Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Reading the Bible 27: Genesis 34 – The Sign of a non-Covenant

This episode in the story of Jacob is one which seems on the surface to be an old familiar one.  A young girl is abused – raped by someone in a neighbouring community.   This act is ultimately avenged by the girl’s family who see it as an affront to the family honour if not to the girl.  However, the events in between these two parts of the story are anything but simple.  It is stuff of obsession and stalking as well as family feuds and wars between tribes and nations. 

 On one level it rings true as an example of how human relations are complex and anything but simple; of how desire and lust can rule people and lead to acts such as rape and obsession and revenge and unintended consequences.  On another level the level there are events that clang in our ears as strange and unfamiliar.  Why would a tribe or nation submit to having every males circumcised as a condition of friendship with another group that has entered their territory?  You have to wonder what they were thinking when they agreed to what seems like an outrageous demand by what in effect were invaders albeit seemingly peaceful ones.  It raises the possibility of history being written by the winners or something being lost in translation over the generations.

What I find most intriguing is the use of circumcision in the story.  This was originally a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and had been practiced by Abraham and his descendants.  This covenantal act is now used by the sons of Jacob as a strategy – a very cleaver one - to gain revenge on their enemies.  This has the flavor of an army marching into battle declaring that God is on their side.  OF course there was no question of YHWY being on the side of Abraham’s decedents but |I wonder how he felt about his sign of the covenant being used for this purpose?  Given his later declaration about how the inhabitants of the Promised Land should be treated it may not have bothered him in the least.  Putting aside that semi-serious possibility, it raises the serious issue of the danger of believing that we can use God for our own purposes.  It is very easy to fall into the trap of believing we know God fully and being absolutely sure that God approves of what we are doing.  This of course is hubris which has led to many people falling great distances.  It is always good to err on the side of humility rather that hubris. 

No comments:

Post a Comment