It’s a familiar saying, isn’t it? One most of us have heard since childhood. It falls into that category of sounds like something that would be in the Scriptures, but really isn’t, sorta. With a likely origin in 1783, the saying isn’t that ancient as a direct quotation, but it’s meaning and application are nearly as old as humanity herself.
In Genesis 34 we have one of the more difficult chapters in all of the Scriptures. Contextually it seems to appear out of nowhere, providing an awkward transition from Jacob settling in Shechem then setting up an altar calling it El-Elohe-Israel (God, the God of Israel). Topically, when one considers the episode that takes place, it is simply horrific. It begins with the narration of the following,
“Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, who she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land.”Genesis 34:1In essence, it all goes downhill from here…fast. The problem leading to the disaster should be easily recognizable. For one, Dinah was the daughter of Jacob and Leah, Jacob’s least favored wife. For another, most commentators suggest that Dinah is around fourteen to sixteen years old. Like most girls at this age might be, Dinah was curious about how the “women of the land” were living. This might be how they dressed, how they performed daily activities, etc. However, the unspoken problem is, where is Jacob? Why has he allowed his teenage daughter to entertain thoughts of visiting a people they were supposed to be separate from, let alone going there? Why did Jacob stop 20 miles short of his destination?
These are the questions and they remained unanswered, but Jacob’s negligence in providing leadership in these matters for his family, for his only daughter, lead to Shechem sexually assaulting Dinah. Shechem, we may recall, was the name of the city that Jacob stopped in. This was not Bethel, which should have been his destination. Shechem’s father, Hamor, sold Jacob the piece of land upon which Jacob pitched his tent and erected an altar. Shechem was a Hivite, the prince of the land, and he fulfilled his lustful intentions with Jacob’s daughter (verbally Gen. 34:2 may be similar to Genesis 6:2). Not only that, but afterward, his lust led to his demand to take her for his wife.
Upon hearing the news of Dinah’s defilement, Jacob remains silent and unmoved, because his “sons were with his livestock in the field”, now a failure of inaction on Jacob’s part. A lack of consistent leadership has led to a lack of action. Despite Hamor meeting with Jacob to explain the desire of Shechem for Dinah, nothing is said about Jacob’s reaction, no emotions, no response, simply silence. We do however hear from the sons of Jacob, who upon returning from the field after hearing of what had happened to their sister are filled with rage
The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done. Genesis 34:7
Even at this, we see no direction provided by Jacob. No fatherly wisdom passed down to them for how the situation will be handled. If ever there was a time for Jacob to pass along the wisdom from all of the experiences he had been carried through by God, it was now. But he is silent. The passage next describes the attempted negotiations of Hamor, who no doubt is materially motivated to join the two families together (Genesis 34:23), though it is interesting that he offers up the land. In verse 13, we do not find Jacob responding to the negotiations, rather we find the sons of Jacob responding, but doing so deceitfully. Remarkably, the one characteristic of Jacob that is passed along to his sons is deception. In their deceit, they use the right of circumcision – given as part of the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 17, as leverage in their negotiations, convincing Hamor and his son to circumcise themselves and the rest of the men in the city in order to receive Dinah as a bride.
As we read the rest of the story, we know that the sons of Jacob acted deceitfully in their negotiations. Their plan of circumcision is not for the union of the two families, but for the destruction of Shechem. In Genesis 34:25, on the third day after the circumcision, probably when the soreness was at its peak, the sons of Jacob – specifically Simeon and Levi, the sons of Leah and brothers of Dinah, slaughter all of the males of Shechem. Not only did they kill all of the men, but they plundered the city taking “their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.” And then Jacob speaks, but only with concern for the family reputation.
The scene from Genesis 34 is truly heartbreaking. The progress that we thought the family had made under the direction of Jacob is wiped away through a pattern of negligence. Jacob’s only daughter, Dinah, was raped and that in any time period or context is truly disgusting and sad. It was a tragedy, without doubt, and it did deserve justice, but the emotionally fueled revenge of Simeon and Levi led to murder, rioting, and looting of the entire city. This was not justice for their sister, it was adding layer upon layer of injustice to an already unjust action.
This, friends, is the situation we find ourselves in once again. A national narrative that keeps repeating itself with layer upon layer of injustice added to an already unjust action. Through either emotional response or outright opportunity to create chaos, people are acting the part of Simeon and Levi. This in no way can be called righteous anger. This in no way can be called justice. What part did the women and children play in the rape of Dinah? What part did the other men play? What part did the farmers and herdsman have in her defilement that they should lose their livelihoods, their families, and their lives? Justice for Dinah was the punishment of the man Shechem. Murder, rioting, looting and the overall destruction of the city was no more righteous than the original crime. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.1 Thessalonians 5:15
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.Leviticus 19:18