Genesis 34 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. 3 And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. 4 So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl for my wife.”
5 Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah. But his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. 6 And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. 7 The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done.
8 But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him to be his wife. 9 Make marriages with us. Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You shall dwell with us, and the land shall be open to you. Dwell and trade in it, and get property in it.” 11 Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. 12 Ask me for as great a bride-price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me. Only give me the young woman to be my wife.”
13 The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. 14 They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. 15 Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised. 16 Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to ourselves, and we will dwell with you and become one people. 17 But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter, and we will be gone.”
18 Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem. 19 And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob’s daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his father’s house. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, 21 “These men are at peace with us; let them dwell in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters as wives, and let us give them our daughters. 22 Only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us to become one people—when every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. 23 Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us.” 24 And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.
25 On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. 26 They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. 29 All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.
30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” 31 But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”
This is a hard passage to read, and much more so to preach. It is a chapter we might be tempted to look away from. I’d like to pretend that the kind of wickedness described here doesn’t exist anywhere, much less among the people of God. And yet, as we all know all too well, it does, both in the bible and in our lives. Because it is the Word of God, we must not look away. We must fix our eyes upon it that we might gain from it all that God means us to get from it.
By doing so in this passage—by looking directly at the uncomfortable wickedness in this chapter—we’ll see four scenes and in them four realities of sin. In the first scene we see the defilement of Dinah. In the second we see Jacob and his sons finding out about the defilement and meeting the defiler and his father. In the third scene the men of God plan their vengeance and begin to lay their trap. And in the final scene we see vengeance executed.
And from these scenes we see real-life examples of the biblical principles that our choices can make it easier or harder for others to sin against us, that sin is always wicked and evil and destructive, that it is always wicked to use the things of God as instruments of sin, and that sin is never the remedy for sin.
Let’s pray that God would help us see these things in such a way as to transform us into greater degrees of godliness through them. And let’s thank God for the forgiveness that is already ours in Christ as we trust in Him.
THE DEFILEMENT OF DINAH (1-4)
Tragically, the chapter opens with the rape of Dinah, one of Jacob and Leah’s daughters. Even though it only gets a single verse, it’s difficult to imagine a more heinous crime. It is wickedness and evil of the most egregious kind. As the text notes, it was humiliating (2) and “such a thing must not be done” (7).
Worse still, as we will see, there is no evidence of remorse or even misgiving on the part of her rapist, Shechem, his father, Hamor, or any of their clan.
Worse yet, Shechem was “prince of the land.” He had the ability to get away with crimes like this because he was the son of the man in charge. Where God gives power to bless and protect, Shechem used his to abuse and harm.
And worst of all, Shechem the rapist, then sought to force Dinah to marry him because “his soul was drawn to” her (3). The text even says that he “loved” her, “spoke tenderly to her,” and “delighted” in her. The picture we’re supposed to see, however, is one of lust and infatuation, not genuine affection or attraction. Oh, to wrongly use your power to do such a vile thing to someone, to claim to love them, to attempt to flatter them, and then to use your power to attempt to force them to marry you (4). What utter depravity.
It was this evil that lit the fuse of the rest of the chapter. Shechem’s sinful actions set in motion all that followed.
Before we get to that, however, we need to notice two bad choices (one by Jacob and one by Dinah) that preceded and enabled Shechem’s wickedness. Let me be clear: they did not invite, cause, or justify Shechem’s wickedness. Nothing they did or could have done would have excused what Shechem did.
In saying that and in saying what I’m about to say, I realize I have to walk a razor thin line between rightly acknowledging the fact that Jacob and Dinah’s choices impacted Dinah’s outcome on the one hand, and wrongly implying that Dinah deserved what she got on the other.
But here’s the thing, Grace: we’re not reading the text rightly if we don’t acknowledge that apart from the sinful choices of Jacob and Dinah, Dinah would not have been in the position she was in. What sinful choices am I referring to?
First, Jacob and his family were only in the vicinity of Shechem because Jacob failed to fully keep his vow to go to Bethel (28:21). The opening of the next chapter confirms this as God commanded him, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there.” It was an unintentional tragedy that Jacob’s sin of partial-obedience put his daughter in this land, among this people, and in proximity to Shechem. And yet, Jacob’s sin really did endanger Dinah.
Second, for reasons and in ways we’re not told, Dinah was drawn to the ungodly women of the land. God had continually warned His people of the dangers of associating with pagans, their ways, and their gods. Dinah should not have been intrigued by or gone “out to see the woman of the land,” but she was and did. Dinah’s attraction to the world also put her in an unnecessarily vulnerable spot.
What is the main take away from this? It is not, as I said earlier that Dinah got what she deserved. On the other end of the spectrum, it is not that if only Jacob and Dinah would have walked in perfect righteousness, they would never have experienced harm. Jacob should have led his family all the way to Bethel as he’d promised God. And yet, even if he had, Dinah could just as easily have been mistreated there as in Shechem. And certainly, Dinah should have stayed with her own people and not gone out to the woman of the land as God had prohibited. But even if she had, Shechem may have snuck in and mistreated her anyway. In this life we ought to walk in righteousness, but even if we do, we simply cannot avoid the negative effects of sin (that of our own sin or the sins of others).
If not those things, then what is the take-away? I think the best way to say it is this: while our choices can never force others to act a certain way, they can go a long way in making certain behaviors easier or harder.
For instance, our sin can never force someone else to sin, even though it can make it a lot easier for them to do so. A father who constantly belittles his children cannot cause them to become bitter, but he’d be a fool if he were surprised when they did. Likewise, the wife who regularly disrespects her husband can’t make him become unloving, but she can make it a lot harder for him to love well. Hanging out with friends who enjoy sin can’t make you join them, but we almost always become like the people we hang out with. Watching sexually inappropriate programs won’t cause anyone in your household to engage in sexual immorality, but it sure puts an unnecessary temptation in front of them. And failing to lead your family rightly (Jacob) or chasing after worldly things (Dinah) cannot cause someone to mistreat you, but it can present them with an opportunity and temptation they otherwise wouldn’t have had. Our sin always makes other sins easier. Let us therefore be careful to not tempt others to sin or blame them for ours.
But, Grace, by the grace of God it works the other way too. While our godly choices cannot make anyone walk in godliness, they sure can make it easier. I remember well how my college roommates and I would all be sitting around watching TV and one would get up to go share his faith with others. His choice didn’t compel any of us to go with him, but inevitably some of us would. I remember well Kyle working hard to make missions a greater focus at Grace. His choices didn’t force us to join him in thinking better about, engaging in, or supporting missions, but it sure did (and does) make it easier to do so. I remember well being burdened to live a saltier life by reading the biography of Jim Elliot. I remember well the words of Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD,” and am regularly spurred on to more godly leadership of my home because of it. Often, God uses the godly choices of others to inspire godly choices in us. And so, let us give ourselves to walking in the light that we grow in and spread righteousness.
JACOB AND HIS SONS FIND OUT ABOUT DINAH’S DEFILEMENT AND MEET HER DEFILER (5-12)
The next part of the story concerns the actions of Dinah’s father and brothers once they were made aware of her defilement.
The text tells us that Jacob heard first, but waited until his sons, Dinah’s brothers, came in from working the fields before determining what to do (5). In the meantime, Hamor, Shechem’s father, came to visit Jacob, seeking to secure Dinah as a wife for his son. What’s more, he proposed that the two clans share women for wives, trade with one another, and the cohabitate the land as allies (8-10). He even went on to offer to purchase Dinah and the favor of Jacob and his sons (11-12)! Dinah’s brother came back in time to hear the proposal.
Can you imagine the audacity of such a visit and such a proposition?
The unfiltered request is this, “Hi, I’m Hamor, the ruler of this land and the father of the man who just raped your daughter/sister. My son still lusts after her and so we’d like to pay you for her that he might have her as his wife and continue to defile her. Not only that, but we’d all like to marry your women, pretend to be your friends, and have you happy with us while we do. So, what do you think? Sound good?”
Are you kidding me?! What Jacob’s sons did next wasn’t good in any number of ways, but it’s not hard to understand why they did what they did. Conversely, this makes what Jacob did almost impossible to understand. Shechem’s actions were atrocious and their atrocity was greatly amplified by his father’s selfish, manipulative, cavalier response.
The point of this section is really at the heart of why this passage is in the Bible. It was recorded and given to the Israelites in order to show in unmistakable terms why God prohibited Israel from mingling with pagans. It is meant to highlight the unwavering reality that sin is always wicked and evil and destructive, even if it doesn’t always seem like it at first. Sin can sometimes seem OK (or even good), but that is only because our eyes and hearts are easily deceived.
Grace, sin in every shape, size, and form, is always as wicked as it seems in this passage even though we don’t always see it that way. God included this vile act of Shechem and this ridiculous request from Hamor to help Jacob and his offspring see how utterly wicked and destructive sin—all sin—is before God and how mingling with unbelievers on their terms is so seductive. When God prohibits something we are right to draw this passage to mind. We may not fully understand every prohibition of God, but we can be assured that unmasked all disobedience looks just like this. In this passage God was graciously pulling back the curtain on sin for His people. In that way this passage is a remarkable gift. We must then walk in faith, believing that all sin is truly evil even if we don’t fully understand or see why.
JACOB AND HIS SONS PLAN THEIR VENGEANCE (13-24)
So, what would the men of Dinah’s family do? How would they respond to the shocking, brazen request of Hamor and Shechem? In short, Jacob did absolutely nothing while his sons concocted a plan of vengeance through deceit, profanity, and murder.
Jacob remained silent while “the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully,” we’re told (13). The text (14) also tells us that it was anger at the defilement of their sister motivated their scheme (“the men were indignant and very angry“). (Which again stands in stark contrast to their father’s apparent indifference.) And yet, to Dinah’s defilers they feigned indifference to the rape. Instead of acting righteously in light of their righteous anger, they intentionally acted deceitfully. They pretended that their real concern was over the unacceptability of forming an alliance with uncircumcised people. They pretended that the law of their God, rather than the rage of their hearts was the main obstacle to agreeing to the terms proposed by Hamor.
“14 We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. 15 Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised.”
And yet, so great was Shechem’s lust and Hamor’s desire to give his son whatever he wanted that the men not only agreed to the deceitful terms, they were “pleased” by them (18-19). Thus, they went back to their clan, relayed the plan, and were all immediately circumcised (20-24).
But as it turns out, Jacob and his sons were not the only deceivers. What’s more, Shechem lusted after more than just Dinah. He, his father, and the men of their city also lusted after all the women and possessions of Jacob. They agreed to be circumcised as part of a plan, not to share the people, land and friendship, but as a means of gaining all of Jacob’s people and belongings for themselves, “23 Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours?” In an attempt to deceive the deceivers, then, “24 all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.”
Talk about going all in on a plan to fulfill lust and greed! I hope it seems ridiculous to you, because it is ridiculous. But I also hope you are wise enough to do an inventory of your own heart. What ridiculous lengths are you going to, right now to satisfy your own greed and lusts? Whether it’s immediately obvious or takes some digging, if you really look, you will find pieces of this in yourself. Find them and kill them quickly in the Holy Spirit’s power. Once again, this passage is a gift in that it reveals this common temptation of the heart.
On top of all of that, aside from the obvious duplicity of both parties, this section introduces something else we need to consider quickly. Circumcision was the solemn mark of the covenant God had made with Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather. It was a constant, visual reminder that Abraham’s children were set apart from the nations. God was their God and they were His people. They were to be a light to the nations and invite them in to know the fear of and fellowship with God. For those who accepted God’s terms, they were to offer circumcision as a sign of their inclusion in the light. Instead, however, the chosen family of God joined the pagans in their darkness by using circumcision not as a covenant sign, but as a means of manipulation. In doing so, they were profaning something sacred. Deceit and profanity were their tools of vengeance.
Again, on one hand this might seem like something we’d never do. And on one hand, we’d be right. It’s really hard to imagine how you or I could use circumcision (or baptism) in this kind of way. On the other hand, though, the deeper principle is that it is always wicked to use the things of God as instruments of sin—of using the holy for the profane. And in that sense, we are all vulnerable.
Grace, do you use the eyes God has given you to look upon darkness? Do you use the hands God has given you to perform works of evil? Do you use the tongue God has given you to speak words of destruction? Do you use the feet God has given you to carry you to wrongdoing? Yes, and so do I. We all do at times. Therefore, we too are using the holy for the profane. Look to this passage to see the utter folly and wickedness of such a choice.
VENGEANCE EXECUTED (25-31)
So what would become of these plans of deceit and profanity? Which clan of profane deceivers would come out on top? The final section gives us our answer.
Jacob continued to sit passively by while the men of his house (Simeon and Levi in particular) ruthlessly waited for three days, until the men of Hamor’s house were in maximum discomfort after their circumcision (25). They then they killed all the men in the entire city, including Hamor and Shechem (25-26). They rescued their sister (26), but they also “plundered the city” (27). “They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered” (28-29).
It doesn’t take a great deal of careful thought to recognize that Jacob and his two sons each responded to the sin of Shechem with sin of their own. God would make provision for crimes such as that which Shechem committed. But the responses of Jacob and his sons were not it.
Grace, on full display here is the simple fact that sin is never the remedy for sin, even if it sometimes provides temporary relief. That’s because sin never honors God and it always (as we saw earlier) makes more sin easier. Jacob recognized the second part immediately complaining, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land…My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household” (30-31).
There was no doubt in Jacob’s mind that these hasty actions of Simeon and Levi would have negative repercussions for their whole family. The problem is that the possible negative repercussions were more of a concern for Jacob than the sin of his sons or the defilement of his daughter. The brothers were right in being angry that their sister had been raped (treated “like a prostitute), even as Jacob was wrong in not being angry, but they were both wrong to respond according to their flesh, albeit in opposite ways.
We see this all the time in our own lives—not the murdering and plundering of whole cities or sitting back passively at the rape of our daughter, of course—but the sin of responding to sin with sin. When your brother or sister talks trash and you respond with trash talk, remember this passage and remember how wrong that is. When your coworker gossips about the boss and you respond by joining in, remember this passage and how wrong that is. When someone does something clearly unkind and you react in an equally unkind way, remember this passage. Sin is never the remedy for sin.
As I’ve tried to make clear many times, the narrative passages of the Bible are not meant to teach morality. They are only meant to show the result of the moral choices people make. This passage doesn’t teach that anything done by Jacob and his sons or Hamor and his sons is bad. We need the rest of the Bible to know that rape and lying and profanity and murder are wrong. What this passage does is shine a bright light on the ugliness and ridiculousness of the wrongdoing. It adds detail and depth and color to the outline given in God’s commands. In some ways, it is akin to what a gifted painter can do to a simple description of a walk along the North Shore or in the woods in the fall—he helps you to truly appreciate the reality being described in heart and mind.
It is one thing, then, to say that our choices can make it easier or harder for others to sin against us, that sin is always wicked and evil and destructive, that it is always wicked to use the things of God as instruments of sin, and that we sin is never the remedy for sin, and another thing to see the true nature, the true ugliness of these things played out in real life situations. To simply state those things is to give us one kind of tool in our fight to live as we are made to. To see them in the kind of detail this passage provides is another kind of tool altogether. What a gift it is from God.
Of course, none of us have lived rightly in light of the things on display in this passage (or any other passage). It is, therefore, great news indeed that our hope is not tied to our obedience, but to Christ’s. Sin is never the remedy for sin, but Jesus always is. If we will trust in Him, He will forgive us of every failure and empower us for every success. His death on the cross secured everlasting life and peace for all who call on His name. This passage shows what it looks like to trust in our own devices. Jesus shows us what it looks like to hope in God. Look to Him, therefore, and be saved.