The next scene in Jacob’s life was his encounter with Esau. He was relieved that Esau had welcomed him but he resisted Esau’s attempts to hurry Jacob along the journey home and declined an offer of men to help in the journey. Jacob was now free to continue his journey. He could fulfill his vow to return to Bethel and then on to his father’s home. But after Esau left, we read:
Gen 33:16-20 NRSV
16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house, and made booths for his cattle; therefore the place is called Succoth.
18 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 one hundred pieces of money the plot of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.
Succoth was a short distance from Penuel and where Jacob encountered Esau. It was still east of the Jordan River. Jacob evidently stayed there a period of time since a built a home and shelters for his livestock. Finally, he moved but he went due west across the Jordan to Shechem instead of south and west toward Bethel and his Father. He bought land that was within the sight of the city. Jacob apparently thought this was a safer option.
Sometime after settling at Shechem (maybe a decade) we encounter a disturbing story. Jacob’s daughter Dinah ventured out to meet some of the Canaanite women. (A young woman traveling alone was dangerous. Where was Jacob’s oversight?) She was raped by Shechem, son of Hamor, who decided he wanted her for his wife. Hamor and Shechem showed no sense of shame. Jacob’s sons were incensed but Jacob showed a stunning degree of indifference and just wanted to smooth things over.
Jacob’s sons devised a treaty that required the men of Shechem to become circumcised. When the men of Shechem obliged, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi attacked the incapacitated men in the town and killed them all, including Hamor and Shechem, and plundered the city. It was reminiscent of Lamech’s “Seven fold Vengeance.”
It is significant that Jacob did not follow God’s leading and proceed to the appointed destination. He lapsed into passive emotional numbness seeking safety by avoiding Easu and his father. Jacob failed to give direction and leadership. His family was becoming polluted by their surrounding environment. His daughter had been violated and his sons had become bloodthirsty killers. Safety? The events at Shechem were a wake up call.