The Gospel for the City in Genesis 34

Genesis 34 is one of those sad chapters in the history of redemption.  Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is raped, humiliated, and then treated like a commodity to be traded for mutual benefits. Jacob appears ready to make the exchange of his daughter for the benefit of prospering in the land – the land already promised to him by the Lord.

When Dinah’s brothers hear of the atrocity they first object because the Hivite’s do not bear the covenant sign of circumcision. It appears already that the covenant itself has become less significant than the sign of the covenant.  For them pride of identity supersedes the blessing of covenant relationship with the Lord.

The brothers create a ruse in which the Hivite men agree to circumcision and, while recovering from the surgery, they are slaughtered by Jacob’s sons. The brothers then plunder the city and take captive the women and children.

Jacob fears both disgrace and potential revenge from the other inhabitants of the land. Rightfully so, because they have failed to be the covenant family that reflects the grace of God.

Though Jacob and his family are recipients of the covenant promise and though the sons bear the covenant sign of circumcision, it appears that cutting away flesh does not cut away the evil of their hearts. Jacob sons are worse than the pagans whom they destroy. They deceive; they take revenge; they murder; they steal; they are justified in their own eyes.  Instead of blessing the nations as the offspring of Abraham, they are morally bankrupt, destroying rather than delivering the nations of the world.

We leave this chapter longing for that offspring of Abraham who truly will bless the nations and create a new community of covenant believers that will include the nations of the world

Tragically, this story reflects the history of Christianity in the city. Christians who wear the new covenant sign of baptism often do so without having experienced the power of the gospel that transforms a sinner’s heart. They are religious, upholding the signs of Christianity, but bankrupt morally. They often are angry, bitter, unkind, and unmerciful.

The city of Philadelphia is peppered with religious edifices that stand as a sign of Christianity’s once magnificent presence in the city. However, the signs and symbols eventually became the substance, replacing the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ with formalism. The signs and symbols lacked the power to overcome racism, injustice, and disregard for the poor and disenfranchised. The signs and symbols had no power to restore broken relationships or to deliver from life consuming sins. Without the gospel, these religious edifices soon succumbed to 12-step programs, conscience-soothing acts of mercy, and self-help seminars.

The city needs a resurgence of new communities of covenant believers who not only uphold the signs and symbols of Christianity, but who bear evidence of a life being transformed by the gospel of God’s grace – a life of indiscriminate forgiveness, mercy, generosity, and bountiful love.

The Gospel for the CIty in Genesis 31-33

Genesis 31-33 tell the story of Jacob’s return to the land of promise. In the midst of his losing favor with his father-in-law, he becomes more aware of the favor that the Lord has shown Him. Yahweh speaks to him again and reminds Jacob of his oath at Bethel to serve Yahweh and to honor Him as Lord in giving Him one tenth of all that he has. Jacob is told to return to the land of promise.

The return to the land is fraught with misgivings especially in regard to the existing rift between Jacob and Esau. Also, without Jacob’s knowledge, his wife Rachel has stolen the idol images that belonged to her father, and Jacob, as well, tricks his father-in-law by leaving secretly. Despite his and Rachel’s deceptions, the Lord in mercy preserves them and give them grace and a covenant of peace with Laban.

While on the way to Esau, Jacob stops at “the camp of God” and learns of Esau’s approach with a small army. In the midst of his fear, he finds assurance in remembering that the promise to Abraham is now his promise. That night he wrestles with a divine being and refuses to let go until the divine being blesses him. In the midst of Jacob’s struggle with God, Jacob is transformed as is indicated in his name change form Jacob (supplanter) to Israel (prince of God).  Furthermore, to both break Jacob’s hold on the divine being and to give him a lasting reminder of this life-changing encounter with God, the divine being dislocates Jacob’s hip. As Jacob’s limps away, every step reminds him of this night of powerful transformation.

Now as a changed man, he reconciles with his brother, purchases property in the land of promise, and builds an altar to worship the God of Israel.

Jacob’s journey here is a journey of grace.  The Lord meets him in his fear and his deceit. The Lord comes to him, breaks him, transforms him, and renews his promise to him. This is the good news of the gospel.

Living in a restless and oppressive city, we often find ourselves in Jacob’s situation. The promise of rest in Christ often seems elusive so we tend to make our own way in life, employing means of self-protection, sometimes deceit, and tormented with the memory and fears of broken relationships. Yet, God persists in working in the midst of our troubles, allowing our waywardness to hurt us but not destroy us, and often working in our behalf though we do not recognize or deserve it.  His call is always to come back to the place of promise and rest.

Matthew 11:28   28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

On our journey He wants to bring us all to the place where we finally realize that our struggle with life and people comes from our struggle with God and our need is to be broken and transformed by the power of God. Like Jacob, we need to see ‘the face of God” in Jesus Christ and limp away never forgetting the powerful grace of God that transforms sinners.