Home > Bible Study, Genesis, S. Lewis Johnson > Studying Genesis, Chapters 32 – 35

Studying Genesis, Chapters 32 – 35


In my journey with S. Lewis Johnson and his Genesis series, we’ve been going through the years of Jacob and his family. Today I completed his message about Genesis 34. This has been an interesting journey, in which I’ve learned many details and insights — though not surprising, considering that I really hadn’t heard much preaching through the book of Genesis. Like most believers, I’ve heard the occasional sermons on Genesis 22 (Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac at Mt. Moriah) and Genesis 24 (the servant getting a wife, Rebekah, for Isaac), but little else from Genesis. S. Lewis Johnson even remarked, around Genesis 30 I think, that one of the commentators he read had even said that preachers should not bother to preach from these chapters. Obviously S. Lewis Johnson disagreed, as he continued, chapter by chapter, through the rest of Genesis.

The biggest lesson that comes through in these chapters is the danger of worldliness. Jacob is one of the patriarchs, yet he falls short of the great standard of Abraham and behaves with very human-focused concerns, for many years of his life. Unlike many other Bible characters (Abram, Simon Peter, Saul of Tarsus), when Jacob is given a new name (Israel), he still is often called “Jacob” after that point. Even after his great spiritual high point in Genesis 32, where Jacob wrestles with God, he degenerates quickly, starting in the very next chapter.

I had never really understood some of what was going on in Genesis 33 and 34. One pastor (the untrustworthy one) has often commented in a positive way on the great wisdom of Jacob in sending forth all the droves of animals to Esau, to placate Esau so that Esau would receive him, suggesting that the gifts had worked to bring about the reconciliation at that meeting. Yet I sensed there was more to it than that, and that several things in the narrative don’t agree with such a simple and positive interpretation of what’s going on there. S. Lewis Johnson confirms this, with his observation that Jacob did not need to bow down low as in homage to Esau, as though Esau was above himself. Such actions show instead that Jacob feared Esau more than he trusted God. God, of course, was the one that had worked in advance to change Esau’s heart and protect Jacob, long before Jacob sent those gifts to Esau. In the previous chapters dealing with Esau and Jacob, SLJ commented on Esau’s easy-going nature — the kind of guy that’s easy to get along with and that we (as people, generally) would probably prefer for a friend or neighbor. Genesis 33 certainly shows Esau’s unconcerned, easy-going nature. Also of note is the description of Esau running toward Jacob and embracing him — a description also found in the story of the prodigal son, where the father runs toward his son.

The next part of Genesis 33 is especially revealing, showing that Jacob again resorted to trickery and deceit, thus damaging his own witness for God, when he agreed to later catch up with Esau in Seir yet he had no intention of going there. S. Lewis Johnson notes that Seir was to the Southeast, and Succoth and Shechem were to the Northwest. Further, Genesis 33:17-18 notes that Jacob built himself a house at Succoth, and that later he pitched his camp “within the site of the city” (Shechem). The patriarchs were noted for dwellling in tents, as part of their lifestyle, and yet here Jacob is building himself a house. The next part about camping near Shechem brings to mind the similar experience of Lot setting up his residence near Sodom. Furthermore, S. Lewis Johnson points out, Jacob had forgotten his original vow to the Lord (in Genesis 28:20): “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” Jacob should have gone to Bethel, not to Succoth or Shechem.

Genesis 34 and its evil and tragic events confirms that Jacob’s actions were wrong. Jacob should never have placed his family there to begin with. SLJ notes, too, that Jacob must have settled in Shechem for a while, since according to the overall chronology, in chapter 33 Dinah was a little girl of about 5 to 7 years. In Genesis 34 she is several years older, probably age 13 to 15. (I wonder how that chronology is worked out of the text, as to the precise ages of Jacob’s children. SLJ does not elaborate, though this information and explanation must be in some commentaries.) Jacob’s response to his two violent sons Simeon and Levi, afterwards, is all about Jacob and Jacob’s concerns, with no indication of remorse on Jacob’s part. In SLJ’s words:

Jacob has not recovered yet. Did you notice the first person? He said, “you have brought trouble on me.” He said, “My men are few in number. They will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.” He does not say anything about the sin of camping near the city of Shechem. He does not say anything about the fact that I am to blame perhaps for what has happened. He has no repentance so far as we can tell. No regret. No remorse for what has happened. He has no sense even of God’s promises to him and how this action is a contradiction of that, but on the contrary, the only thing he can speak about is Jacob. Jacob whose name has now become Israel, God’s fighter, is living like Jacob again. No sense of the divine blessing and the divine calling.

S. Lewis Johnson has this to say concerning the doctrine of worldliness:

It is not so easy to define worldliness as we often think. The result is that the concept of unworldliness is often ridiculed and we find ourselves sometimes a little speechless in defending the doctrine of worldliness. Worldliness is often equated with narrowness of mind, straight-lacedness, a critical legalistic bent of mind. Those that think that the concept is a scriptural concept often refer to caustically as bitter people, even as ugly people, self-righteous people, and in the media, often they are pictured as mean — in fact the word mean is often used. In kindlier notes by the believers, they are put down as out of touch with the realities of the world.

Yet the Apostles speak of worldliness. There is such a thing as worldliness. The Apostle Paul, in Romans chapter 12 and verse 1 and verse 2, after expounding the mercies of God, says, “I urge you Therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world.” So the apostle does know that there is such a thing as a doctrine of worldliness.

… You can see it in individual Christian lives, individuals who were converted were full of vim and vigor spiritually in the early days of their Christian life. To use Paul’s words in the Epistle to the Galatians, they have run well but something has hindered them, and in the meantime, they have become dull and dead and criticize others who are too narrow minded, straight-laced and all of the words used to describe the kind of life that is not very comfortable for them. The worldliness may be difficult to define, but it is rather easy to feel and see and I mean feel in the sense of to understand when it is there. It is an atmosphere. It is a kind of an enervating, poisoning, luring, and deadening atmosphere in which churches often fall.

This description encourages me, to know I’m not alone in the struggle against even professing Christians who would tell me I’m out of touch with the world, “square” or call me “bitter” or self-righteous in my unworldly attitudes (such as my distaste of certain secular, anti-Christian and worldly songs–not all secular music, but certain songs are very offensive), or for taking a strong stand on what scripture says — as for example, the importance of the truth of Genesis 1, my insistence that if someone rejects the truth at the first chapter, how can they be trusted regarding other Biblical teachings?

Genesis 35 finally brings Jacob full-circle back to Bethel. The Lord tells Jacob to go to Bethel, reminding him of that vow he had made years ago. God also puts fear of Jacob’s group into the hearts of all the people in the land — another case of God’s protection, coming just after Simeon and Levi massacred and looted the village of Shechem. Jacob had been side-tracked for several years during which he was back in the land, but dwelling in Succoth and Shechem rather than in Bethel. This chapter also indicates yet again the pagan idolatry in his household, in verses 2 through 4 where they bury the pagan objects under a tree near Shechem. Now Jacob is restored, yet to mature he must experience sorrow, which comes later in the chapter with Rachel’s death.

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