Verses 1-19: Dinah is violated
At this point in the Bible story, the only child that Leah (Jacob’s wife) has had without the help of a handmaid is Dinah. Dinah has now come of age as a young woman. As Jacob has come to Canaan, his family is getting to know the land and Dinah goes out to see and meet the other young women in the area. We know that Dinah has matured into a young woman because a prince named Shechem notices her. Shechem was the prince of the land they were in and was the son of Hamor the Hivite.
It is important to note that God had not yet explicitly forbade His people from joining with the daughters of the people in the land that do not know or worship God. But we do have the precedent of Abraham not wanting a Canaanite bride for Isaac in Genesis 24:3-4, when he sent his servant to procure a bride for Isaac:
“and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”
Isaac, along with Rebekah, did not want a Canaanite bride for Jacob either, as told in Genesis 27:46 – 28:2:
“And Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, like these who are the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me? Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, and said to him: “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padan Aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and take yourself a wife from there of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother.”
Notwithstanding Rebekah’s dislike for the daughters of their locality, other reasons for their desire to marry among their own people is clear once you examine the cultures and practices of the day. Canaanites worshipped pagan gods with unholy acts and practices that did not honor or respect the true God. To intermarry with these people would bring in an undesired negative influence that could corrupt the relationship that Isaac and Jacob have with God. The avoidance of these relationships reads as “common sense” avoidance.
This intermarriage discussion is important to Genesis 34 because it demonstrates how affiliation with corrupt culture and persons brings corruption to a previously established culture of holiness, godliness and righteousness. Later in the Bible, God will clearly restrict intermarriage between His people and corrupt idol-worshippers. The danger is clear and great as we read that Shechem took Dinah, lay with her and violated her. So it reads that Shechem took Dinah’s virginity and that she did not seek nor was interested in this. This was a culture where a powerful man could take a woman if her desired her, even if she was a stranger. There could be consequences depending on who the woman was related to, but things like this happened nevertheless.
After violating Dinah, Shechem asks his father Hamor to get her for him as a wife. Shechem shows one redeeming quality in that he loves and speaks kindly to Dinah, and one might wonder how Dinah felt about all of this. Was she impressed by this prince’s interest? Were stars in her eyes as this powerful man took interest in her? Was she terrified as he imposed himself upon her? The text does not tell us. Whatever the exact conditions were, it seems like s stretch to assume that Shechem’s kind attitude towards Dinah would make up for his taking her away from her family and violating her, apparently without her consent.
Jacob hears what has happened and keeps his peace for the moment. When Dinah’s brothers hear of what has happened, they become understandably very angry. Hamor and Jacob then make pleas to Jacob and Jacob’s sons, citing the following reasons to allow the marriage of Shechem to Dinah:
- Shechem desperately desires Dinah
- If Jacob decides to give his daughters to Hamor and his sons, then Hamor will give his daughters to Jacob and his sons
- Jacob and Hamor and their connected families will be able to live in peace together, prospering from the land
- Shechem will give whatever dowry or gift that is desired by Jacob and family, as long as he is allowed to marry Dinah
Verses 20-31: Dishonorable intent
At this point, the story is already quite sad due to Dinah being violated, but it worsens after the proposition from Hamor. Jacob’s sons agree to the union but only on the condition that all of the males of Hamor and Shechem’s city be circumcised. If this happens, Jacob’s sons agree that they will intermarry with the daughters of Hamor also. Shechem, motivated by his great desire to marry Dinah, agrees immediately and gets circumcised. Hamor takes this decision back to their city and gets the agreement that all of the men of the city will indeed be circumcised with the understanding that intermarriage will occur and that they also all will enjoy the material blessings of the sons of Jacob. All of the men agree and are circumcised.
Three days after, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi come into Hamor’s city and kill all the males. Their mission was eased by the weakness of the men after their circumcisions. They killed Hamor and Schechem and retrieved Dinah to take her back home. Out of anger at what had happened to Dinah, the rest of Jacob’s sons then went into the city and plundered it, taking all their livestock, crops and wealth. Finally, they also took the wives and children captive, making them part of their own culture now that all of the men are gone.
The last two verses sum up the conclusion of Jacob’s and his sons’ stances after these events:
“Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me. I shall be destroyed, my household and I.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?””
The ethical dilemma in this case is somewhat complex, but not so complex that we cannot find our way out. It is true that Shechem dishonored Jacob and all of this family through his actions. It is true that Hamor enabled this bad behavior for his son. Blaming these occurrences on “the culture of the day” in no way absolves Shechem or Hamor of these acts.
The actions of Jacob’s sons impart to us the priority that God has of the purity of His people. True, God did not direct their acts of killing and violence, but we could interpret that God allowed it to happen. Was God using the righteous anger of the sons of Jacob to effectively wipe out a debased and corrupt culture? This may be.
Jacob speaks as the conscience of the story in the closing verses, but he does not do so to explicitly communicate that this was something that they ought not have done. Rather, Jacob was concerned that these actions would make them a target for other factions in Canaan. His was a pragmatic concern, not an ethical one.
What should we, as the Bible student, take as a learning from this chapter? The primary lesson is that evil is punished. What Shechem and Hamor did was wrong, and moreover, the fact that their culture allowed and encouraged it suggests that the way they were living was wrong. For this, they were punished. A secondary lesson is to be intelligent about present threats and dangers, understanding that sometimes lurking dangers are unknown. Dinah was wholly innocent for the part she played in this drama, but the “stranger danger” in the land had to have been well-known after these events.
The final lesson is simple, but large: God is sovereign. He is in control, He is King, and He will allow the land and the people to proceed as he sees fit, just and right. He can neither sin nor lie:
“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” Numbers 23:19
There is no evidence that God directed any of these events, but if he so allowed them, our loyalty to Him demands that we see Him in a good light regardless of the goings-on in the earth. Did the deaths of these men occur along the same vein as those deaths in Sodom and Gomorrah? It does not appear so because the voice of God is not involved in this story as it was in that one.
But Jacob and his sons have faith in God, and we have watched Jacob’s faith increase over these last many chapters. While we cannot say that these deaths were part of God’s plan, we can say that they are part of the story of God’s people, and that cleaning the land of the corrupt and sinful people will be a decisive command from God as the story unfolds.