Genesis 34 – Dinah’s Rape and the Revenge
The story begins with Dinah (Her name means “Judgment,” which foreshadows future events) initiating contact with the local people. She goes out on her own to meet the women – literally “the daughters of the earth.” One can appreciate why she might want to meet some other women her age, when you consider that everyone else her age in the family is a brother.
Schechem rapes Dinah. The Bible emphasizes Schechem’s “taking.” It also says he “loved” her. This deserves explanation, if only because I never anticipated how many people I would counsel who have been raped than I ever anticipated. With each new victim I am horrified anew at how common this is in our society. Rape is an act of violence, not an act of love.
Yet Shechem professes love for “the girl” and asks for his father’s help in getting her as his wife – in Hebrew her youth and vulnerability are noted. Here “love” means a lust to take, to possess, and to dominate. The line about speaking tenderly to an innocent child is chilling. Smooth talk cannot conceal the vicious act.
Hamor and Shechem come to Jacob to ask for Dinah in marriage. Hamor seems to approve of the rape.
Jacob’s family hears about the rape. Given how active Jacob is in nearly every story, why is he silent here? Is he astonished, guilty over having not protected Dinah, is he leaving this to the next generation to sort out, or is he enraged, yet unwilling to show their hand? We don’t know.
Shechem says that no price is too dear for him to pay. Are daughters (or sex) a commodity to trade and sell?
The sons reply by laying a trap. They demand that the other men become circumcised and later, while all the men are “still in pain,” two brothers come along and kill all the men – including Hamon and Schechem. The other brothers follow and plunder everything, including their women and children. Take.
Jacob senses that justice is harsh and excessive, even for so violent a crime as the rape of his daughter. The brothers’ revenge will likely set off another round of bloodletting. This is how cycles of violence work: People who have been wronged become inspired by their own victimhood to respond forcefully enough to inspire yet more retaliation. Everyone justifies their own excess – as the sons do here.
They throw “our sister” back at Jacob. Is this because Jacob expressed his concern that their retribution will provoke retaliation entirely in terms of himself?
“You have brought trouble on me…”
How frequently we see people in powerful positions of responsibility think solely in terms of how something impacts them!
Was Jacob silent because in the world of Canaanites, which is always where we live, perfect justice cannot be found? Was he, unlike his sons, willing to settle – so he could settle? The Bible does not settle all the questions the rape and revenge raise. Do the sons have the last word? Is that the author’s point? I doubt it. I think we must read passages such as this through the lens of Jesus, who is the Word made flesh.
Genesis 35:1-15 – The Move to Jacob’s Dream Home
God offers timely direction, and Jacob’s family pulls up stakes and heads to Bethel. The move occasions a spiritual purification. Apparently the people have lived among the Canaanites long enough that they are worshipping other gods alongside the living God, in the literature is called syncretism (see last week’s commentary on God and the gods).
When he arrives at Bethel – where he had the dream and the encounter with God, Jacob builds an altar. It is important, I think, to occasionally make a pilgrimage, if only in our imagination, to those places in our lives where God has shown up, where God’s grace was heard and decisions were made.
Here Jacob gets a new name, Israel – one who wrestled with God. How has your identity changed over the years? Have you “wrestled with God?” Or would you describe your relationship differently? Wondered. Tried hard. Frequently forgiven? Blessed? Does the new name – from “Trickster” to “Wrestled with God” –suggest an acquisition of wisdom?
Israel is getting up in age. When Reuben sleeps with one of his concubines, he hears of it, but apparently does nothing.
This chapter is marked by the story of three deaths: Deborah, Rachel, and Isaac. We aren’t told of the events surrounding Deborah’s passing. The naming Allon Becuth – “oaks of weeping” can only suggest that her death impacted people. Rachel dies in childbirth. And Isaac dies of old age.
Genesis 36 – Genealogies
The Genealogies here signal that we are about to enter a transition in our story. In their own way they wrap up loose ends. At the end of Chapter 35, we got Jacob’s 12 sons. At the beginning of Chapter 36, we get Esau’s family accounted for. Though the Bible is more interested in Jacob’s line, Esau’s line is notably more fertile, even without his father’s blessing. We then get political genealogy of the Kings of Canaan, which is remarkably free from any sense that they might own the Abrahamic Covenant. They are politically successful, but religiously adrift.
Genesis 37:1-11 – Joseph Dreams, Family Dynamics
When the story picks up again, we don’t get an account of all of Jacob/Israel’s sons – only Rachel’s son. His story will occupy most of the rest of Genesis.
Given Leah and Rachel’s rivalry, we aren’t surprised that sibling dynamics cause problems. Joseph, like is mother, is the obvious favorite, which infuriates the rest of the sons. Joseph has several dreams, likely inspired by the favoritism he has received. He also has the bad judgment, tone deafness, and temerity to tell it to his siblings. It doesn’t help family relations. He earns his father’s rebuke.
Genesis 37:12-36 – Joseph Is Sold
The near killing of Joseph is hardly surprising given how his brothers avenged Dinah’s rape. Reuben – the one who slept with his father’s concubine – saves Joseph’s life by having him thrown in cistern, from which he hopes to later rescue him.
The other brothers sell him to the Ismaelites (yes, the sons of Ismael, Isaac’s half-brother). They later sell Joseph and then deceive old Jacob, the way he once deceived his father. That Joseph knows slavery and its vulnerabilities first hand will be important information for evaluating how he helped Pharaoh enslave the Egyptians. But we get ahead of ourselves.
The first line in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina reads,
"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
This is not a happy family.
April 2 – 8: Genesis 38 – 41
April 9 – 15: Genesis 42 – 45
April 16 – 22: Genesis 46 – 47
April 23 – 29: Genesis 48 – 50