Problems in Jacob's Family

Read Genesis 34-36

  1. Why did Dinah go to the town of Shechem?
  2. What happened between Dinah and Hamor's son, Shechem?
  3. How did Jacob learn about what had happened?
  4. What did the sons of Jacob demand for a dowry?
  5. What did Simeon and Levi do three days after the men of Shechem were circumcised?
  6. Why did Jacob move to Bethel? What was left behind?
  7. What happened to Rachel as the family traveled to Ephrath?
  8. What happened between Reuben and Bilhah near the tower of Eder?
  9. How old was Isaac when he died? Who was present at his funeral?
  10. Why did Esau move to Mt. Seir?

Problems in Jacob's Family

Jacob's family spent several years (perhaps ten years) in the area of Shechem. At this time Dinah, the youngest of Jacob's children who are named, would have been in her teenage years. Joseph, who was born just prior to Dinah's birth, is mentioned to be seventeen in chapter 34. Her older brothers, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, would have been in their twenties.

Dinah began to make trips into the town of Shechem to visit with the young ladies there. While in town, she soon attracted the attentions of Shechem, the son of Hamor, the ruler of the town of Shechem. This is the same Hamor whose sons had sold Jacob land near Shechem (Genesis 33:19). The next thing we are told is that Shechem and Dinah had sex together. The Bible does not mention whether Dinah consented to Shechem's sexual advances or not. It is probable that things went farther than Dinah intended because it mentions that Shechem comforted Dinah after they had sex.

Shechem was not a "love them and leave them" guy. He truly cared for Dinah, though it did not arise until after their sexual encounter. The Hebrew literally says that Shechem's soul clung to Dinah and that his tender words spoke to the heart of Dinah. Shechem then brought Dinah to his home (Genesis 34:26).

Marriages in those days were arranged by the parents, so Shechem asked his father to make the proper arrangements. Notice that Hamor does not rebuke Shechem for putting him in a difficult position, nor does Hamor offer Jacob any apology for what his son had done to his daughter. We are left to conclude that Shechem's behavior was considered typical in the Hivite culture, or that Hamor and Shechem expected to get anything they wanted since Hamor ran the town. Even if this was considered normal, it does not excuse the sin Shechem committed.

Jacob heard what happened to Dinah even before Hamor came to him with a marriage proposal. Jacob chooses not to tell his sons until after they returned from the fields where they were watching the herds.

While waiting for his sons to return, Jacob was visited by Hamor and Shechem with a marriage proposal. Meanwhile, Jacob's sons returned and heard what had happened to Dinah. In anger, they burst in on the scene. They well understood that sex outside of marriage was wrong. They called it a thing that ought not to have been done.

Hamor then makes his proposal to Jacob and his sons. He doesn't seem to be disturbed by the anger of Jacob's sons. He not only desires that Shechem and Dinah marry, but he offers Jacob's sons the opportunity to find wives for themselves in the town and Jacob's other daughters could find husbands among his people. It is Hamor's hope that Jacob's family would settle down with his people and become a part of them. Hamor sees Jacob's great wealth as a boon to his community (Genesis 34:23). Shechem, himself, unintentionally adds further insult by asking the brothers to name the dowry price for their sister. Shechem doesn't state how valuable Dinah is to himself but acts as if he is purchasing a wife.

Hamor's causal offer and lack of remorse further enrage Jacob's sons. From their point of view, Hamor's offer of financial ties implied that Dinah was nothing more than a harlot (Genesis 34:31). The sons of Jacob hatch a scheme and begin to do all the negotiating. In response to Shechem's query to a suitable dowry for Dinah, the brothers demand that all the males in Shechem be circumcised. After this, they would consent to intermarry with the Hivites. If Hamor did not agree, they would take Dinah back and leave the area.

Jacob was not a part of his sons' scheme. He later rebukes them for it (Genesis 34:30) and holds it against them to his dying day (Genesis 49:5-7).

Shechem and his father agree to the brothers' proposal. In fact, Shechem was so eager in his love for Dinah that he immediately had himself circumcised. He and his father then quickly convince the other men of the town to do the same. Shechem was held in honor by the men of his father's city and besides the financial incentives were too great to bypass.

Three days after every man was circumcised in Shechem, Simeon and Levi attacked the town. By waiting until the time wounds from the circumcision would be most tender, Simeon and Levi were able to easily overcome the men of Shechem. Every male of the city was killed, including Hamor and Shechem. Then Jacob's sons looted the city. They took the women and children as slaves and took their possessions and livestock for themselves.

Jacob weakly reprimands his sons for their atrocious behavior. He points out that when word of the massacre gets out, all the neighboring towns would seek out Jacob to revenge the deaths. Once again, fear seems to be motivating Jacob's stance. However, Jacob's tirade is silenced when his sons asked Jacob why he had let his daughter be treated as a harlot. Jacob had not done anything concerning this matter. He had not demanded the return of his daughter, nor did he propose a solution to the situation.

Soon after these events, God tells Jacob to move to Bethel. Jacob had been delaying completing the vow he had made to God so many years before (Genesis 28:20-22). Now was the time for the vow to be fulfilled. Bethel was the place were Jacob had previously had the vision of the ladder and the angels. Since this was hallowed ground to Jacob and he has been invited to return there by God, Jacob has his household purified. They wash and put on clean garments. Every idol and even the jewelry, possibly associated with idolatry, is given to Jacob for burial before they leave. This does not imply that Jacob's family had been practicing idolatry, for you must remember his son's had just looted a city where idolatry was practiced.

God protected Jacob's family during the trip by causing the surrounding towns to fear Jacob. This fear kept them from exacting revenge from Jacob's family for the destruction of Shechem.

During the trip, Rebekah's nurse, Deborah, died. It is apparent that Deborah was well-loved by Jacob's family because they named the place of her burial, the oak of weeping. Since Deborah had been living with Jacob's family instead of with Isaac, there is an implication that Rebekah had passed away sometime earlier -- perhaps while Jacob was still in Haran. On Jacob's return to Canaan, he must have taken his mother's nurse into his own household.

At Bethel, God renews his covenant with Jacob. Once again God states that Jacob's name is to be changed to Israel. As we noted before, when Abram's name was changed to Abraham, Abraham implemented the change immediately and never used his old name again. However, Jacob continues to switch between his old and new name. This indicates that Jacob's faith was not as strong as his grandfather's faith.

To commemorate the visit from God, Jacob builds another pillar at Bethel.

Jacob continues to travel south. Near Ephrath, which later is to be called Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), Rachel bears a second son. It probably has been fifteen years since Joseph was born. Jacob would have been about 105 years old at the birth of his last son, so this child born in his old age to his favorite wife was special to him. Unfortunately, Rachel died shortly after giving birth. Before dying, though, she names her son Benoni, which means "son of sorrow." Jacob, though grieving for his lost wife, realized the burden such a name would be for the boy. He changed the boy's name to Benjamin, which means "son of my right hand." Jacob placed a marker on Rachel's grave. The marker lasted up to Moses' day, 450 years later. Later this marker is noted to be on the border of Benjamin near the town of Zelzah (I Samuel 10:2).

The next stop for Jacob's family was the towers of Edar, which is thought to be located near Jerusalem. Here Reuben is caught sleeping with Bilhah, Rachel's maid, and Jacob's concubine. At this time Reuben would have been about 30 years old. Bilhah, of course, would have been much older than Reuben. Jacob learned what happened, but once again he does nothing about it. However, it later cost Reuben his blessing (the right to be head of the family) because Jacob never forgot what Reuben had done (Genesis 49:3-4).

While in the neighborhood, Jacob visits his father Isaac who is still living in Hebron. Keeping the time frame in Jacob's account, the visit lasted about 12 years. Eventually, Isaac dies at the age of 180 years -- about 25 years after Jacob had returned from Haran. Both Esau and Jacob attend the funeral and Isaac is buried in the same cave that held the bodies of Sarah and Abraham.

Perhaps at this time, Esau gives Jacob a copy of his family records which are added to Jacob's in Genesis 36. Both Esau and Jacob were 120 years old at the time of Isaac's death. Esau has been married for 80 years and Jacob for about 40 years. Therefore, Esau's family has had a full generation of children more than Jacob's family.

If you compare Genesis 26:34, 28:9, and 36:2-3 you will see that names of Esau's wives are different. There are two possible explanations. One explanation is that the women had multiple names, just as Esau was also known as Edom and Jacob was also known as Israel. A second explanation is that the women changed their names after they married to indicate their change in life.

Esau had five sons and an unspecified number of daughters. They lived in the region of Mount Seir, which is later known as Edom -- Esau's nickname. The Horites occupied this area before Esau and Esau's descendants later conquered them (Deuteronomy 2:12, 20) and then intermarried with these people. Fourteen of Esau's grandsons are listed as clan chiefs. Some of the grandsons are descendants of Esau's daughters as well as his sons. For example, Korah is listed in Eliphaz's family, even though he is not one of Eliphaz's natural sons (Genesis 36:11). Therefore, we conclude that Korah was Eliphaz's son-in-law.

Another interesting point in the genealogy is that Eliphaz's concubine, Timna, is mentioned by name, but his full wife is not named. This is probably because Timna's famous son Amalek founded the Amalekite nation. Perhaps it is because Amalek was born to a concubine that he was never considered to be an Edomite.

The genealogy of Esau even lists Esau's father-in-law's family, indicating they merged with Edom's family over the years. Also, notice in Genesis 36:22 that Timna is mentioned as being Lotan's sister but not the sister of Lotan's brothers. This may imply that this Horite family practiced polygamy as had Esau and Jacob. This Timna is likely the same Timna who was Eliphaz's concubine, showing the intermarriage between the descendants of Esau and the Horites.

In Genesis 36:24, one of the grandsons of Seir, named Anah after his uncle, is said to have discovered mules in the King James Version. The Hebrew word that was translated as "mule" in this verse is not the usual Hebrew word for a mule. This is the only place this word is used and the meaning had been lost over the years by the Jewish people. The Jews, over the years, decided it meant mule as a slam against Edomites whom the Jews believed tampered with the original purpose of the Creator. It is now believed that the correct meaning of the word is "hot-springs," which are found in the region of Mount Seir.

As you go through the list of Edomite kings, you will notice that kingship was not passed from father to son (Genesis 36:31-39). It appears that the strongest clan chief earned the position of king over all Edom.

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