On Free Will

There are two main definitions of free will on offer in the theological world. The first is that one can choose to do something, or not to do it (to choose the opposite). These people say that in any situation, a person can choose to do something, or to do its very opposite. This is called the power of contrary choice. It is thoroughly unbiblical, when it comes to whether a person can please God or not. These people say that a person can choose God or not choose God based on their own power of free will. The problem with this is, of course, that when you come to describe God’s will, you wind up in blasphemy, saying things about God being able to sin, etc. God can only choose what it is in His nature to choose. His nature is altogether good and perfectly holy. Therefore, all His choices are holy, just, and good. Furthermore, in the state of consummation, elect humans will be unable to sin, as the last remains of the sin nature will be swept away. Free will in this sense is definitely not all that it is cracked up to be. In fact, it is heretical.

The biblical definition of free will is that a person can choose whatever it is in their nature to choose. If a person has an unregenerate nature, then that person can only choose to do sinful things. That person cannot please God (as Romans 1-3 so forcefully tells us).

Adam alone had the power of contrary choice. He lost it in the fall, making his will enslaved to sin. Hence, all his posterity are enslaved to sin. Their will also is enslaved to sin.

But God, who is rich in mercy, works a mighty work of regeneration in many people. What happens here is that the will also is regenerated, such that it can choose to please God, and to have faith in God. Indeed, a regenerated heart doesn’t really have a choice in the matter, even if it doesn’t feel coerced (as it often does not). A regenerated heart cannot help but choose to believe in God (and thanks be to God for that, otherwise we would never choose God, our sin nature being what it is!). We can look forward to that state wherein we will be unable to sin, that state of glory.

God’s Triumphant Grace

Genesis 34

There are some situations in life that are so messy that no one gets all the blame, and no one is innocent. That was true during the time of the Crusades. Muslims had attacked Christian positions in Israel, and Christians retaliated. The Crusades were for the purpose of driving away the infidel by force from the Holy Land. What they turned into, of course, were opportunities for self-aggrandizement and personal glory. But when the light of history shines on to the Crusades, no one looks very pretty.

The same is true of this sordid tale in Genesis. We have seen several stories in Genesis that we might have been more comfortable skipping; Lot and his daughters, the story of the mandrake roots, even the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is hardly cosy fireside story material. Here we come to a very uncomfortable story. Our biggest problem is that we do not understand what is going on here.

First, we have to remind ourselves of this all-important fact: Moses is writing this history for the benefit of the Israelites who are about to enter into the Promised Land. Those people are about to be threatened with temptations to get friendly with the natives. They will be pressured to let go of their ridiculous religious distinctives, and to look just like everyone around them. We are tempted to do the same, and so we must pay attention to what our text has to say about this.

First, we will consider Dinah. We see her first in this story, and so it is right to ask the question of whether she is to blame, or whether she is innocent. At first, it looks as if she is merely out to do some sight-seeing. She wants to scope out the place, and see how these Canaanite women live. Now, Dinah was probably about 15 or 16 years old at this time. So she was old enough to be physically mature, but young enough to be somewhat naïve. She thinks that she can just go out and mix with the natives without anyone really caring about her or noticing her. The language of the text that says “she went out” has bad connotations. Possibly she went out without permission from her parents. She was certainly unchaperoned. So Dinah is not without blame here. She does some very foolish things. However, certainly not all of the blame can be attached to her.

What about Shechem? He certainly was to blame. His eyes got the better of him, when he saw this young defenceless girl. The language is somewhat violent. There is no doubt that we are talking about a rape here. However, what happens next is very interesting. Most rapes result in either the death of the woman, or the abandonment of the woman. In this case, Shechem actually wants to make her an honest woman. He wants her for his wife. So Shechem, while he has done something terrible, yet he wants to make it right. And so, he is not entirely to blame. There are some admirable qualities about him.

What about Jacob? He is the next person that we see in this drama. Jacob does not shine very well here at all. First of all, we have to remember that God commanded him to go to Bethel and erect an altar there. Jacob does not go to Bethel, but goes to Shechem. This is a sort of “half-way” obedience, which is really no obedience at all. The point is that if Jacob had obeyed God and gone to Bethel, this whole situation would never have arisen. It is a lack of faith on Jacob’s part, in addition to just plain laziness, that brings about this whole situation. God is here punishing Jacob rather strongly for this disobedience.

Second of all, Jacob doesn’t seem to have much, if any, outrage at this moral atrocity that Shechem has committed. He holds his peace, rather than being the head of the family, and going to tell Hamor and Shechem what’s up. We can see this fault of Jacob’s even more clearly if we contrast his reaction here with his reaction when Joseph is pronounced dead by his sons. His heart is broken there, but here he merely holds his peace.
Thirdly, Jacob becomes very passive in the discussions that come later. It is Jacob’s sons who do all the talking.
And then there’s Hamor. On the surface, he seems like a pretty laid-back kind of guy, who wants to live at peace with all men. However, what we need to remember is that Shechem and Hamor still have Dinah in their tent. That is their big bargaining chip, and it puts them in a position of strength. There is therefore, no way that Jacob’s sons can easily say no to their requests. Jacob’s sons therefore have little choice but to say yes, at least, that is what Hamor thinks. Hamor is not above a little deceit of his own. You will notice that when Hamor goes back to the town to convince them that a treaty is a good idea, he conveniently leaves some things out. He leaves out that Jacob would get some significant benefits beyond being married to the inhabitants. Hamor also leaves out that the main reason for this deal is that Shechem will get this girl.

Lastly, there are Jacob’s sons. At least they have the decency to be morally outraged that their sister had been defiled. That is more than can be said for Jacob, Hamor, or Shechem. Jacob’s sons have high ideals. And think about it. They know that Hamor and Shechem still have Dinah. How are they going to get her back, when they know that they do not want to intermarry with them? They will probably have to use force. But there are so many in the town? How can they level the odds? Ah, they get the bright idea of incapacitating them by means of this operation. They can cover over this deception with the idea that it is a religious conviction that makes them want the Hivites to submit to this.

The text says that Jacob’s sons deceived Hamor and Shechem. That implies a strong rebuke of what Jacob’s sons did. However, Jacob’s sons are not fully to blame either. They are easy to blame, since the punishment doesn’t even remotely seem to fit the crime. To kill a whole town just because of the sin of one person seems like overkill, literally! However, even there we must be careful. The townsfolk are implicitly agreeing that there is nothing to be concerned about. They, in effect, are sheltering Shechem by agreeing with his side of the story, and also agreeing with their capture and kidnapping of Dinah. Remember that Moses is writing to Israelites, who are going to be commanded to enter the Promised Land, and kill all the inhabitants. None are to be left alive.

Nevertheless, though these considerations mitigate the crimes of Jacob’s sons, the text does not allow us to exonerate them completely. The deception that they used, even involving a sacriligious use of the sacrament of circumcision, and the lack of compassion they showed was in fact reprehensible.

Jacob’s reaction to all this is hardly encouraging. He says that the sons’ actions have made him vulnerable to the inhabitants of Canaan. Instead of telling them that what they did was wrong, he merely tells them that what they did was foolish. Verse 31 gives us the punch line. The sons have the last word: “should he have treated her like a prostitute?” Shechem violated Dinah, and then wanted to pay for her, in effect, which is exactly what happens with prostitutes.

So what can we take away from this mess? First of all, and most importantly, God’s grace in the matter. God restrained the Hivites from doing anything drastic. God wanted to judge the Hivites, and so He brought this upon them. God also spared Dinah and the whole family a great deal of pain that might have arisen from this affair. We can see that very clearly in 35:5, where terror falls on all the inhabitants, and no one wants to tangle with Israel.
Even in the midst of our sometimes extremely messy situations in life, God can exercise His grace, and when He does, it can be the most amazing thing. God did this supremely in the cross, the messiest situation in the history of the world, where everyone was at fault. And yet, God brought many to salvation through that situation. What situation in your life is messy right now? You need to be reminded that God is a God of grace, and that He is not treating you as your sins deserve, which would be to throw you immediately into hell, but rather He is slow to anger, and abounding in love.

We can also note some practical things about our relationship with the world. Notice that we must take very careful care of our daughters when they come into contact with the world. Even here in rural North Dakota, I dare say that there are more people here than there were in the town of Shechem. And there are plenty of men out there who will take advantage of a girl’s naivete in order to get what he can. Daughters, recognize that your parents are there to protect you. They may seem a bit overprotective at times, but they are there to protect you.
Next, we can see that we should never mix with the world when it comes to marriage. This passage sounds that doctrine loud and clear. Paul elzborates on this in 2 Corinthians 6:14, where he says this: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” That means that a marriage with an unbeliever should not even be an option. You should not think about “missionary marriages” either. A missionary marriage is what happens when a believer thinks that he will convert his spouse when they get married. Do not be so foolish. What will happen is that the unbeliever will pull you away from the faith, not the other way around. Missionary marriages are out. Do not even consider it.

Consider also the way in which we treat our Christianity. Do we use it for personal gain, and for selfish reasons? Do we deceive people with pious sounding words, only to turn on them later? You see here that one sin does not deserve another. We cannot say that because someone else did something bad to us that that gives us the right to retaliate. Instead, we are to turn the other cheek.

However, since Simeon and Levi were right in their outrage against evil, so we also ought to be outraged against evil. If Jacob had been a bit less passive in this whole thing, then there might have been a bit more moderation. Because he sat back and did nothing, his sons carried away everything. Justice and mercy put together is a hard line to toe, and yet we must do so. We must be outraged against evil, but then we must find the right way to deal with it: the Gospel! The good news of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected is the way to deal with evil. That is what ultimately defeats evil in the world, and it is what ultimately defeats evil in a person’s life. That is our spiritual warfare, in which we are to take no prisoners, but fight against Satan with might and main, and never letting any of his army get away. We no longer fight with tools of flesh and blood. That is why the Crusades were so wrong. Instead, we fight against the prinipalities and powers of this dark age. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory!