Fight Fire With Fire (Genesis 34)

Summary:

What is the absolute worst thing you can imagine yourself living through? How would you react? Would you fight whatever was happening or would you just give up? Which way is the best way to react? How can you be sure?

If you think you know the best way to respond to a terrible situation, then try this one on for size. Jacob and his family have moved to Shechem, where they settle down and continue to prosper. They soon get friendly with their neighbors and in the spirit of camaraderie, Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter, decides to go hang out with her friends in the city. It is not long before Dinah comes to regret this decision. Hamor, the ruler of the area Dinah was in, and thus one of the most powerful people around, takes a sick liking to Dinah and rapes her.

Her body, her heart, and her future were taken and toyed with, used and degraded. On top of this pain was piled confusion and fear when Hamor claimed he loved Dinah and swore to marry her. This ill-timed marriage proposal is presented to Jacob and his sons, who deliberate. We do not know how Dinah felt, what Dinah said, or what Dinah thought about what had just happened in her life. We do not know if she wanted to fight back or give up. All we know is what her brothers chose. Ignoring Shechem’s ingratiating attempts at flattery and diplomacy, the brothers lie, pretending to accept the proposal when in reality, they had a plan.

The brothers agree to let Dinah marry Hamor under one condition – every male in their city must be circumcised, because that is the custom of their people and they cannot marry into any nation that does not do the same thing. Here we see Hamor’s importance and influence in his community: every single man agrees to undergo this painful procedure. For a few nights, every man in the city of Shechem is weak, in excruciating pain, and vulnerable. This was what Jacob’s sons wanted all along, because Simeon and Levi soon descend upon Shechem and kill every single man. They take the women and children and riches for themselves. The city is completely ravaged by two angry men.

Jacob is furious and afraid. How will the surrounding nations react to this type of violence? Simeon and Levi stand firm. No one treats their sister like that and gets away with it.

The Treasure Within:

Pure Evil

Instinct says to applaud Simeon and Levi. They stood the heck up for their sister. They wanted revenge on the people who’d hurt her and they got it. But can we really approve of the way these men decided to do it?

Think about it. Their sister was raped. Then the rapist pompously tried to marry her, as if she was worth so little that he could do with her as he pleased. These things are horrible, but short of not forcing Dinah to marry her rapist, they cannot be changed or remedied. Sin, that terrible poison introduced way back in Genesis 2, has wrapped its foul arms about the entire earth, and no one is safe from its consequences. In fact, this is why Jesus had to devise a plan to save us all from sin. He is planning to come back and punish the wicked and save the righteous. Simeon and Levi had been told this from childhood. They knew this.

But it didn’t matter. When they saw how hurt their sister was, they firmly made their decision. They would make someone else hurt even worse. So they took human life. Not just one life, or two, or twenty. They took hundreds of lives. They took wealth. They took slaves, and who knows whether or not the women taken from Shechem met the same fate as Dinah at the hands of Jacob’s sons.

Simeon and Levi did not erase Dinah’s pain. They did not improve the situation. They did not solve any problems. They made things worse. They destroyed people’s lives. They put their family, including their sister, in danger. They ignored God’s commandments. The worst thing ever happened in their lives and they made the wrong choice. They chose to fight back. They chose not to believe in God. They chose evil.

 

There is a verse in the Bible that explains that “there is way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:21 NKJV). It is scary to realize the truth of this text. We live in a world that urges us to trust our instincts, listen to our gut, follow our hearts. Yet so often this very advice will lead us down the way of death. Sin is horrifying and painful and disgusting, yes! But it is guaranteed that we will only add to the destruction if we try to fight it our own way. Only God’s way will work. God’s way is hard. It is hard to let go when we are hit in the face with pain and misery. It is hard to trust in vengeance and justice that could yet be years off. But that is the right choice. Simeon and Levi did not believe in a God strong enough to fight their battles for them. Do you believe in Him?

God’s Message To Us:

“If you push me away, I will stand at a distance.” God is not mentioned once in this chapter. He says nothing. He does nothing. It’s possible to take this as some sort of stamp of approval – silence means God was okay with what happened. I do not believe this. I do not believe this because God also was not sought in prayer. He was not spoken to. He was not alluded to. Jacob, Simeon, Levi and even Dinah all acted without seeking God’s guidance or approval. It seems they did not want God to step in. He did not.

God always sees. He will never leave us nor forsake us. Instead, so many times, we forsake Him. We sin. We feel the pain of the consequences. We turn around and blame God. What a disappointing, illogical cycle. How many times have we pushed God away? How many times has He stood at a distance, longing to save us, help us, and comfort us while we refuse to have Him? How many more times do we have to complete this cycle before we realize that enough is enough?

What do you think? What jumped out at you from this chapter of the Bible? What do you think was God’s message for you from this chapter?

6 thoughts on “Fight Fire With Fire (Genesis 34)

  1. Excellent post! What I find fascinating is the extra details behind this story. For instance, at this point, Jacob succeeded in separating from Esau (33:12-17), but little to his knowledge, now a new threat presented itself through Dinah; particularly to the distinctive identity of his family. Even more than this, the story brings another ironic opposite since the reconciliation from the past conflict between Jacob and Esau is replaced with a “new” wound through Simeon and Levi’s defilement of Jacob’s command. In a sense, Jacob was embracing some difficulties that he himself had previously caused. Nonetheless, in regards to Shechem’s proposal, it was not necessarily due to him finding her as if her worth was little and seeking to do as he pleased. In part, he did appear “love-struck.” Yet, at that time, the biblical law (particularly strong Assyrian precedents) demanded that a man who rapes an “unattached” woman must pay a fine to her father, marry her, and then forfeit the rights to divorce her (Deut. 22:28-29). Thus, in a sense, it was more than his own selfish desires, but more of a requirement to follow the commands of such actions that was originally in place from back then. What makes this even more fascinating is how the biblical law also strictly forbade the marriage between an Israelite to a Hivite (Duet. 7:1-5)! The Patriarchs went to great lengths to prevent intermarriage with Canaanite nations (Gen. 24; 27:46-28:9). Thus, compared to these (later developed) laws, the result of a happy marriage for the two would be quite impossible, lol.

    More than this, the brother’s devious plan was not just “devious” in their desire to kill the other people. Rather, it was also in disobedience to the Torah’s original command. For instance, their proposal almost suggested their desire to form a covenant between the Israelites and the Hivites (through the circumcision, etc.). However, the Torah prohibited such things as inevitably an inducement to break faith with the Lord (Exod. 23:27-33). From the start of their plan, sin was already emerging in more than one way! As you pointed out, the Bible commends those that abstain from plunder in situations of righteous war (e.g., Deut. 13:13-19; 1 Sam. 15:13-26; Esth. 9:10, 15, 16). As a result, given the fact that Hamor and Shechem placed emphasis on the material benefits (i.e., 34:10-12, 23), in addition to the fact that the entire episode began with violence, the take-over of the town exemplified the traditional wide-spread biblical belief that the punishment fit the crime (Deut. 19:16-21). The same can be said regarding when they slew the men during times of pain from the circumcision.

    Lastly, it is interesting how the story ends with a question rather than an assertion (34:31). By doing so, it provides room for us to question the brother’s actions in this scenario. For example, the same men who had killed for the sake of their family and sister’s honor (against the commands of their father) later consent to have their own younger brother killed or sold into slavery in chapter 37. As a result, these two brothers eventually face their punishment, particularly when Jacob scolds them for their zeal and curses their anger in Gen. 49:5-7. In other words, he explicitly predicts the fates of their later tribes (i.e., Simeon which becomes overtaken by Judah and Levi which later becomes the “clerical tribe” yet without land). In all, this story really makes us ponder not just the biblical aspects behind it, but also the moral ethics we are to discern and act upon whether we are in positions of Shechem or the two brothers! What is also important to ask is not just to consider this situation in biblical terms, but also in our current society. There are many “Shechem’s” in our world. However, they are no longer commanded to marry those whom they abuse, at least not in the US. Thus, what should be our response to it? Of course, the actions of the brothers would never be accepted by our laws. However, what does this mean for Shechem? What would our laws say to this scenario and would it be just, particularly when considering the commands of the Word?

    All-in-all, great job, my friend! =)

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    1. Thanks! I agree with you, it almost feels like everywhere Jacob turns, he runs into problems. He just made up with his brother and now this. Sin truly is relentless and unforgiving.
      And you know, I thought about those laws but they weren’t written down at that time! The laws of Moses are still some years off in Jacob’s time, so it’s hard for me to excuse him for being willing to marry his daughter off to her rapist, no matter how deeply in love with her he seemed. I think Hamor thought himself in love with her, but the fact that he raped her makes all such declarations of his untrustworthy, so it really stings to see that that almost was Dinah’s fate.
      The end of the chapter does in a way present a moral dilemma, sort of, in that it explains the thinking of Simeon and Levi. But it’s also a clear fact that what they did was unquestionably wrong and did no good. I think Simeon and Levi, having grown up with their father’s teachings, should have known better. Maybe this story is an example of why official, written laws were later established for the Jewish people – even though technically God’s people shouldn’t have needed it, He knew that more things like this would happen and be explained away as moral gray areas, so He really made it plain for them!

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  2. Very true! =) As for the part regarding the law, that is a very good point, particularly as we don’t see something “solid” until Deut. At the same time, I am hesitant to accept such things like that. For example, we have to remember two things: first, that Genesis was written at a time much after those events had occurred, and second, the writings were gathered from oral traditions and stories that were later combined and revised to point out more accurately the lessons of faith expressed in the chapters to aid later generations of Israelites. Typically, Genesis is divided into two parts as far as “sources” or “authorship” goes. For example, the ancient tradition declares Moses is the author of the entire Pentateuch, however, theological evidence proves that most of the Pentateuch was composed hundreds of years after Moses’ death (an outcome not uncommon since we see similar proofs in the Gospels and their composition dates). Within both halves of Genesis (i.e., chps. 1-11 primeval history & 12-50 patriarch narratives), we have individual passages that document J, P, and even E sources. When we look at the cycles from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, most of the incidents are self-contained. In other words, we could leave one or another event out of the picture, and the story could still go on. This in itself tells us that there is a long history of oral stories that existed about the patriarchs and matriarchs before they were finally used in written sources. Of course, all of this stuff is truthfully only a “hint” for how the oldest traditions about the ancestors were traditionally passed down. Hence, the words we read in Genesis are those that were so beautifully crafted and composed (with an added religious note) by those literary sources mentioned above who made sure to properly combine the traditions and teachings from long before their time so as to make sure they emphasize the proper faith and lesson that had occurred throughout the centuries and that could assist the later generations reading it.

    Thus, in a way, yes, when that event happened, they probably didn’t have that law! However, it would not be the first time to note that the authors who composed Genesis (or other Books of the Bible, especially the NT) revised the teachings they had gathered over the centuries (i.e. to divinely compose the work we read today) in manners that fully expressed and referenced to the traditional Mosaic laws of the Torah; particularly to make a point for later generations. So, on the one hand, yes it is fully possible that he did not wish to marry her because that law was not known. On the other hand, it is also highly probable that the oral tradition passed down from that event and then crafted by the source authors to provide us with this Book was all meant to demonstrate and emphasize the lesson later featured in Deut. and other areas in the HS. In other words, it’s kind of like a reference and lesson that emphasizes how this issue would culminate towards the later “concrete” law that would be declared by the time of Moses. However, I do understand and respect what you mean (since particularly you know where I stand on issues like this haha) and, like you said, this is a great chapter that provides a lot of insight and discovery! Sorry for the length, again, LOL. I know a lot of the theology stuff seems like it would be “man-made,” but truthfully, this stuff is looking at the 100% pure theology behind the findings of our Biblical texts and scrolls (well the little that we “do” have haha). i.e., its evidence that has stood the test of time and that of the scriptures! It’s not from random theologians who start putting in their analysis and start declaring mumbo-jumbo facts that don’t even make sense, lol. Regardless, I don’t mean to suggest the Word is less divine or anything like that, but I mean to emphasize how, just as God made us so beautifully complex, He has done the same in using His people to properly gather the messages of His Word and provide us with what we have today. =)

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    1. That’s a lot of interesting information! Hmmm, I’ve always believed that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, so I’d have to research and explore some of what you said further before I agreed. Either way, the fact still remains that the specific law about marrying one’s rapist was not officially given to God’s people yet – I am looking forward to exploring this law further when we get to it in Exodus, though. One of the things I’m trying to do with these posts is sort of take the Bible in chronological order, building on what’s already been discussed in previous chapters rather than future ones in order to avoid confusion. I am also not aiming to explain or consider every theological or historical theory, because a) I don’t have time for all that research and citation and b) because I kind of want to explore the Bible alone, seeing how its own words support each other and how it might be viewed by anyone who reads it today. That’s how I’m approaching the official blog posts, but I appreciate and welcome other opinions and perspectives!

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  3. Just as God always sees, God always controls. God never does nothing. Even though God is not mentioned in this chapter, we can be sure that He was there. God will inspire Jacob to pronounce a curse on Simeon and Levi which Jacob will utter on his death bed. But for Levi, God will turn the curse into a blessing.

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