I invite you to open your Bibles with me to Genesis 34. Genesis is the first book in the Bible. Genesis 34. We have spent this summer together looking and listening to the story of Jacob. We left off the story two weeks ago after Jacob had been reconciled to his brother Esau and Jacob has settled on the doorstep of the city of Shechem. I need to warn you that this is a difficult passage to hear. It contains both sexual violence and physical violence. I paused on our series last week because of Vacation Bible School, but I was not going to skip this passage. It is one of my deepest held convictions that every verse and every chapter of scripture is God’s Word and intended for us to hear and receive for the building up of the body of Christ. So I believe it is no accident that this story was included in the book of Genesis. There is something the Spirit desires us to hear. So let us pray that our ears are open.
Father, prepare our hearts for your word. Help us by your grace to receive them as we should. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the region. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her, he seized her and lay with her by force. And his soul was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he love the girl and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl to be my wife.”
Now Jacob had heard that Shechem had defiled his daughter Dinah, but his sons were with his cattle in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him, just as the sons of Jacob came in from the field. When they heard of it, the men were indignant and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done.
But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The heart of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. Make marriages with us; give your daughters to us and take our daughters for yourselves. You shall live with us and the land shall be open to you, live and trade in it, and get property in it.” Shechem also spoke to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor with you, and whatever you say to me I will give. Put the marriage present and gift as high as you like, I will give whatever you ask me; only give me the girl to be my wife.”
The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: that you will become as we are and every male among you be circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live among you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and be gone.”
Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem. The young man did not delay to do the thing, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his family. So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, “These people are friendly with us, let them live in the land and trade in it, for the land is large enough for them; let us take their daughters in marriage and let us give them our daughters. Only on this condition will they agree to live among us, to become one people: that ever male among us be circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will live among us.” And all who went out of the city gate heeded Hamor and his son Shechem; and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.
On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brother’s, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. And the other sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because their sister Dinah had been defiled. They took their flocks and herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in 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 made their prey. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on my by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
1 in 3. Back in 1992, Statistics Canada researched the rates of sexual assault in Canada and found that over 1 in 3 women had experienced sexual assault of some kind. I hope that in the intervening years much has changed, but I know not enough has changed. 1 in 3.
That means that for some in this room, the story of Dinah surfaces a particular pain. A pain that should not be minimized or passed over. The story of Dinah is both very ancient and far too contemporary. How can what has been broken be mended? How can this defilement – for that is what Scripture most frequently calls the rape of Dinah – how can this defilement be cleansed? In order to begin to approach an answer, we must reckon with what happened, with Jacob’s lack of response, and his sons violent deception, before we can see God’s solution.
This is a difficult story. Shechem the powerful, Shechem the prince, Shechem the most honored of all his family, sees Dinah, seizes her and lays with her by force. Shechem rapes her and afterwards wants to marry her. He takes her into his home, speaking tenderly to her, and asks his father to secure her hand in marriage for him.
Shechem has no remorse, not even a sense of the horror of what he did. He continues free. He continues being honored by all the people. He continues to be respected and listened to. Again, a story that is far too contemporary. Shechem proposes a marriage and his father, Hamor, proposes a merger. Just as Shechem and Dinah would be brought together in marriage, so the Shechemites and Israelites would be brought together and become one people.
The audacity of the Hamor and Shechem turns my stomach. That the rapist would propose marriage to the raped. That the people of Shechem would want to be joined into one people with Israel. There are twisted parallels between what happened to Dinah and would happen upon a marriage and what would happen to the people of Israel if they join with the Shechemites.
For Hamor, this is just a business decision. When he and Shechem talk to the people of their city, they argue for giving in to the conditions put forward by the sons of Jacob in order to acquire their wealth. Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will live with us.
Dinah is seized, taken by force, and then is being used by her rapist’s father as a bargaining chip to increase the wealth of his family. This is Shechem and Hamor.
Scripture condemns what the Shechem did in the strongest terms. It is defilement. It is an outrage in Israel. It is a disgrace. It ‘ought not to be done,’ which is much stronger than it sounds in English.
How can what has been broken be mended? How can this defilement be cleansed? What can be done for Dinah?
Jacob chooses silence. Silence and inaction. Verse 5: Now Jacob had heard that Shechem had defiled his daughter Dinah, but his sons were with his cattle in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. Jacob knows and says nothing. He ‘holds his peace.’ But he holds his peace not just until the sons arrive, but afterward too. Up until the very end, we hear nothing from Jacob. We see nothing from Jacob.
Jacob hears what has happened and chooses silence. Hamor comes to Jacob to make this marriage proposal, this merger of peoples, and we hear nothing from Jacob. The sons arrive, hear of what has happened, and are understandably outraged. We hear nothing from Jacob.
The sons propose deceitful terms for this union, and we hear nothing from Jacob. We see nothing from Jacob. Only after the whole city of Shechem is slaughtered and plunder, does Jacob find his voice.
Verse 30: Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.”
When Jacob finally speaks, there is nothing about Dinah. Even if Jacob is being cautious and prudent in trying to relate to the nations, even if Jacob is right about the danger that Simeon and Levi have put the family in, where is the concern from Jacob for Dinah?
When the sons come back with only a bloody coat from Joseph claiming he had been killed, Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes and mourned for days. He refused to be comforted. When Benjamin is taken and it looks like he will be imprisoned in Egypt, Jacob is distraught.
But Jacob hears about Dinah and holds his peace. Jacob is silent. Jacob says and does nothing. Jacob is told about a sexual assault and his response is silence and inaction.
Jacob chooses silence, but silence will not mend what has been broken. It will not make clean what has been defiled. It will only prolong the pain, only allow Shechem (both then and today) to walk free without consequence. Silence only reenforces the pain and shame victims already feel, through no fault of their own.
In the simplest terms, brothers and sister, when you hear of sexual assault, do not choose silence. Rape is still the easiest violent crime to get away with because it is so seldom reported. Because most still choose silence. I’m not talking about the victims, about Dinah, but about the Jacobs, who hear and choose silence, and, in effect, stifle justice for Dinah.
Speak. Silence will not make the pain go away. Never mentioning it, just giving it time, telling her to get over and move on, will not mend what has been broken. And silence will leave Shechem to find another Dinah. So speak.
Jacob chooses silence, but silence cannot heal, cannot cleanse. Jacob’s sons choose violence.
The men come in from the field to learn that not only has their sister been raped, but the rapists father is proposing a marriage and union between the two peoples. They are indignant and very angry. While their father stand silently, they take over the negotiations. They propose a merger of families by the Shechemites all becoming circumcised. The people of Shechem are to take on the sign of the covenant, to be marked as part of the people of God, and then they will be able to join together as one people.
But the whole thing is a set-up. These sons learned far too well from their father about the art of deception. While the men are still recovering from the pain of circumcision, Simeon and Levi go and slaughter all the men of the town, take Dinah from Shechem’s house and leave. The rest of the brothers plunder the city, taking everything that is not nailed down, including flocks and herds, women and children. They capture everything and make them their prey, it says.
In the face of the inaction of Jacob, in response to the silence of their father, the violence of the brothers strikes a chord. Dinah should not be treated this way. It is not right. It is not okay. We cannot simply join up with this people, drop it and play nice. We cannot let our sister be married to him. Something must be done.
Part of my own wrestling with this passage this week has been how much I resonate with the rage of Simeon and Levi. The fury and wrath they feel as they think about Shechem, what he has done to their sister, and what he proposed to do to the whole people, makes their blood boil and I get it.
I remember talking on the phone with a mom while her husband called the police to report a statutory rape of their fifteen year old daughter by boyfriend. I remember her struggle to know the kind of questions the police would ask and not wanting her to have to go through it, but knowing she could not let him go unpunished.
I remember a woman telling me of how her boyfriend came to her house drunk one night and came into her room while she was sleeping and how she managed to talk and lie her way out of her own room and flee her house before calling the police. I remember sitting with her family as their anger boiled and they wanted him found.
I remember being on family vacation visiting close friends in Michigan. I was probably sixteen at the time and hearing that the daughter of our friend who was in her early twenties had been raped the night before by her boyfriend. I still feel the outrage in my body as I tell you this story and I hear the voice of a member of my family saying, “I wish I knew where he was and I wish I had a baseball bat.”
I tell you this because I get Simeon and Levi. It is in those moments where violation is so deep that we cry out most strongly for justice to be done. We need there to be a world where wrongs do get righted, we need to know there is a God who does not respond as Jacob did, who is not silent, who will not stand by and hold his peace. There is always a deep temptation to twist love into revenge and to try and take justice into our own hands. But it does not heal.
The sheer wrongness of what was done to Dinah should not leave us unmoved. Yet, Simeon and Levi choose violence and it does not heal. It only destroys. Their solution is to wipe away the defilement by destroying the defilers. They plan to treat the disease of Shechem by exterminating the whole people. Their solution to the violence done to Dinah was the violence of genocide.
It is terrifying picture. These brothers pained and righteous indignation swiftly transforms into unrighteous slaughter. The gift of the covenant, circumcision itself, is turned into a weapon. They, who burned with fury when their sister was taken by force, plunder the city and take women and children by force. They become the very thing they hated and when their father confronts them about the fallout of their actions for the whole family, they cannot see beyond what was done to their sister.
Jacob chooses silence. He chooses inaction. The brothers choose wrath. Neither heals. So we are left with the same question we stared with: How can what has been broken be mended? How can this defilement be cleansed? Or more directly, how can what is broken in you be mended? How can your defilement be cleansed?
We can choose silence. We can refuse to name our wounds, refuse to name our sins, refuse to acknowledge what we have done and what has been done to us. We can choose silence and hope that time will let them fade away, that the less we talk about it, the less power it will have over us, or that if we never talk about it, it won’t affect our lives, our relationships.
We can choose silence and hope that it will save us – not just from sexual assault and its effects, but from all the sins that cling close to us, those we have done and those done against us. We can choose silence and hope that the sins will fade away to nothing, but that is not how it works. Silence cannot save.
Or we can choose violence. We can choose to purge ourselves, purge our world. We can with zeal and passion use our strength to make ourselves right, to make ourselves whole, to make ourselves clean, or turn that passion toward others and toward the world. We can even comfort ourselves that our anger at sin is righteous as become the very thing we hate. We can choose violence – physical, verbal, or otherwise – but it will not save. It will not heal. It will not mend what has been broken.
So what can be done? The answer is provided just outside of our story this morning, at the beginning of the next chapter. Chapter breaks were added a couple thousand years after this story first took place. While chapter 34 ends with the pained and troubling question of Simeon and Levi, that is not where the story ends.
35:1-3 – God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and settle there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change clothes; then come, let us go up to Bethel, that I may make an altar there to the God who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”
God’s Solution to the defilement of Dinah and the defilement of the land because of the slaughter of Shechem is neither silence nor violence, but an altar.
God calls Jacob to make an altar, where God would set right what had been made wrong, would mend what had been broken, would cleanse what had been defiled. God calls Jacob to make an altar, which points ahead to full solution to sin, both those we have done and those done against us – the cross of Christ.
Friends, the solution to what you have done and what has been done to you is neither silence nor violence, but to come to the cross. To come to the savior who was wounded so that we would be healed, who was broken so that we might be mended, whose holiness is powerful enough to cleanse us without destroying.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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