Genesis 34:1 Dinah the daughter of Leah
“A dark and turbulent old tale is this, with good and evil strangely mingled. There is the pathos of a girl’s betrayal, the wild passion of a young man who was not corrupt at heart; the fierce, unbridled vengeance let loose upon him. It is life in the raw, as it was lived in a primitive society; and yet its essential emotions are common to human beings always.
“Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, goes out to see the daughters of the land—the innocent venture of a young girl wanting to find friends. To her there came the tragedy which has come to some girls in every age and place—the tragedy which Thomas Hardy has made timeless in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. A young man sees her, covets her, violates her. Yet what he meant and what he did were not completely evil. It was not a trivial affection that Shechem felt for Dinah. Of the warmth with which he loved her it was written that his soul clave to her. He begged his father, Hamor, to secure her for his wife.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, p. 516)
Genesis 34:2 Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite
When Jacob came to Shalem to settle, he needed a large tract of land. It was of Shechem’s father, Hamor, that he purchased the land for 100 “pieces of money” (Gen. 33:19). Like his father Isaac, Jacob’s natural inclination was to avoid conflict at any cost, to get along with his neighbors, and to keep the peace. Hamor, with whom he had made this transaction, had a son who would defile his daughter. That certainly puts a strain on the relationship.
Genesis 34:2 Shechem… took her and lay with her, and defiled her
Hebrew translation is that Shechem lay with her “By force. Literally, ‘lay with her and forced her.’ Such an offense brought guilt on the offender’s whole community (Gen. 20:9; Deut 24:4). According to the law of Deut. 22:28-29, if a man has violated a virgin, he has to marry her and is prohibited from ever divorcing her. In addition, her father is to receive compensation.” (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. by W. Gunther Plaut [New York, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981], 226)
Genesis 34:5 Jacob held his peace
Jacob knows that his daughter has been defiled—forced or raped—whatever you want to call it. Now the people responsible are coming to him. Again, he stands face to face with Hamor and Shechem. Maybe this was how men claimed women among the Hivites but not in Jacob’s family. How would you feel? Could you contain your anger? Could you maintain your composure? Could you “hold your peace” under those circumstances?
Many men would have acted rashly. Some would have killed them on the spot. Others would have started a violent argument. Jacob, however, holds his peace. He may have stuffed his anger long enough to consider a relationship with Hamor and Shechem as a missionary opportunity. While the record states that his sons came up with the circumcision idea, it is likely that Jacob approved. The difference was Jacob was upright, with pure intent and genuine motives while his sons were deceitful. Jacob may have hoped that a relationship with Shechem’s people would be an opportunity to spread the gospel. If Hamor could be converted, he had a chance to have Dinah, though defiled by a non-believer, married to a man of the covenant. His self-control in this story is truly remarkable.
Gordon B. Hinckley
A violent temper is such a terrible, corrosive thing. And the tragedy is that it accomplishes no good; it only feeds evil with resentment and rebellion and pain. To any man or boy within the sound of my voice who has trouble controlling his tongue, may I suggest that you plead with the Lord for the strength to overcome your weakness, that you apologize to those you have offended, and that you marshal within yourselves the power to discipline your tongue.
…There is too much trouble in our homes. There is too much anger, that corrosive, terrible thing called anger. I make a plea with you, you men of the priesthood: Control your tongues. Walk out the door instead of shouting. Get control of yourselves. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 25)
Genesis 34:7 folly in Israel
The more we look for anachronisms in the book of Genesis, the more we find. Jacob was renamed Israel by the Lord (Gen. 32:28). From a timing perspective, the phrase “folly in Israel” is interesting. Israel is not yet a nation; it is doubtful that Jacob’s sons used their father’s new name, Israel, in a national or political sense.
Who cares? It is just another reminder that the final author of Genesis is some scribe or priest who lived centuries after the events described. Accordingly, his understanding of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will reflect the Law of Moses and a nationalistic view of Israel rather than a deep understanding of the gospel of Abraham and the covenants associated with the patriarchal priesthood.
Genesis 34:9 make ye marriages with us, and give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you
Neither Abraham nor Isaac wanted their sons to marry with the neighboring tribes (Gen. 24:3; 26:34). Jacob is a peacekeeper but he knows the danger. It would be a problem that would plague his descendents for centuries, prompting the Lord to warn, “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods; so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly” (Deut 7:3-4).
Would Jacob allow his sons to intermarry with the Hivites? We never get to find out the answer to this problem because of the rash reaction of his vindictive sons.
Genesis 34:13 the sons of Jacob answered
“Probably led by Simeon and Levi. The others may have assented by silence (see Gen. 34:25).” (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. by W. Gunther Plaut [New York, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981], 226)
Genesis 34:19 he was more honourable than all the house of his father
This passage is speaking of Shechem. Of all things, the record describes him as honorable. The defiler of Dinah should not be referred to as honorable. The text seems to indicate that his reputation among his own people was greater than Hamor’s or any of his father’s house. Regarding his morality, he may have been honorable before he defiled Dinah, but he certainly wasn’t afterwards. To be fair, he wouldn’t be the first honorable man to fall because of the beauty of a young lady.
“A view of Scripture that expects each story to have a ‘moral’ is thwarted by some of the tales in Genesis. These sometimes seem to present people with little sense of morality, let alone a moral to the story! Simple narratives like Aesop’s fables present simple messages. Biblical narratives are more complex: the failings of heroes are left visible. In fables, characters are cartoon-like and their ‘virtue’ easily determined. In Dinah’s story, by contrast, God is absent, and no one (except Jacob) acts well. Chapter 38 of Genesis, about Tamar and Judah, might be entitled ‘Men Behaving Badly,’ yet it concerns the ancestor of the tribe from which David and Jesus are descended. This does not, however, mean that Bible stories are (as critics suggest) immoral, or even amoral. We read of the people in such rich narratives as if they were real people. In our responses and judgments on their tales we equip ourselves to judge our own stories.” (Barry J. Beitzel, ed., Biblica: The Bible Atlas, [Australia: Global Book Publishing, 2006], 122)
Genesis 34:22 Only herein will the men consent unto us… if every male among us be circumcised
Imagine you are a man from this city. Hamor and Shechem offer a treaty of peace, a union with Jacob’s family. That sounds good. It is always nice to get along with your neighbors. Jacob is rich. He has great herds, many servants, and (probably) many daughters. We should trade with them, intermarry with them, become as one people!
Then Hamor and Shechem describe the terms of the agreement—all the men of the city have to be circumcised. You can imagine the reaction, “As for me and my house, we vote NO!” Hamar was a man of influence. His son Shechem must have also had a great effect on his countrymen. Hence, he was described as “more honourable than all the house of his father” (v. 19). Certainly, any man who can convince the rest of the men to be circumcised just so he can marry a woman from a neighboring tribe exerts a powerful influence in the city.
Genesis 34:25 Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males.
“But what the brothers did, after their father's peaceful negotiation with the people of Shechem, was to roar into the city, brandishing swords. They killed every man, ‘and all their little ones, and their wives took they captive.’ (Genesis 34:29.) This in no way restored Dinah's honor. The violence was self-serving and ego-raising.” (Dawn Hall Anderson and Marie Cornwall, eds., Women Steadfast in Christ: Talks Selected from the 1991 Women's Conference, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 124)
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob excelled in character, morality, and justice. However, the trend does not continue with Jacob’s sons. Most of the recorded stories of Jacob’s sons cast them in a poor light (Joseph and Benjamin excepted). Simeon and Levi slaughter a neighboring city; Reuben sleeps with his father’s concubine (Gen. 35:22); Judah sleeps with a harlot, who turns out to be his daughter-in-law in disguise (Gen. 38)! The Bible just doesn’t describe them as men worthy of having their names written on the gates of the eternal city (Rev. 21:12). Perhaps we should take comfort, that if there is a salvation for the sons of Jacob, there might be hope for us as well.
“Some persons believe that the Old Testament teaches and demonstrates some rather crude theological concepts and ethics… ’Bad examples’ do exist among the characters of the Old Testament and are found there simply because there have always been bad as well as good people and practices. Certainly the writers of biblical records were very frank about people and deeds, good and bad. In a way, these accounts are disheartening, but on the other hand they enhance the credibility of the whole biblical account. The writers truthfully told both the vices and the virtues of heroes and villains, people and kings, prophets and priests.
“In some cases wherein evil deeds were done, the writers pointed out immediately the bad results that came from not following the ways of the Lord. In other cases, [no explanation is given]… The story of violence committed by Levi and Simeon, as told in Genesis 34:25–31, is a case where the reactions of responsible people are not completely revealed until later. Some of Jacob’s feelings about their deeds and some indications of their eternal consequences are given to the reader many chapters later, in Genesis 49:5–7.
[Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.
O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they digged down a wall.
Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.]
“And there are, of course, cases in which the writers of the accounts did not return at all to tell of the outcomes or consequences of violent acts or of immoral deeds. Unfortunately, some readers have assumed that their silence on the matter indicates toleration. This is a wrong assumption. There is no reason to think immorality on the part of anyone was ever approved or tolerated by the prophets of the Lord. Laws against such evils were known before and are emphasized in the Ten Commandments, are reemphasized by Jesus, and are reiterated in modern prophecy.” (Ellis T. Rasmussen, “The Unchanging Gospel of Two Testaments,” Ensign, Oct. 1973, 24)
Genesis 34:30 Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me stink among the inhabitants of the land
Excepting the story of Cain, this is probably the first example of using religion for violent purposes. It would take a great historian to catalogue all the times that religious motives were pawned upon the masses as the justification for immoral acts of violence. The idea was invoked as far back as Simeon and Levi.
There is a conflict which takes root in the warped mind of the violent. Their innate sense of right and wrong takes a hit. How can their actions be justified when subconsciously they know they are in the wrong? Amidst this psychological conundrum, the evil one suggests a religious motivation.
Now Simeon and Levi don’t use the circumcision doctrine as a justification of their massacre—their justification is certainly the defense of Dinah’s honor. But religion is used by them as a pawn to get what they want. They appear to have the most holy of intentions one minute, and turn in to savage killers the next. The pattern has been repeated hundreds of times, from the Crusades to the Inquisition, from the execution of religious “heretics” to the Salem witch trials, from Hitler’s justification of the Holocaust to almost every other story of genocide, from attacks on abortion clinics to the suicide bombers and terrorists. Satan loves to teach the philosophies of men “mixed with scripture;” he also loves to teach violence “mixed with religion” to accomplish his purpose. Religious violence then becomes the rallying cry of the atheist.
“[Simeon and Levi’s] looting the city and taking of its wives and children, for which they evidenced no shame or repentance (34:30-31), would cause the descendants of Simeon and Levi to be dispersed among Israel with no definite allotment of territory, through their father’s deathbed pronouncement (49:5-7).” (The Apologetics Study Bible, T. Cabal [Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007], 57)