So after spending 20 years away from home, Jacob had finally moved back into the land that God had promised to give to him and his descendants. He found a place to settle down just outside the town of Shechem and things seemed to be going pretty well. But after what happens in Genesis chapter 34, it will be safe to assume that Jacob was probably sorry that he ever stopped anywhere near the town of Shechem.
Now before we get started with our look at this chapter, we should take a moment to remember something that we talked about earlier- that’s how to understand and apply the Scriptures in our daily lives. As we read about the things that take place in Genesis 34, the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians gives us a good explanation as to why these events were recorded for us…
“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us…” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
It’s important to pay attention to what happens in this chapter so you can avoid making the same kind of mistakes that we’ll see here. And even though the things that we see in this chapter happened over 20 centuries ago, you’ll find that there are certain circumstances and situations in Genesis chapter 34 that are still very common in our world today.
“Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land” (Genesis 34:1).
Dinah would have been approximately 14 or 15 years old at this time and we’re told that she went out to visit (or see) the women of that area. The word that’s translated “visit” or “see” in this verse can also mean, to observe, to discover or to get acquainted with. (1) So the idea is that Dinah was out looking to find some female friends. Of course, when you consider the fact that Dinah was living with 11 brothers, you can understand why she may have been desperate for a little female companionship.
Now there is an ancient historian named Josephus who tells us that Dinah was attending a festival during the time that the events of Genesis 34 took place. (2) If that’s true, then we might rephrase this verse to say that it describes a teenage girl who went to a big party, alone and unsupervised, where there were a lot of people that she probably didn’t know. If you put all those ingredients together, there is a definite possibility that something bad might happen- and unfortunately for Dinah, it did.
(1) ra’ah OT:7200 Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of Biblical Words Thomas Nelson Publishers
(2) Flavius Josephus, Antiquities Of The Jews, pg 123
“When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and violated her” (Genesis 34:2).
If we were to use today’s language to describe what happened to Dinah in this verse, we would say that she was raped (or possibly date-raped), by this man named Shechem. But how did Shechem get involved with Dinah in the first place?
Well, you may remember that Jacob had earlier purchased some property from a man named Hamor in Genesis 33:18-19. As it turns out, Hamor was Shechem’s father and this is probably where Shechem first became aware of Dinah.
We’re also told that Shechem’s father Hamor was “…the ruler of that area…” which means that Hamor was the leading political figure in that city. This is important for a few reasons. First, it means that Shechem had a position as a member of an important political family. As the son of the leading government official, Shechem certainly enjoyed a position of privilege, power, and influence. And as the son of a politician, Shechem probably inherited some of his father’s political skill as well. That skill would include the art of persuading people to get what he wanted- and what Shechem wanted was Dinah.
So it’s possible that Shechem somehow talked Dinah into sleeping with him. However, the language used to describe what happened seems to imply that he forced himself on her in some way. In any event, here’s what we do know: Shechem was someone who took sexual advantage of a teenaged girl.
Now before we go on with the rest of this story, we should stop to remember that events like this simply don’t happen without any reason. In other words, Shechem didn’t just drop in, have sex with Dinah, and then disappear. So what was the cause (or causes) that led up to this sequence of events?
Well, one clue is found right in the very first verse of Genesis chapter 34: “Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob…” Why is that significant? Well, let’s ask this question: what responsibility (if any) did Jacob and Leah bear for what happened to their daughter?
The answer to that question can be found in something that we’ve already read about the character of the people who lived in this area. You see, Jacob’s brother Esau had earlier married two women who also came from this same general location, and the way that his parents felt about those women tells us a lot about what the people who lived there were like.
We’ll see what all this has to do with Jacob, Leah, Dinah, and Shechem next.
Back in Genesis chapter 26, we read how Jacob’s brother Esau married two women who lived in the local area at that time. Unfortunately, these two women eventually went on to cause some real problems within Esau’s family (see Genesis 26:35). In fact, Esau’s mother Rebekah later went on to say this about the people of that area: “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living” (Genesis 27:46). That’s when Jacob’s father Isaac called him in and told him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman…” (Genesis 28:1).
So based on this experience, Jacob certainly knew that his local neighbors were not good character people. So why did he allow his young teenaged daughter to go by herself to hang out with them?
You see, this is where Jacob and Leah messed up as parents; they clearly didn’t do enough to make sure that their daughter was safe. Their failure to help Dinah make good decisions put her in a position where there was a strong chance that something bad could happen- and it did.
So Jacob and Leah made a mistake, but how does apply to us today? Well, Dinah’s experience may help to explain why your parents don’t always give you the amount of freedom that you think you should have as a youth. Her experience tells us why your parents set curfews and ask endless questions about where you’re going, who you’re going with, and when you’ll be home before you leave the house.
Dinah’s experience also helps to explain why your parents want to meet and talk with a guy or girl who’s interested in you before they let you go out with that person. That’s because your parents see the Biblical story of what happened to Dinah and then they see modern-day examples of the same thing. Or they may read an account of how a teenaged guy got into a car with someone who was drunk and then lost his life in a car accident. Or they may hear how a youth went to a party, left the party with an unknown person, and now both are missing. Those are legitimate concerns that any good parent would have.
A good parent will be someone who is determined not to make the same mistake that Leah and Jacob made with Dinah. This is also why your parents might not always be willing to give you all the freedom you think you should have.
Dinah’s experience in Genesis 34:1-2 also helps to illustrate another modern-day concern that good parents have to face.
Here’s the issue: while it’s possible that many parents would like to give their teenage sons and daughters more “adult-type” freedoms, they may be concerned that their teens don’t have enough experience to make good, safe choices. You see, your parents are not only concerned about you- they must also be concerned with others who may try to take advantage of you. Remember that Shechem was a guy who took advantage of Dinah, and this still happens in many different ways today.
For example, you may be a very mature person but the world can be a very cruel, hard, dangerous place with many people who are willing to take advantage of a teenaged guy or girl in a lot of different ways. A good parent will always try to protect you from people like that and this may sometimes involve restrictions on your freedom that might seem unnecessary to you. What you may see as “overprotection” by your parents might be viewed by them as simply “keeping you safe.”
These are important ideas to understand because the Bible specifically tells parents that it is their job to train, coach, encourage, instruct, and discipline the children that God has given to them (see Ephesians 6:4). In this sense, a parent’s responsibility isn’t very different from the responsibility held by a teacher at school or a coach on a team.
For example, imagine if you had a coach or a teacher who never trained, instructed, or corrected you when you did something wrong. Think about what it would be like to be a student, athlete, or musician with a coach or teacher who didn’t care enough to discipline you to be your very best. You probably don’t need to be told that a coach or teacher who never instructed, trained, or disciplined anyone wouldn’t have their job for very long.
This same idea is true when it comes to your relationship with your parents as well. A good parent will work to make sure that Dinah’s experience (or something just as bad) won’t be repeated in the life of his or her child. So whenever you start to feel that your parents are being too hard on you in certain areas, remember that Proverbs 13:24 says, “If you refuse to discipline your children, it proves you don’t love them; if you love your children, you will be prompt to discipline them” (NLT).
“When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and violated her. His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, ‘Get me this girl as my wife'” (Genesis 34:2-4).
Shechem may have had strong romantic feelings for Dinah, but here’s the problem: if he really “loved” Dinah, then why did he rape her? You see, if Shechem really loved Dinah, then he would not have violated her the way that he did. It’s been said that actions always speak louder than words and this same idea is true today: no one who truly loves you is going to ask you (or try to make you) do something wrong.
So after having sex with Dinah, Shechem tried to comfort her and assure her that they were going to get married. To accomplish that, Shechem went to his father and said, “Get me this girl as my wife.” Back in those days, marriages were almost always arranged by the parents of the potential bride and groom. That’s why Shechem asked his father to get involved and set things up. But notice that there is no record indicating that Hamor ever spoke to his son about what he had done or the fact that he had violated Dinah. It almost seems as if no one felt that what Shechem did was wrong or inappropriate.
In any event, Shechem’s father went out to see Dinah’s father Jacob to try and talk things over…
“When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he kept quiet about it until they came home” (Genesis 34:5).
Jacob’s response to this news also seems unusual as well. Notice that there was no display of anger or outrage on Jacob’s part after hearing about what happened to his daughter. In fact, there is no recorded response of any kind, except to say that Jacob didn’t say anything about what he knew until his sons came home from work.
Unfortunately, this non-response from Jacob is going to create a real leadership vacuum within his family- and whenever a leadership vacuum exists, you can be sure that someone is going to try and fill it. Because Jacob didn’t step up and take the lead in this situation, two other people are going to step in with their own solution; and their “solution” is going to turn out to be very, very bad.
“Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. And the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved and very angry, because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, a thing which ought not to be done.
But Hamor spoke with them, saying, ‘The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him as a wife. And make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters to yourselves. So you shall dwell with us, and the land shall be before you. Dwell and trade in it, and acquire possessions for yourselves in it'” (Genesis 34:6-10).
Although Shechem did arrange to have his father to speak to Jacob about marrying Dinah, that still didn’t make everything OK. To understand why, let’s think about this little illustration. Let’s say that someone breaks into an auto dealership and steals a car. After driving the stolen car around for a while, the thief decides to return to the dealership and say to the manager, “I really like this car- can I buy it?” What’s the problem with that? Well, even though the thief made the right choice in deciding to purchase the car, that still didn’t change the fact that he or she stole it first. In this instance, the right thing to do would have been to purchase the car first, then drive it- not the other way around.
The purpose of this illustration is to point out that Shechem was like the thief in this story. In asking to marry Dinah after he raped her, Shechem now wanted to go back and “buy” something that he had already stolen, so to speak. And notice that no one apologized to Jacob and his family for what happened. No one said, “I’m sorry, what I did was wrong,” or, “Please forgive my son for what he did to your daughter.”
Instead, Shechem’s father tried to turn this situation into a good business deal by effectively saying, “Hey, we can turn into something worthwhile. Stay here in town, buy some property, make some money, and we’ll set your sons and daughters up with some dates too.” And if that wasn’t enough, Shechem suddenly decided to step in and offer an even better deal. It was an offer that was “too good to refuse” -and we’ll look at the terms of that offer next.
“Hamor said to him, ‘My son Shechem has fallen in love with your daughter; please let him marry her'” (Genesis 34:8 GNB).
In the days of the Old Testament, weddings were almost always arranged by the parents of the potential bride and groom. This explains why Shechem’s father Hamor approached Dinah’s father Jacob to arrange for a marriage between Shechem and Dinah. But before Jacob could respond to Hamor’s marriage proposal for them, Shechem suddenly jumped in with a proposal of his own…
“Then Shechem said to Dinah’s father and brothers, ‘Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the girl as my wife'” (Genesis 34:11-12).
So Shechem basically told Jacob’s family that they could have anything they wanted in exchange for the right to marry Dinah. Now you should remember that Shechem was speaking to Jacob, a man who had once worked for fourteen years without any pay in order to earn the right to marry a woman that he really loved. With that in mind, how much do you think Jacob could have demanded from Shechem in exchange for the right to marry Dinah, especially after the fact that he had sexually assaulted her?
So how did Jacob respond to Shechem’s offer? Well, as it turns out, Jacob didn’t respond at all…
“But the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father, and spoke deceitfully, because he had defiled Dinah their sister” (Genesis 34:13).
Instead of speaking directly to Shechem and Hamor as you might expect, it appears that Jacob stepped back and allowed his sons to take over these negotiations. However, there is a detail about the wording of this passage that gives us some real insight into this relationship between Jacob and his sons.
Did you catch the fact that this passage doesn’t say that “Dinah’s brothers” spoke up- instead, it tells us that “…the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father…” (emphasis added). What’s the significance of that? Well this might not seem very important, except for the fact that it also says that Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully during these negotiations. If that attitude sounds familiar, then it may have to do with the fact that Jacob had also been a deceptive person in his past and now his sons were acting in the very same manner as well.
We’ll begin to see how this all ties together next.
“Because Shechem had disgraced their sister Dinah, Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor in a deceitful way” (Genesis 34:13 GNB).
So why is it significant that “Jacob’s sons” replied deceitfully to Shechem and Hamor? Well, you’ve probably heard the expression, “Like father, like son,” right? In fact, we’ve already mentioned that this saying came into existence because it recognizes the reality that children often grow up to imitate their parents in many different ways.
For example, a small child will often try to imitate the things that he or she sees his or her parents do. Later on when that child is older, he or she will often tend to reproduce the same attitudes and character traits that were picked up from his or her parents while growing up. That’s because our parents often have a large influence on the way that we develop as children and young adults for better or worse.
In a similar way, Jacob’s sons demonstrated Jacob’s negative influence by making a deceitful response to Shechem and Hamor. They were following in Jacob’s footsteps in making a dishonest response, just as Jacob himself had done earlier.
Now it might be tempting to make excuses for this by saying that Jacob’s sons were emotionally upset over what Shechem had done to Dinah. While that was certainly true, that doesn’t excuse them for speaking deceitfully to Shechem and Hamor. Remember that God is a God of truth (Psalm 31:5), so you know that anyone who speaks or acts in a deceitful manner is definitely not representing God properly. So this example serves as a reminder for people today; it helps in reminding us to provide others with a God honoring example in speaking truthfully with each other.
And so Jacob’s sons decided to make a proposal of their own- but they first chose to explain why they couldn’t accept Shechem and Hamor’s first offer…
“They said to them, ‘We can’t do such a thing; we can’t give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us'” (Genesis 34:14).
This is where Jacob’s sons deliberately began to mislead and deceive Shechem and Hamor. You see, these men wanted to make it appear that their actions were motivated by their strong religious principles when the truth was that they really had an ulterior motive. In other words, Jacob’s sons wanted to use “religion” as an excuse to get something else that they really wanted.
But the question is, what did they really want?
So Jacob’s sons were open to Shechem’s proposal to marry Dinah (or so it seemed), but they had a very different kind of arrangement in mind…
“‘We will give our consent to you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We’ll settle among you and become one people with you. But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we’ll take our sister and go'” (Genesis 34:15-17).
Even though Jacob had apparently decided to sit back and let his sons represent their family, this was a bad proposal- and he knew it.
You see, Jacob was aware that intermarrying with the people of that area was a bad idea. Jacob’s grandfather Abraham would have been totally against an idea like this and his father Isaac specifically told him not to marry anyone from that local area as well. But instead of stepping up to cancel out his sons’ proposal (which he had the ability to do), Jacob apparently decided to step back and let it happen.
So how did Shechem and Hamor respond to this counter proposal? Well, they thought that this was a pretty good idea…
“Their proposal seemed good to Hamor and his son Shechem. The young man, who was the most honored of all his father’s household, lost no time in doing what they said, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter” (Genesis 34:18-19).
This gives us an idea of just how messed up these people really were. One translation of Genesis 34:19 tells us that Shechem “…was more honorable than all the household of his father” (NKJV). That means that the guy who sexually assaulted a teenaged girl was the most honorable person in his family! This should make you wonder what everyone else in Shechem’s family was like.
Anyway, Shechem and Hamor then decided to get together with the other men of their town to discuss this plan…
“So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city to speak to their fellow townsmen. ‘These men are friendly toward us,’ they said. ‘Let them live in our land and trade in it; the land has plenty of room for them. We can marry their daughters and they can marry ours. But the men will consent to live with us as one people only on the condition that our males be circumcised, as they themselves are'” (Genesis 34:20-22).
While Shechem had his own motivation for accepting this arrangement, there was one more thing that was sure to make this proposal a winner for everyone else- and we’ll look at that next.
After leaving Jacob’s family, Shechem and Hamor got together with the other men of their town to discuss the proposal they had received from Jacob’s sons. But while Shechem and Hamor were both in favor of this plan, getting everyone else to agree was sure to be a much more difficult task.
So to help sell this idea to their neighbors, they started off by listing some good things that were associated with Jacob and his family: “These people are friendly toward us… we have lots of room… we can intermarry with them” (see Genesis 34:20). But while all those things were fine, they were still not likely to be good enough to persuade anyone to volunteer to be circumcised. What Shechem and Hamor needed was a reason that was important and convincing enough to motivate every man in the town to go along with this idea- and here’s what they came up with…
“‘Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours? So let us give our consent to them, and they will settle among us.’ All the men who went out of the city gate agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male in the city was circumcised” (Genesis 34:23-24).
Now before we go on, let’s stop to remember that Hamor was the leading political figure in his city. As a big politician, Hamor must have been skilled in the art of persuading people to get what he wanted. In order to do that effectively, Shechem and Hamor would have to find something that would motivate everyone to go along with their proposal. But what kind of payoff would be good enough to get every guy in town to agree to be circumcised?
Well, if there is one thing that is just as true today as it was in the days of the Old Testament, it’s this: people like to make lots of money. Shechem and Hamor understood this and they saw Jacob’s wealth (see Genesis 30:43) as something that could help them get what they wanted. Their sales pitch was simple: “Just think! We’ll get their property, as well as their flocks and herds. All we have to do is to agree, and they will live here with us” (Genesis 34:23 CEV). That allowed Shechem and Hamor to use the potential to make lots of money (at Jacob’s expense) to motivate everyone else to go along with their plan.
So every guy in the city agreed to take the deal that Shechem and Hamor proposed. But not long after they accepted this offer, the real motivation behind this plan suddenly became clear.
So Shechem and Hamor got everyone to go along with their plan by basically telling them, “This is going to be a great deal for us. It’s a small price to pay in order for us to get our hands on all the stuff that Jacob and his family owns.” Of course, this kind of attitude is probably one reason why Abraham, Isaac, and Rebekah didn’t want their family members to get involved with marrying these people in the first place.
Anyway, every man in the city decided to accept this proposal and they all agreed to be circumcised. But not long after they finished, the real motivation of Jacob’s sons suddenly -and violently- became clear…
“Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left.
The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses” (Genesis 34:25-29).
Jacob had many sons, but only two -Simeon and Levi- were responsible for killing every male in the city. The mostly likely reason for this had to do with the fact that Simeon, Levi, and Dinah were all children of Jacob’s wife Leah. Remember that Jacob had four wives and many children so that meant that there were many half-brothers and half-sisters in his family. But Simeon, Levi, and Dinah were all full blooded siblings which probably explains why Simeon and Levi took the lead in executing Shechem, Hamor, and every other man in town.
This incident also illustrates how Jacob’s leadership vacuum eventually led to a horrible result. Since Jacob seemed to be uninterested in dealing with Shechem’s sexual assault of his daughter, her two brothers decided to take it upon themselves to execute the punishment that they felt his actions deserved. The sad thing is that this is the last time we will ever see Dinah in the Scriptures, except for one brief mention in Genesis 46. Dinah made one bad choice when she was a teenager by going alone to an unfamiliar place with ungodly people and and she ended up paying for that choice for the rest of her life.
So Simeon and Levi wiped out every man in town, but then their brothers decided to get in on the action as well…
“The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses” (Genesis 34:27-29).
So how did Jacob respond to what his sons had done? Did he react with an attitude of shock and horror when he discovered that two of his sons had murdered every male in the city and how the rest of his sons took off with all their stuff?
Well, not exactly…
“Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.’ But they replied, ‘Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?'” (Genesis 34:30-31).
Jacob’s sons responded by claiming that they were justified in doing what they did because their sister had been sexually assaulted. Now there is no question that what Shechem did to Dinah was wrong. Its also clear that he deserved to punished for what he had done. But to react to what Shechem did by murdering the entire male population of a city, looting everything they could, and enslaving all the women and children was even more wrong. In this instance, the punishment was more excessive than the original crime.
Then there was Jacob’s response to what his sons had done. He responded by saying, “‘Look what you’ve done! Now I’m in real trouble with the Canaanites and Perizzites who live around here. There aren’t many of us, and if they attack, they’ll kill everyone in my household'” (CEV). So it appears that Jacob’s main complaint was that his sons had made him look bad in front of other people.
Unfortunately, the thing that Jacob seemed most concerned about was himself. It doesn’t appear that he was concerned about the fact that his sons had become murderers. He didn’t seem to be concerned about the way that God had been represented by his sons. He certainly didn’t appear to be concerned about what happened to Dinah. The only thing that Jacob seemed to be concerned about was this: “You guys are going to get us all killed!”
When Jacob found out that his sons had murdered the entire male population of a nearby city in retaliation for the sexual assault of their sister, he responded by saying this: “You’ve made my name stink to high heaven among the people here, these Canaanites and Perizzites. If they decided to gang up on us and attack, as few as we are we wouldn’t stand a chance; they’d wipe me and my people right off the map.” (Genesis 34:30 MSG).
But Jacob’s sons had their answer ready: “But they replied, ‘Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?'” (Genesis 34:31). As far as we know, this was a question that Jacob had never really thought about. For example, when Jacob found out that his teenaged daughter had been sexually violated, he said nothing (see Genesis 34:5). Then when the violator and his family attempted to turn this sexual assault into a business deal, Jacob again said nothing and allowed his sons to respond for him.
As the leader of his family, Jacob carried the responsibility of handling this situation in a way that honored God. However, his non-action allowed a leadership vacuum to develop and two of his sons -Simeon and Levi- stepped in to fill that vacuum with a solution of their own. The problem was that their “solution” involved nothing but revenge.
Even though Shechem was wrong and definitely deserved to be punished for sexually assaulting Dinah, their response was out of proportion compared to the wrong that had been done to their sister. Perhaps this is why the New Testament book of Romans tells us, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord'” (Romans 12:19).
You see, revenge often has a way of messing up someone’s sense of right and wrong, just as it did here with Simeon and Levi- that’s why we should allow God to take care of any repayment as He sees fit.
So now we’ve reached the end of Genesis 34 and if you’re like most people, you probably have to admit that this chapter has not been an easy one to read. That’s because Genesis 34 shows us just how bad people can sometimes be- even those who claim to follow God. But don’t forget that Biblical chapters such as Genesis 34 are there for an important reason, and the Scriptures tell us why these events were recorded for us…
“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us…” (1 Corinthians 10:11).