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B'resheet/Genesis 34:10 And you shall dwell with us, the Land will be before you; settle and move around in her, and acquire property in her.
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Arriving back from twenty years working for Laban in Padan Aram and fresh from his reconciliation with his brother Esau, Ya'akov has settled, for a while, near the ancient city of Shechem and bought a piece of land on which to pitch his tent. His daughter Dinah, looking for a social life other than her brothers, has gone down into the town to spend time with what David Stern describes as "the local girls" and been admired, coveted and raped by Shechem, the son of one of the elders of the city. He wants to marry her, so he and his father Hamor approach Ya'akov and his sons to negotiate for the marriage and our text (above) is part of the pitch that Hamor makes to try and persuade Ya'akov's family to agree to the match.
Hamor's words end with three plural imperatives: , from the root , to dwell; , from the root , to pass through or move around; , from the root , to possess holdings. He urges Ya'akov to seize the opportunity: to live as neighbours with the peoples of the Land; to be able to move around and trade freely in the Land; and to acquire inheritable land holdings.
Gunther Plaut explains that "the verb has a dual meaning, 'to move about' and 'to trade'. It reflects ancient social conditions when to move about also meant a license to trade." Nahum Sarna elaborates on "move about", commenting that "this seems to be the basic meaning of the root . It would imply unlimited grazing rights. But the term could just as well be used in its developed sense of 'to trade, barter', which is how the ancient versions render it." For example, theSeptuagint offers , an imperative of the verb , to carry on business, while Michael Sokolof reports that by the time of the Targums, has acquired the 'modern' meanings, "to trade, beg, turn around."1 This is an important concession, since the Sforno informs us that "normally strangers were not allowed to trade." Contrariwise, Robert Alter reports that "at this early point of tribal history, Ya'akov and his sons are semi-nomadic herdsmen, not at all merchants, so the commercial denotation of the term [as 'trade'] seems unlikely in context."
Notwithstanding freedom of movement or freedom to trade, the last part of the offer - to be able to acquire land holdings - is the most valuable. Bruce Waltke suggests that "this most valuable provision to meet the basic need of sojourners and to fulfil their destiny present the greatest temptation."2 As Gordon Wenham points out, the noun derived from this root, , a possession or land-holding, is used by HaShem in His promise to Avraham, "I assign the land you sojourn in to you and your offspring to come, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting holding" (B'resheet 17:8, NJPS), and to Ya'akov: "I will make you fertile and numerous, making of you a community of peoples; and I will assign this land to your offspring to come for an everlasting possession" (48:4, NJPS). "Hamor, in effect, offers what G-d has promised."3
Let's step back for a moment and consider what has happened in the overall story. Dinah has been raped, but Shechem the son is desperate to marry her. Shechem and Hamor, his father, have rushed out to Ya'akov to request the marriage, but the two men address the matter very differently. Shechem is very enthusaiastic and offers to pay any bride-price the family suggest, but - as Gerhard von Rad points out - "Old Hamor's speech is much calmer and transfers the matter from the personal basis to the basis of principle. He also offers the people of Ya'akov the opportunity to settle in his territory, a great privilege, for which the poor nomads with small cattle strove at all times."4 Terence Fretheim adds that "[Hamor] moves beyond Shechem's marriage to Dinah to include openness to other marriages and in invitation for Ya'akov's family to live freely among them and to own property."5 Meir Sternberg comments that "these overtures sound conciliatory and appealing, nor can they be dismissed as insincere", but there are two major problems. The first is antecedents; the second is their position.6
Firstly, the men of Canaan completely disregard the antecedent rape of Dinah. Hamor and Shechem make no apology for or even allusion to the crime, speaking as if nothing has happened except that a young man has fallen in love and wants to negotiate a marriage according to custom. Secondly, although they speak softly and persuasively, the men negotiate from a strong position unfairly obtained - they have detained Dinah in their house. And, as they will later say to their fellow townsmen, "Their cattle and substance and all their beasts will be ours, if we only agree to their terms, so that they will settle among us" (34:23, NJPS), their motives are far from pure: the object is nothing less than assimilation and absorption so that everything that Ya'akov has - his riches in flocks, herds, servants - will become shared with the people of the land. Sternberg explains that "when the narrator lays bare the iron hand hidden all along in the velvet glove, Ya'akov's sons had good reason to counter with guile and violence."
However, we must see how this appeal affects Ya'akov and his family. This offer of freedom to move, trade and acquire property is a serious temptation. It is is what they have been waiting for, the fulfillment of the promisesHaShem has given - or is it? If they were to accept, then they would essentially be abandoning Dinah, giving up on justice for her, just quietly forgetting that little matter of sexual violation. In other words, they would be selling Dinah down the river for the sake of trade and society status. Their covenant commitments to each other within their family would be worthless; it would be each man for himself, striking the best bargain he could - and the family would disintegrate. But there is more. If they were to accept, they would sacrifice their identity as a called and chosen family - carrying the promises of nationhood before G-d who has given those promises and guided them on their journey. They would just become a part of the Canaanite people group and inevitably become compromised in idolatry and all that flows from that. G-d told Avraham to leave that world behind in every respect and go to a new land that He would give him. Yitz'khak inherited that promise and vision and now Ya'akov is the holder of the covenant to pass on to his sons, the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel who will become a nation during their time in Egypt. Ya'akov and sons are being tempted to give up the promise that G-d will give them the whole land, if they merge and become part of the land now.
We see Yeshua being tempted in exactly the same way after His baptism in the Jordan by his cousin John: "And the devil took Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to Him, 'To You I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If You, then, will worship me, it will all be Yours'" (Luke 4:5-7, ESV). That's all there is to it; no need to go through all the hassle, the years of ministry, the betrayal and pain. Just sign up here and it's all yours! Here's the short cut to the top. How did Yeshua respond? He quoted from the Torah to show what God had said: "And Yeshua answered him, 'It is written: You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve'" (v. 8, ESV, quoting D'varim 6:13). Yeshua refused to take the devil's bait; He refused to offer worship that belonged only and exclusively to G-d to any other. He knew that not only was it not G-d's plan to take a short cut, but that there was no short cut to take. G-d's promises had to be worked out in G-d's way and in G-d's time.
The book of Hebrews tells us that Yeshua "in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15, ESV). That is usually used to teach that no matter what temptation we may experience, Yeshua has already been tempted but did not sin - so that now, in Him, we too can have victory over temptation. But we need to see it the other way round as well: all the temptations that Yeshua fought and battled can also be faced by us. In the context of our text, we too are often tempted to gain the land at the wrong time and in the wrong way, in our own strength or via some presumed short cut. We always need to be aware of our own particular temptations and ask the question whether we are using an end to justify the means. Where are you in G-d's plans? Are you powering ahead on your own or are you waiting on G-d for His direction and way?
1. - Michael Sokoloff, A Dictionary of Palestinian Aramaic, 2nd Ed., (Ramat-Gan, Israel: Bar Ilan University Press, 2002), page 372.
2. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), page 465.
3. - Gordon Wenham, Genesis 16-50, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), page 312.
4. - Gerhard von Rad, Genesis Old Testament Library, (London, SCM Press, 1972), page 332.
5. - Terence Fretheim, "Genesis" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary, Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 212.
6. - Meir Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative - Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985), pages 456-457.
Further Study: Luke 9:49-50; 1 Corinthians 10:6-13; Philippians 1:15-18
Application: Do we try to get what G-d has promised in our own way and time without waiting for Him to act? Do you ever feel squeezed into making a decision 'now' so as not to lose the opportunity of achieving some long awaited goal? We must learn to wait for G-d and follow His timetable alone and have His blessing and approval for what we do before we act.
Comment - 17:45 14Nov21 Joshua VanTine: Great drash. These sentences you put from pen to paper about Yeshua are golden; He knew that not only was it not G-d's plan to take a short cut, but that there was no short cut to take. G-d's promises had to be worked out in G-d's way and in G-d's time. That sums it up, hope we can stop looking for short cuts and abide in G-d alone, waiting with joy.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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