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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 34

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


14. The rape of Dinah and the revenge of Simeon and Levi ch. 34

After Shechem the Canaanite raped Dinah, Simeon and Levi gained revenge by deceiving the Shechemites into being circumcised as the condition for Dinah’s marriage. Then they murdered the incapacitated men of the city.

"Once again, as in the birth of his sons (Genesis 29:31 to Genesis 30:24), Jacob’s household is dysfunctional because of his passivity. His sons are rash and unbridled, and he is passive. No one in this story escapes censure." [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p. 458.]

"The story is a tangled skein of good and evil, as are all the patriarchal narratives." [Note: Ross, "Genesis," p. 83.]

Dinah must have been a teenager at this time. Keil and Delitzsch calculated from other references in Genesis that she was between 13 and 15, and Davis wrote that she was 15 or 16. [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:311; Davis, p. 256.]

Verses 1-17

Here is another instance of a man seeing a woman and taking her for himself (cf. Genesis 6:2).

Moses used the name "Israel" here for the first time as a reference to God’s chosen people (Genesis 34:7). The family of Jacob had a special relationship to God by divine calling reflected in the name "Israel" (prince with God). Therefore Shechem’s act was an especially "disgraceful thing" having been committed against a member of the family with the unique vocation (cf. Deuteronomy 22:21; Joshua 7:15; Judges 20:10; 2 Samuel 13:12; et al.).

"What had happened to Dinah was considered by Jacob’s family to be of the same nature as what later was known as ’a disgraceful thing in Israel’ [i.e., rape]." [Note: Aalders, p. 156.]

As was customary in their culture, Jacob’s sons took an active part in approving their sister’s marriage (Genesis 34:13; cf. Genesis 24:50). They were correct in opposing the end in view: the mixing of the chosen seed with the seed of the Canaanites. Yet they were wrong in adopting the means they selected to achieve their end. In their deception they show themselves to be "chips off the old block," Jacob. The Hivites negotiated in good faith, but the Jacobites renegotiated treacherously (vv.13-17; cf. Proverbs 3:29; Amos 1:9).

"Marriage was always preceded by betrothal, in which the bridegroom’s family paid a mhd ’marriage present’ to the bride’s family (1 Samuel 18:25). In cases of premarital intercourse, this still had to be paid to legitimize the union, and the girl’s father was allowed to fix the size of the marriage present (Exodus 22:15-16 [16-17]; limited by Deuteronomy 22:29 to a maximum of fifty shekels). . . . Here it seems likely that Shechem is offering both a ’marriage present’ to Jacob and ’a gift’ to Dinah." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50, pp. 312-13.]

Verses 18-31

We can explain the agreement of the men of the city, including Hamor (meaning "donkey," a valued and respected animal) and Shechem (Genesis 34:18), to undergo circumcision. Other nations besides Jacob’s family practiced this rite at this time as an act of consecration. [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:313-14.] Jacob was not suggesting that these men convert from one religion to another. [Note: J. Milgrom, "Religious Conversion and the Revolt Model for the Formation of Israel," Journal of Biblical Literature 101 (1982):173.] Normally circumcision was practiced on adults rather than on infants before God told Abraham to circumcise the infants born in his family (Genesis 17:12-14).

It was "sometimes an initiation into marriageable status." [Note: Kidner, p. 174.]

Dinah, Simeon, and Levi were the children of Jacob and Leah, the unloved wife (Genesis 34:25). Simeon and Levi doubtless felt closer to Dinah than some of her other half-brothers did for this reason. But Reuben, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun were also Leah’s children and Dinah’s full brothers. The fact that only Simeon and Levi reacted as they did against the men of Shechem suggests that they responded with excessive recklessness. [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 590.] Perhaps Jacob’s indifference to Dinah’s plight, evidenced by his lack of action, encouraged the violent overreaction of her brothers. [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50, pp. 308-10.] While Simeon and Levi took the lead in this atrocity, all of Jacob’s sons evidently participated with them in the looting of the city (Genesis 34:27; cf. Genesis 34:28-29). This was only the first of several notorious incidents that took place at Shechem (cf. Judges 9:30-49; Jeremiah 41:4-8; Hosea 6:9).

Jacob’s distress arose because of two facts (Genesis 34:30). His sons had committed murder and robbery, and his family had now broken a covenant, a very serious act in their society.

"His [Jacob’s] censure is more a peevish complaint." [Note: von Rad, p. 334.]

"It is ironic to hear Jacob venting his disgust over Simeon’s and Levi’s failure to honor their word, especially in terms of its potential consequence for Jacob, for he had done exactly that on more than one occasion." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters 18-50, p. 371.]

Deception proceeded to murder and pillage. As a result of this sin Jacob passed over Simeon and Levi when he gave his primary blessing (Genesis 49:5-7). It went to Judah instead.

"The crafty character of Jacob degenerated into malicious cunning in Simeon and Levi; and jealousy for the exalted vocation of their family, into actual sin." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:315.]

"Of course, fear is natural in such a situation, but the reasons Jacob gives for damning his sons betray him. He does not condemn them for the massacre, for abusing the rite of circumcision, or even for breach of contract. Rather, he protests that the consequences of their action have made him unpopular. Nor does he seem worried by his daughter’s rape or the prospect of intermarriage with the Canaanites. He is only concerned for his own skin." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50, p. 316. Cf. 19:8.]

It is interesting that Simeon and Levi referred to Dinah as "our sister" (Genesis 34:31) rather than as Jacob’s daughter, which would have been appropriate in addressing Jacob. This implies that since Jacob had not showed enough concern for Dinah her blood brothers felt compelled to act in her defense. This is an early indication that Jacob’s family was already crumbling dysfunctionally, which becomes obvious when Joseph’s brothers turn on him, sell him as a slave, and lie to their father (Genesis 37:12-36).

The significance of this chapter is fourfold at least.

1. It explains why Jacob passed over Simeon and Levi for special blessing.

2. It shows the importance of keeping the chosen seed separate from the Canaanites. [Note: See Calum M. Carmichael, "Forbidden Mixtures," Vetus Testamentum 32:4 (1982):394-415.]

"The law [of Moses] said that Israel was not to intermarry with the Canaanites or make treaties with them but was to destroy them because they posed such a threat. This passage provides part of the rationale for such laws, for it describes how immoral Canaanites defiled Israel by sexual contact and attempted to marry for the purpose of swallowing up Israel." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p. 569.]

Noah’s curse on Canaan and his seed had warned the rest of humanity that bad things would happen to people who mixed with the Canaanites (cf. Genesis 9:25-27).

"People who live on the borderland between church and world are like those who lived in the old days on the borders between England and Scotland-they are never safe." [Note: Thomas, p. 325.]

3. It gives a reason for the sanctification of Jacob’s household that follows (Genesis 35:2-4).

4. It demonstrates the sovereign control of God.

"While the story in this chapter operates at a level of family honor and the brothers’ concern for their ravaged sister, the story nevertheless also carries along the theme that runs so clearly through the Jacob narratives, namely, that God works through and often in spite of the limited self-serving plans of human beings. The writer’s purpose is not to approve these human plans and schemes but to show how God, in his sovereign grace, could still achieve his purpose through them." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 200; and idem, "Genesis," p. 214.]

"What message does such a sordid episode have in the Jacob-Joseph narratives? At this point forward, Genesis turns its attention to Jacob’s sons, the progenitors of Israel’s twelve tribes. After the tension of the Jacob-Esau struggle was alleviated in chap. 33’s account of the twin’s pacification, the author sets out to demonstrate the seedy character of Jacob’s descendants, raising the specter that the promises are again in peril." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, pp. 576-77.]

Abraham had dealt honorably with the Hittites (ch. 23), and Isaac had behaved peacefully with the Philistines (2612-33). But now Jacob’s sons became the agressors in conflict with the Hivites. Simeon and Levi’s unrepentant treachery stands in stark contrast to Esau and Jacob’s recent moral transformations. In contrast to the Isaac incident in chapter 27, this chapter contains no prayer, no divine revelation, no promised blessing, and no explicit mention of God. [Note: Ibid., p. 578.]

Younger zealots such as Simeon and Levi may bring reproach on God’s covenant through their misguided zeal. This may happen when spiritual leaders such as Jacob are indifferent to pagan defilement and fail to act decisively against it. [Note: For an interesting summary of post-biblical rabbinic traditions concerning the characters and events of this chapter, see Jeffrey K. Salkin, "Dinah, The Torah’s Forgotten Woman," Judaism 35:3 (Summer 1986):284-89.]

". . . this story shows Jacob’s old nature reasserting itself, a man whose moral principles are weak, who is fearful of standing up for right when it may cost him dearly, who doubts God’s power to protect, and who allows hatred to divide him from his children just as it had divided him from his brother." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50, p. 318.]

Many believers bring the wrath of unbelievers on themselves and on other believers by their ungodly behavior, as Jacob, Simeon, and Levi did.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 34". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/genesis-34.html. 2012.
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