James, in talking about the tongue, said, it is a small member—a little part of our body, but he went on to say that it’s like the rudder on a ship. It sets the course of our lives (Jas. 3.4-5). What other small things can turn our lives in directions we may have never intended?
What can we learn from the small decisions and compromises that people in the Bible made?
Genesis 33 & 34
Small Decisions = Big Consequences
Genesis 33 & 34:
The Danger in “Small” Decisions
Have you ever thought about how “small things” can set the course of our lives?
Just as James said the tongue acts like the rudder on a ship (Jas. 3.4-5), other small things can have a profound effect. Small decisions, small compromises, small indulgences, small thoughts, and what we consider “small” sins can affect our lives and the lives of those we love.
In chapter 33 Jacob, now called Israel, continued on toward home after the reunion with his brother Esau after twenty plus years. But on his way, Jacob set up temporary homes first in Succoth and then in a town named Shechem.
In chapter 34 Jacob’s daughter Dinah had decided to go into town “to see the daughters of the land.” She ended up being raped, which in turn, lead to the brutal slaughter of all the men in the city of Shechem. Even though Shechem, the young man who raped her, professed his love for and desire to marry her afterward, it didn’t change what had been done.
Dinah, possibly 15 or 16 at the time, appears to be Jacob’s only daughter. Was she the apple of everyone’s eye, especially her mother’s? While it is possible she left the camp without her father knowing, it is unlikely she did so without her mother’s knowledge.
The text says she wanted to see the daughters of the land. Maybe to see what was in fashion, how they dressed, how they wore their hair. Maybe she didn’t just go “to see,” but to be seen. How did she end up unsupervised in a pagan city? Was she spoiled?Did her parents have trouble saying “no”?
Shechem was apparently, the son of the city’s founder. Verse 19 says, “He was more honorable than all the household of his father.” The word “honorable” is translated “respected” in the NASB. It comes from a root word meaning “to be heavy, weighty or burdensome.”
It doesn’t mean he was honorable or respected in the best sense of the word, but that he was influential. Daddy’s boy carried a lot of clout! That would explain how he could talk the other young men into being circumcised (Gen. 34.13-24) when Dinah’s brothers insisted on it before they would allow Dinah to marry him.
Look at what he said to his father after the rape, “Get me this young woman as a wife.” He sounds like a son who was accustomed to getting what he wanted. What may have seemed like “small” indulgences to his father had huge consequences. First was his belief he could just take whatever he wanted, in this case, Dinah and her innocence. But the consequences wouldn’t end there.
Often, “small choices,” if not filtered through God’s principles, can lead to an attitude of entitlement. Many of our children today think they are entitled to the latest in technology, a nice car to drive, all the latest fashion items, and the freedom to come and go and use those things as they please.
What kind of adults, what kind of husbands and wives are we setting them up to be? If a son or daughter is given everything he or she wants and is allowed to think “it’s all about me,” how can we expect them to suddenly be husbands and wives who live out Philippians 2.3-4 by preferring others as more important than themselves? Instead, they have been conditioned to be selfish and demanding.
And what about Jacob’s sons? What small thoughts became murderous ones lived out in an act of revenge (Gen. 34.29)?
25 Now it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came boldly upon the city and killed all the males. 26 And they killed Hamor and Shechem his son … took Dinah from Shechem’s house … took their sheep, their oxen, and their donkeys … all their wealth … their little ones and their wives they took captive; and they plundered even all that was in the houses.
Sometimes we think it’s ok to “just think about” something as long as we don’t “do” it. But Jesus said that whoever has sinful anger in his heart is already guilty (Matt. 5.21-22). We can certainly understand the anger over the rape of their sister, but that doesn’t justify revenge (Rom. 12.19).
What about small compromises, how do they lead to big changes? Look at the progression of our TV viewing for an example. When the I Love Lucy Show first appeared, Lucy wore pajamas and she and Desi slept in twin beds. Prudish by today’s standards … maybe … but look at prime time TV today! We didn’t get there overnight. It was a series of small changes and compromises!
The theory of evolution has gradually become accepted as fact because of a steady stream of “small” untruths. Try to find a children’s book about dinosaurs, for instance, without the words “millions and millions of years ago.” Small seeds planted from the time children are old enough to listen to a story or pick up a picture book.
Take the area of homosexuality. We’ve gone from it being illegal, to not mentioned, to “don’t ask, don’t tell,” to tolerated, to accepted, to a “right,” to making it illegal in some situations to even speak against it, and it isn’t over yet!
And how did we get from marriage as a sacred institution to anything goes? How did we come to justify living together if it is more beneficial financially? Or less of a commitment? Or more convenient? One small step at a time!
What “small” compromises, “small” indulgences, and “small” decisions are setting the course of your life and your children’s?
Let’s pray that all of us would look first at our own lives. Where are we making “small” compromises which are not pleasing to God? What are we allowing our children to do so they can get ahead in school, or have friends, or be popular, or because we don’t want them to be deprived or not be “our friends”? Let’s be faithful to God and, “… make it our aim (our goal) … to be well pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5.9).
Today’s Other Readings:
Being in a Small Minority
Sometimes when we take a stand for what is right, we find ourselves in a small minority, but we need to remember what this psalm tells us—that God maintains our right and our cause (Ps. 9.4). Paul echoed that thought when he wrote:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8.31).
Wisdom & Discretion
This passage says that wisdom and discretion will cause us to walk in our way securely and protect us from the onslaught of the wicked. How might wisdom and discretion have prevented the sad sequence of events in Genesis 34?
“Caught” Doing Good
In this passage the religious leaders wanted to “catch” Jesus doing something that was illegal, like healing someone on the Sabbath. I know some of you are in jobs where you live with the concern that someone will “catch” you speaking the truth or sharing the gospel. While we need to obey those who are in authority over us, that authority stops if we’re being asked to sin. I pray that God will give you wisdom to know where that line is.
Praying the Bible:
From Proverbs 3:
21 My son, let them not depart from your eyes—
Keep sound wisdom and discretion;
22 So they will be life to your soul
And grace to your neck.
23 Then you will walk safely in your way,
And your foot will not stumble.
24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
Yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet.
25 Do not be afraid of sudden terror,
Nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes;
26 For the Lord will be your confidence,
And will keep your foot from being caught.
Lord, help me keep sound wisdom and discretion. Thank you that when I do they will be life to my soul and grace to my neck. They will keep me safe and allow me to sleep without fear. Thank you for being my confidence. In Jesus name. Amen.
In the coming days, we’ll talk about the unpardonable sin, whether God can redeem the past, how to respond to private temptations, and about whether God tests us and how that might look.
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