It might seem best to read this chapter as quickly as possible. Nothing here to see, some commentators have said, certainly nothing edifying and worthy of a beautiful Sabbath evening. I must beg to differ. Remember that Moses is tracing the family of Abraham. He is showing us what a dreadful and sinful lot they were – and they were the godliest! The Savior of the world was promised through them, but they were the first in line that needed saving! That is worth knowing, not only to humble Jewish pride about their origins, which remains a blinding, gospel-prejudicing sin among them, but also to remind us that we were much lower and filthier. Our guilt like our history is foul in the extreme! If God were to mark the iniquities of the godliest men and women who have lived, they would be utterly cast out of his presence. What would he do to us, who were in every sense the Gentile dogs as described by our Savior (Matt. 15:27). That God sent his Son into the world to save Jew or Gentile is such a remarkable testimony to his grace and mercy that we should shout his praises at the top of our voices forever.
But there is another truth that requires our careful attention. It is bad enough that Dinah was not content to remain at home and curiously went out to see what her unbelieving neighbors were doing, much like foolish young people today. Far worse was the deception and slaughter committed by Simeon and Levi. What a family this was! They were in danger of being completely overrun by the world. But in some respects, they were worse than the Canaanites! Who is nobler here – Jacob’s sons or Shechem? God’s church was unable to resist and overcome the world, but God’s name was also dragged through the filth because of the wickedness of those who professed to know him! For all these reasons, the Lord would soon send them into Egypt, as he told Abraham, not only to preserve his church and promise from the world but also to chasten and purify her in the crucible of affliction. Thus, these lines seriously warn us that we must remain separate from the world. It remains no less a New Testament injunction that we must “come out from among them and be separate” if we would have God for our Father. (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). At the same time, we must not give the world an excuse for its unbelief and wickedness because of our lawless lives. Grace is unto godliness (Tit. 2:11-12), especially now that our Lord Jesus Christ has come, and we dishonor him and his gospel by cheap, easy grace living.
Too Close to the World (vv. 1-5)
1 And Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her. 3 And his soul clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spake kindly unto the damsel. 4 And Shechem spake unto his father Hamor, saying, Get me this damsel to wife. 5 And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter: now his sons were with his cattle in the field: and Jacob held his peace until they were come.
Wanderlust: The Danger to Body and Soul
A few years have passed, and Dinah, Jacob’s daughter through Leah, is likely 15 or 16 years old, certainly marriageable age in that time. Nothing is said about her motives, but as the “curse causeless does not come” (Prov. 26:2), we can see something of her heart by her actions and their outcome. Not always but often the Lord shows us a little of our hearts by the fruit of our decisions and movements. Dinah was not content to remain at home but wanted to see “the daughters of the land.” This would also allow her to be seen by the sons of the land. All too often we falsely assume female naiveté about the effect of her dress, looks, and demeanor upon young men. It is also apparent that she went out unaccompanied, which made her particularly vulnerable, but her mother may have known about her actions and thus aided her. We might assign her actions to a worldly or a stupid heart, but either way, we cannot commend her, for the Lord chastened her severely. Shechem the Prince, the son of the Hamor the King, saw Dinah, took her, meaning that he kidnapped her, and had relations with her. The word may or may not indicate rape. It may be that she was surprised by his attentions, carried away by them, and finally defiled by them when it was too late to resist. Dinah is hardly presented in these lines as the helpless victim. She was defiled by Shechem, but her defilement was brought about by her decision to leave the house and then falling prey to a very persuasive prince. This does not speak well of her motives or her wisdom.
There is within our hearts an inordinate and dangerous curiosity about sin. It expresses itself differently and with varying strength, but unless our hearts are firmly rooted in Christ and devoted to his truth, we shall look around at what the world is doing and be curious about it. There would be no market for immodest fashions and pornography if we men could refrain from looking and if women did not like to be looked at! Sin is devious, unsettling, and intensely discontenting. It is said of the adulterous, strange women that “her feet abide not in her house” (Prov. 7:11). When our hearts are restless and discontent at home, we shall certainly find plenty of trouble in the world. I believe it was Pascal who wrote in his Pensees that most of the world’s trouble is caused by men and women who are not content to remain quietly at home. It is almost as if we cannot endure not knowing what is going on, what the world is thinking, its fashions, parties, liaisons, and scandals. Most professing Christians likely know more about the celebrity lives of the hell-bound than they do about the lives of the men and women in the Bible. Why do not the lives of the saints more captivate our attention? Our feet will not stay at home, where it is safe, profitable, and wholesome, where we might become and accomplish much for Jesus Christ, because our hearts are filled with wanderlust from the Lord.
Wooed: The Weakening of Resolve
Strangely enough, this Canaanite (seed of the serpent) was nobler than Amon (seed of the woman and seed of David), who after forcing Tamar, hated her. What are we to make of this discrepancy? Should not those who are heirs of God’s promise be better than those who are rejected? Again and again, the idea of merit is wholly excluded; heirs of the promise can plead only God’s undeserved grace and rich mercy. The children of God were no more righteous than their neighbors (Deut. 9:4-5). Shechem was truly taken with Dinah. His soul “clave” unto her, the same word dbq that is found in God’s original marriage mandate (Gen. 2:24). Whatever Shechem had originally intended, he was utterly smitten by Dinah and intended to marry her – immediately (v. 4). He communicated this to Dinah and spoke so lovingly to her that she was willing to remain in his house without apparently offering too much resistance. He was wooing her; the world was wooing the church, as it ever does. Leave your Father’s house and live with me; we shall find pleasure together. Jacob heard that Dinah had been defiled – did Dinah feel this way about herself, or had Shechem won her over? Defiled is certainly the Holy Spirit’s judgment upon the situation, but Dinah’s heart was divided. Jacob himself seems a little indifferent to the situation. He likely knew Hamor, so could he, should he not have made a direct appeal to Shechem’s father? His sons were not with him when he heard the news, so Jacob decided to hold his peace until they returned.
A Tempting Offer (vv. 6-12)
6 And Hamor the father of Shechem went out unto Jacob to commune with him. 7 And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob's daughter; which thing ought not to be done. 8 And Hamor communed with them, saying, The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife. 9 And make ye marriages with us, and give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you. 10 And ye shall dwell with us: and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade ye therein, and get you possessions therein. 11 And Shechem said unto her father and unto her brethren, Let me find grace in your eyes, and what ye shall say unto me I will give. 12 Ask me never so much dowry and gift, and I will give according as ye shall say unto me: but give me the damsel to wife.
Folly in Israel (vv. 6-8)
Hamor honored Jacob by coming to him. He might have simply taken Dinah and dared Jacob to do anything about it, but the Canaanites of that age were sufficiently struck by the reality of Israel’s God that they studiously avoided giving unnecessary offense and thus bore unwitting testimony to the knowledge of the true God indelibly written upon their consciences. When Jacob’s sons heard what had happened and what Hamor/Shechem wanted, they were deeply grieved and furious. Shechem had committed “folly against Israel.” This phrase manifests some understanding of the solidarity and distinctiveness that existed in their family due to God’s separating promise and covenant. There is also a moral light that existed in Abraham’s family that was wholly lacking among the Canaanites. Never did Hamor or Shechem or Hamor once apologize for the immoral act and its impurity; only in Israel was there any conviction that this thing ought not be done, i.e., that there exists a higher moral law that prohibits sexual sins. “Whatever it takes to get the girl” was Shechem’s dominating motivation. That he may have loved her in his twisted fashion is beside the point.
Intermarriage and Commerce (vv. 8-10)
The significance of this moment and Hamor’s offer cannot be exaggerated. It was nothing less than Satan offering Jesus the crown without the cross. My son loves your daughter. Give her to him for a wife – and make more marriages with us, and dwell with us. The land is before you – wait: did not God already promise the land? Is Hamor the voice of God saying, “Here, take it now?” Here, turn these rocks into bread. You do not have to pass into Egypt for centuries of suffering; take the promised land now. Have God’s promise upon terms of peace with the world. We can be one happy family and pursue mutually advantageous trade. Hamor had no sense that Jacob was God’s chosen, so we cannot fault him for making what to him seemed like a reasonable and profitable offer to Jacob. Yes, my son has sowed a few wild oats with your daughter, but with this arrangement, it will turn out to everyone’s advantage. But this was a serious temptation for Jacob. The entire future of the church and covenant and even the seed promise hinged upon his answer: Christ or the world, the purity of the seed of promise or intermarriage with the Canaanites? It was by far the most direct assault upon the faith of our fathers since the days of Noah, when he tried to kill everyone. The old worm understands that if you cannot drive men out of the old paths through persecution, you can attempt to breed faith out through intermarriage with the unbelieving families of the earth.
Name Your Price (vv. 11-12)
Although this offer was not likely to find a ready reception in Jacob’s heart, Satan tries to aim his missiles where they are likely to have greatest effect. Dinah is defiled in Jacob’s mind. Shechem offered any dowry, provided he could marry her. What was to be done about Dinah? She was still at Shechem’s house, and Jacob had to be careful. If he simply ended negotiations, Dinah might be forever lost to them, or a small war would have to be waged in order to bring her home – assuming she wanted to come home. It is often through domestic ties that Satan finds a chink in the armor of faith. Many are tempted to side with their children against God’s word for fear of losing their children to the world. Others will not correct or discipline their children for the same reasons. Some let them run wild, and parents are afraid of driving them away by corralling them home. We may never agree to a marriage with the world in order to preserve dignity, cover impurity, or make an uneasy peace so as to avoid the cross. This was Satan’s temptation to Jacob. Since we see what a great price the Lord paid to redeem us from our sins – his precious blood – let us resolve never to sell our inheritance for any worldly crumbs. Do not even get to the place where the world or the devil learns your price – that pleasure or fear or possession for which you would compromise God’s truth a little. Determine never to have a price! Keep your eyes upon the dowry price Jesus paid and the wedding band he has placed upon your finger in the Holy Spirit of truth and stay faithful to your husband.
A Wicked Scheme (vv. 13-17)
13 And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father deceitfully, and said, because he had defiled Dinah their sister: 14 And they said unto them, We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised; for that were a reproach unto us: 15 But in this will we consent unto you: If ye will be as we be, that every male of you be circumcised; 16 Then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people. 17 But if ye will not hearken unto us, to be circumcised; then will we take our daughter, and we will be gone.
Jacob was quiet. He remembered the prohibition of Canaanite intermarriage by his grandfather and father. The offer of peace was attractive, but what of Shechem’s defilement of Dinah? He waited and worked for seven years to consummate the love of his life, and Shechem waited, what, seven minutes? Jacob was agitated, but he was a stranger among these Canaanites and would not provoke them to hostility or offend them unnecessarily (vv. 30-31). His leadership hesitation and vacuum were presumptuously filled by his scheming sons. They answered deceitfully; the sins of the fathers are often imitated and intensified in their sons. We cannot give our sister to an uncircumcised man; if you will all agree to be circumcised, we will intermarry and become one people. If not, we will take our daughter and be gone. This appears to be a threat – we are strong enough to come and get her, and we shall. “Our daughter” – clearly they speak for their father, or at least claimed to do so.
Wicked Abuse of Covenant Signs
Those who believe that religion consists primarily in external ceremonies and that they are a sufficient basis for unity among men will applaud this scheme, but it was very wicked. Jacob’s sons had no right to offer God’s covenant sign to the Canaanites, for the sign without the promise avails nothing. The Canaanites did not have God’s promise but were wickedly opposed to his grace and truth. Therefore, to offer them the sign was nothing but pure evil and a false gospel preached by Jacob’s sons. They also assumed – and often lived this way – that true religion consists primarily in outward ceremonies or works. The presence of these would be a sufficient basis to intermarry with the Canaanites. Even assuming they said this only to deceive, it was a false witness to God’s everlasting truth. Above all, Jacob’s sons treat God’s covenant as a plaything, something they can control and manipulate to accomplish their objectives. They seem to think nothing of treating God’s confirming covenant signs with contempt, even encouraging the Canaanites to self-circumcise. The Holy Spirit does not hide the wickedness of Jacob’s sons. He wants us to look their evil squarely in the face and be warned by their devious ways. Anger and fear are a dreadful combination that might drive us to any lengths, did the Lord not restrain our feet from falling.
Murder and Pillage (vv. 18-29)
18 And their words pleased Hamor, and Shechem Hamor's son. 19 And the young man deferred not to do the thing, because he had delight in Jacob's daughter: and he was more honorable than all the house of his father. 20 And Hamor and Shechem his son came unto the gate of their city, and communed with the men of their city, saying, 21 These men are peaceable with us; therefore let them dwell in the land, and trade therein; for the land, behold, it is large enough for them; let us take their daughters to us for wives, and let us give them our daughters. 22 Only herein will the men consent unto us for to dwell with us, to be one people, if every male among us be circumcised, as they are circumcised. 23 Shall not their cattle and their substance and every beast of theirs be ours? only let us consent unto them, and they will dwell with us. 24 And unto Hamor and unto Shechem his son hearkened all that went out of the gate of his city; and every male was circumcised, all that went out of the gate of his city. 25 And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males. 26 And they slew Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem's house, and went out. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their sheep, and their oxen, and their asses, and that which was in the city, and that which was in the field, 29 And all their wealth, and all their little ones, and their wives took they captive, and spoiled even all that was in the house.
Hamor and Shechem were pleased with this offer – a very easy way to expand their peoples and wealth. Shechem immediately returned to the city and begin talking up the plan. His motivation was his delight in Dinah. He was willing to change or add to his gods because he loved her. Gathering the men to the gate of their city, they share the plan and its benefits – intermarriage, commerce, profit. All that is required is that we be circumcised. All the males were persuaded and were circumcised. On the third day after, while the men were still very sore and unable to bear arms with their usual strength, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s full brothers, and likely in company with their brothers and servants, entered the city and slew all the males, including Hamor and Shechem. They brought Dinah out of Shechem’s house, then became robbers by spoiling the city and making captives of their wives and children. Their justification is that these men had defiled their sister. It is odd that men who professed such concern for the purity of their sister would think nothing of killing their younger brother or selling him into slavery. They are a bundle of contradictions. This, perhaps, is the point. These are the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel? These men are lying, murdering thieves. Truly, God does not save the good but the filthy. As Moses later told the children of Israel, “Understand therefore, that the Lord your God gives you not this good land to possess it for your righteousness; for you are a stiff-necked people” (Deut. 9:6). The entirety of Deuteronomy 9 is taken up with this point – Israel, God’s people, are miserably wicked. They were no better than the Canaanites. Perhaps Moses had Genesis 34 in mind!
May God drive this lesson deeply into our hearts and humble our pride. What else will keep gospel zeal burning brightly in our hearts but the sense that we are saved from our sins and blessed with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies,” not for any goodness in us but solely on account of God’s mercy and love to us in Christ? How else will our hideous pride be kept at bay and replaced with true humility before God, and our witness to the world not be that we have all the answers and that everyone should fall before us, but that we must instead ask the world to forgive us for setting such a bad example and giving such a bad witness to God’s truth? And yet, it is often the case that the world blasphemes the name of God because of our sins (Rom. 2:24). Have mercy upon us, O Lord, and replace our nasty pride, vengefulness, and contentment in externals with a passionate love for your truth and delight in our inmost hearts to obey and love you!
When the Church Stinks (vv. 30-31)
30 And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house. 31 And they said, Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?
Jacob never suggested an alternative to rescue Dinah, salvage her reputation, or preserve the integrity of God’s truth and covenant. It is likely that he did not know the way to proceed. Sometimes, there is nothing to do but to confess our foolishness, take our lumps, and move forward humbly. Sin creates circumstances for which there is no solution except repentance, transparency, and meekness. Jacob was disgusted and genuinely alarmed when the news of his sons’ butchery reached his ears. You have troubled me and made me stink to the Canaanites. They are going to gather against me and kill me and my house – has Jacob forgotten Peniel? Even if he remembered it, the news of a slaughter perpetrated by his own sons would not likely be forgotten by the locals – and what of the captives and spoils? It was too much for Jacob. And yet, before his sons were driven to these extremes, Jacob had not attempted to lead them. He did not provide an alternative, even if it was only humble remonstrance and polite refusal of Shechem’s offer.
We often stink in the world because our lives lack gospel aroma. We do not forgive injuries but hold on to them – for years. We treat unbelievers worse than we do our brothers and sisters, hardly giving them a warning to flee to Christ from the wrath to come, perhaps even thinking to ourselves, “Well, they are getting what they deserve.” Whoa! Is this the standard and limit of our love? Is this the gospel that we profess? Let us hope that God does not turn around and apply it to us! If we have tasted of his mercy, we shall freely extend his mercy. If we know his grace, it will be a little truer of us that “to live is Christ,” so that his compassion and “going around doing good” will be a gospel light in a dark world. These lines teach us that character matters, Christian character, that we walk as Christ has walked – so that we do not give a false view of grace to the world; so that we do not leave men to hell by our neglect or confirm them in their hatred of God’s truth by our evil example; so that we do not rest in externals but use God’s signs and seals of his covenant to lead us to the heart of the matter. It was certainly true that God led Israel to a 400-year captivity in Egypt so that his fledgling church would not be overrun and compromised by the Canaanites; it is equally true that he removed them from Canaan because their light was unable to shine there. God’s church needed to learn obedience through suffering and to crave God’s mercy and truth, which the fires of affliction would teach some of them.
Fear and Excuses
So, we find Jacob fearful and his sons making excuses – “should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?” Actually, Shechem intended to marry Dinah, but Jacob could not allow this to happen. God’s hand was certainly behind the slaughter of his Canaanites enemies, although without in the least justifying Simeon, Levi, and the rest, who were motivated more by vengeance and family honor than by any regard to be ruled by God’s word and to seek from him the wisdom required to know how to resolve a difficult situation. These two things, fear and self-justification, also fill the church with a stench that mutes our witness in the world. We must fear God, not man (Matt. 10:28). It flies in the face of every canon of fallen common sense, but we have absolutely nothing to fear from men. Now, this should not make us presumptuous, for if we flaunt God’s grace and ignore the legitimate laws of men that rule our common lives on earth, then we shall suffer for our audacity. Yet, if we lead righteous, quiet lives, we may be sure that we walk with God and that he will not allow the wicked to harm us except insofar as to purify our faith and to give a faithfulness witness to his truth. And when the church sins – as by watering down the truths of God’s word, not practicing church discipline, borrowing worship ideas and principles from the world, not forgiving and loving her enemies – we must not make excuses for our cold hearts back toward the world. We must not say, “Well, the world deserves our treatment of it, for it has injured us, or has not bowed down and recognized that we are God’s chosen. Only God’s grace makes a difference between us and the world. Honesty about our sins and a constant witness of our faith to the blood of Jesus Christ as our only cleansing enables us to give a true and humble witness to the power of God in our midst.
We should not leave this passage without seeing here a vivid reminder of our need for Jesus Christ. This is seen, first, in the wanderlust of our hearts, that only he can tame. Whether it is the love of the world or the sins of the heart, “all we like sheep have gone astray.” There seems to be something in us that will not be restrained to be still before God, mind our own business, and remain unspotted from the world. We have to know – to reach out and take the forbidden fruit – or at least to look at it. But the Lord Jesus is our healer, and he not only atones for our wretched wandering but he is able to tame our hearts by his Spirit. The more closely we walk with him – confessing our weakness, seeking his help, believing his promises – the more he will “uphold our goings in your paths, that my footsteps slip not” (Ps. 17:5).
Second, we see in Jacob’s family our utter filth and unworthiness of the saving love of Jesus Christ. I dare say that we do not think of this enough – not for sentimental reasons, but an honest assessment of who we are, what we deserve, and what Jesus Christ did for us when we were yet enemies. This is Moses’ argument in the first third of Deuteronomy – when you see how kindly and graciously the Lord has treated you, you should be humbled before him and devote yourself to his praise. Do you think you deserve any consideration from him? That you are better than the blind men in your neighborhood or the more blatant enemies of God that mock and blaspheme that precious name by which we are called? No, we are not better. Many of them might even be better, morally speaking, like Shechem seems to have been more noble minded than Simeon and Levi. Where else does sustained passion for Christ, fighting against the flesh, and resisting the world come except from a constant and growing sense of the wonders of Christ’s sacrifice for us and our unworthiness of anything good from him (Gen. 33:10)? But, sadly, we do not think in these terms, for it would humble our hearts to do so – which is the very thing that must happen before we can grow to love the gospel of Jesus Christ, seek our life and good in Jesus alone, and boast in his cross.
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. Why did Dinah want to see the daughters of the land?
2. How does she serve as a warning to young people of all ages?
3. Assess Jacob’s responses to the events of this chapter and possible reasons for his responses.
4. By “folly in (or against) Israel,” of what did Jacob’s sons demonstrate awareness?
5. How was Hamor/Shechem’s offer equivalent to Satan’s temptation in the wilderness? What would have been the consequences of accepting their offer?
6. How do Jacob’s sons show irreligiousness in their scheme and especially their cavalier attitude toward covenant signs?
7. Does the fact that they were being deceptive make it any better?
8. What should Jacob have done about Dinah?
9. What are some the church’s compromises that are making her a stench to the world?
10. How do these lines teach us our need of Jesus Christ?
11. Where you do see wanderlust in your heart? What can be done to settle our hearts in quietness before the Lord?