I think two truths are powerfully seen here; the need for God’s people to be distinct, and God’s protection of his promises.
As Israel wandered the desert, Moses, inspired by the Spirit of Yaweh, recorded the book of Genesis. Here Israel could see the immorality and false promises that make up their historical dealings with the Canaanites, those whom God had called them to annihilate. They were not to intermarry, why? The issue was not racial, it was religious.
Allow me an important tangent. Interracial marriage is not forbidden by God, interfaith marriage is. I agree with John Piper that, “interracial marriage is not only permitted by God but is a positive good in our day. That is, it is not just to be tolerated, but celebrated.” Toward that end I highly recommend listening to the sermon, Racial Harmony and Interracial Marriage, from with the quote above comes. If you have no desire to consider the beauty of interracial marriage might I remind you that only four women are mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of our Lord, and we are certain that three of those women were not Jews, and it is highly likely that Bathsheba (Uriah her husband was a Hittite, 2 Samuel 11:6) was not as well.
Now back to being distinct. The covenant people’s distinction is threatened seemingly by everyone in this text. One might argue that the sons of Jacob are opposed to blurring any lines, but their sacrilegious treatment of circumcision speaks otherwise. They empty circumcision of all religious meaning. On this John Sailhammer says,
Circumcision was not limited to Abraham’s descendants but was rather given as a sign of one’s joining in the hope of God’s promises to Abraham. It was, in fact, a sign given of the covenant promise that Abraham would become the father of “many nations” (17:5). But in the way the sons of Jacob carried out the request that these Canaanites be circumcised, it offers a curious reversal of God’s intention. They offered circumcision as a means for the two families to become “one people”. The Canaanites were not joining the offspring of Abraham; rather the descendants of Abraham were joining with the Canaanites.
The sons too were blurring the line. What does it mean for us today to be distinct? John MacArthur commenting on 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 gives us several helps as to what it is not. Distinction does not mean:
- Refusing to associate (we can work with, have business with, and friendships with unbelievers)
- Refusing to cooperate (we can endeavor together in good that does not compromise the gospel)
- Retreat from society (as the Amish)
- Divorcing an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12-13)
- It does not mean even refusing to associate with immoral unbelievers (1 Corinthians 5:9-10)
What does it mean? It means we do not blur the lines of those who are in the covenant and who are out. It means that we never associate or cooperate in such a way as to deny the gospel. It means that we are not “bound together with unbelievers in any religious event, enterprise, or activity”. MacArthur goes on to say that, “To be bound together with unbelievers in any spiritual effort is irrational, sacrilegious, disobedient, unprofitable, and ungrateful.”
Everyone party in this narrative threatens this distinction, and by implication the promises of God. Dinah’s foolishness, Shechem’s lust, Jacob’s passivity, Hamor’s politics, the Hivite’s greed, and the son’s vengeance all threaten God’s covenant people and His promises. But all they can do is threaten. God often works through and in spite of the foolishness of man. Rather than destroy distinction, they help preserve it. His promises are invincible.