09 July 2010

If only...

I find the Old Testament fascinating... the stories, the cultures, the people, the way God worked... Sometimes, as I reread through stories that I've heard all of my life, it is amazing the things that the Holy Spirit causes to leap right off the pages and into my heart where I "cud-munch" on them... sometimes for a really, really long time. The story of Dinah has been one of those stories.

Before, when I heard teaching on the story of Dinah or we'd study it in church/Sunday School, she was most definitely a "bad" girl. Matthew Henry writes: "Dinah was, for aught that appears, Jacob’s only daughter, and we may suppose her therefore the mother’s fondling and the darling of the family, and yet she proves neither a joy nor a credit to them; for those children seldom prove either the best or the happiest that are most indulged. She is reckoned now but fifteen or sixteen years of age when she here occasioned so much mischief. Observe, her vain curiosity, which exposed her. She went out, perhaps unknown to her father, but by the connivance of her mother, to see the daughters of the land (v. 1); probably it was at a ball, or on some public day. Being an only daughter, she thought herself solitary at home, having none of her own age and sex to converse with; and therefore she must needs go abroad to divert herself, to keep off melancholy, and to accomplish herself by conversation better than she could in her father’s tents.... Her pretence was to see the daughters of the land, to see how they dressed, and how they danced, and what was fashionable among them. She went to see, yet that was not all, she went to be seen too; she went to see the daughters of the land, but, it may be, with some thoughts of the sons of the land too. I doubt she went to get an acquaintance with those Canaanites, and to learn their way. Note, The pride and vanity of young people betray them into many snares."

Needless to say, Dinah was never one of my heroines... and I never gave her story any more thought until...

...I was teaching a Bible study to 15 and 16 year old girls. They wanted to study different women in the Bible and they chose Dinah for several reasons - she was probably close to their age, her story is tragic and there is just something magnetic about those less than nice girls.

The first thing that struck me as I began looking at her story again, was that while the name Dinah means "justice," it is questionable whether she received any at the hands of her world or her family and she is really barely mentioned at all.

The bulk of her story is contained in Genesis 34.

"And Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her. And his soul clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spake kindly unto the damsel. And Shechem spake unto his father Hamor, saying, Get me this damsel to wife. And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter: now his sons were with his cattle in the field: and Jacob held his peace until they were come. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out unto Jacob to commune with him. And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob's daughter: which thing ought not to be done."

I think that what struck me most about this passage is that it is not clear from the biblical text that Dinah actually did anything wrong. Her desire to see the daughters of the land is never condemned. We just don't know for sure in reading the biblical account. She may have been maliciously and deceptively sinful - she may have snuck out of her father's house, she may have lied, she may have dressed seductively and actually gone looking for boys while telling her mom she wanted to meet some girls her own age. But she also might have been a young girl, the only daughter in her father's house, who'd just moved to a new place and who wanted to show herself friendly so that she could make some new friends, who became a victim of her new neighbors, her family and her world and culture.

I guess I tend to lead towards the latter interpretation over the first, maybe because I've watched my own young girls as we've moved them halfway around the world, entering a new and not totally familiar culture and the first thing they want to do is make some friends. They are great friends within themselves, but God designed us to enjoy relationships and my big and little girls love to get to know other girls wherever we go - be it a new church in another state or a new school in a foreign language in a different country.

The key thought the Holy Spirit impressed on my heart is the need for discernment - as parents and as individuals - when we enter those new situations (and life is filled with new situations - on an almost daily basis). As finite human beings, we can't begin to see the train of consequences a simple action like "going out to visit the daughters of the land" might start rolling. I think this fact is emphasized in this particular passage by the fact that "and" begins almost every sentence... each action was a reaction provoked by the previous event and there was very little forethought or intentional planning.

Thus, perhaps one of the most important things I can model for and teach my children is the need to think through possiblities and potentialities before choosing on a particular path, whenever that is possible; we need to know the reasons why we do what we do - to know that we are not just reacting to or following the lead of the world and culture around us.

One other thing I've taken from this Bible story, even today... as we are preparing once again to return to the land where God has called our family to sojourn, is my need to extend grace to my big and little girls (and the rest of my family) while we make yet another huge transition... and be prepared to extend grace for those inevitable times when they do not discern wisely in the things they choose to do and/or say.

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