Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. 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 34:1-4
Shechem was not only the name of a place, but also the name of the man that Dinah encounters. Jacob probably didn’t foresee the immediate crisis looming. But the consequence of compromising God’s directive to go to Bethel (31:3, 13) would wreck havoc not only on his family, but also on the Shechemites.
You may read Genesis 34 here: Bible Gateway.
Dinah—Leah’s youngest child—must have been at least a teenager at this time. This suggests that Jacob and his family had been living in, or near, Shechem for several years.
Who could blame Dinah—living with 11 brothers—for wanting to get out and socialize with other girls her age? After all, a girl needs girlfriends!
Jacob, Leah, and Rachel must have been somewhat uncomfortable with their children living so close to pagan influence. Maybe they planned on moving to Bethel (as God had directed) in the near future to find mates for their growing kids. Maybe Jacob remained near Shechem in hopes of spreading a godly influence. Whatever their reasons, by-passing God’s command to return to Bethel put themselves in a tangled mess.
It wasn’t long before Shechem, the city’s chieftain, took notice of Dinah. This soon turned into an obsession. Beautiful Dinah, being of a different nationality, probably held a certain charm that the Canaanite girls lacked. For they were immersed in a culture of immorality and idol worship.
Henry Morris (The Genesis Record) writes: “Unattached women were considered fair game in cities of the time, in which promiscuity was not only common but, in fact, a part of the very religious system itself. It seems likely that Dinah must have been warned about such dangers by her parents, but perhaps she felt she could look out for herself and resented their overprotective attitude.”
Scripture doesn’t say if Dinah encouraged Shechem’s affection. But in light of her age, statutory rape would probably be applied in our times.
Even though Shechem violated Dinah, he pursues her as his bride. Since marriage was arranged by parents even in pagan cultures, he asks his dad to approach Jacob in the matter.
Jacob learns what happened, but waits until his sons come in from the fields. In the meanwhile, Hamor and Shechem show up. Without a hint of an apology, or indication that a wrong has been committed, Hamor suggests that Dinah be given to Shechem as his wife.
Jacob’s sons overhear their wild proposal and burst into the room. Jacob seems to fade into the background as his sons take charge.
The brothers are furious.
Not only has their only sister been violated, but Shechem has “done a disgraceful thing in Israel,” polluting their national purity that’s necessary for God’s continual blessing upon them.
(Side note: The name Israel in verse 7 refers to God’s chosen people for the first time.)
Adding insult to insult, Hamor suggests a general intermarrying between his people and Jacob’s clan. He also throws in a bonus: trade and land deals.
Jacob’s sons—following Jacob’s previous devious ways—devise a plan of revenge. (Never mind the defilement of God’s holy meaning of what they are about to propose!) They pretend to go along with Hamor’s proposal on one condition only: “That you become like us by circumcising all your males,” (vs. 15).
Why did Jacob’s sons include all the Shechemite men?
Maybe they felt they deserved punishment for their indifference to Shechem’s crime. Or perhaps they reasoned that they couldn’t carry out revenge on Shechem the Chieftan as the townsmen would surely kill them.
Surprisingly, the Shechemite men agree to circumcision. I guess the temporary inconvenience paled in light of the financial gain they would reap from this alliance.
So, on the third day—when the men are most debilitated—Simeon, Levi, and possibly their servants charge the city. Going from house to house, they slay all the men (including Shechem and Hamor) and rescue Dinah. Maybe the other brothers join in the looting and capture of the women, children, animals and possessions.
So where is Jacob during all of this?
His infuriation with his boys’ retaliation shows that he wasn’t in on this plan of vengeance. But his verbal response also indicates a selfish viewpoint: “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites,” (vs. 30).
Jacob’s silence—along with Simeon and Levi’s reference to Dinah as their sister (rather than Jacob’s daughter)—could infer that Jacob didn’t give her much attention. Maybe that’s why her protective blood brothers (Leah’s sons) felt justified in their actions.
Simeon and Levi were right to be angry at both the injustice done to Dinah and Hamor’s proposal of mixing the chosen Israelite seed with the Canaanite seed. However, taking the law into their own hands was flat out wrong. Their arrogance led to the slaughter of innocent people.
This horrific account shows the high price of compromise. If Jacob had obeyed God’s command to return to Bethel, this tragedy wouldn’t have happened.
The following questions come to my mind: Am I settling for compromise? Am I putting off what God has asked me to do (or not do)? My consequences may not seem as huge, but do I really want to just coast in my relationship with God and miss His best for my life?
Thanks for staying the course! I appreciate you!
Awesome analysis. But what about Shechem’s obsession? He was genuinely in love with Dinah and even the Bible declares he was more honorable than all his people. Question: How can we stop our obsessions for the people we’re in love with from destroying us. How can we fall in love & avoid the obsessession? How can we be obsessed with our lovers and still act wisely and not make stupid decisions?
I see that immediately after this story God tells Jacob to go to Bethel & dwell there. Could this be the answer? What is Bethel?
Hi Amos, thank you for your visit. You raise an interesting observation and relevant questions. You ask about Shechem’s obsession. Even though he may have been more honorable than all his people, what he did—violating Dinah—was the wrong approach. I would dare to venture that obsession is not the kind of love God desires for us.
Even though Shechem may have really loved Dinah, his actions didn’t show it. Real love cares for others and their well-being. He gave little to no thought of the consequences of his actions: “What if Dinah becomes pregnant?”; “How will others view her after losing her virginity?” Love doesn’t force itself on others even though the desires are strong. His love for Dinah should have motivated him to seek her as his marriage partner first.
Compromising God’s standards for short term pleasure always winds up in a big mess. How can we love and avoid the obsession that results in destructive consequences? I think the first step is confessing our obsessions to God and asking Him to replace it with His love.
We all make mistakes. The good news is, God really does loves us and not only wants to forgive us our sins, but also makes Himself available to help us when we struggle with temptation. I don’t know what your spiritual background is. If you are a believer and have accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior, He will empower you through His Holy Spirit to be able to stand firm against temptation. For He (Jesus) was the only man (even though He is also God) to be tempted in every way and yet not sin. So not only is He the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins, but He is also able to help us be victorious when we are tempted. He does this through the counsel and power of His Holy Spirit who indwells the believer.
For more on the topic of obsession, I found this post interesting: The Dangerous Spirit of Being Obsessed with People. (Scroll down and you’ll find it.)
About Bethel. Bethel was the land of Jacob’s fathers and where Jacob, (Dinah’s dad), was first aware of God’s presence (Genesis 28). I think you’re on the right track with suggesting that Bethel might be the answer. Perhaps if Jacob would have obeyed God in the first place by going to Bethel his family would have been spared the consequence of his disobedience and the spiraling disaster from Shechem’s act.
Although it’s a long read (like mine!), the following link gives more background and insight into Jacob’s story and side trip: One Step Forward and Three Backward. Hope this helps!