Through our study of Genesis so far we’ve looked at traditional stories. We’ve discussed people and events that most church people are familiar with and are stories in children’s Sunday school. This morning we have a story that has never been the subject of a children’s Sunday school lesson. In fact, I’d be surprised if you’ve even heard a sermon on it. I’m pretty confident in saying that some if not many of you are not even familiar with the story.
The story we will look at today is of Dinah and the Shechemites. I will warn up front that while not giving detail it is graphic and brutal. But it is also one of the things that separates the Bible from other holy books and gives evidence that ours is the true word of God. Other religions paint their heroes in glossy images and show them as embodiments of perfection here on earth. Time and time again the Bible gives an accurate portrayal of people and lists their triumphs and their sins.
The story of Dinah is one of sin. Basically everyone involved in the story aside from Dinah herself is guilty of sin, most of them horrible. In Ecclesiastes 1:9 Solomon wrote,
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
We often look at the world today and see its brutal nature. We turn on the news and are bombarded by horrible and depressing images of death, destruction, and brutality. Particularly those of you who are older long for the good old days before all of this was happening. But the truth is that man is sinful and with a 24/7 news cycle we are now seeing it reflected back upon us like never before. All of the sins that we decry today were happening in the 1950’s, many just didn’t know about it. Polite society turned a blind eye to many of the sins and did their best to pretend that things never happened.
The story of Dinah is proof that these horrible things have been occurring since the beginning however. The things that disgust us today were happening then as well. Man is sinful and only with the forgiveness of God and the help of the Holy Spirit do we even stand a chance of fighting against this nature.
1 Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. 2 When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and violated her. 3 His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. 4 And Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as my wife.”
The first sin of this story is perhaps the most heinous. It is one that occurs far too often in our world. This week I got an email through my website asking for scriptural advice regarding a girl who had been severely sexually abused for 13 years. Despite what the passage says, this is not a matter of love. This is pure and disgusting lust with no restraint. The term violation is incompatible with love and tenderness. We can spend all day discussing what love is but I promise you that this is not an act of love, it is an act of perversion and violence.
5 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.
6 Then Shechem’s father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob. 7 Now Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were filled with grief and fury, because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done.
We see two different reactions to what took place. Jacob’s reaction is restrained. As a matter of fact there is nothing said of his reaction whatsoever. Certainly he had a reaction but it is apparently unremarkable and not the same as his sons.
The reaction of the sons is the expected reaction and it is even proper and righteous. Today we act as if it is wrong to be angry and that we should seek peace in all situations. Jesus did say that “blessed are the peacemakers” but making peace is not realistic in all circumstances. Peace should never be sought in an effort to cover up sins.
There is such a thing as righteous indignation and righteous anger. It is a proper anger over sin. When sin occurs we have the right to get angry. When someone hurts a family member we should become angry. That said, there are right and wrong ways to express that anger. The right way is to attempt to correct the sin and bring the guilty party to a state of repentance. The wrong way is to take matters into your own hands and mete out justice in the place of God.
8 But Hamor said to them, “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter. Please give her to him as his wife. 9 Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it.”
11 Then Shechem said to Dinah’s father and brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. 12 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.”
There’s not much to say about these verses except Shechem appears to be a spoiled child. We don’t know if his father is disturbed by his son’s actions or not but in offering any price for Dinah it appears as if he is condoning the sin. This is the equivalent of the child of someone powerful getting into trouble. The father calls in a few favors and pulls a few strings to get them off the hook.
As a parent, you always want the best for your child. But sometimes the best thing you can do for your child is to allow them to suffer the consequences of their own actions. Wisdom needs to be used as in all circumstances but if a child knows their parent is always going to bail them out they are unlikely to learn their lesson and will repeat their mistakes.
13 Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. 14 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. 15 We will give our consent to you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. 16 Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We’ll settle among you and become one people with you. 17 But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we’ll take our sister and go.”
Unsurprisingly Jacob’s best known trait is passed on to his children. They act deceitfully when they reply to Shechem and Hamor. We aren’t told who actually responds but my guess is that none of the sons intend to actually allow Shechem to marry their sister. We have no way of knowing whether they all schemed together on what to do or if what takes place is a matter of two of the brothers taking things too far. Whatever the case is, I feel confident that none of the brothers intend on entering any agreement that simply hands their sister over to a man who defiled her.
18 Their proposal seemed good to Hamor and his son Shechem. 19 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. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city to speak to their fellow townsmen. 21 “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. 22 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. 23 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.”
24 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.
I honestly can’t fathom what would possess anyone to enter into this agreement but the passage gives us a clue. Shechem is understandable to some extent. He is consumed with lust and isn’t thinking clearly. He is willing to sacrifice anything to satisfy his lust at this point.
The townspeople are not unwilling participants in this debacle though. They are told that they have much to gain by entering into this agreement. They are led to believe that by being allowed to intermarry with Jacob’s children that they will consume their wealth and all of them will become wealthy.
I can’t imagine this working regardless of how much power Shechem’s family had in the town. A modern day equivalent would be if President Obama held a press conference tonight. In the conference he announced that there had been a tremendous agreement reached with Saudi Arabia. The country had agreed to give the United States as much oil as we want and they’ll do it for absolutely free. All they ask in return is that everyone cut off the end of their right index finger, down to the first knuckle. Certainly there would be some people who would be willing to make the sacrifice, weighing the benefits greater than the sacrifice. But some of Obama’s most ardent supporters would also declare that he’s absolutely crazy and that no financial gain is worth such a pointless sacrifice.
25 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. 26 They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. 28 They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. 29 They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.
Simeon and Levi enact their vengeance. Their fury is understandable. If someone treated someone in my family the way their sister was treated I can tell you that it would take a tremendous amount of restraint not to seek that person out and kill them. But justice belongs to the Lord and He is capable of handing out far greater and fairer justice than we are on earth.
What takes place goes beyond justice however. Simeon and Levi act in cold blood and with calculated hatred. There are places in the Bible that God calls for the utter destruction of a town or even a family but it has to do with the purity of His people. God does not want sin to corrupt the Israelites. In this instance they had the option of simply moving away from the sin, they were not surrounded by it.
30 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.”
31 But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”
While Simeon and Levi’s sins were great, Jacob’s reaction seems over the top, especially compared to his lack of reaction regarding his daughter. This is perhaps Jacob’s greatest sign of weakness outside of his obvious character flaw of his deceitfulness.
Here Jacob’s faith is strained. It is understandable to be distressed over the actions of his sons but his concern is first centered on his safety. He is blessed and protected by God. He has been promised that his descendants would inherit the land they were in. He should have no fear of being destroyed but instead of distress over everything else that has taken place, he is concerned first and foremost for himself.
The sins of Simeon and Levi are great and they will weigh upon Jacob for the rest of his life. In Genesis 49 he calls his sons together at the end of his life to bless them.
5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers—
their swords are weapons of violence.
6 Let me not enter their council,
let me not join their assembly,
for they have killed men in their anger
and hamstrung oxen as they pleased.
7 Cursed be their anger, so fierce,
and their fury, so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob
and disperse them in Israel.
Levi finds redemption in his descendents, they become the priests of Israel. Perhaps not ironic is the way in which they are chosen. When Moses descends Mt Sinai to find the Israelites worshipping the golden calf it is the Levites who take up swords against their brothers and strike down the idolaters. Thus they are set apart for the priestly role. There is a time for righteous anger and the Levites act properly then.