Genesis 34 – Dinah’s Story

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Today’s PassageGenesis 34

For better or worse, the text of the Bible doesn’t generally come with content warnings, so I feel like I should begin with one. The story in today’s chapter deals with sexual violence, and the victim is in all likelihood a minor. I often make flippant or lighthearted remarks here on Chocolate Book, but I’ve had to scrap more than one incomplete intro here because the tone wasn’t appropriate to the subject matter. The story of Dinah, Shechem, and Simeon and Levi’s revenge is intended for mature audiences, in that if you or I aren’t going to treat it with the gravity it merits, we have no business discussing it at all.

Stories like Dinah’s illustrate just how far south humanity has gone since the Fall. The city of Shechem at which Jacob arrived isn’t just a city called “Shechem,” it’s the city belonging to Shechem, the son of a prince, and in the second verse of today’s chapter, Shechem rapes Leah’s daughter Dinah. Prince Hamor tries to strike a marriage deal with Jacob on behalf of his son Shechem. Jacob agrees, but Jacob’s sons are still livid about the incident. They add a requirement to the deal that all of Hamor’s people be circumcised. Then, while the men are in pain, Simeon and Levi slay them all, loot their possessions, and take their wives and children captive. To say It’s a grim tale about humanity’s darker behaviors may be an understatement.

It’s also one of the instances in which the Genesis narrative editorializes. More often than not, the book simply reports what happened without calling it good or bad, even in cases where further commentary might be expected. But here, it states that Shechem “had done a disgraceful thing in Israel,” and “such a thing ought not to be done” (7). His actions are so unconscionable as to merit explicit censure. And while the narrative doesn’t condemn or condone Dinah’s brothers’ revenge plot, they have every right to feel as angry as they do.

Dinah, as the second-youngest of Jacob’s children at this point, was born late in the twenty-year period of his service to Laban. The text doesn’t explicitly state how long Jacob lived in Shechem, but some have inferred that Dinah may have been as young as seven. This is not the sort of story we tell our children, yet in all probability it happened to a child. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). This is the only story about Dinah in the Bible. She exits the narrative a rape survivor, and even if she’s able to heal and move past the trauma, she will carry this event with her in some form or another for the rest of her life.

There is more that I could say about the terrible events of this story. Without question, instances of horrific suffering like this one will readily open the Theodicy Can for many of us, and we may struggle to put all the worms back in. But conversely, I wouldn’t blame anyone for a desire to spend no more time on this event than Genesis itself does. As we prepare to move on to the next part of the narrative, let me leave you with this thought: intercourse should not be coerced, and rape is a gross misuse of God’s gift of sexuality. What Shechem did ought not to be done.

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