Jacob’s Covenant With the Nations (Genesis 34:1-31)

So when we last saw Jacob, he had finally arrived home after 20 years away. His relationship with God has been restored, his relationship with his brother Esau has been restored, and so now he is free to continue the job his father and his grandfather began: the task of claiming the country God has chosen for himself. Jacob is supposed to help cleanse the land of false worship: bringing the people there gradually into proper order and leading them into true worship, so that they also might experience the blessing of God.

And he started exactly as his grandfather Abraham had: he built an altar outside the city of Shechem, in the territory of the Hivite people, and he worshiped God. He was leading by example.

He also bought property from the sons of the local Hivite ruler, paying them 100 pieces of silver for a plot of ground where he could pitch his tent.

Now, buying and selling property involves contracts and mutual trust and things like that. And so what Moses wants us to understand is that Jacob has now entered into a covenant relationship with these local people, just like his grandfather and his father had done with King Abimelek back in their time.

And because there is now a covenant of peace set up between Jacob’s nation and the Hivite nation, it is safe for Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, to go out visiting the women of the land.

Dinah is not on lockdown.

The women of the Middle East in Jacob’s time were not segregated or isolated like some are today. We know this because Dinah’s aunt Rachel was a shepherdess who went out to work every day when she was young; Dinah’s grandmother Rebekah went out to fetch water from the well every day when she was young.

And the reason Rachel and Rebekah were able to go out safely is because there were local covenants in place, agreements between people that they would watch out for one another.

In the same way, Dinah is able to go out safely because her father Jacob has a covenant with the sons of the local ruler. No one is going to harm her.

Unfortunately, one of the sons of the local Hivite ruler — one of the men who has entered into a covenant with Jacob — breaks that covenant: [2] When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her. [3] His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.

Now, I am going to pause here to unpack something, because when we read these verses they sound like a contradiction: how can Moses say that prince Shechem “raped her”, and then say that “his heart was drawn” to her and he ”spoke tenderly to her“?

Well, this is complicated by the fact that the Hebrew language has no word for rape. A literal, word-for-word translation would say, “He took her and humiliated her.”

And then we could say, “Okay. But that still sounds like rape!”

Except that, when Moses uses this sentence in other places, he is clearly describing a seduction, not a violent rape. In those cases the “humiliation” the young woman experiences is the shame of getting caught having sex outside of marriage. And the young man is then “humiliated” in return by being required to pay a very large fine — about 5 years of average salary — and — if the girl’s father agrees — he is required to marry her with no option of divorce, ever, no matter what she might do in the future.

It seems that what Moses is describing here is a seduction: Shechem seduced Dinah, and slept with her before marrying her.

But, to be fair, I should tell you that scholars are fiercely divided about this: some say that this was a seduction, and that is why we are told Shechem’s heart was drawn to Dinah, that he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. But others insist that, no, this was a violent act, and that Shechem only fell in love with Dinah afterward.

But no matter what actually happened here, what is for certain is that Shechem has broken his covenant with Jacob.

And as we learned last week, when one person sins against another person, there must be some kind of compensation offered to them, some kind of atonement, some kind of offer to make things right again.

In this case, Shechem has dishonoured Dinah and dishonoured Jacob. So if he is truly repentant, he must do something now to cover Dinah’s dishonour and make things right with Jacob.

And it seems as if Shechem is willing to do this, because in verse 4 Shechem says to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as my wife.”

Shechem apparently wants to do the right thing and legitimize the relationship.

Now [5] when Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he did nothing about it until they came home.

[6] Then Shechem’s father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob.

And what Moses is showing us here are two elders, two fathers, meeting very carefully to very calmly discuss a very delicate issue:

See: Hamor’s son has dishonoured Dinah, which also dishonours Dinah’s father. That is bad enough! But Shechem has also dishonoured his own father by breaking a legally binding covenant. In other words: Hamor’s people now have a public reputation as a contract-breaking people. Hamor now has a reputation as a corrupt businessman! If Hamor does not fix this quickly, no one will ever do business with his people, with his city, ever again!

So Hamor is just as invested in fixing this situation as Jacob is. Both of these men want their honour restored. And both of these men are old enough to realize that, if they cannot come up with some peaceful resolution to their mutual dishonour, a violent resolution will soon present itself.

So the fathers enter into diplomatic negotiations, trying to figure out what appropriate penalty for Shechem would also restore the honour of both their families.

[7] Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done.

So now the younger men show up at the negotiating table. And like most younger men they are focused only on the dishonour to themselves, to their own people. They are not looking at the bigger picture and reserving judgement, like the older men are.

So Hamor now includes them in the negotiations. He wants them to know that he knows there must be some kind of penalty for breaking the treaty between their peoples, and that he is willing to pay it. So [8] Hamor said to them, “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter.

“This was not just some kind of casual fling, okay?

So: “Please give her to him as his wife. [9] Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. [10] You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it.”

Now this is an incredibly generous offer, and a very wise solution!

Basically, Hamor is suggesting that, instead of going to war over the broken treaty, they should make another one that is even more binding than the first one: the covenant of intermarriage. Marriage will resolve Dinah’s dishonour and Jacob’s; it will also resolve Hamor’s dishonour. Because if Jacob agrees to let Dinah marry Shechem, then he is — in essence — saying that he still trusts Hamor’s people to stand by their contracts.

Hamor is basically offering Hivite citizenship to Jacob. He really is trying to make things right.

Unfortunately, at this point, Shechem decides to speak up. Like most younger men, he has trouble letting his elders handle the situation. So he decides to “help”: [11] Then Shechem said to Dinah’s father and brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. [12] Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the young woman as my wife.”

Oh, dude! You just screwed up, man!

Hamor, the elder, was very careful to focus on the benefits for both peoples if a marriage could be arranged. His approach was humble. His attitude was, “My son has dishonoured both of us. Please let us make it up to you, so that we can both regain our honour.”

But Shechem basically says, “I want to buy your sister. How much do you want?” In his unconscious arrogance, his attitude is, basically, “Sure, I’ve dishonored everyone here. Good thing I’m rich, huh? Good thing I have enough money to pay you off!”

So…Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. [14] They said to them, “We can’t do such a thing.

“But it’s not the money! Money is not the problem: religion is the problem.

We can’t give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us.

“So…tell you what: [15] We will enter into an agreement with you on one condition only: that you become like us — that you join our faith.”

In other words: “We will not become Hivite citizens. But you can become Jacobite citizens by circumcising all your males. [16] Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We’ll settle among you and become one people with you. [17] But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we’ll take our sister and go.”

Now, Jacob’s sons are legally and theologically allowed to make this offer at this time.

Remember: way back in Genesis, Chapter 17, when circumcision was first introduced as a concept, Moses made it clear that anyone who submitted to God’s covenant of circumcision became a member of Abraham’s household and a member of God’s family. And back in Abraham’s time this included several hundred men who were from other nations, men who were not biologically related to Abraham.

So it is perfectly legitimate, now, for Jacob’s sons to make the same offer to several thousand men who are from another nation. In fact, this could have been the next amazing step forward in God’s plan to pour out his blessings upon the surrounding nations!

I mean, imagine what could have happened if Jacob had managed to forgive Hamor and Shechem, if he had managed to overlook the insult to his honour, and welcome them into covenant with God…!

These Hivite people would have become the first of the surrounding nations to be led back into true worship of the God of Israel.

But as Moses has already told us, Jacob’s sons are speaking deceitfully. They probably think that Shechem will be insulted by their offer, that he will say, “What? You mean you want us to give up our distinct religious and cultural identity and join yours? No thank you!” The brothers are probably expecting Shechem to break off negotiations and go home, leaving Dinah behind in Jacob’s camp —

— because, by the way, Dinah is probably there, part of the negotiations — or at least nearby. That is why the brothers can say, “If you don’t agree, we’ll just take our sister and go.”

So the brothers are most likely trying to name a price so high that Shechem will refuse to pay it.

But if that is what they were hoping for…the plan backfires: [18] Their proposal seemed good to Hamor and his son Shechem.

In fact, [19] the young man, who was the most honored of all his father’s family, lost no time in doing what they said!

Which suggests that he whipped out a knife and did the deed right then and there!

because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter.


Impulse control issues perhaps?

At any rate, this was a very convincing display, which allowed Hamor and Shechem to leave Jacob’s camp with Dinah still in their possession, since Shechem has so clearly demonstrated his willingness to pay the price the brothers have demanded.

And so [20] Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city to speak to the men of their city.

Back in those days, the gateway of the city was like the courthouse, the Majlis Perbandaran.

[21] “These men are friendly toward us,” they said. “Let them live in our land and trade in it; the land has plenty of room for them. We can marry their daughters and they can marry ours. [22] But the men will agree to live with us as one people only on the condition that our males be circumcised, as they themselves are. [23] Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours? So let us agree to their terms, and they will settle among us.”

And we can see Hamor’s very experienced salesmanship here:

First he arranges this proposal as a sandwich: he starts by emphasizing the huge benefits of intermarriage. Then he slips the circumcision part in there very quietly in the middle. Then he goes back to emphasizing the huge benefits again.

But that’s not all: he also leaves out the meaning behind circumcision. He does not tell them that, to Jacob’s family, circumcision will mean giving up their identity as Hivites, and becoming Jacobites. Instead, he just focuses on how much money they all stand to make: “Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours?”

So [24] all the men who went out of the city gate — that means, every man who was old enough to have a vote — agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male in the city was circumcised.

The entire city of Shechem has now entered into a sacred covenant with Jacob and Jacob’s God. At the beginning of this chapter, Jacob only had a covenant relationship with the sons of Hamor; now he has a covenant with every man in the city.

This is a huge step forward in God’s plan to bless the Hivites and bring them under his protection!

But then [25] three days later, while all of them were still in pain

— and, most likely, a bit feverish, because that was a normal outcome for little surgeries like this —

two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. [26] They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left.

Now, at the beginning it was not clear to us whether Shechem’s action was violent or seductive.

But there is no doubt here: this is murder, plain and simple. This is not justice. This is revenge. This punishment definitely does not fit the crime.

And, even worse — if we dare say that — this is a covenant violation. These brothers are now, technically and legally, murdering members of their own father’s household. They are killing their own people at this point.

And then the rest of the sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. [28] They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. [29] They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.

And so, in the most horrible way possible, the Hivites of Shechem did in fact end up joining Jacob’s household and Jacob’s God. It just happened by violence, by force, and without any of the men.

[30] Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

Jacob settled here, he built an altar here, he bought property and entered into a covenant with the local people, all as part of his calling to bring worship and order and blessing into the land.

Instead, his family has become a literal death curse to the nations. Now Jacob’s family has a very public reputation as a contract-breaking household, a covenant-breaking household. None of the surrounding peoples are going to trust them ever again!

In fact, they might even just go ahead and try to wipe them out.

[31] But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”

These young men thought that Jacob’s wisdom, and patience, and willingness to find a peaceful resolution…were actually signs of weakness and cowardice. They thought Jacob was afraid to go and get his family’s honour back. And so they rebelled against him. They went out, and reached out, and tried to take back what they believed belonged to them.

And in the process, they not only failed to regain their family’s honour, they actually added to their father’s dishonour. And in the weeks to come we are going to find out that their rebellion has a consequence: God is going to make sure that none of the future kings of Israel are descended from these two corrupt young men…


So…what are we supposed to make of this? Is there any Good News that can come out of this at all?

What in the world is Moses trying to teach his people? — and what could God be trying to teach us?

Well, before we get lost in the details of what happened here, it would be helpful for us to zoom out and look at the big picture of Jacob’s life again.

We have already noticed in previous weeks that there is a special structure to Jacob’s story. There are actually 12 episodes in all: the first six episodes tell the story of Jacob’s descent into sin and slavery, and the last six tell the story of Jacob’s climb back up. And we have found that each episode on the way back up has been the mirror image of the equal but opposite episode on the way down.

So: Episode 7, when Jacob finally learned to trust God, was the mirror image of Episode 6, when Jacob’s wives learned to trust God.

Episode 8, when Jacob escaped from his uncle, was the mirror image of Episode 5, when Jacob was enslaved by his uncle.

Episode 9, when God met Jacob coming back into the land, was the the mirror image of Episode 4, when God met Jacob leaving the land.

Episode 10 — last week — when Esau forgave Jacob, was the mirror image of Episode 3, when Jacob sinned against Esau.

This week we are in Episode 11, which should be the mirror image of Episode 2.

So this means that, in order to understand the point of this episode, we need to look back at Episode 2 and see if they are related.

And, sure enough, when we look back at Episode 2, we find that it is the story of Isaac and King Abimelek, a foreign king.

And there are just too many parallels to ignore here:

Both episodes take place in the land of Canaan, after the mens’ wives have been redeemed from slavery in the eastern lands, after their sons have been born.

Both episodes start with trouble over a woman. In Episode 2, Isaac’s wife Rebekah is in danger of being seduced and/or raped; in Episode 11, Jacob’s daughter is seduced and/or raped.

Both episodes result in tension, to which both Isaac and Jacob respond with wisdom and self-restraint.

Both episodes result in negotiations and a covenant of peace.

Both episodes result in Abraham’s household becoming much, much richer.

So clearly these two episodes are related.

But there are some significant differences as well:

Isaac’s episode ends with a shared meal; Jacob’s episode ends with murder.

Isaac’s episode ends with a blessing upon the nations; Jacob’s with a curse.

Isaac’s episode ends with the local people living in fear of Isaac; Jacob’s episode ends with him living in fear of the local people.

So as we compare these two episodes, and see where they fit into Isaac’s life and in Jacob’s life, we begin to see how Moses wants his people to apply this to their lives.

Because, just like Isaac, and just like Jacob, the people of Israel have a job to do: they are supposed to help cleanse the land of false worship, bring the nations gradually into covenant with God, and lead them into true worship, so that other nations also might experience the blessing of life in God’s presence.

And how are they supposed to do this?

Well, two weeks ago, as Jacob finally returned through the gates of God’s house, Moses showed his people that the first step is the restoration of their relationship with God: they need to pass through the Jordan River. They need to be baptized, cleansed, made holy.

Then, last week, as Jacob asked his brother for forgiveness, Moses showed his people that the next step is the restoration of their relationships with one another — followed by worship together. Before God’s people can lead the surrounding nations into worship, they need to practice true worship themselves!

This week, Moses is showing his people that the next step in leading the nations into worship is: forgiving those who repent.

Last week, Jacob was the man who had sinned against his brother. He was the man asking for forgiveness.

This week, Jacob is the man who was sinned against. He is the man being asked for forgiveness. And so this was his opportunity to give the same grace he had received. This was his opportunity to draw the Hivite nation into covenant with God, and into true worship.

Obviously events did not turn out as Jacob might have hoped. Just as he once deceived his father, so Jacob was deceived by his sons. But despite this, Moses’ instructions for the people of Israel are clear:

After you have been baptised in the Jordan River, cleansed, and brought into the land; after you have reconciled properly with one another and have built an altar together in the valley of Shechem, between the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim — then your next step is to begin to cleanse the land of false worship.

And this is how you are supposed to do this: if a nation resists you, if they insist on continuing in their false worship practices, then you must not enter into a covenant relationship with them. However, if they are willing to put aide their false worship and enter into a covenant with you — then forgive them and bless them, just as Jacob was willing to do.

Definitely do not betray them like Levi and Simeon did! because — quite obviously! — that is the opposite of blessing them. And be aware: if you do betray them, there will be consequences: God will take away the kingship from you. The nation of Israel will cease to be the High Priestly nation of God. Instead, some other nation will end up leading all the other nations of the world back into true worship.

That is what Moses was teaching his people through this episode.

Now, what is very interesting about all this is that the people of Israel actually followed this exact pattern outlined by Moses — but they did it completely by “accident”:

The Book of Joshua confirms that they were baptized in the Jordan River as they crossed it. They did build an altar in the valley of Shechem, between the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim.

— those parts they did do on purpose.

But then, in the very next chapter of the Book of Joshua, we find out that one of the local nations realized that if they did not make a treaty with Israel, then Israel’s God would wipe them out. But they did not know if the Israelites would accept their proposal! So they deceived Joshua by pretending that they came from far away. And Joshua — without asking God for advice first — made a treaty with them.

Three days later, Joshua found out the truth: these were actually the Hivites! They were actually part of the same local nation that Hamor and Shechem had come from!

So, in a very poetic, very ironic twist, 500 years after Jacob’s sons broke Jacob’s covenant of circumcision with the Hivites, God actually honoured that covenant. During Jacob’s time, the household of Israel deceived the Hivites into making a covenant. In Joshua’s time, the Hivites deceived the nation of Israel into making a covenant.

That sounds fair, don’t you think?

And so, in the end, we find that God was faithful to the Hivite people, he was faithful to keep Jacob’s covenant of circumcision, even though Jacob’s sons were not faithful to it.

But the pattern does not end there: 300 years after Joshua renewed Jacob’s covenant with the Hivites, the first king of Israel — King Saul — did exactly what Moses said not to do: he broke the covenant and tried to wipe out the Hivites who had been living in peace with the Israelites for three centuries. And as a consequence for this — and many other unfaithful things — God took the kingship away from Saul and gave it to David instead.

And the moral of the story is: God opposes the proud.

Those who refuse to forgive, those who reach out and try to take revenge, who try to take back what they think they are owed will be judged by God.

But those who humble themselves and put their trust in the Lord will be lifted up. Those who forgive will become living stones in a living nation of priests who will one day lead people from every nation into the true worship of the true God.

That is the lesson Moses wants his people to learn. The forgiving life is the kind of life Moses’ people will need to live if they are going to accomplish the task of blessing the nations.

If you are familiar with the rest of Israel’s history in the Old Testament, then you already know how things turned out:

By the time Jesus was born, the nation of Israel had been suffering for several centuries under the rule of other nations. And as a result, many Jewish theologians had come to believe that, one day, when God sent his Messiah to redeem his people, that Messiah would be a warrior who would fight to cleanse the Jewish nation of her dishonour. They believed that the Messiah would wipe out the surrounding nations, and plunder them, just like Jacob’s sons once did.

So when Jesus showed up claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah, everyone got very excited! — until he started talking about how it was actually his job to forgive the surrounding nations for how they had dishonoured God and God’s people. Then the people of Israel got excited for a very different reason: like Levi and Simeon, they thought that Jesus’ wisdom, and patience, and willingness to offer forgiveness to the enemies of Israel…were actually signs of weakness and cowardice. Even worse, they interpreted Jesus’ offer as blasphemy. And so, the priests of Jerusalem — the descendants of Levi! — rebelled against their Messiah. They reached out, and tried to restore their nation’s dishonour by killing their own Messiah.

And because Israel rebelled against their Messiah, God took away their kingship. He took away Israel’s high priestly status, and gave both the kingship and the priesthood to his own Son, Jesus.

And this rebellion and its consequences…this was terrible! Even more terrible than what Levi and Simeon did.

And yet, when we look back at what Levi and Simeon did to the city of Shechem, we realize that God did redeem what they intended for evil: the men all died, but the Hivite women and children were grafted into Jacob’s household. They did receive the blessings of God. And 500 years later even more Hivites were brought under the protection of God’s covenant.

In the same way, Paul tells us — in the New Testament — that because of what the nation of Israel did to their own Messiah, now people from every nation on earth are being grafted into Abraham’s household, into God’s nation, into Christ’s Church. Because the nation of Israel believed they could fight and cleanse themselves of dishonour, the gates of God’s house were broken open and the blessings of God have been spilling out upon the nations ever since.

Because Israel was unfaithful, we who were once excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the worldwe have been brought near to God through the blood of Christ.

And so, Paul tells us, what happened was truly terrible. And yet we can be grateful to God that he allowed the Jewish people to be unfaithful. We should not go around thinking that we are better than they are. We should definitely not go around thinking that we are immune from making the same mistakes they did.

So what are we supposed to do, then? How are we supposed to apply this to our lives?

Well, first: if you are here today and you have not yet been baptized into Christ, if you have not yet crossed the Jordan River and entered Christ’s Church, then you should start with that! Confess your sins to God, and repeat Jacob’s cry from that darkness beside the water: “Jesus, I will not let you go unless you bless me!” Then come, and be baptized.

If you want to know more about this concept, then go to cdpckl.com and listen to the sermon from two weeks ago, entitled “The Redemption of Jacob”.

Second: if you are here today and you are already baptized, and you are wondering what you should do next, then do this: confess your sins to your brothers and sisters. Join our church and learn to live in humble community with other Christians. If you cannot join our church, join a gospel-preaching church somewhere. True worship, true cleansing of the earth, begins with our family relationships with one another.

And if you want to know more about this concept, then listen to the sermon from last week, entitled “The Redemption of Esau”.

But third, and most importantly for our passage today: if you are here today and you are already baptized, and you are already living and worshiping in community with brothers and sisters in the faith, and you are wondering what’s next, then this passage is meant to show us what our lives are supposed to look like as we live in the world, among the nations.

Friends, we have a job to do: as Christians, we are a nation of priests. We are called to build altars, to form church communities, to build holy points of worship in the midst of a global spiritual wilderness. And we are called to lead the nations around us into worship.

But how are we supposed to do this?

By forgiving those who repent, even if they come from cultures and nations that once dishonoured God’s people. By baptizing people from every nation into Christ’s Church. By intermarrying with our fellow citizens in Christ, no matter their ethnic background. By sharing everything with those who have given up their own distinct religious and cultural identities and have taken on Christ’s.

That is how we are called to preach the Gospel and pour out God’s blessings upon the earth.

Simple, right?


Last week we talked about how hard it is to humble ourselves and ask others for forgiveness, because we know that really we cannot pay back what we owe: we do not deserve forgiveness.

This week we are finding out that it is just as hard to be on the other side of that equation. Because when we forgive the nations that once oppressed us, what we are doing is voluntarily giving up our right to sue them for what they owe us. Forgiveness means giving up our right to fight and take back what belongs to us. Forgiveness means putting the whole situation into our Father’s hands, and trusting him to do what is right.

And this is difficult enough just on a personal level! But it gets a thousand times harder when questions of racial or cultural identity get mixed in, as they did in Jacob’s situation with the Hivites.

For instance, in the United States today, black Christians are really struggling to forgive white Christians for the enslavement of their ancestors. And this is really hard all by itself! — but it is made even more difficult by the fact that too many American Christians take more pride in their blackness or whiteness than they do in their Christianness.

And the day is coming, here in Malaysia, when we will be asked to forgive Malay Christians for the way their people have used the political system to enslave every other people group in the country! The day is soon coming — it is already here! — when people from a Malay-Muslim background are going to come to the Malaysian Church seeking forgiveness, baptism, and worship. And it is going to be really hard for many Malaysian Christians to accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ — mostly because too many of us take more pride in our Chinese-ness or our Indian-ness or our Whatever-ness than we do in our Christianness.

The bible is clear: if we want to lead the nations of Malaysia into the true worship of the true God, this is how we are required to do it: by forgiving our oppressors when they repent. By forgiving those who have dishonoured Christ and his Church. By giving up our bitterness, and our right to take revenge.

But the truth is, we are all like Levi and Simeon: we would rather trust in our own ability to reach out and take what we need from those who have dishonoured us. And there are two reasons for this:

First, because we really struggle to trust our Father to restore what has been taken from us.

Second, because we really struggle to recognize that some of the people who used to oppress us are now, actually, God’s repentant children, and members of our own family.

So, our Father is telling us clearly what he wants us to do — and yet we find ourselves very reluctant to do it, because 1). we do not really believe God will pay us back, and 2). we do not really believe in God’s power to transform our enemies into brothers and sisters.

So what is our solution? What can we do to fix our unbelief? How can we cooperate with God’s power to transform ourselves?

Well, just as we did last week, we are now going to set aside what God wants from us and refocus our eyes back on who God really is. Our God is the God who, 500 years after the Hivites were betrayed by Jacob’s sons, made sure that they were brought back under the protection of his covenant. Our God is the God who, 2000 years after Jesus was betrayed by Jacob’s sons, is still making sure that people from every nation in the world are being brought into the protection of his covenant.

Okay. That’s great, of course.

But what practical difference is this supposed to make in our lives, today, in Malaysia? How is this truth supposed to transform us?

Well, let’s work our way through these fears and see how:

First, we are reluctant to forgive because we know that this means giving up our right to demand payment.

And this makes sense, because that is what forgiveness means! And we really cannot afford not to be paid back. We need what has been taken from us!

But: if we know that our God is the same God who paid back debts that were passed down through centuries in the bible, then we know that he is able to do the same for us. All of these racial questions about who owes who what are far too complicated for us to answer with any justice. But our God knows. And we can trust him to do what is right.

Second, we are reluctant to forgive because we know there is actually no real reason for us to forgive our enemies.

And this also makes sense. Because the truth is: our enemies cannot really pay us back even if they were willing. Once the fruit is bitten, it cannot be restored. So why should we forgive?

But: if we know that our God is the same God who sent his own Son to pay debts that we could never repay, then we know that he is able to do the same even for those who once hated us.

So how is this truth supposed to transform us?

This is how: as we reflect on these realities — that Jesus has already paid what we owed to God, and that he will pay back what is owed to us — as we keep on preaching these realities to one another, we will begin to experience the transformation we all long for. Our faith in our Father will grow. Our faith in ourselves will shrink. We will become more like Jacob: able to see beyond our own people’s dishonour to the reality that all nations are alike in dishonour. We will grow in grace and wisdom and patience, able to look beyond our own racial or ethnic or cultural pride to the reality that, in Christ, there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free, black or white, Chinese or Malay, Arab or Australian, Malaysian or Singaporean — infected or uninfected! — but Christ is all, and is in all.

In conclusion, friends: Jacob’s life outside the city of Shechem is a picture of our lives as Christ’s Church in this age. Our Father has not promised that we will not be hurt; our Father has not promised that we will not be dishonoured. But he has promised that one day all debts will be paid.

Brothers and sisters, we are a nation of priests, and we have a job to do: we are called to lead the nations around us into worship. One day this world will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea!

And this work begins and ends with forgiveness: God’s forgiveness of us, our forgiveness of each other, and our forgiveness of all who come in from outside seeking the forgiveness of our Father. As good children of God, we must not rebel against him, and try to force the hands of justice.

But this is hard. It requires a radical transformation of our hearts.

So what we are going to do, as a church in Malaysia, is keep on preaching the Good News to one another…and pray for the Holy Spirit to do his work of binding us all together, hearts and souls, into one beautiful body, one beautiful people, one beautiful bride.

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