Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.’ But they said, ‘Should our sister be treated like a whore?’”
To be honest, there is part of me that wishes Genesis 34 were not in the Bible. This chapter is painful to read, with its account of sin piled on top of sin, pain stacked on pain. Yet, at the same time, I am grateful for the fact that the Bible doesn’t pretend life is all sweetness and light. Genesis 34, like so many other passages from Scripture, tells the story of human depravity without flinching. Thus, it speaks to our broken world, to the pains and longings of the twenty-first century, to the struggles we face in our lives.
Genesis 34 begins with Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, visiting some women near where she lived. On this trip, Shechem, a young man of influence, raped Dinah. Yet he also desired and wanted to marry her. When Jacob heard what had happened to his daughter, he was strangely silent. His sons, on the contrary, were enraged by the injustice done to their sister.
Shechem’s father, Hamor, negotiated with Jacob, trying to secure Dinah as a wife for Shechem. Jacob, again, did not speak up. His sons, however, cut a deal with Hamor. If all the men from Hamor’s city would be circumcised, then Dinah could marry Shechem as part of a wider intermarriage agreement. If the men of Hamor’s city would not be circumcised, then Dinah’s brothers would take her away and the deal was off.
Hamor and Shechem, believing that the offer from Dinah’s brothers was legitimate, convinced the men of their city to be circumcised. Yet, while the men were still in pain as a result of the procedure, two of Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, crept into the city and killed all of the men there, including Hamor and Schechem. The rest of the brothers plundered the city, taking everything of value, including the wives and children of the slain men.
Jacob was unhappy with his sons: “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land. . . . [I]f they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household” (34:30). But Jacob’s sons responded, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” (34:31).
Perhaps one of the most troubling parts of this story, in addition to the sexual assault of Dinah, is the lack of reaction by her father. He does not appear to be horrified by what happened to his daughter nor committed to gaining justice for her. Rather, he seems to be captured by fear of what might happen if, by seeking justice, he upsets his neighbors. While this response seems woefully inadequate, at the same time, we can understand why Jacob was afraid to act. His vulnerability was real. Still, Jacob’s apparent lack of concern for his daughter’s well-being is distressing, as is his failure to trust God, who had cared for Jacob so consistently throughout his life.
Jacob’s sons, on the contrary, did care for their sister and did seek justice on her behalf. But their actions went beyond any sense of fairness. Shechem deserved to pay a heavy price for abusing their sister, but the rest of the people of the city were innocent and did not deserve what they received from Jacob’s brothers.
No matter how we evaluate the morality of the people in this story, their actions surely display what I’ve called broken living in a broken world. Injustice surrounds us, much as it once confronted Jacob and his family. Our responses to injustice are often inadequate. Sometimes, like Jacob, we fail to act because of fear. At other times, our response to injustice, like that of Dinah’s brothers, goes far beyond what is warranted, thus creating even more injustice.
Genesis 34 does not offer easy advice on how to live in a broken world. Rather, it holds up a mirror, showing us how difficult it can be for human beings to live in a broken world. This passage reminds us of just how much we need God’s guidance and grace, all the time, in everything we do.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How do you react to the story in Genesis 34? What in this story touches a nerve for you? Why?
Can you think of instances in your life when your response to injustice was either too little or too much?
How can God help us to live faithfully and justly when we are broken people in a broken world?
Gracious God, the story in Genesis 34 is a difficult, painful one. In a way, I wish I didn’t have to read it. Yet, I am grateful for the blunt honesty of your Word. This story reminds me of truth I’d rather avoid, including the truth of my own brokenness.
Help us, Lord, to be people of justice and grace. Teach us what this means so that we might not fail to act, and so that we might not act in ways that add to the injustice of our world. We need your help, Lord, because we are broken people in a broken world.
Yet, we are grateful that you are mending us through Christ. We also thank you for the chance to share in your work of mending the world. May we be agents of your gospel, doers of justice, embodiments of grace. Amen.