I wrote a page about the rape of Dinah before realizing what I really wanted to write about concerning this passage. The rape of Dinah is a very interesting story from a critical perspective that, in my experience, most churches shy away from discussing. There’s considerable debate about the language used as well as the focus of the narrative and how word choice and perspective affect how we should actually interpret the course of events. If you’re at all interested, I recommend you do a basic search and look into it. The Wikipedia article is actually useful and cites decent looking sources, and several of the front page results on Google are well written with fairly easy to identify credentials. (This is one of my favorite that I found.)
When I had written that whole page, however, I realized I’d been distracted by the controversial nature of Dinah’s story. What really nags me most, when considering all three of these chapters, is that Jacob lied once again to Esau, and that, once again, the awfulness that ensued could be seen as the consequences of that choice.
Esau surprises Jacob by receiving him not just without anger but with joy. There is no reason to suspect this was disingenuous. In fact, considering that he was dramatic enough to trade his birthright for a bowl of soup, I find it quite easy to believe that over the course of twenty years his mood had changed. Especially considering he was quite wealthy himself, despite what had transpired.
Jacob, however, the schemer, still couldn’t find it within himself to trust his brother. He’d spent the last twenty years living among kinsmen he was in competition with for who could out maneuver the other. Of course he remembered the grievance he’d run away from, and his own role in it.
Esau wishes to travel together, but Jacob sends him ahead. He uses the children and livestock as an excuse. They travel slowly, after all. But once Esau has gone on, Jacob makes his way to a different destination altogether. Had he gone with his brother, chosen to accept the forgiveness and actively pursue true reconciliation, they wouldn’t have been near the city his sons ultimately wiped out.
It’s just one more ‘what if’ in a long line of ‘what ifs.’ But in how many ways are our lives, perhaps not quite so dramatically as slaughtering an entire city, a series of consequences? It’s comforting to know that God can work quite so clearly despite my poor decisions.
Sometimes, I can trace the consequences back to the decision. Sometimes, I can trace the sequence of events, but I’m not entirely sure whether I was wrong or someone else was. Sometimes, I know it was someone else. Sometimes, it’s just the consequences of the fall, which, ultimately, is someone else’s, I suppose.
But none of these ‘what ifs’ would have fundamentally changed the plan, merely the expression of it. We can recognize our mistakes, and learn from them, and we should. And learning from the mistakes of others is extremely wise. But it’s comforting to know that ultimately, the ‘what ifs’ are irrelevant, and none of them overcome God or overwrite his will.