************ Sermon on Genesis 33:16-34:4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 4, 2014
"The Result of Partial Obedience"
Who sinned in our Bible reading? Many point their fingers at Dinah saying she was responsible for her own rape; she put herself in a position where Shechem could take advantage of her; or, she led the young man on to the point he couldn't stop himself anymore. But Dinah, like many women throughout history, is nothing but a victim and cannot be held responsible for what happened to her.
Who sinned in our Bible reading? We can point the finger at Shechem, the young man who violated and raped Dinah. As we read further, we can point to Hamor, the father of Shechem, who seemingly tolerated the rape and abuse of Dinah. Further on we can point to Jacob's sons for their deceitful use of circumcision in order to kill the men of the city. However, there is one more sinner I need to mention, the man whose sin set everything into motion.
The sin and sinner I haven't mentioned is found at the very beginning of our Bible reading. I am talking about Jacob and his half-hearted obedience.
I Jacob's Lack of Total Obedience
A Spiritually, Jacob has come a long way. He finally set things right with a brother who had sworn to kill him and he risked his life to do it; he saw his brother's face and lived to talk about it. And, wonder of wonders, he even saw the face of God and lived. Amazing! What is more, Jacob finally learned to do all this not by his own strength, not through some cunning trick, but in weakness and humility. Like I said, Jacob has come a long way.
Geographically, Jacob has also come a long way. He was way up north in Paddan Aram (Gen 33:18) and, at the command of God, he went back to the land of his fathers (Gen 31:3). Along the way he met with Esau and was reconciled.
B Now, notice what Jacob does next. Jacob "went to Succoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for himself and made shelters for his livestock" (Gen 33:17). Jacob built himself a house and barns. Jacob has come a long way but he has not come far enough. Why do I say that? Because God had told Jacob to return to the Promised Land (Gen 31:3). But Succoth was outside of the Promised Land, on the other side of the Jordan.
C Some time later, Jacob moved on a short distance to Shechem (Gen 33:18). At Shechem, Jacob bought a piece of ground from Hamor for a hundred pieces of silver. Jacob was now in the Promised Land. But, again, Jacob did not go far enough. To see this, we need to go back in time to when Jacob was fleeing from Esau. At that time Jacob stopped at a certain place. There Jacob had that marvelous dream of a stairway reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it with the Lord God Himself standing above it (Gen 28:12-13). In the dream God renewed the covenant promises He first gave to Abraham. In response, Jacob called the place "Bethel" meaning "House of God" and promised to return to worship God and give a tithe.
The opening verses of our Bible reading tell us that God has fulfilled all the promises He made to Jacob at Bethel. Jacob has not only returned safely to the Promised Land, but he has returned with wives and children, flocks and herds. God truly has been gracious and faithful to Jacob, just as He promised!
Now, what about Jacob? Has he fulfilled his promises? Jacob was almost there – only twenty miles away. The hardest part of his journey was over. The greatest dangers have been dealt with.
D What do we see, then? We see that Jacob stopped short. Two times he stopped short. Two times Jacob stopped short of full obedience to God.
The contrast between vow and performance couldn't be more striking: Jacob built a house for himself instead of seeking God's house. Jacob bought a piece of ground for himself instead of seeking God's house. And, Jacob set up an altar at Shechem when he should have been building an altar at Bethel.
As we examine ourselves for the Lord's Supper this coming week we need to realize that partial obedience is never enough. Half-hearted commitment is never enough. Being in the right ballpark is good enough to watch a baseball game, but it is not good enough when it comes to our relationship with God.
Jacob needs to realize that nothing short of full obedience and complete commitment is required. Look at the consequences of his partial obedience: rape and murder.
Let's apply this principle to Luke's profession this morning. Suppose Luke says, "I know I promised to believe the Bible, but I don't really believe Genesis and I don’t believe Jesus is the eternal Son of God." Partial faith. Do you think the Lord would be happy with this?
Let's apply this principle to baptism this morning. Suppose Kevin & Angela say, "I know we promised to do all we can to teach Maverick John the doctrine of salvation, but this doesn't mean we are giving him a Christian education. This doesn't mean we are sending him to Sunday School and Catechism. This doesn't mean we are going to do Bible reading and prayer at home." Partial obedience. Do you think the Lord would be happy with this?
Let's go further and apply this principle to you and me. As we examine ourselves this coming week, suppose we think we have done pretty good because we have kept five or six or even seven out of Ten Commandments? Suppose we think we are doing okay though we skip church half the time? Suppose we think we are okay because we only have a little bit of sex outside of marriage or barely cheat on our income taxes? Do you realize God would no longer be God if He did not demand perfect obedience to His Law? God would be denying His own holiness and justice?
Finally, let's apply this principle to our Lord Jesus Christ. Suppose Jesus was mostly obedient to God. Suppose He only told one little lie to the Pharisees. Suppose He lusted only a little bit after Mary of Magdalene? Suppose He was mostly respectful to His parents as He was growing up? Partial obedience on the part of Jesus means no salvation for you and me and nothing to celebrate next Sunday. If our Mediator and Deliverer is not fully righteous He cannot pay for our sins.
Do you see what all is at stake in Jacob's behavior?
Here is a reminder that our God is a demanding God. He declares every square inch of the universe to be His. He demands our life, our service, our time, our all. He does not settle for half-hearted devotion and half-hearted obedience.
II Shechem's Place in Israel
A Now, why did Jacob think that Shechem was a better place than Bethel? Was it, perhaps, a better site for trade? Following the example of great Uncle Lot did he discern its grass and water was better for his flocks and herds? Did he think to himself, "It doesn't really matter because Bethel is only twenty miles away. Shechem, Bethel – it is basically the same, isn't it?" Compromise and partial obedience is never a good thing. So, why did Jacob live in Shechem? To answer this question we need to take a trip through history.
B Our first stop is Abraham. Abraham was called by God to leave country, people, and family and go to Canaan. He stopped off in Haran for a while. Do you remember where he went when he finally came to the Promised Land?
(Gen 12:6) Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem.You heard me right: Abraham's journey ended at Shechem and its tree.
Shechem is the first city of the Promised Land to be mentioned in the Bible. Most scholars agree that its tree was almost certainly an oak. The tree of Moreh at Shechem is described by the Bible as "the great tree." It was not your average tree. What made this tree so great? The Hebrew suggests it was a place where divine oracles could be obtained. It was a place to hear from God.
Three things happened when Abraham first came to Shechem:
-first, God appeared to Abraham at Shechem and its tree; up to this point God had only spoken to Abraham (Gen 12:7)
-second, it was here that God first promised the land to Abraham's offspring (Gen 12:7)
-third, it was here that Abraham built his first of seven altars to the Lord (Gen 12:7)
What I want you to realize, congregation, is that Shechem – with its tree and its altar – played a vital role in God's dealing with Abraham.
C Our next stop in history is one I have already mentioned. It is no accident that Jacob secured for himself the very spot where Grandpa Abraham built his altar. Here Jacob pitched his tent. And – even more importantly – it is here that Jacob set up an altar, probably within eyeshot of Abraham's altar.
Jacob may have built his altar in the wrong place, but he still gave it a good name, a very good name. He called it "El Elohe Israel" (Gen 33:20). The name means "God, the God of Israel." Jacob is not talking about the nation of Israel; rather, he is talking about himself because "Israel" is the name God gave him after the wrestling match (Gen 32:28).
Do you remember the last name Jacob had for God? Jacob referred to God as "the Fear of his father Isaac" (Gen 31:53). Someone scary and frightening. But now suddenly God is his God, his personal God and Father. For the first time, Jacob actually calls the God of creation his God. Thus was fulfilled what he had vowed at Bethel: that if the Lord brought him safely back to his father's house, then "the Lord will be my God" (Gen 28:21).
But, remember, whatever the motivation, Jacob was still dragging his feet by going to Shechem first. It took the tragic episode of Dinah's rape to make Jacob leave Shechem for Bethel.
When we read further in Scripture we learn that Jacob did one last thing before he left Shechem. In Genesis 35 we read that Jacob took all of his household gods, his idol gods, his foreign gods, and he buried them. Where? He buried them "under the oak tree of Shechem" (Gen 35:4). At the very spot where Abraham righteously called upon the Lord, at Shechem, Jacob buried every remnant of paganism that was in his family.
D Our next stop is Joshua. At the end of his life, Joshua called for Israel to assemble at Shechem with its altar and its tree (Gen 24:1,26). Joshua recounted God's faithfulness from the time of Abraham all the way through the conquest of the Promised Land. He solemnly impressed upon the people the importance of being faithful to God and His covenant.
(Josh 24:14) "Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD."They were told to throw away their idol gods at the exact same spot Jacob buried his foreign gods. In my mind I can imagine Joshua pointing to the altars (or their stones), to the tree (or its official substitute). I can hear him saying, "Here Abraham worshiped God. Here Jacob worshiped God and buried his idols. Do the same: worship God and bury your idols."
On that day, under Abraham's tree, Israel ratified her covenant with God. She swore to be faithful and true to God (Josh 24:18).
E Our last stop is Abimelech, the son of Gideon. From the beginning of her history, God was king over Israel (1 Sam 12:12). It was God Who created her as a people. He delivered her from Egypt. He gave her the ceremonies and symbols of the Law. For this reason, Gideon refused to let Israel make him king (Judges 8:22-23).
Gideon's son, Abimelech, was a different matter. After his father died, Abimelech went to work. He persuaded the people of his town to make him king. Listen to what Scripture says:
(Judg 9:6) Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelech king.Do you hear what is mentioned? The people of Shechem. The altar at Shechem. The great tree at Shechem. Can you even believe this? They did this at the very spot, the very tree, the very altar where Abraham and Jacob and Joshua and Joshua's people pledged themselves in service to God. They declared that a man, an evil man, was king in place of God.
F I can mention more incidents (Gen 50:25; Josh 24:32; 1 Kings 12:1). But do you see the place of Shechem in the history of Israel? It was a covenant place. It showed either covenant faithfulness or covenant disobedience.
Consider Abraham. It was at Shechem that Abraham was given God's promises. And, Abraham's altar is proof that he believed those promises.
Jacob, on the other hand, proved his lack of commitment to God by lingering at Shechem instead of going to Bethel to pay his vows. What Jacob did was the antithesis of what Shechem symbolized. The sinful result was absolutely disastrous for Jacob and his family.
At Shechem we see grace and at Shechem we see judgment. Does this sound at all familiar? It should because the cross is our Shechem. As the Lord’s Supper reminds us, this is where we find grace and this is where we find judgment.
Our Scripture reading reminds us that sin has consequences. A small sin, so it seems, this lack of commitment, this lack of total obedience, on Jacob's part. But the result was rape, deceit, and murder.
Let us learn from Shechem, congregation. Let us learn from Shechem that to serve the Lord is no light matter. Let us learn from Shechem that to serve the Lord is to serve Him alone. Let us learn from Shechem that to serve the Lord is to serve Him whole-heartedly. Let us learn from Shechem that to serve the Lord is to serve Him obediently. As we sing in a few moments:
You alone are my strength, my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield.
You alone are my heart's desire,
And I long to worship Thee.
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