Summary: The Christian life is a balancing act between syncretism and sectarianism.
When I was a teenager, I was one of the few students at West Davidson Sr. High School who listened to heavy metal music. Although my buddies enjoyed it to some extent, they were a little bit spooked by some of the darker groups I chose. This was mainly because they were all good church-going boys and I was not. I’d use this to my advantage to torment my religious buddies from time to time. One of my favorite groups was an obscure band from Germany named Krokus. They released songs with edifying names like “Eat the Rich” and “Screaming in the Night.” The song that I loved to chant to my buddies was titled “Ready to Burn.” One of my friends, who is now a Methodist pastor, told me not to sing or play that song in his presence. He assumed that it concerned someone’s eager decision to burn in hell and he wanted none of it. I laughed at his religious sensitivity and then confessed, “It’s not about burning in hell. It’s about drag racing.” (Lee may want to use it for inspiration on the track.)
All was not as it seemed. There was more-than-meets-the-eye with that song.
The same is true with this morning’s Bible story. At first Genesis 34 seems to be a simple, but horrible story about rape, trickery, and retaliatory bloodshed. But if you dig past the surface, that’s not really the point at all. In many Bibles this story has the heading, “The rape of Dinah.” Dinah appears to be the main character, but she’s really not. She just happens to be the excuse for the story. We know nothing about her feelings or what happened afterward.
She probably wasn’t raped either. The verb used for Shechem’s actions can signify rape (2 Samuel 13:12-14), but also consensual sex outside of marriage (Deuteronomy 22:24). Shechem may have initially forced himself on the 15 year old Dinah, but it appears that she was a willing victim because at the end of the story her brothers ask: “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” Being raped does not make one a prostitute. In those days, however, any unmarried girl or woman who engaged in consensual sex was considered a prostitute.
This story is really about the tension that exists in a life of faith. Most of us are pulled at one time or another between two extremes: religious quack or religious quisling. A quack is a fanatic who is often a faker. People like Jim Jones, David Koresh, or even Muslim suicide bombers come to mind. A quisling is a compromiser, a person who betrays their core beliefs. Quislings are turncoats, Benedict Arnolds, and fair-weather friends. You can’t tell a Christian quisling from an American atheist because they do everything in their power to blend in.
The great challenge for us as people of faith is to live in the balance somewhere between quack and quisling. Tweaking the words of Jesus (John 17:14-16) a bit, some Christians call this being “in the world, but not of the world.” If you’re a quack people will tend to keep you at arms length and not take you seriously. If you’re a quisling you’re so compromised that your life is a witness against you. God desires us to be a distinct and holy people, but not religious weirdoes.
In the story, Jacob previously had an incredible encounter with God. His life had changed radically. God brought him safely back into the Promised Land. His duty and the duty of his descendants was to make the living God known to the rest of the world beginning with the land of Canaan. You can’t make God known unless you have relationships with people who don’t know Him. Jacob and his family were supposed to connect with the Canaanites, but not be assimilated by them. In their effort to build relationships and make God known to these ungodly people there was the possibility that they’d compromise and lose their godly distinctiveness. On the other hand, if they remained separate and aloof, the Canaanites would remain in spiritual darkness. The story before us is an example of extremes. Rather than effectively make God known, they acted as quacks and quislings. The result was death and destruction.
Evading the Extremes that Make Us Ineffective
Jacob’s sons played the role of quacks. How effective were they in bringing the knowledge of God to the nations? Not at all. They massacred and enslaved the filthy unbelievers. They were rightly outraged by Shechem’s sin, but to say they went overboard is putting it mildly. Jacob’s sons exhibited the religious extremism that we must avoid to be faithful witnesses.
Before we look at why they did what they did, I need to preface this. Some people will label you a weirdo simply because you have a biblical worldview. Just because a nonChristian (or a Christian for that matter) calls you a quack or fanatic doesn’t mean that you are one on the order of Jacob’s sons. You might be labeled such by nonreligious people because your perspective and way of life is foreign to them. Once they get up close they’ll rethink their opinion. If another Christian labels you an extremist it’s probably because you have a higher level of commitment than they do. It makes them feel better and they can dismiss you by calling you a name.