Genesis 34: Remissness, Rape, and Revenge
Jacob's negligence and passivity contributes to Dinah's naiveté, and the excessive response of Simeon and Levi.
There are some chapters in which the glory of God is seen by reminding us of what happens when He withdraws Himself.
In Genesis 34 we see how Jacob’s partial obedience leads to the folly of Dinah and the destruction of Shechem at the hands of Simeon and Levi.
vv. 1-7 - Based on Joseph’s birth in 30:23-24 and his age in 37:2, Jacob must have already spent quite a few years in the city Shechem. The chapter begins with Dinah. She is a teenager and is curious towards the community in which she lives. The prince of the city, Shechem, takes her, violates her, and from v. 26, appears to hold her hostage. Two different words are used to describe the act. In v. 2 it is the word that can be translated as afflict, humble, or force. In v. 5 it has the idea of unclean or pollute. The first is the act, the second is the moral consequences of the act. As weird as it may seem, he falls for her and desires to marry her. When news of the event reaches Jacob, he says nothing until Dinah’s older brothers arrive. The passage presents Jacob as passive, and almost as if Leah’s sons had assumed the protective, fatherly role for their sister, rather than Jacob, who is probably spending too much of his time with Joseph. In v. 7 we have the first use of a term that will be repeated when something happens within Israel that is a heinous breech of God’s law, namely, that Shechem had “wrought folly in Israel” (Deut 22:21; Josh 7:15; Judges 20:10).
vv. 8–19 - So a negotiation begins between Hamor and his son, and Jacob and his sons. Taking the lead, Jacob’s sons argue that if they want to have Dinah or any of their daughters, they must all be circumcised. Shechem comes across as a spoiled son with a father willing to give him what he wants, however, we are told that he was “he was more honourable than all the house of his father” (v. 19), which may indicate that he saw in Dinah the favor of God, and wanted to be a part of God’s special blessing upon the household of Jacob.
vv. 20–31 - So Hamor and Shechem return to their people to encourage them to be circumcised that there may be peace and prosperity through this agreement, to which they all consent. Having been circumcised, and recovering from the wound, Simeon and Levi, in a fit of unbridled rage, kill all the males of the city, including Hamor and Shechem. They take all their livestock, wealth, women, and children. The chapter closes with a self-centered remark of self-preservation from Jacob, rather than a lament at the wickedness of the act. However, in Genesis 49:5–7 he will curse their anger.
Unpleasant consequences follow half-hearted obedience. There are two major short-comings I perceive under the surface of this chapter. First, it would appear to me, given the command that comes in Genesis 35:1, that Jacob really ought to have made his way to Bethel rather than setting for years in Shechem. Had he done this, none of the events of this chapter would have transpired. Second, Dinah’s curiosity is likely not helped by Jacob’s favoritism towards Rachel and her son, Joseph. Fathers, there can be grave consequences when we neglect any duty. Let us sense our responsibilities deeply, be present for all our children, and not be reluctant to obey God in anything.
Children need parental restraint in their lives. Is it not easy to see how this teenage girl needed a parent to hedge her away from her curiosity? Parents, make sure your children do not question your love. It will be vital when you are called upon to restrain them. But do not stand by while they gratify their foolish desires. Dinah, in a home full of boys, wants to be among girls of her own age. How many parents have listened to the appeal of their children to switch churches because they want friends or ministries catered for them. So they take them from a solid, biblical church and go to a slightly compromised church for the sake of their children. God opposes these decisions, not because the church is necessarily all that bad, but because the motive puts the child’s priorities before God’s. Young person, please, learn to listen to godly voices. Your lack of life experience ought to keep you humble regarding the accuracy of your judgments. Learn to seek counsel and to listen. Also, learn to love your home until you must leave it for legitimate reasons.
God’s people must balance accountability with compassion to victims of crime. It’s easy to see Dinah’s folly in this passage, but nothing she did was deserving of the violation committed against her. Christian, when dealing with people who have made a poor business decision, or relationship decision, or whatever it might be, do not compound their guilt with language like ‘serves you right.’ “He that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished” (Prov. 17:5). Show compassion. Be the hands and feet of Christ, and show them that Christ, “is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Ps. 34:18). Although we live in a society of victimhood, let it not harden your heart towards vulnerable and oppressed people.
Different cultures abide by different social contracts and social covenants. Social contracts and covenants relate to the laws we share and are governed by, and the unwritten rules and values we hold to, e.g. our understanding of time is a social covenant. In some parts of the world, punctuality is expected. But in other cultures, time appears to be more fluid. Things never start “on time.” When these cultures collide it results in confusion. But when everyone understands the social covenants, everything is fine. I say this, because Shechem’s worldview may not have comprehended the extent of his wickedness, and this is why you should marry someone who lives by the same social covenants as you do. If you don’t, your marriage will be made miserable by numberless unmet expectations.
God hates unjust violence and will judge it harshly. Although Jacob is to be blamed for passivity, Simeon and Levi must be held accountable for their unrestrained rage. Whatever ought to have been done to Shechem, or whatever compromise may have been agreed in a difficult situation, killing every man in the community was completely out of order. James says, “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). The psalmist says, “the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.” (Ps. 11:5). Many Christians love to justify their anger, but seldom is it warranted. How few are able to model Christ’s rare displays of righteous indignation.
It is an act of great wickedness to use the ordinances of God for false ends. One of the worst sins of this horrendous chapter is seen in using God’s sign of the covenant in order to deceive and mete out revenge. But churches still do this, refuse to teach that the Lord’s Table is only for believers, and as they baptize the babies of unbelievers, or baptize adults who barely comprehend the gospel and show little signs of grace in their lives. To sin is one thing, but to drag God’s ordinances into our sins is the reason God was judging the Corinthians with sickness and death (1 Cor. 11:30).
“An old and forgotten vow will rot and breed most solemn discomfort to your heart. At first it will gnaw at your conscience. And if your conscience, at last, grows hardened to it, others of your powers will suffer the same petrifying process. Moreover, a forgotten vow will bring chastisement on you and perhaps the rod will fall upon your family. The connection between Jacob’s not going to Bethel and the mischief that happened to his daughter Dinah, and the sinning of his sons, Levi and Simeon, may not be distinctly traceable, but I feel persuaded that there was a connection—the sin of omission in the father led on to sins of commission in the sons.” — Charles Spurgeon