Pharaoh has two dreams and in the first he was standing by the Nile and in the second he was standing next to a wheat field. Seven fat cows come out of the Nile, where they were probably standing for relief from the heat and the bugs. But right behind the seven fat cows come seven skinny and ugly cows and they eat the fat ones. But, as he would tell Joseph later, when they ate the fats cows, the skinny cows were still skinny. And ugly! In the second dream seven ears of grain are blowing in the breeze, fat and happy, when seven skinny ears, come along and they are nasty looking, blighted by the blistering desert wind. And they throw down on the seven plump ears, licking their glutenous chops and belching happily.
When the Pharaoh woke up, he was deeply troubled in his spirit and probably keeping one eye peeled for any maniacal cows coming through his bedroom door. He doesn’t know what in the world this dream could possibly mean, but to his credit he understands that it means something. God was not going to let him miss that. So the Pharaoh calls for the people he would consult on such matters: the magicians and the wise men. The word Moses used in Genesis 41 referred to people who were experts in Egypt in handling spells and using magic and, in this case, studying the volumes of literature available on dreams. It’s interesting to me that more than 400 years later, another Pharaoh would summon his magicians to the banks of the same Nile river that Moses and Aaron had just turned to blood.
But for this Pharaoh, the magicians and the wise men had no answer to him about his dreams. I love the last part of verse 8: “But there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.” Now, dear readers, don’t miss this. The Pharaohs of Egypt were considered the mediator between the people and the gods when they were alive. When the Pharaohs died, they were worshiped as gods themselves who had now become divine and had passed on their sacred powers to the new Pharaoh, their son. So? Well, here is this Pharaoh who supposedly has a direct line to the gods of Egypt, but he cannot understand his dream, and neither can his dream experts. Only one can interpret it, the one who has, as the Pharaoh will proclaim later, the “Spirit of God” in him. Kings and rulers and governors and congresses and houses of Parliament cannot understand the sovereignty of God over all the affairs of his creation. Only those who have the Spirit of God and to whom he reveals his plans and purposes.
The Pharaoh greets this young Hebrew stranger, fresh out of prison, with high praise, and three times he says “you.” “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph’s response was not to shrug and say, “Well, you know, some guys got it, and some don’t.” No. He corrects the Pharaoh, a dangerous thing to do. “It is not in me,” he says, and that phrase is a single word in Hebrew! NO! It is not I who can interpret dreams. We see the humility of Joseph here, and that humility rests upon his great faith in Almighty God and produces courage. Joseph is not afraid to speak the truth to a man who has authority, but not ultimate authority, over his life. I am reminded of Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”
In the final analysis of Genesis 41, the Pharaoh seems to understand that he and his nation are not his at all. No matter how powerful and how prosperous a nation or kingdom on the earth becomes, that nation and that kingdom is absolutely and totally under the control of the sovereign God, the one who created the universe. And we as believers can and should rejoice in that.
Joseph found himself in prison one day with two important officers of the king, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. What do you think of when you hear “cupbearer to a king?” Right, Nehemiah! He had a huge influence the king he served. The cupbearer to a king had many responsibilities, not the least of which was opening and tasting the king’s wine before it was served to the monarch. He was responsible for the quality of all that was presented to the king. He put his life on the line as poisoning of kings was not uncommon. The chief baker was the head chef and responsible for the food that was served to the king. This meant that the quality of the food and the gastronomical results from the food were on him. These men had done something to deeply offend Pharaoh and incur his wrath. Perhaps he had a bad reaction to a meal and suspected these two for plotting to take him out. Whatever the case, these two men are in chains and they both have dreams they don’t understand. Joseph tells them he knows the one who can interpret dreams, and with knowledge only God could give, he interprets them. The cupbearer will live and be restored to service of Pharaoh, and the baker will be hanged. Joseph asks the cupbearer, “Only remember me…and mention me to the Pharaoh.”
Three days later, everything plays out exactly the way Joseph described it. Every detail of the dream, as Joseph had told these two men. God had given him the meaning and through this, God gave Joseph hope and courage that his days in this prison were numbered. But not like Joseph imagined it, I’m sure. Because read in the last verse in Genesis 40, “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” Hard to understand, isn’t it? There is no human explanation for it. Don’t you think one of the first things you would have told everybody, the Pharaoh, the officers of the court, your family, your friends, and perfect strangers is that you had this dream in prison and a man interpreted it to meant you would be released and your life spared!? And that the man was exactly right about you and about the poor baker? If this happened today, there would be a book written in 30 days and a documentary about it in 6 months. “Dream Whisperer! On sale at bookstores everywhere.” But no. The cupbearer went on happily with his life and forgot the man who had helped him in prison.
Do you know who did NOT forget Joseph? The God who created the universe and holds everything in his hands. The Son of God of whom Paul wrote, “And he is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.” The Psalmist wrote, “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.”
George Mueller used to say, “the stops of a man are also established by the Lord.” Joseph was walking toward the prison door for an early exit, but God stopped him. We don’t know anything about those two years while his feet were hurt with fetters and his neck was rubbed raw by a collar of iron. But God was faithful. And Joseph did not lose hope. He still believed that the dreams he had as a young man would come true.
He is about to see how God, the One who does not forget, will unfold that for him.
We don’t know how long Joseph was in charge of Potiphar’s whole household before his wife made a move on the young Hebrew slave. But this story of temptation and response to temptation is a powerful one with lessons for all of us. The first thing we see is that Potiphar’s wife is the initiator of the temptation. Which we never want to be. She was like the woman in Proverbs 7 who is loud and flirtatious and dressed like a woman of the night to appeal to men who were led by their flesh. But Joseph is not like the one in Proverbs 7 who is described as “a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness.” That young man lacked sense, or another way to say it, he was led by his glands and not his mind. He was in the wrong place on purpose, because he walked down “the road to her house.” And he was there at the wrong time, in the “night and darkness.” The young man in Proverbs 7 was seeking temptation and that is always a recipe for a fall. But Joseph was doing his job, minding his own business when Potiphar’s wife cast her eyes on him and said, “Lie with me.”
Now listen, this was a temptation. Joseph was a single young man with all the desires that God creates in every young man. He was tempted and it was not a unique temptation. None are. None of us can ever say, “Well, nobody has been tempted like I have.” That’s categorically denied by the Word of God. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” What was the way of escape God provided for Joseph in this first attempt by Potiphar’s wife? Joseph refused and explained why. Notice what he didn’t do. He didn’t engage in flirtatious banter. He didn’t say to himself, Hey what would it hurt if I dabble around the edges a little? He didn’t see how close he could get to the line without crossing over into sin. He simply said no to her and appealed to the trust his master and her husband had placed in him. He has placed me over everything and has not kept back anything from me…except you, Joseph said. And then he looked at her and said, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”
That’s a question to put on a posterboard or a sticky note at least, nearest to the place where the temptation to sin for you is the greatest. “How can I do this thing and sin against God?” Joseph had it imprinted on his mind, and it lived in his heart. And one huge motivation for Joseph was that he knew that God had something important for him to do, and that strengthened his resolve against giving in to temptation. It is the same for you and me. We will probably never be the number two man or woman in charge of a nation, but God has important work for us to do. Every. One. Of. Us.
Well, Potiphar’s wife was not done. She was nothing if not persistent, as tempters often can be. The narrator says she pursued Joseph in this way day after day, but he would not listen to her to lie beside her or to be with her. Temptation offered and refused, over and over, until finally one day, she went from talk to physical aggression. Potiphar’s wife grabbed Joseph’s outer garment and demanded he lie with her. He left the garment in her hand as he ran away. Paul may have been thinking about Joseph when he wrote, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Tim. 2:22) The reason Joseph was able to run from what was wrong was because he was passionately running after what was right: righteousness, faith, love, and peace.
You know the rest of the story. Potiphar listened to his wife, never sked Joseph his side of the story, and put Joseph in prison. When Joseph was thrown into the pit, it was because his brothers rejected him. When he is thrown into the prison, it was because Potiphar rejected him. There, for at least two years, his testing continued. He had done what was right and he suffered for it, but even in prison, Joseph remained faithful to God. And God was with Joseph. As he is with you and me.
Genesis 38 is a difficult passage to read and no walk in the park to preach. Why is this story here? I think there are two reasons, the simplest being– it happened– and it further illustrates the decline of the covenant family into corruption. The second reason, and the most important one, is that from this ungodly situation, the family line of the Messiah is preserved. The story opens with Judah choosing a Canaanite woman to marry. What do we know from the patriarchs about the covenant people of God choosing to marry Canaanites? Right, it was forbidden. But Judah does so anyway, and we are told his never-named wife gives Judah three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah, an unfortunate name for a boy. He learned to fight; had to.
Judah chose a wife for his firstborn, Er, and her name was Tamar. But we are told that Er was so wicked in the sight of the Lord that the Lord put him to death. Tamar was a childless widow, and the Levirate custom of the day demanded that her husband’s closest brother be given to her so that she could produce an offspring to carry on her dead husband’s name. And so she would have children to support her in her old age. This would become law in Deuteronomy 25, and if a man’s brother refused to perform his duty, the elders of the city would take him before the widow, and she would pull off his sandal and spit in his face. You see that in the story of Ruth when the closest kinsman redeemer refused her and pulled off his own sandal. She spared him the spit, happily married Boaz, and eventually became grandmother to David.
Back to Tamar and her dead husband. Onan, the second born son was called to fulfill this obligation on behalf of his brother. And he was happy to play the part with Tamar and go through the motions several times, but he made sure that he did not help her have a child. Why? Moses tells us, “because he knew that the offspring would not be his.” I told you, it’s a sick and sordid tale. This selfishness of Onan was wicked in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord took his life as well. The action God took against Er and Onan, Kidner writes, “emphasizes the steep moral decline in the chosen family, which only the outstanding piety of Joseph would arrest for a while. This tendency to an immediate plunge from grace, whenever faith is no longer an active force, is evident more than once in Genesis, but the pattern is most explicitly worked out in the book of Judges.” There is one bright spot in this story. Tamar. But she was told by Judah to go home and wait until his third son, Shelah, was ready to marry her and carry on the family name.
Tamar must have spent years wearing a widow’s garment, waiting for the time when Shelah would be old enough and that time had come and passed. Tamar knew that Judah would not keep his word and give his third son to her. He had deceived her, so she planned to deceive him. Tamar changed out of her widow-wear, put a veil over her face so she could not be recognized, and went to a place where she knew Judah would be traveling. Tamar knew enough about Judah and his character that if she posed incognito as a harlot, just for him, she would be successful. But she was also risking her life. Allen Ross writes, “Tamar qualifies as a heroine in the story, for she risked everything to fight for her right to be the mother in the family of Judah and protect the family…She did what justice and the death of her husband demanded of her—but by a very dangerous scheme.” Did I tell you this was a sordid story?
Judah gave her his seal and his staff as a promise that he would send her a goat in exchange for her services. But she had no use for the goat, which is why she wasn’t in the same place when Judah’s man came looking, dragging a kid goat behind him. It was the signet she had wanted, and it was the signet of Judah that would save her life. Allen Ross writes, “It is not appropriate to judge her by Christian ethics, for in her culture at that time, her actions, though very dangerous for her, were within the law.”
When it was discovered that Tamar was three months pregnant, Judah heard about it and called for her to be burned to death. Bring her out! Set her on fire for this terrible sin! As they dragged her out to be burned, Tamar sent word to her father-in-law that the man who was responsible for the baby she was carrying is the owner of this signet, cord, and staff. Judah’s gear. It was then that her exoneration came. Judah said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son, Shelah.” Yes, Judah, she was! If it were left up to Judah, the covenant family of God would have assimilated with the Canaanites and been destroyed. Tamar was the rescuer.
God’s plan is perfect and it is eternal. When Peter wrote to the “elect exiles” in his first letter, he says they are (we are!) elect exiles “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” The foreknowledge of God with regard to his people does not mean that God looked down the long corridor of time in eternity past and said, “Hmm, there’s a couple of good ones. Tamar is good. Ruth is good. I will save them.” No, these were broken women in a corrupt and broken world! Same as you and me. To be foreknown by God means that Tamar and Ruth and you and me who are saved and co-heirs with Christ were the objects of God’s affection and loving concern from all eternity, along with God’s own Son!
Ruth’s rally and Tamar’s triumph helped secure our victory over sin and death through their descendant and our only Savior, Jesus Christ.
Joseph’s brothers, ten of the other twelve “tribes” of Israel hated him so much that they conspired together to kill him. Not to beat him or to bully their brother, but to commit murder. It was only Judah’s suggestion, self-motivated though it was, to sell him that spared Joseph’s life. After they sold him to the Ismaelites, the brothers decided the best way to handle this was not to tell their father the truth. Better for him to think he is dead than that Joseph was alive but sold into slavery. Let’s tell him that beasts devoured him, they say, and all that was left was this bloody coat. Well, that was a shred of the truth, but the only beasts that devoured Joseph were his brothers. We find another irony in their deception of their father that depended on goats’ blood. Years earlier, Jacob’s deception of his father Isaac depended on his brother’s cloak and two goat skins.
The final callousness of the brothers is breath-taking. When they arrived back in Hebron, they showed the bloody coat Jacob had given to his beloved son and say to him, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” They cannot even conceal their hatred for Joseph in the face of their father’s grief. They don’t call him “our brother,” but “your son.” They don’t console their father for his loss, but simply ask him to identify the evidence of it. Do you, umm, recognize this coat?
Jacob’s grief was profound. He identified the robe and said, “Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” He tore his garments, put on sackcloth, and mourned for many days. The whole family tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted, saying, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Translation? Jacob had nothing to live for and indeed did not want to live. But his severe depression was based on a lie told to him by his sons. They lived with him for 20 years and let him continue in that false belief that his son was devoured by wild animals, and that he would never see him again until death. This lie shaped Jacob’s life, as any lie we believe will shape our life as well.
How do we make sure we are not living as a slave to a lie that someone told us, even a parent or a pastor or a teacher or a friend? Hold it up to what the Word says. If you grew up hearing that God only loves you if you dress a certain way or if you work really hard to do everything right and you are always happy and never struggle, that’s a lie that will shape your life, or “mis-shape it.” Hold it up to the truth of what the Bible really says. If on the other hand you grew up hearing the Word from your parents and the church and now you hear from others that it really doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are true to yourself and your feelings, that also is a lie that will mis-shape your life. Hold it up to the truth of what the Bible really says. Jesus said it like this: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” You will be “put back into shape.”
The truth would have set Jacob free, but those who knew the truth withheld it from him. We must not do that with our children or our parents or our brothers and sisters in Christ. Or with our friends who are lost.
Joseph is a favorite biblical character for a lot of people. And he was clearly Moses’ favorite, if the amount of ink he got is any indication. Moses wrote more about Joseph than he did about Abraham, the father of faith and the friend of God! Or Jacob, the man who wrestled with God and was named Israel, the “prince of God.” Why is Joseph such an important figure? I like what David Guzik wrote about the godly men in Genesis:
Enoch shows the walk of faith. Noah shows the perseverance of faith. Abraham shows the obedience of faith. Isaac shows the power of faith. Jacob shows the discipline of faith. Joseph shows the triumph of faith.
Joseph will have to overcome many trials and much suffering, but he triumphs because God’s hand is on him, and his faith is in God. This story has been called a masterful narrative and volumes of books have been written about it. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice got excited about the story and wrote a musical for a school chorus, suggested by friends, in 1968. Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat later became a smash hit in London and then around the world. It was one of my favorite shows I performed in with the Gallery Players in the 80’s.
Typology refers to historical people, places, even objects in the Old Testament which point us to the life and work of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Noah’s ark was a type of Christ because all who went into it were saved. Joseph is a type of Christ as well. The world will come to him during the famine to be saved. But more than that, James Boice wrote, “He was loved and hated, favored and abused, tempted and trusted, exalted and abased. Yet at no point in the one-hundred-and-ten-year life of Joseph did he ever seem to get his eyes off God or cease to trust him. Adversity did not harden his character. Prosperity did not ruin him. He was the same in private as in public. He was a truly great man.” Joseph was certainly not perfect, but his life is a powerful picture that points to the sacrifice and suffering and ultimate triumph of the one who was and is perfect, Jesus Christ.
Others have pointed out that the genealogy of Christ includes a Joseph. The earthly father of Jesus was Joseph, and his father was Jacob! Roland Warren wrote about the two Josephs in Jesus’ life, one who was present at his birth, and the other who was present at his death. Both of the Josephs adopted one who was considered illegitimate. Joseph of Nazareth adopted Mary’s son as his own and raised him to be a carpenter. And Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body down from the cross. In that culture, if someone was crucified and no one claimed his body, it was as if that person was illegitimate from birth.
Joseph the dreamer may not be written about much in the Bible after Genesis. But he and his namesakes later, three Josephs, each played very important roles in the story of redemptive history.
On a family vacation when our daughter Hannah was 18 months old or so, she wandered off down the beach one day. I had heard horror stories about children wandering off like that and being abducted or walking into the water and being pulled under by the current. We knew about a family who arrived at the beach for their vacation. The beach house had an in-ground pool and as they were unpacking the car, their toddler found it, fell in and drowned. Their car engine was still warm and they were dealing with the tragic loss of a child. So, with that weighing on our minds, Cindy and I did not look at each other and say, “Aw, she’ll come back. Let’s give her 15 minutes and see what happens.” I didn’t say, “Look, I will go looking for Hannah in a minute, but I am right at the good part of this book I am reading, and I can’t put it down.” Nor did I say, “Hey, you go look for her if you want, but I am tired. I have worked hard and have looked forward to this vacation for months; the last thing I want to do is to go sprinting down the beach when the waves are splashing, the gentle breezes are blowing, and the beach chair is calling.” No, I didn’t say any of that. In fact we didn’t speak at all; we looked at each other like people who have lived and loved together for a long time and took off in opposite directions down the beach.
As I was walking and half-running, I did not stop to look at shells. I don’t remember the occasion, since it was more than 30 years ago now, but I am quite certain that had I even seen a perfect shark’s tooth lying in full view, I would not have taken the second away from my search to pick it up. I also did not look out at the porpoises playing in the water or the college kids playing Frisbee or volleyball on the beach. As much as I love to just walk lazily down the beach and feel the sand in my toes, I did not think about that at all. I had one thing on my mind. I was consumed by it. My daughter was gone, and I had to find her.
The single-mindedness of my search was in direct proportion to the value I placed in that for which I was searching. That’s why I really don’t believe that anyone who is half-heartedly “seeking” is going to find anything. The one who has been set upon a quest to find the truth will be focused, intentional, and doggedly determined to find it. He will not be side-tracked, and he will not give up until his journey leads to a relationship with the Lord. God said it himself: “And you will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart.”
When our daughter wandered off down the beach, she never found what she was looking for. She didn’t even know what it was. Hannah also had no idea about the dangers all around her as she wandered aimlessly. She was found and brought back home by parents who loved her and went looking for her. If you are seeking truth with all your heart, you will find it. Rather, he will find you. Jesus Christ said, I have “come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
When it comes right down to it, he is the seeker. We are the lost.
I remember it well, one day not long after I was baptized as a child. My mom said after one of my outbursts, “For somebody who just became a Christian, you sure are acting like the devil!” She was right, and really, I don’t think I was a Christian then, because baptism does not a believer make. Jacob had been changed by God, though. He was humbled with a limp, called to a different way of living, and given a new name, “Israel,” after the wrestling match at Peniel. But the reality of his covenant position was clouded by his actions. Israel was living a lot like old Jacob. I can relate.
Jacob should have gone straight back to Bethel as soon as he left Esau, but he took a disastrous detour that resulted in a daughter defiled and a murderous response by Simeon and Levi. God tells Jacob to go to Bethel, and now he obeys. Notice the actions he took for himself and his whole household before they left Shechem. He essentially said to them, “We will leave Shechem, and we will bury Paddan-aram before we go.” He tells his family to put away their foreign gods, purify themselves, and put on new clothes. We are going to Bethel, the place where God met with me and has never left me since then. And we will bury Paddan-aram and everything associated with it first, right down to the garments we wear from there. The whole tribe responds, as people bring their foreign gods and their earrings to him, and Jacob buries them under a terebinth tree outside of Shechem. Was Joshua thinking about this scene when he gathered all of Israel in Shechem years later and says to them, “Put away your foreign gods that are among you and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel”? And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, wrote down the laws and statues for them, “And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.”
The Lord God calls us forward as his children, and he walks with us, but he also tells us to leave behind everything that has kept us from fully obeying him and his word. And we do this together, as a community, like Jacob and Joshua did with the people following them. Maybe that’s why the book of Hebrews says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (emphasis mine)
“God appeared to Jacob again” in Bethel and reminded Jacob that he had a new name. Hey, son, remember when we wrestled at Peniel? You lost, but you also won. I broke you in order to bless you. I took away your name in order to give you a new name, a new identity, a new purpose, a new calling.
God says to you and me, “Do you remember when I saved you and you died to your sins and were raised to live again in Christ? I gave you a new name then, ‘child of God.”’ I gave you a new identity: no longer a slave but adopted as a son or daughter in Christ. I gave you a new purpose and a new calling: ‘the life you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God.’” We may say, but how can we do this, Lord? How can we live in that new identity and for that new purpose?
God told Jacob how when he said, “I am God Almighty.” El Shaddai. I am the God who provides for you in every way. Not just with sunshine and rain and flowers and good food. I provide all that you need to live your new life as a son or daughter and no longer a slave. I am so you can BE!
Do you ever play the “what-if” game? We all do. What if you could suddenly understand your dog? Or what if your mom was a spy? You might want to take a closer look at her right now…But there’s a deadly version that I don’t recommend playing, especially after a tragedy. It can heap shame and guilt on top of the grace the Lord is pouring out to bring you healing. Peter may have played that game for three days after Jesus’ arrest in the garden: what if my sword had been true and I had been able to stop them from taking the Lord? We know how that story ended. Here are some what ifs for the tragic story of Dinah’s rape in Genesis 34.
What if Jacob had obeyed God and gone back to Bethel, instead of settling first in Succoth and then in Shechem? What if Jacob had not let his only daughter wander alone in a wicked city? What if Jacob had not been such a passive bystander after his daughter’s assault? What if Jacob had understood the level of his sons’ rage after the assault and had responded strongly to them? We don’t know. Here’s what we do know.
It’s an ugly story, there’s just no way around it, and like so many of the stories we have read in Genesis, there are no real winners. God is the hero of the book but in this story, he is ignored by all.
Dinah was the youngest of Leah’s seven children, and the only girl. Most likely she was a teenager around 15 years old, but we cannot know for sure. She “went out” to see the women of the land, and in doing so Allen Ross says she “loosened the stone for the slide.” In the Old Testament, the wording there for “went out” often refers to making a poor moral choice. But the question is whether Jacob or Leah knew she was wandering in the city. Did she tell them she was going to see the town on her own and Jacob just shrugged? Or did Jacob absolutely forbid it and she did it anyway? Again, we cannot be certain. Leon Morris writes, “Unattached young women were considered fair game in cities of the time, in which promiscuity was not only common but, in fact, a part of the very religious system itself.” Even in the near east today Arab women and Muslim women never go out into public alone. They are always together. It was then and is now a dangerous world for young people, especially young girls, and every parent’s worst nightmare happened to Dinah.
The report of the assault is essential to the story, and Moses makes it clear that it was an assault. Shechem “saw her…seized her…lay with her… humiliated her.” The construction of the phrase, “lay with her” in Hebrew does not include “with,” as it does later when Potiphar’s wife says to Joseph, “lie with me.” There is no indication of consent with Dinah, only force and a violent crime that humiliated this young girl and is one of the most shameful events in the Old Testament. Shechem took advantage of this young woman, and then happily took her to his home. Then what happened?
Moses writes that Shechem “loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.” What a perversion of what the order of such a relationship is to be! The word of God is clear: A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Shechem forced Dinah to “become one flesh,” a clear violation of the law of God, and then decided that he “loved her,” which was probably nothing more than sensual desire, and began to pursue her as a wife. Young people, be careful not to fall into the trap that has been prevalent since the fall. “Young men use ‘love’ to get intimacy and young women use intimacy to get love” is a cliché for a reason. In the case of Shechem and Dinah, he alone was the guilty party, even though she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His violent demand for immediate gratification would have deadly consequences.
You can read the rest of the story, but the sad truth is that Dinah is never heard from again in the Bible. The “what if” questions are haunting.
Even though we were post-COVID in 2022, the effects of the pandemic continued. One of the results for churches everywhere has been a re-shuffling of the deck, where people have moved around some, but the worst part has been that some cards simply fell out of the deck. I wrote in my journal last February, “Online church can be and is a great blessing to the shut-in, but it can also be a great disincentive as well.” What happens when the shut-in becomes a stay-in? The person who could not get out because of the virus or because of other extenuating circumstances can easily become the person who won’t get out when those circumstances are just a memory. This is what the writer of Hebrews is saying in chapter 10. Verse 25, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” The habit of some has become to not meet together with other believers, and the time when the believers are in the habit of meeting, since Jesus rose from the dead, is the first day of the week. The word there for habit is ethos in the Greek, which literally means custom, usual practice, or manner of living. We are known by and marked by our ethos, the way we customarily live our lives. If we only gather with the saints when it is convenient to do so, then our ethos, our manner of living, is marked by that. But we are invited into the assembling of ourselves together on a weekly basis. That’s why the church was called ekklesia in the New Testament, 115 times. It means “called out,” and the people of God are spiritually and by God’s grace called out of the world and into Christ, into his body, a local fellowship and assembly of believers. That means they are also physically called out of their homes and called into the place where the church is meeting, if they are physically able. We have to be very careful with the habits we create, especially any habit that draws us away from the physical gathering of God’s people.
The writer of Hebrews is concerned about this and wants the people of God to be concerned as well. What should we do? Verse 24: Let us consider one another. The word means to observe, to notice. We love each other and notice when something is wrong, or when someone has been missing the gathering. That’s good, but then we are called to consider “how to stir up one another to love and good works.” The idea there requires a moving towards another intentionally in order to bring them in, draw them back, call them again towards love and good works. And in verse 25, the writer adds, “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
I remember the story of a pastor who visited a church member years ago who had stopped coming. They sat together in the man’s den, just the two of them, and there was a roaring fire in fireplace. The pastor told the man he missed him at church and encouraged him to come back. The man made some excuses as to why he wasn’t coming and ended with, “Pastor, I am doing fine. I’ll come back to church one day but honestly, I can’t really see the need for it sometimes. I still read my Bible, pretty much, and still pray when I think about it.” The pastor nodded and got up from his chair and walked over to the fire. He took the poker from the hearth and reached in with it to pull one of the small logs away from the burning pile of wood. Then he sat down, and the two men watched in silence as the small log that had been separated from the pile of wood smoldered for a few minutes and then went out. The man nodded and said, “Thanks for coming by, pastor. I’ll see you all on Sunday.”