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Exposition of Genesis: Volumes 1 and 2
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CHAPTER XXXIV

10. The Outrage on Dinah Avenged by her Brothers (chapter 34)

It would really be better to begin this chapter with v. 18 of the preceding chapter, telling of Jacob’s arrival at Shechem. For, apparently, the things recorded in it followed immediately or almost so upon the arrival.

It must also be determined how much time has elapsed since Jacob’s return to Canaan. If Joseph, according to 37:2, was seventeen years old at the time there described, which again was shortly after the events of chapter 34, and Joseph was only about six years old at the time of Jacob’s arrival in Canaan, it would be safe to assume that the events of our chapter transpired about ten years after the return to Canaan. Dinah must have been at least fourteen years old; fifteen is not impossible.

1-3. And Dinah, the daughter that Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the country; and Shechem, the son of Hamor, the Hivite, a prince of the country, saw her, and took her, and lay with her and ravished her. And he was much attached to Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl, and comforted the girl’s heart.

For the better understanding of what follows it is well to know that Dinah was "the daughter that Leah had borne to Jacob." It would hardly seem that her act of going out would be referred to as "going out to see the women of the country," if Dinah had been wont to go out thus many times before. It is useless to speculate whether mere idle curiosity prompted her, or whether she went without consulting her parents, or whether she even went forth contrary to their wishes. We are unable to determine to what extent she was at fault, if at all. In any case, it seems she should have known that Egyptians and Canaanites (12:15; 20:2; 26:7) regarded unmarried women abroad in the land as legitimate prey and should not have gone about unattended. Shechem happens to find her. The fact that he is the son of Hamor, a Hivite prince, seems to make him feel that he especially has privileges in reference to unattended girls. We are not told whether she was pleased with and encouraged his first approaches. At least, the young prince was bent upon seduction. This his object was accomplished, whether she resisted or not. If 48:22 informs us that the inhabitants of Sechem were Amorites, the apparent contradiction seems to be solved by the fact that the general name for the Canaanite tribes was Amorites.

3. At least, wrong as his deed was, Shechem "loved" Dinah; we read "he was much attached" to her, an expression rendered in Hebrew: "his soul clung to her." After her seduction he sought "to comfort the girl’s heart" —an expression for which the original has: "he spoke upon the heart of the girl." For "girl" the common gender form na’ar is regularly used in the Pentateuch, always pointed na’arah by the Masoretes (G. K. 17 c), a word supposedly belonging to J, as though only he could write about "girls." Shechem, therefore, was not like cruel Amnon (2 Sam. 13). This occurrence serves to illustrate the low standard of morals prevalent among the Canaanites. Any unattended female could be raped, and in the transactions that ensue neither father nor son feel the need of apologizing for or excusing what had been committed. But Shechem in his "comforting" no doubt promised marriage to Dinah and otherwise sought to relieve her fears.

4-6. And Shechem spoke unto Hamor, his father, saying: Get me this damsel for wife. And Jacob on his part heard that he had defiled Dinah, his daughter, but as far as his sons were concerned, they were with his cattle out in the field. So Jacob kept still till they came. And Hamor, the father of Shechem, went forth to Jacob to consult with him.

Shechem is so much in earnest about actually having Dinah to wife that he at once goes to his father and asks him to take the steps necessary to secure her. For as the story of Samson (Judg. 14:2) also indicates, the ones who arranged for marriages were the parents. The brevity of Shechem’s demand—"Get me this damsel for wife" —indicates the young man’s urgency.

5. The arrangement of verses would seem to indicate that before Hamor came to Jacob news of the misfortune of Dinah had already reached Jacob’s ears. Since both "Jacob" and "his sons" stand first in their respective clauses for emphasis, the peculiar emphasis that these clauses gain runs thus: Jacob heard, but his sons were in the field. This definitely implies that in the matter of the disposal of a daughter or of safeguarding her rights the brothers, if of age, acted jointly with the father. The father could according to the custom of those days do nothing without the consent of the full brothers of the girl. Naturally, so large an establishment as Jacob had would keep the individual members of the family pretty well scattered till perhaps toward evening. Despite his great grief Jacob "kept still" —the perfect with waw conversive makes a durative imperfect (K. S. 367 i). Everyone can understand how the father’s heart must have been lacerated by this tragic news. Dinah could not have been the one who informed her father, because she was kept in Shechem’s house (v. 26). The critics call timme’, "defile," a ritual term and therefore assert that a later Levitical hand inserted it. B D B proves that the term is used in an "ethical and religious" sense as well as being a ritual term. So the critical objection falls away.

6. Hamor "went forth" because Jacob dwelt outside of the city as a newcomer.

7. And the sons of Jacob on their part came in from the field, when they heard of the matter, and the men were pained and very angry that folly had been committed against Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter—which thing ought not to be done.

Bad news spreads quickly, especially if it be as disastrous as that which we have here. As soon as the sons of Jacob receive the report, they come in from the field. Again the subject stands first, because, as in v. 5, their share in the following transactions is specially under consideration. Critics, failing to appreciate this feature of these two verses, call both v. 5 and v. 7 poor Hebrew—a patent self-condemnation of scholars proud in their own conceit. The worst offender is Procksch.

The first step on the part of the brothers naturally is to hear the entire story. Their first reaction is pain or grief (yith’atsebu, "they were hurt"). The second is anger yichar lahem me’odh, "it burned for them exceedingly." Both these reactions are seen to be more than the ordinary carnal reactions of brothers when the explanatory clause is heeded which we find attached immediately: "that (or "for") folly had been committed against Israel." The sons of Jacob appreciate the honorable destiny which was laid before all descendants of Jacob when God Himself bestowed the honorable epithet of "Israel" on their father. They knew that the tribe was destined to become a great people. God’s promises were preserved among them. Two explanations are here possible, which really differ but little in the final analysis. Either Jacob’s sons consider their tribe already the Israel out of which the nation Israel is soon to develop and then they mean: "folly has been committed in Israel." Or else they think of the sacred dignity vested by God in their father Israel and mean: "folly has been committed against Israel" —for be may mean "against." The infinitive lishkabh ("to lie") is here used in a modal sense, called by some a gerundive sense; "by lying with Jacob’s daughter" (K. S. 402 z). The last clause may be rendered as above: wekhen lo’ ye’aseh — "which thing ought not to be done." K. C. arrives at nearly the same result by assuming a transition from indirect to direct discourse with the omission of the verb "and they said"; then we render after the verb of saying: "So ought not to be done." The obligation ("ought") is covered by the imperfect (G. K. 107 w).

So far Jacob’s sons are to be commended. Canaanite moral indifference and lascivity would have found what Shechem had done quite natural and certainly not reprehensible. Jacob’s sons live on the level of true faith, at least in part, and as a result have clear ethical concepts. Yet, as the sequel shows, a measure of the carnal enters in and blurs their spiritual vision. Usually they are condemned too harshly as being utterly devoid of a sense of higher values. This verse in its use of the name "Israel" compels us to allow a measure of spiritual understanding on their part. They err largely in their choice of means for solving the difficulty involved.

8-12. And Hamor spoke with them saying: As for Shechem, my son, he is dearly attached to your daughter. Do give her to him for wife. Intermarry with us: your daughters ye may give us; and our daughters ye may take for yourselves. Then ye may live with us, for the land lies open before you. Dwell in it, travel back and forth in it, establish yourselves in it. And Shechem said to her father and her brethren: Let me find favour in your sight; I will give whatsoever you say. Make the demand for dowry and gift heavy. I will pay it, no matter what you say. Only give me the girl for wife.

Though (v. 6) Hamor had set out to speak with Jacob, in the meantime Jacob’s sons have come home, and so Hamor speaks "with them," here really including the sons and the father. But the Canaanite laxity of morals is apparent in both the father’s and the son’s words: neither admits that a wrong has been done. They are ready, however, to make an adjustment just as it might have been made for any regular marriage. What has occurred does not constitute an irregularity. They feel that Jacob’s clan should feel honored at the proposal of a matrimonial alliance with their own princely line. Or at least they anticipate that a financial adjustment may smooth out all misunderstanding. Neither of the two modes of settlement dare be agreeable to Jacob’s sons if they purpose to remain true to their spiritual heritage.

Hamor apparently first comes up alone and speaks first. His proposal is that Jacob consent to have Dinah be Shechem’s wife because "he is dearly attached" (Hebrew, "his soul clings") to the girl. He calls her by a kind of zeugma "your daughter," though she is but Jacob’s daughter; however, all have the disposal of her in hand. This step Hamor visualizes as the inauguration of the general practice of intermarriage. Chathan in the Hithpael actually means "make oneself a daughter’s husband" (B D B). "Intermarry" is a loose equivalent about as inaccurate as the German verschwaegern. Naturally, where two tribes freely intermarry they will "live with" one another. This again was quite feasible because larger stretches of unclaimed country still lay available here and there in those days: "the land lies open before you." Then Hamor tries to paint an attractive picture of the advantages accruing to Israel from such an alliance: they "may dwell" in the land, "travel back and forth in it" (sachar, however, implies travelling mostly for the purpose of trading) and they "may establish themselves in it," departing from their more nomadic way of life and adopting agricultural habits. In v. 5v. 8 "Shechem" stands first—nominative absolute—his attitude is primarily under consideration.

11. In the meantime Shechem has come up also and makes a different set of proposals in pressing his suit. Being younger, he courteously asks "to find favour in their sight" and then talks in terms of a financial settlement. He surely displays willingness as far as meeting the customary conditions is concerned. Let them set the terms as high as they will, he is ready to meet them. Infatuation speaks in the young man. He will give "dowry" (móhar, here, no doubt, actually the purchase price paid to parents for their daughter, though Israelites never bought wives) and "gift" (mattan, the wedding gift presented to the bride).

13-17. And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor, his father, with guile, and they spoke because he had defiled Dinah, their sister. And they said to them: It is impossible for us to do this thing, namely to give our sister to an uncircumcised man; for that were a disgrace for us. Only on this condition will we accede to your request, if you will be as we are, and have all males among you circumcised. Then will we give our daughters to you, and shall take your daughters unto ourselves, and we will dwell with you and we two shall become one people. And if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then will we take our daughter and go our way.

Though right in refusing the proposition of the Hivites—for had Israel accepted, his descendants would have disappeared among the more numerous Canaanites and their spiritual heritage would have been sacrificed—yet Jacob’s sons sin grievously in the manner of their refusal. "They answered with guile" —mirmah —"deception." The next verb may be taken to mean, "they spoke treacherously," because dabhar according to the Arabic dábara originally meant "be behind" and so, perhaps, "speak behind one’s back," though no other instance of such use can be cited. We offer another simpler solution: they might have kept a grudging silence, but "they spoke, because he had defiled Dinah." In other words, all the while they were speaking this outrage kept running through their mind, and so all their speaking had to do with avenging this outrage. Whichever explanation be accepted, there is no need for textual alterations.

14. Rightly they insist that they cannot mingle in marriage with the uncircumcised—but, of course, mere carnal circumcision cannot make any nation worthy to share with them in their rare heritage. So Jacob’s sons are guilty of treating the sign of the covenant lightly and of dishonoring it.

15. This verse contains rather a sweeping demand, but behind the demand must lie the fact that many nations and tribes practised circumcision. Ne’oth ("be agreeable" or "accede") is derived from the unused Kal ‘oth. Zo’th —feminine—represents the neuter and signifies, "on this condition."

16. The waw conversive (we) in ‘wenathannu introduces the apodosis in this instance; for that reason we have rendered it "then."

17. The condition imposed by Jacob’s sons is made rather strong, because if this condition is not met without exception by all inhabitants of their city, the stratagem of Jacob’s sons would fail.

We may well ask, Where was Jacob when his sons made these conditions that he certainly would in no case have sanctioned? Above, v. 13, these terms and conditions are attributed to "the sons of Jacob" exclusively. There is the possibility that after the transactions were under way Jacob retired in the great grief of his heart and trusted that his sons would well be able to handle the case. It is quite certain that they kept their father in the dark both in regard to their original demand as well as in regard to their further purpose.

18, 19. Their proposition appealed to Hamor and to Shechem, the son of Hamor. The young man did not hesitate to do this thing, because he delighted in Jacob’s daughter, and he especially was honored by all who were of his father’s house.

The original says, "their words were good in the eyes of Hamor," etc. We should say, "their proposition appealed to Hamor," etc. The son is agreeable because he above all things wants the girl. The father is agreeable for his son’s sake and also because the demand was quite in keeping with customs prevalent at the time. Hamor will have regarded their demand as the outgrowth of a tribal practice or taboo which they felt they dared not violate.

19. The son’s attitude is explained at once; but "he did not hesitate" does not mean that he submitted to circumcision on the spot but that he was the first one to submit to the operation after the townsfolk had been found agreeable. Further, by way of anticipation of the agreement of his kinsfolk to the plan, it is explained that he happened to be "honored by all who were of his father’s house." This implies that another young man less respected than Shechem might not have been heeded by the villagers in the proposition on which his marriage hinged.

20-23. And Hamor and Shechem, his son, came to the gate of their city and they spoke to the men of the city saying: As far as these men are concerned, they live harmonious with us and they will dwell in the land, and they will travel back and forth in it; and as far as the land is concerned, it is spacious enough on either side before them. Their daughters we will take to ourselves for wives, and our daughters will we give to them. Only on this condition will the men accede to our request to dwell with us and become one people if every male among us be circumcised, even as they are circumcised. Their cattle and their possessions and all their beasts of burden, shall they not be ours? Only let us accede to their request and they will stay with us.

The gate of the city is the natural place for all transactions of a public or even of a private character. The substance of their speech is given in one unified whole, the various arguments with which father and son plied their friends being smelted together. It is an artful speech. With clever rhetoric the acquisitiveness of the Hivites is appealed to. Things that had never been mentioned to Jacob’s sons are introduced. They are really inferences that may well be drawn, results that must follow if intermarriage on a general scale is introduced. These additional things are that the Hivites will come into possession of the Israelite "cattle" —miqneh — about the same as "stock" (Meek), of their "possessions" and of their "beasts of burden" —that must be the meaning of behemah here. One other thing not mentioned to Jacob’s sons and yet on the whole an inevitable consequence was: both would "become one people." The Hivites apparently predominated in numbers, and so there was no danger that they would become submerged in the process; so to them it may be mentioned. Note how at the beginning of the speech nouns are placed first in the sentences pointing to the various issues involved: as for these "men" —as far as "the land" is concerned; also in v. 23 as far as their "cattle" "possessions," and "beasts" are concerned. This is a touch true to life. The last yeshebhu of v. 23 seems to mean "stay" rather than "dwell." In v. 21 the dual yadháyim, "on both hands," means "on either side." In v. 22 the infinitive behimmol, "in being circumcised," is the equivalent of a conditional clause (K. S. 404 a).

24. And they hearkened to Hamor and unto Shechem, his son, all who went out of the gate of his city; and all the males, all who went out of the gate of his city, were circumcised.

The entire male population is referred to as adopting the proposed plan. In apposition with "males" twice stands the phrase "all who went out of the gate of his (i. e. ‘his own’) city." The participle yotse’ey implies the habitual: they were wont to go out. This phrase, however, refers to the city gate as the castomary council chamber or courthouse; they that go out are the ones that are entitled to sit there. The reason why the expression is used twice is to emphasize that this was a valid decision properly arrived at by those competent to make it. Yotse’ey is a participle construed primarily as a noun (K. S. 241 d).

25, 26. And it came to pass on the third day when they were suffering pain, that the two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, full brothers of Dinah, each took his sword and came upon the unsuspecting city and slew all males, Hamor and Shechem, his son, they slew with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from the house of Shechem and went forth.

Wounds come to a kind of crisis on the third day, In this instance it was known to be the third day when a man was incapacitated in a very special sense: ko’abhim, they "were suffering pain." Simeon and Levi deem it to be a matter involving their honor in a very special sense, because they were ’achchim, "full brothers." But so were Reuben and Judah as well as two more. Reuben with a sense of the responsibility of the first-born refrained at least from active participation. Judah, a man of nobler cast, also lent no active assistance when this first step of the plan was carried out. Yet neither of these two seems to have offered active opposition. But then there is the possibility that Simeon and Levi finally decided to carry out their nefarious purpose without informing the rest who seemed more than reluctant. Without a doubt, the murderers took their servants for even two very courageous men could hardly venture to attack a city. At the time both could not have been above twenty or twenty-two years old. Betach, according to its position, as practically all now recognize, belongs to "city" and means "unsuspecting" sorglos (K. W.), being an adverbial accusative and the equivalent of a ‘condensed clause, "as it lay there unsuspecting" (G. K. 118 q; K. S. 402 k). The men especially involved in this slaughter are specifically mentioned by name, "Hamor and Shechem, his son." Dinah their sister; who must have been kept by Shechem in his house till now, was taken, and so they "went forth," i. e. from the wretched city.

One shudders to think of the bloody cruelty that animated these two brothers in their carnal pride. Not a word can be said to excuse these murderers. The account, as Moses offers it, is strictly objective neither commending nor condemning; he trusts his readers to posses sufficient ethical discernment to know how to judge the deed. Those who class these accounts as being largely legendary may well pause at this chapter. For no nation was wont to develop legends about events that reflected dishonor upon their nation, here in particular upon the tribal father of the priests—Levi.

Lephi chérebh, "according to the mouth of the sword," means: as the sword is wont to devour, or "according to the usage of war" or "without quarter" (Skinner).

27-29. And the sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city that had defiled their sister. Their flocks and their herds and their asses they took, both what was in the city and what was in the field. And they captured all their wealth, and all their little ones and their wives, and they plundered even everything that was in the houses.

"Sons of Jacob" here refers to all of them. Strangely, they who seemed to have scruples or fears about taking part in the slaughter have no compunctions of conscience about taking a hand in plundering the city. This act of theirs again does them little credit. The thing that rankled in the bosom of all was that this was "the city that had defiled their sister." They are, indeed, largely correct in imputing to the city a share in the wrong done; for the city condoned the wrong and had not the slightest intentions of taking steps to right it. But only the most excessive cruelty can demand such a wholesale retribution for a personal wrong.

28. The cattle is mentioned first in the plunder, no doubt, because the wealth of the Shechemites consisted primarily in cattle. "Flocks" and "herds" and "asses" are listed because these were constituent parts of cattle or stock.

29. Then to show how thoroughly Jacob’s sons were in the heat of their vengeance the author reports that also "all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives" were captured, the latter, no doubt, being kept as slaves. Then to produce the impression that the sacking of the city was done with utmost thoroughness the writer adds: "and they plundered even everything that was in the houses." By translating thus we remove the necessity of textual changes which the critics regard as necessary. We hold our translation to be quite defensible.

30, 31. And Jacob said unto Simeon and unto Levi: Ye have brought trouble upon me by causing me to become odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and Perizzites, whereas I have but a small following. Now they will gather together against me and smite me and I shall be destroyed, I and my family. And they said: Should our sister be treated like a harlot?

It is almost unbelievable that Jacob should be reproached by commentators at this point for what he is supposed to have failed to say, namely for not rebuking Simeon and Levi for "their treachery and cruelty." Yet such a man as Jacob could not have failed to be in perfect accord with us in our estimate of this bloody deed of his sons, for Jacob was a truly spiritual man, especially in these his later years. Nor was the moral issue involved in the least difficult to discern. The chief reason for the writer’s not mentioning Jacob’s judgment on the moral issue is that this issue is too obvious. Furthermore, that judgment is really included in the statement, "ye have brought trouble upon me." Then, lastly, the author is really leading up to another matter that specially calls for discussion. Since, namely, the entire Pentateuch aims to set forth how God’s gracious care led on the undeserving people of His choice from grace to grace, the author is preparing to show another instance of such doing and prepares for it by mentioning how greatly troubled Jacob was by this deed. For ’akhar, which means "disturb," "destroy," here means "bring into trouble." In what sense he means this in particular is at once explained, "by causing me to become odious (literally: ‘to stink’) to the inhabitants of the land." That surely implies that the deed done was both obnoxious and dangerous. In comparison with the inhabitants of the land Jacob had "but a small following," or, says the Hebrew, "men of numbers," i. e., men easily numbered. Had God not intervened, the outcome would inevitably have been as Jacob describes it: they would have gathered together and smitten and destroyed him and his family. Though without a doubt the deed of Jacob’s sons gave evidence of great courage, it certainly also entailed even greater rashness. The thoughtlessness of young men who rush headlong into ill-considered projects was abundantly displayed by this massacre.

31. Simeon and Levi are still a bit impatient of rebuke. What they say is true enough: their sister should not be treated like a harlot (ye’aseh —an imperfect expressing a potential "should," durfte —K. S. 181). But Delitzsch very properly adds: "Simeon and Levi have the last word, but the very last of all comes from Jacob on his deathbed" (49:5-7), where Jacob’s verdict is clearly recorded for all times: "Cursed be their anger."

We are greatly amazed in reflecting upon the event as a whole that descendants of the worthy patriarch Abraham should almost immediately after his time already have sunk to the level upon which Jacob’s sons stand in this chapter. A partial explanation is to be sought in the crafty cunning of their father which in the sons degenerated to the extremes here witnessed. A further bit of explanation is to be sought in their environment: hardly anywhere except in their own home did they see any manifestations of a godly life. Then, in the third place, we must attribute a good measure of guilt of an improper bringing-up of these young men to the irregularities of a home where bigamy ruled. All true spirit of discipline was cancelled by the presence of two wives and two handmaidens in the home—practically four wives.

Lastly, the chapter as a whole furnishes a clear example as to how much the critics are divided against themselves in spite of their strong protestations of unanimity. Skinner claims that two recensions are interwoven here, but he says they are not J and E; rather he introduces two new sources, I and II, but admits that their accounts may have been revamped by Jx and Ex. A few stand as he does, but Procksch claims to find the usual strands of J and E tradition. Koenig contents himself with the modest assumption that a story of J has been filled out a bit. But the critics as a whole for the most part wrest the simple harmonious account, trying to make themselves and others believe that two tales have been woven into one.

HOMILETICAL SUGGESTIONS

We may well wonder if any man who had proper discernment ever drew a text from this chapter. As a rule, the Sunday school scholars do not even hear of this event in the life of Jacob. Men who followed the mechanical procedure in the work of preaching, which consisted in treating in strictly consecutive order the chapters of a Biblical book that they had selected for such treatment, of necessity had to use this chapter also. As a whole it is an invaluable sidelight on the lives of the patriarchs. It is rightly evaluated by the more mature mind and could be treated to advantage before a men’s Bible class. But we cannot venture to offer homiletical suggestions for its treatment.

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