Tuesday, January 11, 2011

He Who Wrestles with God and Family Justice

It's a common occurrence in the Bible for God to rename people.  We've already seen this with Abram and Sarai, who become Abraham and Sarah.  Well it happens again with Jacob.  God changes his name to Israel.  It means something like "the one who struggles/strives/wrestles with God."  Some might think that is a bad name, but I like it.  I've spent my whole life in the Church, so I've seen all sorts of Christians.  Some Christians seem to have an easy go of it.  Their relationship with God is what I would call a peaches and cream relationship, where everything is sweet and smooth.  I would not place my relationship with God in that class.  My relationship with God is more of the "I don't like this.  I'll tell you I don't like this.  I'm going to fight it until I get knocked up the head with a two-by-four, and then I'll accept it" type of relationship.  I'm glad to say that has gotten a bit better as the years have passed, but I have a feeling I will always be one who struggles with God.  So, I'm glad God seems to appreciate Jacob wrestling with him and not giving up.

We tend not to appreciate that attitude.  Topics like doubt, struggle, and lament are seldom discussed in our corporate worship, let alone discussed in a positive light.  Growth and maturity cannot occur without questioning, wrestling, and sorrow.  Maybe that's why so many people come to church for decades and never really grow.  Now, Jacob as a man is a very flawed and fallible character all throughout his life.  He shows favoritism among his wives and his children.  He's not even willing to hold the man who raped his daughter accountable.  However, Jacob's night of wrestling with God seems to represent a turning point in his life.  Before that point he seems to be living life by accident, not really having an identity of his own, always running from his past and his present.  But after wrestling with God, it seems that Jacob finally becomes a man, an adult, his own person.  Maybe I'm reading too much into that, but for some reason on this read-through, that's the impression I got.

That having been said, how could he not stand up for his daughter, Dinah?  He'd seen first hand with his two wives how mistreatment by men can totally derail a woman's life, and yet he's so afraid of the Hivites that he won't protect her.  Maybe I get so upset by this story because of how personal the idea of rape is to me.  Many of the girls I grew up with, who where close, childhood friends of mine, were raped.  I find it very difficult to see rapists as human.  As a Christian, I feel I am called to, but it is no simple task.  When two of Jacob's sons enter the Hivite capital and kill all the men inside, I think, "Man, that's ruthless, a little over-zealous."  At the same time, I can completely understand Jacob's sons' anger when they confront their father with, "Should our sister be treated like a whore?"  I wonder how much of their anger over their sister was passed on to them by their mothers and how they had been treated by Laban?  Who knows, but I also wonder how much disaster could have been averted had Jacob stood up for his daughter.

Stopping point: Genesis 34


  1. Have you read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant? It's a feminist interpretation of the Rachel/Leah/Jacob story. As such, the women are portrayed not as victims but as a shrewd sisterhood who outwardly submit to the patriarchal society but secretly play the system to get what they want. In Diamant's version of the Dinah story, Dinah falls in love with Shechem and chooses to be with him. It's her father and brothers who frame it as rape, as they can't believe she would make that decision. Obviously, this view is not supported by the Bible, and I'm not saying I ascribe to it. It is interesting to think of the women's reactions to these events, though. Was Dinah grateful to her brothers for defending her? Or shocked by their incredible violence? I imagine some of both.

  2. I have not read The Red Tent, but it sounds like an interesting perspective. I think there is something to be said for the idea that women had to be pretty savvy in an entirely patriarchal society. As far as Diamant's take on Dinah, considering that in Dinah's culture being raped and discarded would have been far more shameful then just being raped, it probably would have been likely she wanted to stay with Shechem. In spite of the story's beginning, she would have had a good life after the fact. However, because of what Simeon and Levi did, Dinah would have most likely been condemned to a rather difficult life since she was no longer a virgin. So, Simeon and Levi didn't do their sister any favors.