Chapter 34 of Genesis is undoubtedly one of the uncomfortable chapters in the first book of the Bible. As we do not include this in Sunday School material for our children, even most adults are not familiar with the dreadful deeds that took place.
A summary of the chapter would go like this: after settling in Shechem and living there for a number of years, Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah, went out to spend time with the girls in the land, presumably her own age. While out one day, Shechem saw her, desired her, and raped her. Shechem was the son of Hamor, the ruler of the town of Shechem. He then decided that he had fallen in love with Dinah and wanted to marry her. It would seem he took Dinah into his home while he sent his father to work out a bride price.
Leah’s brothers, the sons of Jacob, were extremely angry because of what Shechem had done – there does not seem to have been any thought about it from those living in Shechem. Yet for Jacob’s family, sexual assault was a crime. Shechem was willing to pay any price to be able to marry Dinah, so Jacob’s brothers told them he could marry Dinah if all the men in his town were circumcised, as they were.
The men in the town agreed to it – largely, it would seem, because they had thoughts of intermarriage with Jacob’s family and sharing in his vast wealth. “They demand that every male among us be circumcised just as they are circumcised. If we do so, won’t their livestock, their property, and all their animals become ours? So let’s consent to their demand, so they will live among us” (Genesis 34:22-23 NET).
The men agreed and were circumcised. On the third day, when their pain was at its worst, Simeon and Levi went into the city and slaughtered every man while they were helpless and rescued Dinah. All the sons then killed and looted the city, taking the wealth and all the women and children.
When I have taught Genesis, usually someone will ask why this chapter has been preserved for us. It is one of the low points in the narrative of Jacob and his sons – what good does it do?
Before answering that question, consider one other verse. “While Israel was living in that land, Reuben had sexual relations with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and Israel heard about it” (Genesis 35:22). Again, we might ask why this verse is recorded in the midst of Rachel’s death, the listing of the sons of Israel, and Isaac’s death.
The reason both of these terrible incidents are found in Genesis has to do with chapter 49. Back in chapter 12 God gave Abraham two promises: a seed promise and a land promise. The seed promise looked forward to the coming of the Messiah; the land promise looked forward to the day that Canaan would belong to the Israelites.
These were passed down from Abraham to his child of promise, Isaac, and then they both went to Jacob, in the form of the birthright and blessing. Usually it was the firstborn who received these, and in the case of the sons of Jacob it should have been Reuben. But he was not to have this due to his sin with Bilhah.
The next two in line should have been Simeon and Levi – yet they would not receive these because of their anger in killing the men of Shechem – in fact, they would not receive any section of land but only cities within the land.
It was the fourth-born who received the promise – it was through Judah that the Messiah would come. “The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; the nations will obey him” (Genesis 49:10).
God preserved the Messianic line through Judah.
Readings for next week:
24 August – Genesis 37
25 August – Genesis 38
26 August – Genesis 39
27 August – Genesis 40
28 August – Genesis 41:1-36