Since Genesis 12, the narrative has displayed the endurance of the Abrahamic covenant. Genesis 34-36 traces how the descendants of Abraham would live in the Promised Land. While Jacob and his sons attempted to establish themselves in the land of Canaan, the family of faith capitulated to their pagan neighbors. In the events of Genesis 34-36, God’s purposes are not thwarted by the sin of His people.
Genesis 34 recounts Dinah’s disposition in Shechem. “She went out to see some of the young women of the area” (Gen 34:1). Dinah was fitting in a little too well with pagans. But Shechem’s actions more obviously display moral depravity. While the violation of Dinah is horrific in any culture, Shechem’s proposal of marriage would likewise be disastrous to the covenant family. The intermarriage Shechem proposed would have compromised the covenant God made with Abraham—even if he “loved the young girl and spoke tenderly to her” (Gen 34:3), urging his father to get her for him as a wife (contra Genesis 24, where Abraham renounced a foreign wife for Isaac).
Dinah’s brothers wished to avenge what Shechem had done to their sister. They thus deceitfully agreed to the Hivite proposition of intermarriage between the two clans. While the pain of circumcision would have been crippling to the adult male Hivites, it would prove to be only a foreshadowing of the murder and plunder that would follow (Gen 34:25-29). Jacob finally entered into a dialog with his sons in Gen 34:30-31, recognizing that the actions of his children had caused his situation in the Promised Land to go from bad to worse.
Throughout Genesis, God works through the choices of humanity, causing even the sins of the covenant family to advance His redemptive plan—yet never excusing the wicked moral choices of anyone. This principle is illustrated in Gen 35:1-8. After the failures of the covenant family in the northern part of Canaan, God called Jacob to go south, to the covenant land of Bethel, the place where Jacob had made a vow to God (Gen 28:20-22).
The genealogical records of Genesis 35-36 help trace God’s promises in relation to Abraham’s descendants. Esau’s wives were all Canaanite women, those outside the covenant family (Gen 36:1-3; see Gen 26:34-35; 27:46). Esau’s marital choices reveal that he was not the heir of the promise. Nonetheless, he prospered and enjoyed the prophecy that even kings would arise from his family line (Gen 36:31). The point of Genesis 36 is that Esau settled away from the land of promise (Gen 36:6, 8). The descendants of Esau were known as the Edomites, those who opposed the people of Israel when they were traveling toward the Jordan River and their entrance into Canaan—even threatening them with the sword (Num 20:14-21). All of this is in contrast to Jacob, who had twelve sons (Gen 35:23-26) and “lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan” (Gen 37:1).
The number of Jacob’s sons provided a structure that Jesus and the New Testament authors employed in various ways. Their use of the number twelve demonstrated that they were fulfilling the promises made to Jacob and Israel. Jesus chose twelve disciples (Matt 10:2-4//Mark 3:13-19//Luke 6:14-16) and after Judas’s departure, the eleven were inclined to find a replacement so that their numbering of twelve would be maintained (Acts 1:15-26). Fulfillment—how the new relates to the old without setting it aside—will be forever observable in heaven. In the Revelation, John saw both Jacob’s sons and Jesus’ disciples as significant for God’s heavenly habitation with His people:
Then one of the seven angels, who had held the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me: “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” He then carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, arrayed with God’s glory. Her radiance was like a very precious stone, like a jasper stone, bright as crystal. The city had a massive high wall, with 12 gates. Twelve angels were at the gates; on the gates, names were inscribed, the names of the 12 tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. The city wall had 12 foundations, and on them were the 12 names of the Lamb’s 12 apostles (Rev 21:9-14).