Putting Off Obedience

A sermon on Genesis 33 and 34 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 9/19/04

How would you define “obedience”?

Suppose I tell my son Matthew, “Collect the trash around the house, put it in the rolling trash container outside, and then roll the container out to the street.”

Matthew says, “Yes sir, I’ll do it.”

Later on I’m in my office and I see the trash truck come up our street – and go right by the house. I look and see our trash container is still up against the house. And I still have a pile of trash in my office trashcan.

So I find Matthew and say, “Matthew, you disobeyed!”

And he says, “No, I just haven’t obeyed YET. I said ‘I’ll do it,’ and I will – tomorrow!”

In that (fictitious) story – did Matthew obey? Is obedience tomorrow the same as obedience today?

My friends, the answer is NO. Delayed obedience is disobedience.

Last week we focused on Jacob’s conversion at Penuel. Jacob is all concerned about his brother Esau, and thinks Esau is his main problem.

But God separates him from all his possessions, all his family, all that he has sought for so long, and wrestles with him all night. Jacob resists for hours, but then God just touches his hip and disables him. Finally, with no ability to fight any longer, Jacob does what he should have done from the beginning: He clings to God. He sees that his relationship to God has been his real problem all along – not Esau, not Laban, not Isaac.  And he finally sees that God alone is the source of joy, of fulfillment. So Jacob clings to God. And so should we.

God gives Jacob a new name, recognizing the change that has taken place within him. God calls him “Israel”, or “God prevails”. Jacob walks away limping, without his former physical prowess, but inwardly a changed man – a man who knows that clinging to God is the way to true joy.

Today we consider the next two chapters of Genesis, covering Jacob’s meeting with Esau and approximately the next ten years of his life. In his meeting with Esau, we see evidence of the new Jacob, of Israel. But then Jacob delays his obedience to God, with disastrous results for his family, and for the nations around him.

What about you? Are you putting off obeying God?

Let’s see how God uses the life of Jacob to teach us these lessons. We’ll proceed with three headings, and a couple of subheadings under two of them:

The False Problem: Esau

            A relationship Restored

            Jacob’s Witness Damaged

Obedience Delayed


            A Daughter Raped

            A City Raped

The False Problem: Esau

Jacob has met God and trusts Him – but he still has no idea how Esau will respond to him. But now, instead of cowering behind all his family, Jacob goes out to meet Esau, limping:

He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. 4 But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. Genesis 33:3 ESV

These two men haven’t seen each other for 20 years. Esau certainly had a right to be angry with Jacob. But he is not angry. He rejoices to see him. He doesn’t bring up any of the quarrels of the past – he just grabs him, hugs him, and kisses him. Esau has forgiven his brother.

Jacob had worried and worried about Esau. For 20 years he had wondered if his older brother would kill him the next time they would meet. But now he sees that Esau was not the problem at all. This once again underlines to Jacob that his real problem, the only really important problem, had been his relationship to God.

When Esau then sees Jacob’s large family, he asks, “Who are these with you?” Jacob’s reply is telling (v5): “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” All the children and all his wives come and bow before Esau. Jacob acknowledges yet again that all he has comes from God’s undeserved favor.

Esau at first does not want to accept Jacob’s many gifts of livestock. But Jacob insists, saying,

“No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough." Genesis 33:10

Some accuse Jacob of being false in this interchange – indeed, some might say that he is equating Esau with God. But such an interpretation misunderstands what Jacob is saying.

Remember, Jacob has just seen God for Who He is. He held fast to God, and would not let go, seeing God’s blessing as more important than everything else – even more important than going out to see Esau. He has seen the vileness and emptiness of his life to this point. He has seen that he has lived a life of great sinfulness, a life that was an affront to God. He has repented, and looked to God as his joy, his hope.

God could have killed him; He could have punished him for his sin. But He did not. He forgave him, and bestowed on him a new name.

Do you see the parallel with Esau? Jacob had sinned against Esau, too. He had lived a life that was a great affront to Esau. Esau too had Jacob’s life in his hands – he and his 400 men could have killed him, but did not. Esau forgives Jacob, as did God. So Jacob’s encounter with Esau is indeed in many ways like Jacob’s encounter with God. Jacob is not trying to butter up Esau, he is not exaggerating when he says seeing Esau’s face is like his encounter with God.

Note too Jacob’s true humility. He not only explicitly recognizes God as the source of all his possessions (Esau does not), he also acknowledges that both God and Esau have graciously forgiven him. He does not argue for his rights, or rehash old battles with Esau. He begs for forgiveness, and receives it.

When Esau agrees to take his gift, in that culture he is acknowledging that the relationship is restored. Forgiveness has taken place. These brothers who have fought all their lives are reconciled.

Jacob’s Witness Damaged

But the old Jacob pokes his head out in the next few verses.

Then Esau said, "Let us journey on our way, and I will go ahead of you." 13 But Jacob said to him, "My lord knows that the children are frail, and that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to me. If they are driven hard for one day, all the flocks will die. 14 Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, at the pace of the livestock that are ahead of me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir." . . . 17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth. Genesis 33:12-14, 17a

Jacob doesn’t want to go to Esau’s house in Seir. In this desire, he is probably right. Esau is no longer a physical threat to Jacob and his family, but Esau’s household may well be a spiritual threat to them. Esau is forgiving toward Jacob, but he himself gives no evidence of having repented before God. And, as we shall see, God has other plans for Jacob. Furthermore, as Chapter 36 will tell us, their flocks were so great there would not have been sufficient pasturage if they had lived close to each other.

But Jacob doesn’t say that. Instead, he lies. He tells Esau he will follow after him, but then goes somewhere else. Why?

Fundamentally, distrust of God. God has guided Jacob and protected him. God has softened Esau’s heart towards him. God surely would protect Jacob if Esau were offended at his refusal to come. But instead Jacob falls into his old pattern of using deceit to get what he wants. And it seems to work.

But does it? What do you think is the impact on Esaumonths later, when he realizes Jacob once again has deceived him? He must think, “Same old Jacob – still deceiving me. He hasn’t changed a bit.”

The relationship between Jacob and Esau had been restored – but Jacob had just learned the night before that that brotherly relationship was not the most important one. His most important relationship was with God. What about Esau’s relationship with God? Did Jacob care about that? Did he share with his brother what he had discovered about the source of all joy? Would he ever be able to share this later, after this additional deceit?

What about you? Have you received God’s forgiveness? Have you discovered that God is the source of your greatest joy?

Are your actions, words, or attitudes destroying your witness before others?

Obedience Delayed

But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth. 18 And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel. Genesis 33:17-20

Question: Where should Jacob have gone upon his return?

Put it this way: If you had been out of the US for twenty years and had not seen your father in all that time, how long would you delay in going to see him upon your return? Not long, certainly.

Just so, we would expect Jacob to go see Isaac shortly after his return to Canaan. We would expect him to go and introduce Isaac to his daughters-in-law and grandchildren. We would expect Jacob to tell Isaac of his encounter with God, and how that changed him. Most of all, we would expect Jacob to ask forgiveness for deceiving Isaac, and to thank him for sending him away with nothing so that he might learn to trust God.

Indeed, 20 years previously, while bargaining with God, he said the Lord would be his God if He fulfilled certain conditions; one of those conditions was “I come again to my father’s house in peace.” (28:21)

God has fulfilled that condition – Jacob CAN return to his father’s house in peace.

But he doesn’t go see Isaac. And he doesn’t wait just a week or a month or a year. He is back in the land of Canaan for 10 years before he visits his father (at the end of Chapter 35). Why?

At the human level, we can think of several reasons:

So we can understand how Jacob might feel. But the root of Jacob’s failure to go see his father is the sin of failing to trust God.

Jacob had been afraid of Esau, but was forced into meeting him. Jacob dreaded that meting – but it ended with him sharing tears of joy with Esau. Just so, Jacob is fearful of his meeting with Isaac. And when that meeting finally takes place, there will be forgiveness and tears of joy. But in his fear, in his lack of trust in God, Jacob procrastinates, he delays meeting Isaac – for ten long years.

This is a big failure. Jacob should have visited his father much sooner. But there is an even more important visit that Jacob fails to make.Let’s read all of what Jacob said to God at Bethel 20 years previously:

"If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,  21 so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God,  22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you." Genesis 28:20-22 

Then later, when God appeared to Jacob in Paddam-Aram, He introduces Himself by saying, “I am the God of Bethel.” (31:13).

Shouldn’t Jacob return to this place? Shouldn’t Jacob fulfill his promise that “This stone . . . shall be God’s house”? Shouldn’t Jacob go first to Bethel, and then to his father?

After the tragic events of Chapter 34 take place, God then explicitly tells Jacob, “Go to Bethel” (35:1). As far as we know, Jacob had not yet received such a specific command. But Jacob did not need an explicit command to know that obedience to God required that he go to Bethel, and go to Isaac.

Yet instead of obeying joyfully, Jacob goes first to Succoth, where he built a house, and then to the Canaanite city of Shechem, where he buys land. And he stays in these two places for 10 years.

We’ve conjectured about why he delayed going to see Isaac. But why delay going to Bethel?

But day passes on to day and still Jacob/Israel does not leave. He stays there 10 years. And it takes a dual family tragedy to force him to leave.

Note this carefully: The tragic events recorded in Chapter 34 are the direct result of Jacob’s delayed obedience.

I’m sure Jacob thought, “Oh, yes, I need to go to Bethel. And I need to go see my father. But this is an inconvenient time. I’ll do that tomorrow.” And tomorrows come and go, one by one, and he always intends to obey God in a few days. But those few days become years, and finally his family faces a tragedy.

Delayed obedience is disobedience. What obedience are you delaying?

What do you know you SHOULD do – and you’ve put it off, and put it off, and put it off?


A Daughter Raped

Jacob lives right outside Shechem. His father and grandfather knew well that they were not to intermarry with the Canaanites, and they kept themselves separate from them. Indeed, Isaac had explicitly told Jacob, ‘You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women” (28:1). Jacob knows that this is an important part of his family’s fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham. 

But Jacob, with sons and a daughter now of marriageable age, takes no precautions. He should not have lived where he did – and living there, he should have supervised and limited any encounters between his children and the children of Shechem. But he doesn’t. Let’s read of the results of this disobedience:

Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. Genesis 34:1-2

Dinah, now 15 or 16 years old, looks for friends among the Canaanite women and girls. And the prince of that area sees her, is attracted to her, and takes her to himself. When she resists, he rapes her violently. As we can tell from verse 26, although he decides he loves her and wants to marry her, although he speaks tenderly to her, he also locks her in his house and does not let her return home.

How does Jacob react to this?

Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah. But his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. Genesis 34:5

Excuse me? He didn’t SEND someone to his sons immediately? He didn’t try to gather his adult sons together – they are now between the ages of 16 and 23 – and take counsel, and decide together how do deal with this situation?

Jacob seems to have become so used to delaying that he just waits for his sons to come home. He shows no leadership, not even any concern for his captive, defiled daughter.

A City Raped

His sons have a quite different reaction:

The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because [Shechem] had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, for such a thing must not be done. Genesis 34:7

Unlike their father, Jacob’s sons recognize the great evil Shechem has committed. They are angry. Their father needs to recognize that evil, and he needs to channel the anger of his sons is the right direction. Most of all, he needs to lead his family in seeking God’s face concerning how to get Dinah back and how to respond to this tragedy.

But he does none of those things.

Shechem and his father, the king, Hamor, come proposing marriage, promising to pay any bride price.  Furthermore, seeing many eligible young men in this family, they suggest that Jacob make this his permanent home, and that his sons intermarry with their daughters.

Jacob unexplainably makes no reply to this request. With their father abdicating responsibility, Jacob’s sons step in: they deceive Hamor and Shechem, promising them that Dinah can be Shechem’s wife and promising that they will indeed intermarry IF all the males of Shechem agree to undergo circumcision.

Think about that tactic: Circumcision is the precious sign of the covenant that God gave to Abraham and his household. In using this sign as a tool for revenge, Jacob’s sons are despising their birthright as effectively as Esau despised his when he sold it to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew.

Shechem and Hamor agree, and then convince the rest of the men in the city to do the same, on the promise that eventually all the livestock that belongs to Jacob will become theirs. How would this come about? Partly through the payment of bride prices for their daughters, partly just by assimilation.

So all the men of the city agree to be circumcised. This, of course, is a painful process, effectively disabling all the adult men for several days.

On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. 26 They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem's house and went away. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. 29 All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered. Genesis 34:25-29

They rape the city. The man Shechem rapes Dinah; Levi and Simeon rape the city Shechem.

Simeon and Levi were right to be angry. They were right in recognizing that Shechem has done something terrible. But as is so often the case, in revenge they commit an even greater evil.

How does Jacob react?

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, "You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household."31 But they said, "Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?" Genesis 34:30

No mention of God. No mention of the evil they have done. His only concern is that now he and his household are in danger.

And Simeon and Levi, though wrong in their actions, are right in their response to their father. Shechem committed a grave sin, and Jacob did nothing. He left the initiative to his sons, and they fall prey to the temptation to take revenge.

Jacob’s delayed obedience puts him in this terrible situation. And once the rape occurs, Jacob’s failure to trust God, his failure to lead his family in seeking God’s face to know how to respond, leads to an even greater sin and tragedy.

Furthermore, his sons, while they have not intermarried, are taking on the attitudes and actions of the Canaanites. We will see the fruit of that in the chapters ahead.

Jacob’s delayed obedience is disobedience – and his family suffers tremendously as a result.


As we have seen, Jacob delays his obedience to God because of a failure to trust God’s power and love. If he had had confidence that God was in control, he would gladly have obeyed – even though, in human terms, there were risks involved in that obedience.

So there are two key lessons for us from this sad and sordid story:

Obey right away! Trust always! Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

But we all fail in applying these lessons, in putting them into practice. How do you need to apply these lessons?

Are you failing to obey God by not dealing with known sin in your life? Are you failing to admit these sins to others? Do you keep putting off seeking out someone who will hold you accountable?

Are you failing to deal with:

Or is your sin a sin of omission – as it was for Jacob? Are you putting off doing something you know you need to do? Such as:

·        Leading your family in consistent devotions?

One of Satan’s most effective lies is: “You can put this off till tomorrow.”

Remember: Delayed obedience is disobedience.

Jesus did not delay his obedience in going to the cross. And by that obedience, He provides forgiveness and restored relationships with God for all who believe. Jesus trusted God in the midst of obedience that took Him through terrible suffering. The book of Hebrews tells us He is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. He led the way, showing us what a life of faith, a life of trust is like. And He today works to strengthen and perfect our faith, so that we might endure joyfully to the end.

So what keeps you from obeying promptly? Are you afraid that your obedience will lead to suffering?

It might do that. Indeed, Paul tells us, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Your obedience may very well lead to suffering. But Paul also tells us:

·         Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus . . .

·         Suffer hardship with me like a good soldier of Christ Jesus . . .

·         Remember Jesus Christ . . .

·         I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. . .

·         If we endure, we will also reign with Him. (2 Timothy 2:1, 3, 8, 10, 12)

My friends, that is your calling.

Obey promptly.

Trust God.

And know that your greatest joy comes in that trust and obedience.

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 9/19/04. Commentaries by Bruce Waltke (Genesis: A Commentary, Zondervan, 2001), and James Montgomery Boice (Genesis: An Expositional Commentary: Volume 2, Genesis 12-36, Baker, 1985, 1998) were especially helpful in the preparation of this sermon. Waltke is the source of labeling Simeon and Levi’s treatment of the city of Shechem a rape.

Copyright © 2004, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

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