We come today to a difficult passage and to a strange one. You might even have been thinking, as I read the passage just now, why it’s even in the Bible? Why are these things recorded for us? Why do we have to read this story of sex and violence? After all, if it were a movie, we’d probably want to avoid it because we’d think it’s not at all the sort of thing Christians should be watching. And, of course, you might have noticed that God’s name is not mentioned at all in this chapter. So, it’s doesn’t seem to be teaching us anything about the Lord. So, why do we need it? Couldn’t we just leave it out? If it’s not going to teach me anything about the Lord, why have it here?
And, the flow of the narrative wouldn’t be spoiled if this chapter were left out. Chapter 33 ended with Jacob arriving at Shechem where he bought some land and built an altar so that he could worship the Lord. That’s how chapter 33 ends. Chapter 35 begins with the Lord commanding Jacob to move on to Bethel where he again built an altar and worshipped the Lord. So, you could easily leave out chapter 34 and no one would notice because the flow of the narrative wouldn’t be ruined.
So why don’t we just leave it out and skip over this strange and sordid story? Well, we need to remember what Paul wrote to Timothy. He said that all Scripture, all Scripture, including Genesis 34, is God-breathed. It’s been breathed out by God. When the Lord inspired Moses to write the book of Genesis, he caused him to include this chapter as well as all the other chapters in Genesis.
And remember what Paul went on to say to Timothy? All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful. All Scripture, including Genesis 34, is useful for us. Paul said it’s useful for teaching and rebuking and correcting and for training in righteousness. So, we need to believe that this chapter is useful. It can teach us something; or it can rebuke us about something; or it can correct us about something; or it can train us in righteousness. We need to believe that about this chapter.
And then, of course, there’s what we read at the end of Luke’s gospel. The Lord had risen from the dead. He met two of his disciples who were walking to Emmaus. They didn’t recognise him at first. And as they walked along the road, we’re told that, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets — so beginning with Genesis which was written by Moses — the Lord explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. He was able to show them that the Bible is all about him. The Bible is all about the Saviour. And so we need to believe that there’s something in this passage which teaches us about the Lord Jesus.
So, why can’t we just skip over this chapter? Well, because it’s part of God’s word. And God has given us his word because it’s useful for us: to teach, rebuke, correct and train us. And God has given us his word because it tells us about the Lord Jesus.
And so, having said that, let’s turn to this chapter.
And the chapter can be divided very easily into four main parts. First of all, in verses 1 to 4, you have the man Shechem attacking Dinah, Jacob’s daughter. Secondly, in verses 5 to 24, you have various reactions to the attack. What various people did and said after the attack. Thirdly, in verses 25 to 29, you have Jacob’s sons who attack the city of Shechem. And fourthly, in verses 30 and 31, there’s Jacob’s reaction to the attack on the city of Shechem.
Verses 1 and 2
So, verses 1 to 4, first of all, and the attack on Dinah. And we read in verse 1 that Dinah, who is Jacob’s only daughter, and whose mother is Leah, went out to visit the women of the land. At that time, Jacob and his family were living near the city of Shechem. And presumably this girl — and it’s likely that she was only a teenager — was a bit curious about what life was like in the big city; and she wanted to see what the women of Shechem were like. And it seems she went alone.
Well, Dinah went out to see the women of the city. But it turns out that she too was seen by one of the young men. And so Moses introduces us to the man Shechem, who was the son of Hamor who was one of the rulers of the area. So, this man Shechem is a young prince. And perhaps he was used to getting whatever he wanted. And perhaps he was used to doing whatever he wanted. And we’re told he saw Dinah and he attacked her. And it was a violent and a brutal attack on this young girl.
Now, during the course of the week, I’ve read a number of commentaries on this passage and I’ve listened to recordings of other sermons on this passage. And in general, the commentators and other preachers are very critical of Dinah; and they’re very critical of Jacob. They’re critical of Dinah for wanting to go and see the women of the area. They portray her as being like the young people we see in the city centre who stay out late at night at places where people get drunk and take drugs and get up to no good. And they criticise her for being that kind of person.
And they criticise Jacob for letting her do such a thing. Jacob, they say, was responsible for his daughter’s safety and he shouldn’t have let her go off on her own into the city. And some suggest that because this is Leah’s daughter, he didn’t really care about her well-being. Do you remember? Jacob preferred Rachel to Leah. And so, some of the commentators suggest, he didn’t care about Leah’s children.
Now, there might be some truth in all of this. And certainly, parents ought to take care of their children and make sure they’re safe and don’t go to any place where they might get into trouble. However, the text doesn’t make any comment on what Dinah did; and the text doesn’t make any comment on what Jacob did or didn’t do. And it seems to me that the lesson we learn from what happened to Dinah is to remind us how far we have fallen. Things are not meant to be like this. A young girl ought to be able to walk around a city without being attacked. She ought to be able to go about the streets without feeling afraid. But because we live in a fallen world, because we live in a world that has become corrupt, then this kind of awful thing can happen. And it is awful.
And, of course, another thing to notice is that this terrible thing happened in the Promised Land. The city of Shechem was in the Promised Land, the land which God had promised to give to his people to be their very own, a land flowing with milk and honey. But the fact that this kind of thing could happen in the Promised Land shows us that the Promised Land of Canaan was not really the Promised Land. The Promised Land of Canaan was only a foretaste, a shadow, of the true Promised Land. The Promised Land of Canaan was intended by God to point his people forward to a better country, a heavenly one. They were meant to look beyond the land of Canaan to the new heavens and the new earth which we read about in the book of Revelation. And in the new heavens and the new earth — the real Promised Land — there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. While Jacob and his family remained on the earth, in the earthly Promised Land, there would be lots of death and lots of mourning and lots of crying and lots of pain. They would suffer many things. And every time they suffered something like this, like this attack on Dinah, it would make them long for that better country which God has prepared for them, where this kind of thing would never, ever happen.
So, what happened to Dinah reminds us that we live in a fallen world. The world is full of sinners and we sin against the Lord, and we sin against each other, in many, many different ways. And every time we hear of something like this in the world, it’s a reminder to us of the way we have turned away from the Lord who created us to enjoy something far, far better than this.
And what happened to Dinah reminds us that the Promised Land of Canaan was not the true Promised Land. It was not the perfect and glorious place which God has prepared for us, because God has planned a better country, a heavenly one, for his people; but we have to wait for it. And so, while we too go on living on the world, we can expect this kind of awful thing to happen, because we’re still on our way to the Promised Land of Eternal Life.
Verses 3 and 4
Let’s move on with the story. And something very odd happens in verse 3. You see, after the attack, Shechem’s heart was somehow drawn to Dinah; and we’re told that he loved her; and he spoke tenderly to her. Now, we’re not told what she thought of him, but we’re told that he wanted to marry her. In fact, he’s very insistent and he went to his father and almost demanded:
Get me this girl as my wife.
Verses 5 to 24
I’ve already said that from verse 5 to verse 24 we have various reactions to what happened. First of all, there’s Jacob. And we read about his initial reaction in verse 5 where he decided to do nothing and say nothing until his sons came in from the fields. The commentators again tend to criticise Jacob here. Was he not upset by the news? Or why didn’t he get angry when he found out what happened? Why didn’t he go and get his sons immediately? So, the commentators criticise him at this point for not doing anything.
However, his sons make up for his silence. Look at verse 7. As soon as they heard the news, they came in from the fields and they were filled with grief and fury. The word for ‘grief’ is the same word which Moses used to describe God when he looked at the world in the days of Noah and saw how sinful we had become. Do you remember? Moses said that the Lord was grieved that he had made us, because we’d become so wicked. Well, when Jacob’s sons heard what had happened to their sister, they too were grieved because of this wicked thing Shechem had done to her. And as well as being grieved, they were angry too. In fact, there were furious. So, Jacob barely reacts. But his sons are full of grief and fury.
What about Shechem and his father, Hamor? Well, in verse 8 Hamor explains to Jacob and his sons that Shechem has his heart set on Dinah and wants to marry her. And he goes on to suggest that other marriages could take place between the two families. And Jacob’s family could settle among Hamor’s family. And they could become rich. And they could become one big, happy family.
And Shechem joined in this negotiations. He’s prepared to give them whatever they ask for so that he can have Dinah as his bride. Not only will he pay the normally bridal price which a bridegroom would pay the bride’s family in those days, but he’s also willing to give them a gift as well. Whatever they ask, he’ll give. Only give me the girl as my wife.
Well, in verse 13 we learn that Jacob’s sons have learnt a thing or two from their father. Jacob used to be the twister. The cheat. The great deceiver. Remember how he deceived his father and stole his brother’s inheritance? Well, now his sons have become like him, because they too have become deceivers. Because their sister had been defiled, they replied deceitfully to Hamor and Shechem. They tell Hamor and Shechem that they’re prepared to let them have Dinah to be Shechem’s wife so long as they and their people are circumcised. They were saying to Hamor and Shechem:
If you become like us, and are circumcised, then we’ll do as you ask; and we’ll settle among you; and we’ll become one people with you. But if you won’t agree to be circumcised, then we’ll take Dinah and go.
Now, they’re only lying. Moses has made that clear. But Hamor and Shechem don’t realise they’re only lying. And they’re only too happy to do exactly what Jacob’s sons have asked. In fact, we’re told in verse 19 that Shechem lost no time in doing what they said. He and his father went to the city, and there they persuaded everyone to agree to what had been proposed. And we’re told in verse 24 that every male in the city was circumcised.
So, there we have the different responses. There’s Jacob who barely reacted at all. There are his sons who were filled with grief. There’s Hamor and Shechem who propose marriage and who want to make peace with Jacob and his family. And there’s Jacob and his sons again who seem to want peace, but really they were only lying.
But, of course, they were doing something else which was really, really terrible. They were misusing and abusing the covenant sign of circumcision. God gave Abraham and his descendants circumcision to be a sign of his covenant with them. But this sign was only for the Lord’s chosen people; it wasn’t for anyone else. But here we have Jacob’s sons who were asking strangers to the covenant, people who don’t know the Lord, to receive his sign on their bodies.
And then, the only reason they asked Hamor and Shecham and their people to receive the sign was so that they could take advantage of them. They wanted to attack them, and they knew circumcision would make them vulnerable for a time.
Isn’t that a terrible thing? I was speaking to the boys and girls earlier about the third commandment, forbidding us from misusing the name of the Lord. But we misuse the name of Lord whenever we misuse and abuse anything connected to the Lord, like his sacraments. The Lord has given us the sacraments in order to reveal to us something about his nature and his willingness to pardon our sins and to give us eternal life. And these men, the sons of Jacob, completely misused the Lord’s covenant sign.
Well, again it’s a reminder that we live in a fallen world; and in this fallen world, even the Lord’s own people can do terrible things to dishonour the name of the Lord our God. And it’s a reminder that believers are not yet made perfect. And so, every time we sin, and disgrace the name of the Lord, it makes us long for the Lord to return when we will be glorified and made perfect forever. And in the new heavens and the new earth, where we will worship the Lord for ever and ever with all of his people, our worship will be perfect and nothing we do or say will dishonour our God.
Verses 25 to 29
Let’s move on, because the sins of Jacob’s sons get worse. Three days later, we’re told in verse 25, three days later, when the men were still in pain from having been circumcised two of Jacob’s sons — Simeon and Levi — took their swords and they attacked the unsuspecting city. The city was unsuspecting because Hamor and Shechem had convinced them that Jacob’s family were friends and could be trusted. But Jacob’s sons had deceived them and now Simeon and Levi attacked the city and killed every single male. In particular, they killed Hamor and Shechem; and they released Dinah who was still with them. And then, in verse 27, Jacob’s other sons looted the city: they seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city. and in the fields. They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children. Shechem had done a terrible thing, attacking Dinah and taking her away. But Jacob’s sons had done even worse, because they attacked and killed all the men in the city and took away everything they had, including their families.
Verses 30 and 31
In the last two verses we have Jacob’s reaction to what his sons had done. And it’s very surprising, because the only thing he seems to be thinking about is what this might mean for him. Listen to his words:
You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and the 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.
It’s all about me and you get the impression that Jacob would have preferred them to do nothing. Couldn’t we just forget it and move on with our lives? Did you have to cause me so much trouble?
But look at their answer in the last verse. They said:
Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?
We had to do something to pay them back for what they did to our sister.
What to do about sin
One of the commentators points out that there you have two reactions to sin. On the one hand, we can deal with sin by ignoring it. That was Jacob’s way. When he first heard the news, he said nothing and did nothing. After his sons attacked the city of Shechem, you get the impression that he would have preferred it if they had done nothing. Let’s forget it and move on with our lives. Sin might be a problem, but let’s ignore it; let’s disregard it.
That’s one reaction. On the other hand, we can deal with sin by attacking the sinner. That was Simeon and Levi’s way. They’ve sinned against us; they’ve done us wrong; they’ve hurt us; let’s pay them back; let’s get even; let’s kill them.
So, there are two reactions to sin: Either ignore it; or else destroy the sinner. That’s what we see in this chapter. But in the rest of the Bible we learn that God has another way to deal with sin, a better way.
God doesn’t ignore our sin. He doesn’t regard it as trivial or unimportant or insignificant. No, he treats our sin with deadly seriousness. Because God is perfectly just, he must punish our sin in full.
But instead of punishing us, the sinners, he provided a substitute to take the punishment we deserve and to pay for our sin in our place; so that instead of destroying us — the way Jacob’s sons destroyed the city of Shechem — God is able to pardon us.
So, God treats our sin seriously, because he insists that our sin must be punished. But instead of punishing us, someone else has taken the blame for us and has died to pay for our sins. And, of course, the substitute he has provided was his own Son, Jesus Christ and in him we find forgiveness, because he has borne the punishment we deserve.
Well, in the next chapter, God commands Jacob to leave Shechem and to return to Bethel. And there at Bethel, Jacob built an altar to the Lord. And while the text does not mention it, no doubt when he built the altar, he sacrificed a lamb and offered it to God. And perhaps, as he offered that lamb on the altar, his thoughts went back to Shechem, and to his own reaction to sin which was to ignore it; and perhaps his thoughts went back to Shechem and to his son’s reaction to sin which was to destroy the sinner. And perhaps, as he offered the lamb up to God, he realised that this was a much, much better way, because the lamb on the altar pointed forward to the true lamb of God, who died to take away our sins and to make peace with God forever.
And as Jacob offered that lamb on the altar in Bethel in the Promised Land of Canaan, perhaps his thoughts went upwards and he thought again about the new heavens and the new earth, and the better country which God had promised, where all of God’s redeemed and glorified people, will bow before the Lord and worship him and the Lamb who was slain.
This chapter is about awful things. But these awful thing make us long all the more for the true Promised Land which God has prepared for all who love him. And so, we need to remain faithful, while we wait for the Lord to come and make all things new.