God’s people are called to be a distinct, separate people. Christians are to maintain a clear identity, both in what they believe and in how they behave (1 Peter 2:9). God also gives us several warnings in the Bible about spiritual impurity, which could also be called spiritual corruption or spiritual defilement (Rom. 12:2). By this point you’re probably wondering what the subject of spiritual purity has to do with the sordid tale of sex and violence in Genesis 34. The answer is “Everything!” The nation of Israel was always in danger of losing its distinct and holy identity by adopting the practices or accepting the people of Canaan. They could become spiritually defiled through intermarriage, treaties, or various enticements (Examples: Lot in Sodom, Abraham in Egypt, etc.).
This passage in Genesis teaches us about the need to maintain spiritual purity, and how not to respond to spiritual impurity. Let’s summarize the first lesson of Genesis 34 like this.
I. SPIRITUAL PURITY CAN BE MAINTAINED ONLY BY BEING FULLY OBEDIENT AND ALERT.
When I use the term “spiritual purity,”, I’m speaking of people’s behavior and beliefs. Spiritual purity means that our beliefs and behavior are consistent with what is acceptable in the Bible. To maintain that standard of morality, separation, and purity of doctrine, we must be fully obedient to God and alert to the dangers of worldly contamination.
Jacob had been instructed by God to return to Bethel. Instead, he lingered near the city of Shechem, one day’s journey from Bethel. He did not just stay overnight or stop to replenish his provisions. He actually purchased land there “within sight of the city.”
He did part of what he was supposed to do but not all. He acknowledged Yahweh as his God for the first time. He worshipped Him there (Gen. 33:20), but he did not fully obey God. Just because Jacob built an altar and did spiritual things did not mean he was where he was supposed to be. In some ways, Jacob was doing what many Christians do today. They acknowledge God and worship him, but they don’t do everything God asks.
Read Genesis 34:1-4. This sad passage demonstrates Jacob’s lack of alertness concerning spiritual purity. At the time of this story, Dinah would have been between 13 and 15 years of age. As her father, Jacob would have had full control over her activities. He apparently allowed her to “visit the women of the land.” This was a foolish decision because he should have known the character of the people in the city and realized that Dinah would be in danger of being defiled or corrupted.
In verse 2 we learn that Shechem “violated” Dinah. “Violated” refers to sexual activity, but we are not told if she was seduced or raped. The point is that Shechem had sexual relations with Dinah even though she was not his wife. He did speak kindly to her and sought to marry her, but this in no way mitigated his defilement of her. This was a terrible sin!
But remember, Dinah would not have been defiled if Jacob had been fully obedient and alert. In a similar way, today, we must be fully obedient and alert to the various temptations that could lead to spiritual corruption for us and also our families. We have a responsibility; we can’t allow our children to make all their own decisions, and we must remember that our choices affect others.
This story addresses a second subject: how not to respond to spiritual impurity. When corruption happens, how should God’s people respond? In this story we read about two ways not respond to spiritual impurity.
II. DO NOT RESPOND TO SPIRITUAL IMPURITY WITH APATHY OR FANATICISM (GEN. 34:5-7).
There is a stark contrast between the way Jacob responded to spiritual impurity and the way Jacob’s sons responded to Dinah’s defilement. Jacob “kept quiet.” He was apathetic about this great sin. It wasn’t that he didn’t care; rather, he did not want to deal with the problems that would come by dealing with Dinah’s defilement. Jacob’s sons were anything but apathetic. They were furious because they recognized that “Shechem has done a disgraceful thing in Israel.” At this point their reaction is appropriate, but they crossed the line in responding to Shechem’s sin. First though, Hamor (Shechem’s father) tried to make a deal with Israel to get them to overlook this moral impurity.
Read Genesis 34:8-12. Hamor offered Dinah’s brothers the same proposition that the world offers Christians in the present time. He basically said, “Relax your standards of purity. Don’t be too upset, and I will make it worthwhile. You can have peace, prosperity, and property, but only if you don’t insist on doing the right thing.” As Christians, we need to remember that we’re called to be a distinct and holy people, and that Satan is always looking for ways to entice us to compromise God’s holy standards. Satan will promise us the world if we just give in. It should be noted that Hamor’s promises to the Israelites were liess, just as Satan’s promises to us are lies (Gen. 34:23).
Moses may have included this chapter in all its repulsiveness to warn God’s people of the dangers of becoming assimilated with the world. The nation of Israel was about to go into the land of Canaan. The people were under the danger of being blended into the Canaanite way of life and that was a threat for the spiritual purity of not only one individual but for the community as a whole.
We also are urged to maintain our distinctiveness instead of blending in with the world.
Read Genesis 34:13-31. Here we see another wrong way to respond to spiritual impurity. Jacob’s sons deceived the men of Shechem so that they could punish all of them. This was an extreme reaction. It was fanaticism, and it was just as unacceptable as apathy. Circumcision in those days clearly was not done with the same surgical precision and antiseptics as are used today; as a result, a man would be incapacitated for several days after his circumcision. It would have been easy for Simeon and Levi to kill all the males of the city. The point is that they went too far in responding to impurity.
Sometimes Christians exhibit the same type of fanaticism. History is filled with stories of those who have crossed the line in seeking moral and doctrinal purity. Fanaticism is an unacceptable response to spiritual impurity. It is good to be zealous, but we must be careful not to go too far.
As Christians we’re called to maintain spiritual purity and respond appropriately to spiritual impurity. To do this, we must learn the two lessons that are illustrated in this text today: (1) Spiritual purity can be maintained only by being fully obedient and alert; and (2) neither apathy nor fanaticism is the appropriate response to spiritual impurity.
General Conference Ministerial Association