After Jacob has his dramatic reunion with his brother Esau he settles just outside of the city of Shechem, about 40ish miles north of Jerusalem. While there, Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped. The rapist wants to marry Dinah and so the families get together to discuss the situation. The sons of Jacob say they will agree to the marriage on the condition that all the men of the city of Shechem get circumcised. They agree, and they get circumcised. While they are all in pain after the surgery, Jacob’s sons go and murder all the men of Shechem and plunder the city. The chapter ends with Jacob rebuking his sons and their self-justification: “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” With those words the chapter stops.
Lets walk through the chapter under 4 headings: 1) Defiled, 2) Deceived, 3) Destroyed, 4) Dispute
Dinah is the only daughter of Jacob. She was born to Leah, the unloved wife of Jacob. She was the youngest of 7 children born to Jacob by Leah. She had six older brothers: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. At this time she was about in her mid-teens. She and Joseph were born close together and Joseph was born in Jacob’s 14th year with Laban. So Joseph would’ve been about 6 when Jacob left Laban to go home, and Dinah would’ve been about the same age or a little older. In a couple chapters Joseph will be 17 years old when he’s sold by his brothers, so this tragedy in Shechem occurs before then, making Dinah roughly in her mid-teens.
Living just outside the city with her family, she goes to visit some of the women of the city of Shechem. She apparently had what her mother did not: beauty, because she is noticed by Shechem. Shechem has the same name as the city, obviously, he is the son of Hamor, the ruler of the city of Shechem (2), and he is very honored (19). This Shechem is taken by Dinah’s beauty, then he takes her and rapes her.
First, she was indeed raped. The word for rape here is a word that means “to afflict, or to oppress.” It is used in a variety of ways besides forced sex and as you look at different uses it always has the idea of “abusively forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do.” Some examples:
- In Genesis 15:13 God told Abraham that his descendents would be “enslaved and MISTREATED” while living in a strange nation. Mistreated is the same word and it refers to the future descendents being forced into abusive slave labor
- Exodus 1:11 is the fulfillment of that word and it says the Egyptians “oppressed them with forced labor.” Oppressed is the same word
- In Genesis 16:6 it says that Sara “mistreated” her servant Hagar. Same word, abusing Hagar.
- The word is even used to describe what God would do to the wicked when Psalm 55:19 says he will “humble” them – meaning, he will judge them for their wickedness by forcibly and painfully reducing them to nothing.
- The word is used in another instance of rape, when David’s daughter Tamar was raped by Amnon in 2 Samuel 13. Same word, same point: forcing someone to do something – sexual – that they don’t want to do.
The fact that this is rape needs to be the focus. I’m a little amazed by some of the most historically renowned commentators implying – some even blatantly stating- Dinah was to blame for this event (Calvin). It is said that she shouldn’t have been going into Canaan and should’ve stayed home, and that these things happen if you don’t stay home. Ridiculous. Shechem is at fault for defiling her. It’s to his father’s and his city’s shame that he was given a pass because of who he was. Twitter suspended accounts that tweeted about it and the MSM ignored the story. But Shechem brought disgrace on himself, his father, and the whole city. He even brought disgrace on Dinah and Jacob and her family.
Shechem is at fault. But we must notice too that Shechem is not like Amnon (2 Sam 13). Amnon hated Tamar after raping her and ran her off. Shechem, however, is head over heels for Dinah. Forcing her was certainly not the way to show it, so lets not make a Romeo out of him. But he didn’t throw her in a ditch afterwards. She probably would rather be in a ditch than be married to him, but the point here is the complexity of Shechem. He wanted to marry her, he was willing to give literally anything to her family to have her (11-12).
What do we do here? He’s not justified for what he did, but he wants to marry her, which is at least the right thing to desire after what he did. Later, under the Mosaic Law, a man who raped a woman had to pay a huge price to the father and marry the girl and he could never divorce her (Dt 22:28-29). Shechem reminds of Lot. Lot is called righteous even though he’s also the same guy that threw his daughters to the wolves in Sodom. Here you have a guy – Shechem – who did something heinous to the girl he is in love with.
I think we need to pause here and see the symbolism of Shechem, that in this one person we see all people. What I mean is people are not as simple as we would like to think, and we can’t reduce them to merely black and white categories (pun intended). Good people can do bad things and bad people can do good things. Hamlet declared: “What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!” Yet this same “piece of work” has brought rape, murder, slavery, tyrrany, theft, the Holocaust, Shechem displays man in his fallen state, man in the image of God yet man corrupted by sin: the monster and the hero, the ugly and the beautiful, the right and the wrong, the evil and the good, the horrible and the wonderful, the savage and the nobility. What I’m saying is how can this guy talk about loving Dinah after sexually forcing her? He is willing to give any price to have her, but he wasn’t willing to sacrifice his own passion to protect her.
One question that arises is why Jacob didn’t rush to do anything about the situation. Verse 5 says, “he did nothing about it until his sons came home [from their work in the fields].” Apparently Dinah came home, Jacob found out what happened, he “sat on it” and waited to discuss it with his sons when they came in from the field. While waiting for them, Hamor and his son, Shechem came to discuss the situation with Jacob and make a marriage proposal. While they were talking Jacob’s sons hear what happened and run home to join the meeting. Understandably, they are furious.
But why did Jacob not run out to them right away? Some commentators think Jacob didn’t care about Dinah much, either because she was Leah’s daughter, or whatever. I doubt that. I think Jacob was wisely restraining himself and giving himself time to think before his sons found out. He was probably trying to figure out what to do. As the head of the whole family he had to think not only about Dinah, but the preservation of the whole family. If you take up swords to go to war right away do you even have the power to attack your enemy? You see this in verse 30, “…If you attack or commit some act of revenge do you have the power to withstand a retaliation from your enemy? Jacob was in a position where he was forced to think about more than just revenge. His sons didn’t have that pressure. THerefore, immediately rushing to “war” in haste and full of revenge may not have been the best course. Perhaps it is always wise to pause when we are filled with the angry passions and not let the anger of the moment rule us.
Perhaps we can fish out an application: “Wait in your anger.” Doesn’t Scripture repeatedly instruct us about our anger? “Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the LORD and he will avenge you.” (Proverbs 20:22). Our best decisions are not made in the furnace of anger. There were other avenues than murdering the whole city of Shechem and looting it. You have to ask the question: “Is that a just response to the crime that was committed?” No. Wait in your anger.
After Shechem defiled Dinah, her brothers deceived him. Follow verses 6-19 with me, “….”
So the men of the two families meet and the Israelites deceive the Shechemites. Hamor has come to negotiate a marriage. He is not simply asking for Dinah to marry his son, he has to make up for what his son did. Jacob’s sons are furious (7), because what Shechem did was “an outrageous thing” (7), “a thing that should not be done” (7), she had been “defiled” (13), and he “treated her like a prostitute” (31). Hamor is in a very difficult situation. The Israelites want blood, his son has acted wickedly, but, his son is the favorite man in the whole city (19) and he wants to marry Dinah.
So both Hamor and Shechem make a proposal, read 8-12. The proposal includes 3 things: intermarriage, economic opportunities, and an unlimited price for Dinah. (As a sidenote, I don’t detect any remorse in Shechem, his motives seem purely focused on getting Dinah, and in no way indicates to the Israelites sorrow for his despicable behavior. It is all so “transactional,” – “So you guys are all upset about this? Okay, I don’t get it, but, I guess if you’re mad, maybe we can come to some sort of arrangement.”) So the proposal is an effort to “make up” for what Shechem did. It can’t be undone, but perhaps there are ways to at least compensate for what happened.
Jacob appears to genuinely agree with the proposal, whereas his sons were acting deceptively. Here we see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Like Jacob, like Jacob’s mom Rebekah, like Jacob’s father in law Laban, Jacob’s sons are fluent in deception. It runs in the family. They lie to Shechem and Hamor in their counter-proposal. They tell them that they are willing to give Dinah to Shechem, and agree to the 3 point proposal, if all of the Shechemite men get circumcised. Only then would it be “okay” to enter into this agreement. They were lying, because they had murder in their hearts. “He who conceals his hatred has lying lips” Proverbs 10:18 says. The conspiring Brutus before murdering Caesar said,
“O shameful conspiracy, during the day where will you find a cavern dark enough to mask your monstrous appearance? Seek no dark cavern, conspiracy; rather hide yourself in smiles and affability.” (JC,2.1)
The sons of Jacob hid their monstrous conspiracy behind smiles and affability. The hatred in their hearts was concealed by their lying lips.
Shechem is overjoyed that the Israelites agreed to give him Dinah as his wife. “He lost no time doing what they said” verse 19 says. You have to wonder if Shechem wondered to himself why they didn’t ask for huge sums of money or property or valuables, or positions of power within Shechem. All they wanted was a little outpatient surgery. Perhaps his elation crowded out any careful review of their proposal. (Mind you, no one here seems to have taken any time to consider the proposals. Jacob didn’t take time to pray with his sons or discuss it for a few days. It all happened right then and their, seemingly). Shechem fell into their trap. Death is at the door.
Finally we see the destruction of Shechem. Read 19-29.
So Hamor successfully negotiates with Jacob. Now he has to go convince all the men of Shechem to get circumcised. This would seem to be as much if not more than the challenge he just left. I can imagine that conversation: “You want us to cut what? Look, Shechem, she’s pretty and all, but she’s not that pretty.”
Which is why Hamor, ever the negotiator, emphasizes the economic advantages. Verse 23 is an interesting verse [READ]. Maybe he’s just “selling” it to his constituents. Maybe it reveals his true motives, thinking that they would be able to economically swallow up the Israelites. If only Hamor had consulted Laban first!
Regardless, Hamor wins his second huge political victory that day. The men agree, and all the men of the city get circumcised. Stock in neosporin and whiskey go through the roof.
Then three days after cutting themselves the sword comes and cuts them all down.
Simeon and Levi go through the whole city and kill every male in the city. It says “in the very city where their sister was defiled.” “Those who bless you I will bless, and those who curse you I will curse.”
It’s significant to note that it is Levi and Simeon. These are Dinah’s full brothers, they shared the same mother, along with Dinah they were born from Leah. The vengeance of Levi especially seemed to pass down to his descendents. Later, when Moses came down from the mountain with the 10 commandments and found the whole camp of the Israelites had gone wild with idolatry and debauchery. He rallied those loyal to the Lord to him and instructed them to go through the camp and kill all the idolaters. Who was it that rallied to Moses and killed thousands of Israelite idolaters? The Levites.
This Massacre at Shechem however, came with consequences for Levi and Simeon. Turn to chapter 49 with me. Because of their fury Levi and Simeon have no blessing. They are left out.
We must note something here that is more of a macro-theme. In one sense, intermarrying with the Canannites was contrary to God’s purposes of setting apart Jacob as God’s covenant people. Such integration was inconsistent with being God’s “set apart” people. Also, circumcision was a sign given to Abraham and his descendents that marked them as the people that God had chosen. Circumcision was NOT to be bartered in negotiations. The Hivites – part of the Canaanites – were not to be integrated with. Do not sync with them.
This whole event is a microcosm of the future invasion of Canaan by the Israelites. In other words, the infant Israelite community here, wiping out a Canaanite city, is a miniature picture of the future time when God will lead the Israelite community into the Promised Land to “utterly destroy” all the Canaanites.
Which raises another point: while Simeon and Levi were acting out of revenge, and there’s no indication that God commanded them to do it, nonetheless, God was allowing it to happen, and providentially using the massacre at Shechem as a foreshadow to the massive massacre in all of Canaan down the road. We see this kind of pattern throughout Scripture. For instance, the Bible says the destruction of Sodom serves as an example of the future judgment God will bring on all ungodliness and wickedness. God may not “command” something to happen in this world, but He uses events in this world
Another point is that God routinely uses one people group against another people group for his purposes. When a nation needs judging, God will raise up a nation to come and attack, or even destroy the nation he is judging. One nation is his “rod” or “club” against another that He is displeased with. Here, the little budding Israelites are used by God to punish the Shechemites.
- We live in an ugly world.
- Bad things happen to God’s people. This tragedy with Dinah came on the heels of God’s blessing.
- The Israeli-effect: those who bless you will be blessed, those who curse you will be cursed.