This is one of these chapters that God is not present. Of course, He is present in that he is an omnipotent God, and we are dealing with his covenant people. However, he is not directly referenced. There is no mention of him, no prayer, no intervention. And it is no coincidence that this chapter contains one of the ugliest and depraved incidents in the Bible. This chapter was written to the children of Israel who were facing hostility from their neighbours in Canaan, yet attracted to their ways of life, yet it also causes us to consider our response to the evil in the world around us, particularly as if comes to harm our own household. And its here in this interaction that we see two basic responses to evil, that to this day we go to when we are confronted with evil. One is silent passivity (moral compromise); the other is immediate vengeful retribution. Think about our day and how we a a church and how we as a society confront evil in our day, be it evil such as what has been revealed in the Catholic Church hierarchy over the past few weeks, or evil such as the #metoo movement is calling out, or evil as in the tragedy of abortion - that more lives have been ended through abortion in the past 40 years in the US and Canada than the population of Canada itself, or any of the other sins or manifestations of evil that we face daily in our lives and in our news. Either we ignore evil, or the outrage mobs take out their vengeance without due process.
Naive Curiosity + Overly Permissive Household + Culture of Exploitation = Disaster
First let’s look at the incident itself. Verse 1 could not begin any more ominously: Gen. 34:1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. This may not sound like that big of a deal to our ears, however always must remember the context into which Moses is writing. He is writing to the children of Israel and warning them time and time again to be separate from the nations around them who do not follow the ways of the Lord. The are called to live as a peculiar people and yet the story of the nation of Israel is that their hearts were prone to wander, and to adapt to the ways of the people around them. So the first element is a naive curiosity about the ways of the people around us.
Dinah is probably a young girl at this point, 15-16 (she is still called a girl in verse 4), and she is able to wander freely among the land. And Jacob’s permissiveness is highlighted, especially as Dinah is introduced as the daughter of Leah - Leah, the overlooked wife, and Dinah, the neglected daughter. This is especially set in contrast to Jacob’s care and concern for the sons of Rachel in future chapters - namely, Joseph and Benjamins. You get the sense that Jacob would never let his precious sons of Rachel wander freely, but Dinah, daughter of Leah, is able to satisfy her naive curiosity by going out to the women of the land.
Father and mothers, one of your primary responsibility as a godly parent is to watch over your children and to protect them. We cannot shield them from every temptation that is in the world, but we can’t allow ourselves to be naive about the aggressive nature of the society around us to force its values upon our children, or about our children’s curiosity to know and experience life outside of the walls of our church and our faith. We can take appropriate measures to protect them. You’ve got to have a filter on your home internet. I would not expose your kids to social media or allow it on their phones until they are at least 15 or 16. Know their friends and their friends families. And young people, even if your parents are too protective, receive their protection as an act of love and wisdom. They care for you enough to protect you.
Yet Jacob does nothing as Dinah wanders off to the city of a prince named Shechem. And that is where disaster happens, for she is taken forcibly by Shechem, the prince of the land, and she is sexually assualted, and she is defiled. Now that’s all verse 2. However, verse 3 potions a completely different picture of Shechem - his soul is drawn to her, and he loves her and he speaks tenderly to her. This seems strange to us doesn’t it? In one verse he’s a monster; in the next verse he’s a perfect gentleman. How do we reconcile the two? Let me suggest this: in a society that has rejected Biblical morality, in which the sexual impulse is exalted, the lines between romantic pursuit and sexual exploitation will inevitably be blurred. This is the true rape culture, that permeates our society, as it did the Canaanite towns. Shechem may have in fact been drawn to Dinah and loved her and spoke tenderly to her, but he also saw, seized her, lay with her, and humiliated her. When we live in a society of blurred lines, people, especially women, get exploited. Listen, young men and young women, we live in a culture of exploitation no less than Shechem. We even had a hit song a few summer ago, a wicked song: “blurred lines”. Within biblical morality, there are no blurred lines when it comes to sexuality. There is no room for objectification of the opposite sex, there is no place for pressuring or seduction of the opposite sex, there is no place for exploitation of the opposite sex. Young women are your sisters, and are to be respected as such until they are your bride. Young men are your brothers and are to be respected as such until they are your husband.
And so you have a perfect storm in this passage of Dinah’s naive curiosity about the ways of the women of the land, Jacob’s permissiveness and carelessness in protecting his child, and the exploitative culture that blurs the lines between romantic pursuit and sexual exploitation, and it ends in disaster. Dinah is humiliated and defiled. An evil act has occurred, something Moses tells us, was an outrageous thing to have occurred in Israel, such as must not be done.
Yet the young man, Shechem appears to want to marry Dinah, and his father approaches Jacob and his brothers. And its here in this interaction that we see two basic responses to evil, that to this day we go to when we are confronted with evil.
The first response is Jacob’s: silent passivity and acceptance
Gen. 34:5 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.
Being confronted with the evil committed against his own daughter, Jacob is completely silent. He has nothing to say. In fact, throughout this chapter Jacob is silent, he says nothing and takes no action until the end of the chapter. It is only at the end, after his sons have acted, that Jacob criticizes them for the way that they dealt with the matter, saying to them:
Gen. 34:30 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.”
The phase “brought trouble on me” should be understood as “you have disturbed my peace” in relation to the inhabitants of the land. And so we see Jacob’s motivation for his silent passivity. He doesn’t want to rock the boat. He is willing to sacrifice his own daughter to keep peace with the world. And so he refuses to confront evil, refuses to name it as evil and deal with it accordingly.
Let me suggest to you that the most grievous way in which Jacob’s silent passivity is revealed in this passage is in giving his tacit approval for Shechem to marry his daughter, if only that the men of Shechem’s village would be circumcised and become one people with Jacob’s family.
Gen. 34:13 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.”
Now, it is clear that Jacob’s sons had one motive for offering this proposal to Shechem and Hamor, which we will get to in a moment, yet Jacob, as head of the household must have given his approval to the proposal, for the reason of becoming one people with the Hivites, and profiting off of their union. And this is where Jacob’s silent acceptance is a terrible sin against the Lord. Jacob, through his sons, is offering the sign of the covenant people to a people who do not know, and are indicating no desire to know, the covenant God, for the sake of keeping peace. This proposal makes a mockery of the uniqueness of the covenant sign and the uniqueness of God’s covenant people. In Genesis 17, God gave the sign of circumcision to the children of Abraham who were united to him as his people by faith. This sign was given to Isaac and then to Jacob and his children. Israel was to be a people separated unto God and circumcision was to be a unique sign, marking their special relationship to this covenant-making God. Yet Jacob was apparently ready to extend the covenant sign to obviously non-covenant people and become “one people” with whom they were explicitly supposed to keep separate from. Now, it is true that outsiders and foreigners could join the people of Israel and receive the sign of circumcision, but only as a sign that they themselves had received Israel’s God as their own. Israel was never to offer inclusion in the nation, “to be one people” as this proposal states”, to foreign peoples for the sake of keeping the peace or attaining prosperity.
And so Jacob’s response fails, as does ours when we keep silent about evil and injustice, or compromise our uniqueness as the people of God in order to not “rock the boat” in our relationships around us.
The other response, that of his sons, is vengeful retribution.
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.
See, the brothers make the proposal for the men to be circumcised, but they are not interested in keeping the peace like their father, they know exactly what they intend to do. they act deceitfully, in the way that they observed in there father Jacob and grandfather Laban. On the third day after the village is circumcised, they swept through the city, killed all the men, rescued Dinah who had been held there and then the rest of the brothers came and plundered the city, taking all their wealth, their wives and their children.
The sons of Jacob, have no trouble confronting evil and calling it as such, but in taking vengeful retribution into their own hands, they are unable to restrain their anger and thirst for vengeance and end up committing genocide against an entire village, sweeping away the innocent and guilty alike. We should be horrified at the violence displayed by Jacob’s sons here, and this is not the last time in the book of Genesis that they will act in violence. And while they get the last word in this chapter, as we read on we understand exactly what God thinks of their approach, as Jacob prophesies over them as he blessed his sons:
Gen. 49:5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords.
6 Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.
7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.
And so the sons are rebuked for allowing their anger to spill over into vengeful retribution. And there the chapter ends. It ends with Jacob firmly rebuking his sons for disturbing the peace he was enjoying in the land, and the sons responding that they had to respond to Shechem’s ill-treatment of their sister. And that’s it - that’s how the chapter ends. Two responses to evil: silent compromise, or violent vengeance. Neither response is given approval in the text as both led to greater evil.
What should Jacob have done?
Now, were not going to find a lot of answers in this chapter, as it ends in something of a stalemate. But I think we get some instruction in the chapter to follow, and it relates all the way back to the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12.
Lived Out the Abrahamic Promise: Separation and Blessing
Jacob had one basic promise that had been passed onto him, the promise that had been passed down from his grandfather Abraham, and expanded through subsequent revelation to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:
Gen. 12:1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
The promise set apart Abraham and his children from the peoples around them: separation; and promises that the nation that God creates from Abraham’s descendants will be a blessing to the rest of the nations. And so it is no surprise that God’s answer to the chaos of Genesis 34 is to call Jacob back to His promise, and in doing so call Israel to make a clear separation from the nations around them, while at the same time becoming a blessing to the nations around them.
SEPARATION: Dedicated Himself and His Family to Full Obedience in the Lord
Here is the picture of separation. Jacob’s family is to leave Shechem’s city, and to repent of their desire to follow the gods of the land by purifying themselves and purging themselves of the idols that they still carried.
Gen. 35:1 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.
BLESSING: Pointed Shechem to the Gospel
The Abrahamic Blessing finds its fulfillment in the gospel of Jesus Christ. What should have been done? To be clear, I don’t have a verse for this, so I have to draw from the full picture of Scripture. Jacob should have called Shechem to true repentance and declared to him and his sons that the Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, offering forgiveness of sins. As Shechem understood the true nature of forgiveness and grace, and in repentance offered restitution, Jacob should have forgiven Shechem and instructed his sons to do the same. As the gospel is proclaimed, he should have instructed Shechem to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant of this forgiving Lord, and welcomed him and any others into the covenant community. Thus, in the gospel, Shechem's sin would have been acknowledged, repented of, forgiven, and generally dealt with in ways that silent passivity and vengeful retribution cannot.