they had ruined their reputation with all the inhabitants of the land and they would probably come after them now to wipe them out.
The boys grimly retorted that the Hivites should not have treated their sister like a whore. What Shechem did was vastly insulting to them, and his tribe compounded the insult by being supportive of him.
If Shechem had raped a servant girl, it still would have been a crime, but this was the daughter of a chief, the sister of wealthy men who would govern their own tribes someday, and she was destined to be a chieftainess among them, as it was the command of God for men to leave their own family and join their wife's family when they married. She was not supposed to leave her family. Dinah was entitled to choose her own husband (with her father's approval of her choice), instead of being forced into marriage through abduction and rape.
It also rankled that Shechem had kept Dinah in his house, instead of allowing her to return to her family and remain with them, so that they could ensure that she was well–treated, according to the laws of the tribe.
Jewish legends say that Simeon married his sister Dinah. It is possible, I suppose. The Law had not yet been given that forbade marriage between sisters and brothers. He might have done so to spare her the pain of being married to a man outside of their family, for men generally considered a woman to be less valuable and worthy of respect if she was not a virgin, even if she had been forced against her will. The family would have considered it to be a waste for such a beautiful woman to remain single and celibate the rest of her life because she was afraid of being handled roughly by a man, or treated with disrespect because she was not a virgin when he married her. Perhaps she considered Simeon a hero for having rescued her and killed her rapist, and the fact that she was his sister kept his estimation of her value intact.
On the other hand, she might have started to develop affection for the Hivite prince, being flattered by his compliments, comforted by his tenderness after the act, and even somewhat enamoured of his handsome face and body, if he was a good–looking man. Perhaps Dinah resented that her brothers interfered and prevented the marriage. She would have been a princess twice over, not only among the Israelites, but among the Hivites, as well, and possibly their queen when Hamor died, if Shechem had no other wives before he married her. It could be that no mention of Dinah marrying is made because she did not marry.
The Jews have many legends and some of them are preposterous, especially in connection with Dinah. They say that she had a daughter from Shechem and that an angel carried the child to Egypt, where she was raised by an Egyptian family and eventually married Joseph. If an angel had done that, it would have been recorded in the Bible.
It seems that some Jews had a problem with the fact that a few of their famous ancestors married Gentiles. I think that it is more likely that Dinah remained single, being traumatized after witnessing her lover's murder, than that she married her hot–tempered, bossy older brother, but I could be wrong about that.
God told Jacob to go to place called Beth–el, the place where he had made an altar to the Lord when he fled from Esau many years ago. Jacob ordered his camp to hand over everything that had to do with idolatry. Through contact with the heathen, some of his people had been taking up their fashions, which included earrings with occult symbolism on them, and if they were wearing those things, some of them may have been concealing idols in their tents and secretly praying to them for good fortune. Jacob wanted to make sure that God would protect them, and He wasn't going to do that if there were abominations among them.
It was probably at this time that Jacob discovered that Rachel had taken her father's idols and it embarassed him when he remembered how he had assured Laban that nobody among his people had taken his idols.
Many people believe that Rachel died in childbirth because of Jacob's curse on the person who took the idols, but this is not so. First of all, Jacob did not curse anyone in connection to the theft; he merely stipulated what would happen to that person if Laban found the idols in their possession, but Laban did not find the idols, and it is unlikely that he would have killed his daughter, if he had found the idols.
Neither is God quick to find justification to kill people; He is a God of mercy. Rachel had reproduction problems before that event took place and she died as a result of having a weak reproductive system. I think that God took her to Paradise while she was still relatively young to spare her the pain of losing Joseph. It might have caused her to lose her sanity or her faith.
All the defiling things were buried under an oak near Shechem, and then the camp quickly packed up and left. Nobody bothered them because God warned the other tribes that the Israelites were under His protection.
Shortly after this, the Rebekah's old nurse Deborah died, and the tribe mourned for her. Then Rachel, who was pregnant again, went into hard labour and died giving birth. She called the child "son of my sorrow," but his father changed the name to "son of my right hand," meaning that Benjamin was his consolation after Rachel's death and a comfort to him in his old age.
Jacob did not want his little boy to labour his whole life under the reminder that his mother had died giving birth to him. He wanted Benjamin to know that he was a blessing. Jacob knew what it was like to live with a name that has negative connotations and how it can influence a person's character, though when he was named Sneak, it initially meant no more than an affectionate recognition that he was feisty.
Joseph grew into a teenager who was bright and alert. His brothers hated him because their father loved him best and kept him close for company, as well as to mentor him for leadership. Joseph probably looked a lot like his beautiful mother and Jacob felt comfort in seeing his beloved Rachel in Joseph's features.
The sons of the concubines resented Jacob the most for his favouritism. The memory rankled of how he had set them and their mothers ahead of Leah and Rachel and their children, so that if the Uncle Esau attacked when they met him, the others had a better chance to escape capture. They got back at Jacob's preference of the other sons by cheating him.
Jacob suspected that they were not honest, so he sent Joseph to check on them, and Joseph reported on their shenanigans. What else could he do? He had an order, and he respected the man who gave him the order. He wasn't going to disobey his father or lie to him, but his truthfulness gave him a reputation as a snitch, and all his older brothers gave him a hard time.
Joseph was wounded by his brothers' rejection, but he bore with it patiently. He was not a whiner and he probably sympathized that they and their mothers suffered because of Jacob's partiality. Then God gave him some wonderful dreams that showed him that He would raise him up above his brothers, and even above his parents. Unwisely, he shared these dreams with his brothers. Even his father was irked at the idea that he and Leah would bow to Joseph someday, as the second dream showed. The brothers were more than irked. They were furious.
They were already in a lather over him because Jacob had woven a coat of many colours for Joseph. Brightly patterned clothing was common Canaanite garb, but the coat had long sleeves, such as chieftains wore because they were not expected to do manual labour. Giving that coat to Joseph signified that Jacob had chosen him to lead the tribe when he died, and that Joseph would receive for his inheritance twice as much as the rest of the brothers. This seemed reasonable to Jacob. After all, Joseph was the eldest son of the only wife that he had really wanted, and he was the most trustworthy of all his sons, excepting Benjamin who was just a toddler and his character yet unknown.
When Jacob sent Joseph out again one day to check up on his brothers, they saw him coming and started to grumble with each other, saying, "Here comes that dreamer." One of them snarled, "Let's kill him and throw his body in a pit and say that a wild animal killed him. Then we'll see what comes of his dreams." I suspect that it was the hot–tempered, treacherous Simeon who suggested this because he was the one whom Joseph later chose to hold in jail as a hostage.
Most of the brothers agreed. When Joseph reached them, they grabbed hold of him and beat him. Reuben, the oldest brother, came running when he heard what was going on. He intervened and said, "Let's not kill him by our own hands because he is our brother, after all. Let's just throw him in this pit over here and let him die on his own." The brothers agreed. They tore Joseph's fine coat off of him and tossed him down into the dry cistern that was nearby. Reuben went away to get help, so that he could rescue Joseph.
Reuben had an affair with one of his father's concubines, Rachel's handmaid, which made Jacob decide to choose a principal heir on the basis of character rather than birth order, hence his choice of Joseph. In spite of the loss of the birthright, Reuben was able to see the justice of his father's anger, and his resentment of Joseph did not extend to murder. He thought Joseph was a twit, but he had a soft heart and, as the eldest, felt protective towards his younger brothers, including the one who irked him.
While Reuben was gone, the rest of the brothers sat down to eat lunch. Joseph cried vainly to them, asking them to please lift him out. They ignored him and kept on eating, giving him nothing to eat or drink.
Then Judah, the fourth oldest, born after Simeon and Levi, noticed a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way from Gilead to Egypt. He had a bent for business and asked, "What profit is there in killing our brother? Let's sell him to the Ishmaelites! After all, he is our brother, so we shouldn't kill him." The other boys thought it was a great idea. They could get rid of a nuisance, soothe their conscience that, at least, they didn't kill him, and have some money in their pocket, too.
Before they could get to him, though, some Midianites came along and heard Joseph calling out to his brothers from the pit. They looked over at the brothers, smiled nastily when they perceived the situation, and drew the boy out. He was a fine–looking boy and there were Ishmaelite traders nearby. They hauled him away to make a bargain and the brothers did not stop them. It salved their conscience that they did not kill their brother, but considering what was likely to happen to such a handsome boy, if he fell into the hands of a sodomite, never mind the beatings he might have to endure and the shortening of his lifetime through abuse and lack of adequate nutrition, what they did had the potential of making them accessories to rape and murder.
The Ishmaelites looked the boy over and saw that he was handsome and healthy, probably intelligent and educated, as well. He would bring in a good price at the slave market. They paid the Midianites twenty pieces of silver while Joseph shouted to his brothers and begged them to stop the sale. The brothers turned their backs and the Ishmaelites led Joseph away in ropes as he kept turning and calling to his brothers. Soon the distance between them widened as they herded the flocks away from Dothan.
Reuben returned to the pit with servants and was horrified to find Joseph gone. He tore his clothes in grief because he figured that Joseph was dead. When he caught up to his brothers, he found out what had happened. He said, "Well, he's gone now. What am I going to do?"
Of all the older brothers, though Reuben was the one who had committed the heinous sin of fornicating with a woman who had slept with his father, he was the most compassionate. It was probably this very tendency that led him to have an affair with Bilhah, feeling sorry for her that she was a young woman who had no choice about marrying an old man, allowing human sentiments to take precedence over spiritual values. Reuben felt like a total failure. He failed his father and, not only lost his birthright, but he lost his brothers' respect so much that he had to go get help to save Joseph, and now he failed to save his brother.
Regardless of his remorse about failing Joseph, Reuben was not man enough to face the anger and retribution of his brothers. He did not tell his father the truth and give Jacob the chance to send a rescue party after his beloved son, but sat in silence and watched as the old man suffered unspeakable grief. Perhaps he reasoned that it was better for his father to lose one son, than to risk that he would disinherit the nine other sons and send them away.
The brothers killed a goat and rolled Joseph's torn coat in its blood, then presented it to their father, telling him that they had found it in a field, and bluntly asked him to identify it, steeling their hearts against the old man's pain. After all, had he not given them a lot of pain by how he ignored them, except for when he had a job for them to do, or to criticize them about something, while he lavished attention and affection on Rachel's sons?
The servants that were in on the secret kept quiet. It wouldn't have helped anything to tell Jacob the truth at that point. His sorrow at losing Joseph was already a heavy load, and to discover that his sons were so treacherous would have broken him completely. Jacob would have died of sorrow, but Benjamin needed him, so he held himself together. The brothers kept their guilty secret for more than twenty years.
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The Majesty of God, Chapter 17