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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Genesis 34

The tragic nature of this amazing chapter was pinpointed by Yates who said, "The story could make even a strong man weep."[1] The chapter is unique, containing the only personal reference to Dinah in the whole Bible. The poor light in which Jacob appears here effectively refutes all allegations that the narrative is an interpolation introduced later by the Jews. Another favorite allegation of Biblical critics that would make this event "tribal, rather than personal history,"[2] is also an error. Jacob had bought the land at Shechem, and some personal reason, such as the ravishing of Dinah, is the most reasonable explanation of why he went back to Bethel. Furthermore, the savage cruelty of Simeon and Levi was remembered by Jacob in the patriarchal blessings of Genesis 49, and there is absolutely no reason whatever for refusing to understand this narrative as being true to the facts involving the persons indicated. "The situation is plainly that of Genesis, not Judges."[3]

With regard to the critical exercises of attempting to assign some extra-Biblical source to every chapter in Genesis, this chapter is their unqualified Waterloo. It is simply impossible; and all of the postulations about "J," "E," "P," etc., the last one of them, should be rejected. As Von Rad admitted: "It seems that the ultimate scientific clarification is no longer possible."[4] Von Rad's remark simply means that there is no intelligent way to postulate various "sources" of this chapter. We also believe that the remark applies to the whole of the Genesis account, although, of course, Von Rad did not mean it that way.

This chapter fits into the overall design of Moses, the author, that purpose being to show that, despite Jacob's evident intention of acquiring property and settling down in Shechem, which would inevitably have led to the amalgamation of the Jews with the pagan populations of Canaan, God overruled such a patriarchal mistake by the tragic events of this chapter. If Jacob had been permitted to do as he evidently intended, the purpose of God would have been frustrated. "There could be no compromise with the Canaanites. Israel must remain a sojourner until all the land is theirs. To settle down too soon would be to lose all sense of destiny and to become just like the Canaanites."[5] Also, in this same vein of thought, this chapter shows how God made use of the passions, sins, and wickedness of men in the achievement of His ultimate goals. None of this, to be sure, implies any approval whatever of the gross treachery and cruelty indulged by the sons of Jacob. The basic truth of the chapter is that Jacob and his family were settled in Shechem, evidently intending to stay there, but God's will was accomplished in the dark deeds of the events here deployed upon the sacred page. Jacob would promptly go back to Bethel for a new beginning.

Verses 1-7

"And Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she bare unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her; and he took her, and lay with her, and humbled her. And his soul clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spake kindly unto the damsel. And Shechem spake unto his father Hamor, saying, Get me this damsel to wife. Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; and his sons were with his cattle in the field: and Jacob held his peace until they came. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out unto Jacob to commune with him. And the sons of Jacob came in from 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."

The age of Dinah. Dinah was in her early teens when this occurred. "Dinah was probably between 13,15 at the time, and had attained perfect maturity, for this is often the case in the East at age 12, and sometimes earlier."[6]

"Went out to see the daughters of the land ..." Josephus tells us that a festival was in progress, so something more than a mere visit may be intended. There is blame enough for all involved in this story, but right here at the beginning it must be evident that allowing a young girl to visit women of her own age in the pagan environment was an extremely hazardous thing, especially since she did so without an escort. It could be that the young woman had become rebellious against parental restrictions, and that she was out to prove her independence. In any event, it was a disaster.

"Shechem ... took her ... lay with her ... humbled her ..." As Willis pointed out, "The whole drift of this chapter indicates that Shechem raped Dinah against her will and forced her to live in his house."[7] These very words, [~laqach], meaning that, "an irresistible force was used,"[8] [~innah], meaning that Dinah was humbled, and [~timme'], meaning defiled are indeed eloquent regarding the bestiality to which Dinah was subjected. Some commentators want to make a big thing out of the fact that Dinah might have encouraged Shechem, but, so what? Even if she had consented, which was not the case at all, it was a clear case of statutory rape. Shechem, like any other selfish, spoiled son of a ruler, simply took what he wanted when he wanted, and by force, if necessary.

"Get me this damsel to wife ..." "Get me what I want when I want it!" He had no regard to the wrong perpetuated against Dinah. He, along with his father, felt that dishonor could be healed with money and property. No word of sorrow, no word of repentance, no word of seeking forgiveness, no admission whatever of any wrong done was ever given either by Shechem or his father. No wonder the sons of Jacob were outraged by such behavior.

"He (Shechem) had wrought folly in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter ..." It is ridiculous that commentators in general seek to brand this reference to "Israel" as an anachronism. As Clarke pointed out:

"The land, afterward called Israel, was not yet so named, and the sons of Jacob were neither called Israel, Israelites or Jews until long after this. How then could it be said that Shechem wrought folly in Israel?"[9]

This, of course, states the problem, a problem which Clarke also solved, as we shall note a little later. The disturbing thing is that so many scholars still allege an anachronism, despite the truth having been made perfectly plain more than a century ago. Clarke pointed out that the words "wrought folly IN Israel" should be translated, "wrought folly AGAINST Israel," which is even a more literal translation than the one usually given.[10]

Now read the passage: "He wrought folly against Israel (that is, Jacob) in lying with Jacob's daughter." The very structure of this passage demonstrates what is meant. The sin was not "in Israel" but "against the patriarch," as plainly stated. Whatever anachronism there may be in the passage is a product of poor translation!

Yates' definition of "folly" is specific: "It indicates a vile, shameful, senseless deed that displays utter insensibility in moral behavior."[11] "A world of argument lies in this Scriptural identification of wickedness with folly. The moral man is the wise man."[12] This dual classification of the whole race of men as "wise" or "foolish" was often made use of by Christ, as in the wise and foolish virgins, the rich fool, the wise builder and the foolish builder, etc., etc.

Before leaving this passage, we should note again that Dinah's evident intention of being entertained by the pagan community, whether with parental consent or not, was dangerous. There was not only the physical danger, but the moral and religious danger also. The sensuous worship indulged by the Canaanites would have had its allurements for Dinah.

"Dinah seems to have invited trouble. Her desire to "visit the women of the land" (literally, "to look at with delight") was more than innocent curiosity, dangerous as that might have been."[13]

"And they were very wroth ..." The excessive anger of the sons of Jacob should have been anticipated by Shechem. Throughout the East at that time, there was a generally-held opinion, in evidence even today, that, "A brother is more dishonored by the seduction of a sister than by the infidelity of a wife, because one may divorce a wife, but a sister or daughter always retains the relationship."[14]

Verses 8-12

"And Hamor communed with them, saying, The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter: I pray you give her unto him to wife. And make ye marriages with us; give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you. And ye shall dwell with us: and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade ye therein, and get you possessions therein. And Shechem said unto her father and unto her brethren, Let me find favor in your eyes and what ye say unto me I will give. 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."

Both Shechem and his father Hamor joined in this appeal to Jacob and his sons, and many have written of the "honor" and "good will" of the proposal, but as will become apparent a little later, such a proposition included the purpose of swallowing Jacob and his whole posterity. Look in Genesis 34:23: "Shall not their cattle and their substance and all their beasts be ours?" We therefore find it impossible to discourse on the honor and fairness of those unrepentant sinners boldly offering to buy Dinah's virginity with money and a proposal of "marriage." What kind of marriage would it have been? Shechem certainly recognized no restraint beyond the selfish lust that motivated him. Hamor's part in the offer had other designs than that of getting his wild son out of difficulty. His tribe (or clan) was evidently small, and a union with Jacob would increase his power and wealth. Thus, we can fully agree with Roehrs:

"Jacob's sons were not the only ones to hide their real intentions ... Hamor and Shechem were plotting to disintegrate Jacob's family, and in the end, gain full possession of all their property, their cattle, and their beasts. Circumcision, which they would accept, was a small price to pay for such gains."[15]

Again, it should be noted that the pagan chiefs of Shechem never admitted any wrongdoing, nor any injury inflicted upon Israel (Jacob); they never asked forgiveness nor made apology, being totally unaware that they needed to do either! Yes, the sons of Jacob appear here as sinners of the worst kind, but we should refrain from glorifying the Shechemites. Wicked indeed was the conduct of Jacob's sons, but underneath their treachery and murder there surely lay the sense of violated decency and honor. They would not trade for money or property! Note also that they referred to their father Jacob as Israel in Genesis 34:7. Who taught them these significant perceptions? "Who else could it have been but Jacob?"[16]

The great thrust of this chapter is to show how God used the faults and even the gross wickedness of men in the furtherance of His wise designs. In the people of this chapter, no one appears without blame, even sin, but if Almighty God should be restricted to using only perfect and righteous people, all would be lost. Of course, this does not nullify the truth that all sinners, even the ones that God might use, must suffer the consequences of their sins. This chapter stresses that truth:

"Shechem was killed, along with his father; Dinah was left broken-hearted and defiled; Jacob was forced to leave a profitable business; and his guilty sons bore his curse (Genesis 49:5,6). Yet God's redemptive plan moved on."[17]

Verses 13-17

"And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father with guile, and spake, because he had defiled Dinah their sister, and said unto them, We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised; for that were a reproach unto us. Only on this condition will we consent unto you: if ye will be as we are, that every male of you be circumcised; 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. But if ye will not hearken unto us, to be circumcised; then will we take our daughter, and we will be gone."

There is a possibility that Jacob's sons never dreamed of the Shechemites submitting to the conditions that they laid down. What an unreasonable thing to demand, that all the males of the city should be circumcised! Such an agreement surprises us today, after millenniums of time, and the surprise of the sons of Jacob must indeed have been shocking. It does not seem right to suppose that Jacob's sons:

  1. intended the destruction of Shechem from the first;

  2. that they foresaw the acceptance of their demand for all the men of the city to be circumcised;

  3. that they had calculated the day of greatest pain and soreness to the defenders; and

  4. that the whole design of their attack and victory was thought out in advance. On the other hand, the "guile" mentioned here was simply that of proposing conditions which they supposed were unacceptable to the Shechemites, intending all the while to rescue and take their sister back by force. Note the last line of Genesis 34:17.

Much to the consternation of Jacob's household, however, the Shechemites accepted the demands in toto, as detailed in the next paragraph.

Verses 18-24

"And their words pleased Hamor, and Shechem, Hamor's son. And the young man deferred not to do the thing, because he had delight in Jacob's daughter: and he was honored above all the house of his father. And Hamor and Shechem his son came unto the gate of their city, and communed with the men of their city, saying, These men are peaceable with us; therefore let them dwell in the land, and trade therein; for, behold, the land is large enough for them; let us take their daughters to us for wives, and let us give them our daughters. Only on this condition will the men consent unto us to dwell with us, to become one people, if every male among us be circumcised, as they are circumcised. Shall not their cattle and their substance and all their beasts be ours? Only let us consent unto them, and they will dwell with us. 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."

Genesis 34:23, here, reveals the design of Hamor and Shechem to "take over" the house of Jacob and all that he possessed. The pattern, repeated over and over in history, of a whole population blindly accepting the foolish plans of their rulers recurs again here. "All that went out of the gate of their city" is a reference to all the able-bodied men, all the members of the town meeting. As is often the case, when "every one agrees," only ONE was doing the thinking. They blindly sealed their doom unanimously! The skill by which Hamor and Shechem proposed their acceptance and made it look good to the people must be hailed as a marvel.

Hamor's speech was a diplomatic masterpiece. Without reference to the Dinah episode, or to his own personal interest, he showed that the agreement would be of great value to the townspeople.[18]

The initiative then lay with the sons of Jacob. Contrary to anything that could have been predicted, the Shechemites did it! When Jacob and his sons confronted the dilemma presented by this development, the plans of God for the isolation and development of a "Chosen People" who would in the fullness of time deliver to mankind their Redeemer would have been frustrated and destroyed if Jacob's family had accepted it. However wickedly the sons of Israel rejected it, they did what they had to do, although with a wicked cruelty and avarice that were the shame of generations of Israel. They had trapped themselves by proposing what they thought were unacceptable conditions. When the Shechemites accepted and met the conditions, their only course was to go back on their word and refuse to keep the promises that they had made. Herein lay the "guile" ascribed to Jacob's sons. They made promises and proposed conditions upon which they would act, knowing full well that even if Shechem met the conditions, they would never fulfill their side of the false bargain. Their bloody and treacherous refusal to do what they had promised to do is next recorded.

Verses 25-29

"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 unawares, and slew all the males. And they slew Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem's house, and went forth. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds and their asses, and that which was in the city, and that which was in the field; and all their wealth, and all their little ones and their wives, took they captive and made a prey, even all that was in the house."

"Dinah's brethren ..." Simeon and Levi were children of Leah, as was also Dinah. Thus, they were her real brothers distinguished from others who were half-brothers.

There is some question as to whether any other of Jacob's sons took part in this episode, Simeon and Levi being the only ones mentioned. The indefinite "sons of Jacob" (Genesis 34:27) could mean that all of Jacob's sons participated in looting and plundering the city. It is one of the things that we can not know. At least it is a reasonable conjecture that Simeon and Levi had some kind of assistance, since two men would not have been able to carry off a whole city. The women alone could have prevented only two men from doing that. Perhaps many of the servants commanded by Jacob's household were recruited for this mission, especially those controlled by Simeon and Levi, and perhaps many others.

The shameful deeds of gross wickedness in evidence here include these:

  1. They desecrated the sacred rite of circumcision, making it the means of their brutal cruelty and murder of a whole city.

  2. They "took" all the wives of the slain, a violation as sinister and damnable as the rape of Dinah, thus multiplying endlessly the very sin they claimed they were avenging.

  3. They shamelessly backed out of an agreement they themselves had proposed, doing so even after the Shechemites had kept their part of it to the letter.

  4. Their robbery of all the property and wealth of the city itself, as well as of all that was in the field, was a horrible example of greedy avarice.

  5. They made a "prey" of women and helpless children, whom they either kept for their own profit and lust, or sold into slavery. Never was there a darker day to cast its shadow over the people of God.

"They took Dinah out of Shechem's house ..." This indicates that Dinah was indeed a prisoner in Shechem's house, having been sexually assaulted and confined to his dwelling. The word "took" here is the same one used earlier to describe how Shechem "took" her, meaning that the taking was violent.

"In effect, Simeon and Levi had waged a two-man war against the city of Shechem and had come out completely victorious, at least in their own estimation. They might have even considered their great victory as an evidence of the blessing of God."[19]

Regardless of what they might have thought, however, God was sorely displeased with their wicked behavior, and by inspiration, Israel (Jacob) on his deathbed remembered and reprobated their malicious evil (Genesis 48:5,6).

Verses 30-31

"And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me, to make me odious to the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and, I being few in number, they will gather themselves against me and smite me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house. And they said, should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?"

Jacob was a man of faith, but the fear and anxiety expressed here were not an expression of that faith. It was a moment of weakness, doubt, confusion and uncertainty in the life of the patriarch. Who can fail to sympathize with his grief and fear. Through his weakness in allowing his sons to settle a matter that he should have dealt with himself, he had been irrevocably compromised by the malignant cunning and vicious violence of his angry sons. He simply did not know what to do. Jacob, like everyone else in the narrative, exhibited all the sinful incompetence that is common to all men.

The phenomenal objectivity of the Bible is most conspicuous in this chapter. "There is no glorification of leading figures and no glossing over their faults and their crimes."[20] It is impossible intellectually to assign any authorship of the Bible except to God Himself. "Never man so spake."

"This event shows us "in type" all of the errors into which the belief in the pre-eminence of Israel was sure to lead in the course of history, when that belief was rudely held by men of carnal minds."[21]

Francisco's comment on the attitude of Jacob as contrasted with that of his sons is as follows:

"Jacob was alarmed, but his sons were not impressed by it. The honor of their sister was worth more to them than the risk of their own lives. Thus, it always is. Those who are young and have not fully lived place relatively little value upon life, and venture into mortal danger without fear. Those who have lived much longer tend to nurse life to its last hour."[22]

"Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot ..." One may deplore the rejection by many writers of this blunt statement of fact by Jacob's sons. Whitelaw, for example, has this as his total comment on this verse: "But Shechem offered Dinah honorable marriage!"[23] How could marriage to a lust-motivated pagan be considered "honorable marriage"?

"As with a harlot ..." The etymology of this word is interesting. There are two possible derivations of it. The word "horolet" is a diminutive form for "whore," meaning "little whore." Another possibility was cited by Adam Clarke:

"Robert, Duke of Normandy, saw a fine-looking country girl dancing with her companion on the green, and took her to his bed. She was the daughter of a skinner, and her name was Arlotta; and of her, William, surnamed The Conqueror, was born. Thus, such women were called, from her, harlots as William himself was usually called The Bastard."[24].

This chapter, like Genesis 19, is a sad one, but the sacred author was telling it like it was, with an objectivity that proclaims in tones of thunder that "God is no respecter of persons." This is only the first in a series of sad events about to be related, all of which were part of the discipline by which Jacob came in time to be truly "The Israel of God."

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 34". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/genesis-34.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.