Monday, August 11, 2014

Pretend grace

Shechem also said to her (Dinah's) father (Jacob) and to her brothers, “Let me find favor with you, and whatever you say to me I will give.  Genesis 34:11 (NRSV Parenthetical notations are mine.) 
The background to this scripture is complicated and disturbingDinah is the only daughter among the twelve sons of JacobShe is raped by a Hivite prince named Shechem, who then falls in love with Dinah and takes her into his home.  In the scripture passage above, Shechem seeks grace from Jacob and his sons and asks to marry Dinah.  Shechem  knows that he committed a disgrace against Dinah and her family, but he is willing to do anything or pay any price to rectify the situation. Although Shechem  loved Dinah, he and his father Hamor wanted to use the marriage with Dinah as a political unionThe Hivites wanted to intermarry with Jacob's family, share their own land with Jacob and his tribe, and in return, the Hivites wanted to use Jacob's family's livestock and property. 
At first, Dinah's brothers receive Shechem's request with anger, but then they pretend to be placated by Shechem's offer to give them anything they ask.   Jacob's sons ask that the Hivite tribe be circumcised, and so Shechem and the Hivites complied with the request. As the Hivite men were recovering from the procedure, the sons of Jacob attacked the Hivites, killed them all, plundered the land and took back their sister.
Dinah's brothers offered pretend grace. Perhaps the Hivites did not deserved grace, because rape was and is a serious crime, but deceit and murder are serious crimes too, and the Israelites gained enemies from this incident, enemies that they would have to contend with hundreds of years later when Israel entered the promised land.
This is a story of sin, and the consequences we face when look only to our own needs and wants, and not seek the divine will of God.  God favored Israel because the people of Israel were descendants of Abraham, who was a man who sought God. God's favor toward Israel provided a nation into which Christ could be born in order to save the entire world, not just Israel.  Israel's behavior in this story demonstrates by contrast us how mighty and powerful is the grace of God.  If God still favored Israel, in spite all of the sin and deceitfulness committed by this nation, then we can see that God's grace toward us does not rest upon how good or righteous we are.  God extends grace to us because of His righteousness, and because of His righteousness alone.