The point of Genesis 34 (Dinah narrative)?

Discussion in 'OT Historical Books' started by Puritan Sailor, Oct 5, 2019.

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  1. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    I've been studying Genesis 34 lately. It is a difficult passage to work through, especially figuring out it's place in the bigger picture of the Jacob narrative. Most OT narratives have a "punchline" or two to indicate the major point of the narrative. But in this case, there doesn't seem to be a clear one.

    Several observations. One, God is not mentioned once in the narrative. Some have argued that this indicates Jacob and company were living without reference to God at this point, a sort of backsliding. Perhaps that is supported by the fact that Jacob purchased land and settled down, giving up the pilgrim life. Jacob seems to be too comfortable around the Canaanites there, letting his daughter roam freely among them without any protection. When she is raped, violated, and kidnapped by Shechem, Jacob seems passive, more worried about what they will do to him if he protests. Hamor and Shechem have no sense of remorse for the crime, and only wish to seal the deal with a quick marriage. Later, Hamor reveals his true motives, to eventually assimilate the wealth of Jacob into Shechem. The sons are angry and plot revenge, using the sign of circumcision and covenant membership for marriage, as a means to get revenge on the whole town. (Perhaps they kill all the men since none rose up to defend their sister?) Levi and Simeon take advantage of the pain of the Shechemites and slaughter the fighting age men, and the rest of the brothers join in plundering the town and rescuing Dinah.

    The only apparent "punchline" we are left with is the reply of Levi and Simeon to Jacob's rebuke, vs. 31 "But they said, "Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?"" Their moral outrage is the last note ringing from the narrative. It seems like Moses is giving them the last word. And when you look at the brothers efforts more like a rescue operation, it seems they could have been justified in taking up arms (but not in abusing the covenant sign). But later, Levi and Simeon are punished in Jacob's blessing of the sons, showing they were in fact in the wrong for the actions they took.

    So why is this narrative here? What's the point we are suppose to take away from it? Is it a warning about the consequences of compromising with the world? Is it providing background into the character of Jacob's sons? Is there a lesson Jacob was suppose to learn here?

    Thanks for the input.
  2. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    The following is my summary of the sermon I preached on this passage, as I introduced the following message (Gen.35).

    Beware the world that wants to make the church one with it. It will never succeed by violence, but may succeed by seduction. Before Diana was violated, she was seduced by vanity. Simeon and Levi were seduced by wrath. Even in rejecting the world's temptation (seduction) to unity and advantage by its chosen means, the church revealed just how much like the world they already were.
    I don't think the brothers' "moral outrage" is included there by Moses as a way to make them look good. But as a species of self-justification, which is condemnable. Moses himself tried that, when he killed the Egyptian.
  3. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Doesn't Genesis 34 show why a change of place and practice was so necessary in Genesis 35? Obviously the transitions in ch.35 are rather soft themselves, but if you read Genesis 34 along with the first 7 verses of chapter 35 it seems to me that you get a fuller picture and one with clearer point.
  4. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    It's difficult to be sure what is the main point to take away from that incident. In Jacob's life, though, it seems to be part of his learning how living in the land must be a matter of getting his relationship with God right, not about scheming his way through relationships with others in the land.

    Jacob's whole life, to this point, has been an obsession with trickery and getting the better of others. As a young man, he tried to thrive by finagling birthrights and blessings out of his father and Esau. With Laban, the same sort of dynamic was in play. Then he came back to Canaan, and as he was about to cross the Jabbok (and had worries again about how to get the better of Esau, and was playing shrewd games), God came to wrestle with him. It is as if God was trying to teach him that if Jacob is going to be the heir of the promise who lives in the land, his battle is not with Esau. He must be a man who wrestles first of all with God. Indeed, Jacob responds with faith ("I will not let you go until you bless me") and receives his new name, Israel. The ensuing encounter with Esau turns out to be tame in comparison.

    So what happens next? Like most of us, Jacob still needs to learn to exercise his new faith. Jacob settles in Shechem where he has trouble with the people in that land. This time, Jacob's response is too tame while his sons' response is too harsh and full of trickery. But Jacob is still concerned chiefly with managing his relationships with others in the land: "You have brought trouble on me by making me a stink to the inhabitants of the land" (Genesis 34:30). That's the wrong concern! Where's his concern about godliness? Hasn't he learned from the wrestling match at the Jabbok?

    It turns out that his transformation is a process, as it is for all of us. God used the incident in Shechem to teach Jacob further. God sends him from there to Bethel, where Jacob's focus can be more Godward. In Bethel, Jacob buries the household idols it turns out he still had with him. He takes another step of repentance and faith, putting his relationship with God first. The mess in Shechem helped bring him to that point.
  5. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Yes, I suspect that's the key. When I teach this story in Sunday school and at Bible camp (don't be shocked—yes, I teach about Dinah to kids), I always teach it together with chapter 33 (wrestling with God) and chapter 35 (burying the idols).
  6. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    One more comment. I got ready to present it and lo, there are a few other comments. So, whatever dissent I offer from any of you, it is not a reply to others.

    30 And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.

    This is the "punchline" verse (if there be such), definitely not v31, which expressed attitude I criticized above. Jacob is not unreasonably frightened in these words. The man of God speaks the truth of God's justice in those words. To paraphrase Calvin (who has many good thoughts on this passage), perishing the thought of stirring up their conscience concerning the blood of all those they considered their enemies, he makes them murderers of himself and themselves. But their answer v31 shows not the least bit of remorse.
  7. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    That is a good point. Gen 35:1-7 does bring about a better resolution to ch. 34 and serve as a better "punchline". We should probably consider ch. 35:7 as the end of the Dinah narrative.
  8. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I preached them all one ch. after another 33, 34, 35, 36, despite their length. Genesis narratives are frequently quite long, and the pastor must make a choice as to how long of a pericope to preach. I don't want to tell you what to think about this, and I've not given you much in the way of text analysis, because your sermon doesn't need to agree with mine throughout.

    You may decide that 35:7 is a suitable close for your sermon, but that might have more to do (than you realize) with a number of your previous break-point decisions, or other factors. I myself found the chapter divisions suitable.

    As you indicated in the OP, there is a sweep to the larger narrative that is not accidental. One shorter element may flow into another with greater or lesser disjunctive quality. Just about the only true "breaks" in Genesis are the toledoth markers.
  9. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    Yes, I've been preaching through it this year, normally one chapter at a time. But I've done the Jacob narrative in larger chunks. Ch. 28, 29-30:24 (household drama), 30:25-31:55 (Jacob and Laban), and this Sunday I'll do ch. 32-33 (Jacob and Esau). Next Sunday, Dinah/Shechem. I'm leaning toward 34-35:7 now. I found the larger chunks allow for both individual applications as well as pulling back to see the broader redemptive historical picture.

    Anyway, thanks for the discussion. Very helpful!
  10. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    Another thought or question. Do you think there is a deliberate theological or literary parallel between Genesis 34 and the earlier narratives of Lot moving to Sodom (and the following consequences)?
  11. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    That's an interesting thought. I've never considered it before. On the one hand, Scripture's comments on the people of Shechem are nowhere near as harsh as what is said about Sodom, so it hardly seems fair to compare the two. But there is an anti-city flavor in Genesis, with God's people doing best when they stay away or move away from cities, so maybe. (Sorry for the non-committal opinion. I like the question, though. Have to think about that.)
  12. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Personally, I don't think there's a straightforward connection. The move of Jacob is one that takes him obediently back into the Land of Promise. He has come back to the place where God willed for him to inherit, where he was summoned to return, as it were from exile. Lot's move, in contrast, was to distance himself from nearness to Abram, removing him physically and spiritually apart from the heir of the promise.

    I did find a different parallel. The fears expressed by Abraham and Isaac, concerning the safety of their wives as they dwelt among the heathen--fears that did not materialize, and which actions they took were actually unbelievings--actually and tragically came to pass in the case of Dinah.

    Jacob--though he makes as his first act upon settlement, building an altar to "God, God of Israel" (33:20), a witness to the surrounding people of his and his Israelite-people's devotion--seems complacent, functionally naive about the quality, the spiritual character of his neighbors. The Shechemites are, in fact, not similar to the Gerarites of either Abraham's or Isaac's generation. The iniquity of the Amorites is increasing (cf. Gen.15:16).

    Jacob did not and should not have entered into subterfuge with them (in fact, he is obviously a changed man in this respect). But neither should he have been so unwary, not careful to teach his children honest engagement without misplaced trust. The lines between the church and the world became somewhat blurred.

    The altar that declares, "We are different from you, and your gods are not ours," is contradicted by Dinah's interest in being seen with the local girls. The brothers' reaction reveals what is hidden: how much they too are taken by a worldly perspective, in subtlety (sins of the father) and vengeful violence.
  13. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    I hadn't noticed that parallel yet. Good one to think about.
  14. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    Not attempting to derail the thread... I wonder whatever became of Dinah. Did she die an old maid? Did she marry an Egyptian and assimilate into their culture? Did she marry someone from a different semitic group? Who knows. (I’m aware of a Rabbinic tradition that says she lived as a spinster in Simeon’s house, but that’s conjecture.) The OT shows a sensitivity to women, yet the daughter of Israel seemingly disappears from the story. I wonder why. Of course, “moderns” would attribute it to patriarchal bias against women, an attribution I find inaccurate given the prominent role a number of women play in the OT.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2019
  15. Filter

    Filter Puritan Board Freshman

    David Murray posted this on his blog Head, Heart, and Hand back in March. I thought it was quite good. It is a sermon on Genesis 34 by Mika Edmondson.
  16. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    Pastor Ben, I thought the sermon above somewhat answered the question you raised and what you point about the OT's emphasis on individual women -- though we aren't told what happens to Dinah afterward, the fact that this incident is recorded with truthfulness about Shechem's aggression shows a care for Dinah and the truth of what happened to her that the family themselves are losing in other considerations. Her heavenly Father did not 'hold his peace'.

    It was a very good sermon -- thank you. I wondered if his treatment of the woman at the well did not take into enough account her own words: '... a man who told me all that *I* ever did'. Ie, her own acts/agency are foremost in her self-consciousness when she comes to worship Christ in truth. Perhaps this is part of the dignity Christ restores to her, or perhaps it does bear on this particular woman's history in her marriages (if she was the one straying etc). But the preacher's point about her lack of rights to initiate a divorce was telling, and definitely we should see her faced with a man who is there *not* to cover up, *not* to use her, who values her and dignifies her. I could see why the preacher wanted to make that contrast with Jacob & co.

    I appreciated how he also prayed for the Shechems and Jacobs etc at the end. Sometimes we seem able to care only about one party or another -- the victim or the victimisers. It's surely far better to care about the victims if we're going to be one-sided, but that's still not the gospel. The sermon did a good job with how God takes the whole family on from Shechem in his unfailing redemptive purpose.
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