If you didn’t catch my last post on peace and violence, check it out here to catch up. The TL; DR of that post? God shows derision for violence among humanity. He shows grace to a Cain, despite grounds for “just” punishment. He floods the world to punish violence. God reminds and guide the world back to His shalom. God pursues peace.
The next stop on this crazy ride? The Patriarchs. What about them? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; didn’t they do crazy things? Yes. However, God uses broken humans to accomplish His restoration project. Let’s check them out.
God makes a covenant with Abraham. He promises great blessing to this guy and all his future generations. Here’s what God says:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:2-3, NIV)
This guy will be special. He remains a constant fixture throughout the rest of the Bible. He’s the start of this wild plan.
What does Abraham’s story record about violence? We find Abraham becoming wealthy, so he and his nephew, Lot, have to part ways. One pasture couldn’t sustain both men’s flocks. Abraham has lots of silver, gold, and livestock. When the workers realize it, they argue (Gen. 13:7) about land rights.
Abraham exercises wisdom here. Don’t miss it. Look at Genesis 13:8:
” So Abram said to Lot, ‘Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives.'”
Let’s be honest. Abraham could have taken the land and Lot’s stuff by force. Instead, Abraham gives Lot first choice. Peace takes precedent. It establishes patriarchal peace.
There’s an episode in Isaac’s story with a guy named Abimelech. Abimelech is the king of the Philistines. Isaac gives up what is his property to Abimelech. Why? So that there will be peace instead of violence (cf. Gen. 26:1-33).
The text points out that Isaac is much stronger in wealth and fighting power than Abimelech. Abimelech even says, “you are much mightier than we” (Gen. 26:16). If this turned to battle, over Isaac’s wells, Isaac would crush Abimelech. Isaac gives up what is his to pursue peace instead – even if it means being cheated out of his own property. Jesus will show us that peace often means taking a loss. Patriarchal peace takes root.
Jacob and Esau
First off, Laban is a jerk (Gen. 29-31). Jacob could have gotten rowdy and thrown down with Laban. Even though Jacob has a lot of opportunities to respond in anger with violence, he never does. He practices the Edenic ideal of shalom.
What about the episode with his brother, Esau? To diffuse a potential death match with his brother, Jacob takes the posture of a servant to his lord (Gen. 32:4, 5, 18; 33:8, 13). Instead of a sibling rivalry turned cage match, Jacob humbles himself to maintain peace.
Jacob goes above what I’d call normal by offering a giant gift to ensure peace. He recalls God’s promise to Abraham in a prayer to God (Gen. 32:9-12) and then assembles a giant farm bouquet welcoming Esau. Instead of choosing violence, Jacob preserves peace. Patriarchal peace remains the ideal.
Levi and Simeon
Dinah, their sister, is raped by a creepy guy named Schechem (Gen. 34:2). Jacob gets wind of this, and tells her brothers, Levi and Simeon who are understandably furious. After that, Schechem is audacious enough to ask her dad (Jacob) if he can marry her (Gen. 34:4, 6,8)! Levi and Simeon step in and lay out the bride-price: Everybody in Schechem’s tribe and city have to get circumcised. The city consents and goes under the knife (Gen. 34:20-24).
Three days later while the men were “still in pain”, Levi and Simeon kill every male, including Schechem and his dad Hamor. They got Dinah back and took all their livestock, took all the jewelry and all the women and children (Gen. 34:26-29)! Was this justified? The text stays neutral neither approving nor condemning their behavior. I, however, want to celebrate. I mean the guy raped their sister! That’s my inclination.
Yet, later in Genesis, we see their actions condemned. When Jacob is about to die, and after Joseph comes home, he calls all of his sons in to give them a blessing. There’s a lot happening in here, but I don’t want you to miss Jacob’s remarks to Simeon and Levi:
“Simeon and Levi are brothers — their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel (Gen. 49:5-7, NIV).
Did you catch that? He curses his own kids! Why? Their violent, murderous actions. They didn’t respond with Shalom. Behind dad’s back they set up a slaughter. They didn’t pursue peace. Instead, fueled by anger and vengeance, they wiped out the men of an entire people group and robbed their widows and children blind. It celebrates patriarchal peace. It condemns violence.
I need not expound on Joseph. After being sold into slavery by his brothers, imprisoned for many years, and then rising to the Vice Presidency of Egypt, he has a unique opportunity. Famine strikes whole land and his brothers come begging for grain. Jacob plays with them, but reveals himself to his brothers.
They enter the court and plead forgiveness. It scares them that he will kill them (Gen. 50:15-16). Instead of commanding their torture and execution, he says this:
“‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (Gen. 50:19-21, NIV).
Joseph could have ordered their death. Instead, he shows God’s ideal for shalom. He forgives. Joseph takes the loss. He blesses those who hurt him. Joseph showcases the Edenic ideal of shalom. It cements patriarchal peace.
In the stories of the Patriarchs of Israel, we see God’s plan gaining steam. They pursue peace. Eden is a faint echo, but it grows more audible. However, in these episodes, there are two texts that present us with problems. These two text seem to endorse violence: Genesis 9 and 14. We’ll work through those next time. See you then!