Sin Requires A Response, Respond Well (Genesis 34)
Sin destroys. And sin left undealt with destroys more. And when leaders don’t deal with sin, all sorts of problems arise.
Our next passage of Scripture is not one that I would have chosen to preach if it weren’t next in line. But one of the advantages to preaching what is next is that my hand is forced to discuss something that otherwise, I would not.
This is, in my estimation, the most disturbing passage in the Book of Genesis. And that is saying something. When I read it, I tend to stop and say, “That was wild!” and then move on. But this is not some strange bolder taking up space 2/3 of the way through the Book of Genesis. It is there for a reason. Or, better yet, I believe it is here for many reasons.
Dinah was first mentioned in Genesis 30:21. She is the only female birth that is mentioned and it is because of what happened in this chapter. All evidence points to her being between 13-15 years old when this took place. It is not really possible for her to have been older because her brother Joseph was sold into slavery at the age of 17 in Genesis 37:2. And, after the age of 12 girls were considered to have reached maturity and were allowed more freedom to go out. This would meant that there is between 8-11 years from the time Jacob bought land at the end of Genesis 33 and the beginning of Genesis 34. So, this horrible act took place to this young woman between the age of 13-15.
As we move through this story, you will find that it explains a fair bit of the animosity between the children of Leah and the children of Rebekah that would truly not come together and be unified until the end of the Book of Genesis. That, however is not the main point of our story today.
We will find within this narrative that the sin committed against Dinah was horrific, Jacob sinned through his inaction and caused horrific things to take place, and that Dinah’s brothers are the heroes of the story but sinned in their attempt to do the right thing by taking things way too far. The brothers nearly ruined the family through their reaction, but God cared for His people despite Jacob’s great fear.
Though Dinah’s mistreatment is at the center of this entire text, it is the response of the family to the sin against her that takes center stage. And by examining their response we will see that sin is a horror that needs to be combatted.
We will read this text together and discuss a few points and then we will discuss the different characters and what we can learn from them.
Read Genesis 34
Again, Dinah is the only daughter listed among the children born of Jacob (Genesis 30:21). And the reason is that she appears in this story. She was probably 12-15 years old and went to do what young ladies did as they went out to be with the women of the land. Shechem, a prince of the land raped her (Genesis 34:2). Though the word is not used, there is no mistake that this was done forcibly. But after this was all over we find out that he had fallen in love with her and wanted to marry her (Genesis 34:3-4).
We are not clued in to another thing that is going on in this passage. Someone has imprisoned Dinah. This is something that I have missed every time that I read this passage until now. In verse 26, Simeon and Levi free Dinah. This means that she had been kept somewhere. We are told nothing of the situation, but only that Simeon and Levi killed Hamor and Shechem and freed Dinah. So, Dinah was apparently being held somewhere by Hamor and Shechem, or one of them.
Jacob heard about what had happened. He should have been outraged and in an uproar. But he didn’t say anything at all about it (Genesis 34:5). Jacob seems to be indifferent concerning what has happened to his daughter. His sons came home angry when they heard what had happened. (Genesis 34:7). They were “indignant” and this is the right response to something of this nature.
There are right emotional responses to situations. And being indignant is the right response to this. Intense anger is the right response to rape. Anything short of that is morally repugnant. So the brothers had the right response to the news while Jacob seems to not really care. But they understood this well. Notice what they say,
“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 ESV)
So, Hamor and Shechem came to speak with Joseph. And the speech, as far as we know was no apology and no restitution, as if restitution could be made. It was to ask for Shechem to be allowed to marry Dinah. And Jacob, who has seemed indifferent so far, does not respond. Hamor promised to give whatever a bride price was named, no matter how outrageous to make his son Shechem happy with the marriage of Dinah. But Jacob did not respond. Jacob seems to have remained silent. And Dinah’s brothers filled the void.
It was Jacob’s sons that were indignant and very angry that answered this offer. And the really interesting thing about their answer is that it did come from the promise given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their answer was that they could not give their sister to the uncircumcised. The proposal was that the two people would become one people. And if they would not do this, then they would not allow Dinah to marry. But the answer of the sons of Jacob was a deceitful one (Genesis 34:13). They never intended to allow her to marry Shechem. They wanted to weaken them.
Now, because Dinah was being held captive, I do not believe that it was a sin for them to lie to get her back. One thing we are not told yet is that Dinah is being held captive and she is not freed until the brothers kill Hamor and Shechem and free her. In Joshua 2, Rahab lied to keep the spies of Israel safe. And in that text it is obvious that Rahab’s actions are heroic. I would argue that it is the same here. If the brothers lied to save Dinah, then everything is good. So, I do not believe the lie to be the issue in this text. There are other things to discuss, however.
Hamor, Shechem, and everyone else that heard about this proposal were fully on board (Genesis 34:18-24). They fell completely for the deceit. They were excited about the uniting of the two peoples. And, they were very excited about how wealthy this would make them, which speaks a lot about the wealth of Jacob (Genesis 34:23). And so, “every male was circumcised” (Genesis 34:24).
And then, things got crazy.
While everyone was sore, Leah’s sons and Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi, grabbed their weapons and killed every male in the city (Genesis 34:25). Every one of them. They killed Hamor and Shechem and freed Dinah from Shechem’s house and fled (Genesis 34:26). And the sons of Jacob came to the city and plundered the city. Everything and every person, they took it all as their possession and called it an act of revenge for what had been done to Dinah.
And, I want to sit here for just a moment and consider what was right and wrong about this. They needed to get Dinah back and the deceit and murder of Hamor and Shechem was likely what it took to do that. This would also have been considered an act of revenge upon those that did this thing. But that is not all that they did. They killed every man in the town, they took all of their stuff, and they enslaved the women and children. It was far too much and later, Jacob discussed this tendency in Levi and Simeon on his deathbed when handing out the blessings to his children.
“Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company. For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.” (Genesis 49:5-7 ESV)
Though the sons of Jacob were on the side of righteousness, they became cruel in their wrath. They murdered, stole, and enslaved. And you begin to wonder, would this have happened had Jacob simply acted?
Jacob’s response was simply that his sons had ruined his reputation in the land and this would lead to his household’s destruction (Genesis 34:30). He does not seem thankful that Dinah is home. All we see is that he is afraid of what is about to happen with the people of the land. And his children’s response to him seems to hold the key to understanding this whole chapter. It was, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” (Genesis 34:31).
There was no excuse for Jacob’s inactivity, none. Jacob allowed his daughter to be abused and captured and did nothing to save her. He could not be bothered to do it and feared that a response would cost him his household. But his sons had understood the situation very well. Should anyone be allowed to treat our sister this way? Obviously, the answer is no. And that is where our text ends today.
Because this goes unanswered and because the sons are on the side of righteousness, we understand that their answer to Jacob is correct. And that is where we begin. We will begin speaking about Jacob.
- Neglected Dinah
- Was unmoved about the news of her abuse and capture
- Did nothing
- Resulted in the over reaction of the brothers. Lack of leadership creates a vacuum.
- His sons accused him of treating Dinah, his daughter poorly, and he was.
Part of being a leader is seeing that sin does not dwell withing the group that you are leading. Sin is dangerous. Rebellion is dangerous. And because of this it is to be dealt with swiftly. And when a leader abdicates his authority then chaos ensues.
In the case of Dinah, there was also an immense injustice that had taken place. And this needed to somehow be made right. The brothers knew it. Jacob ignored it because he feared that there would be retribution from the people that lived around their family.
The Ferguson Effect is being hotly discussed these days. And evidence that it is a real thing is seemingly everywhere. After the riots in Ferguson Missouri, there were changes to policing. These changes were to reduce police activity in Ferguson and in surrounding areas. In the places that made these changes there was a reduced number of arrests for misdemeanor crimes and a drastic rise, 10%, in homicides. And the same sort of thing is being seen in large cities across the country today. The leadership of many large cities is choosing to allow crime to increase in their cities, they are reducing police presence, and the people are going mad. This has also led to a rise in gun ownership because people don’t trust that they will be kept safe by those who are supposed to keep them safe. I have no problem with gun ownership. I think that it is something that law abiding citizens should have the right to do, and I also believe that we are responsible to keep our families safe.
But where leadership has abdicated responsibility, we see that the void is filled with something rather chaotic. Evil expands or people act inappropriately trying to make up for it.
In the case of a church, not everything rises to a sin issue. In fact, it seems to me that people often get worked up about small things and seem to think the big things should be allowed to slide. Fornication and adultery are huge issues. A person choosing to live in sin and be a part of our body of believers is not something that we should tolerate. That is, if we know about it. It is something that should be confronted. Fighting and division is another sin often brought up in Scripture as being deathly serious. Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility that stood between fellow believers and those that would erect walls of hostility within a church are committing a terrible evil (Ephesians 2:11-22).
The color of the carpet and spills on the floor are not things that keep me up at night. Neither is the condition of the building. I want the place to be kept up, the Lord has given us a wonderful space here in Conway. But there is something that I think about much more. It is the holiness of this congregation that the Lord has left under my care. He bought you with the price of His own blood.
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28 ESV)
I can guarantee you that I will make mistakes. I can guarantee you that I have made mistakes. But, as a pastor, I cannot just allow things to happen that should not happen. Otherwise, sin and chaos will be allowed to run rampant.
And the same thing goes for the men in their homes. You are the head of your household. And you are responsible for the oversight of your homes. If you allow your family to run wild, then you should not be surprised when chaos reigns in your home. If you abdicate your responsibility as the husband and father then don’t be surprised when your wife, who is not a man, is stressed out and frustrated because she is carrying weight she was not intended to bear. And don’t be surprised if your children are more of a headache than a blessing.
Moms, what happens if you just allow your children to run around and be disobedient? What happens if you choose to let those children of yours do whatever they want? What happens when you don’t intervene in the lives of those left under your care? What happens when you allow their behavior to just get worse and worse?
“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15 ESV)
We can see this in many facets of life. We can see it in home, we can see it in church, and we can see it within society. Where leadership is abdicated, chaos fills the void and that seems to be what happened with Jacob and his family.
- Filled the void left by Jacob. They spoke on behalf of the family where Jacob should have been.
- Deceived Hamor and Shechem through lying about the two becoming one people.
- Killed Hamor and Shechem and got back their sister.
- Killed every man in the town.
- Took everyone else as slaves.
- Took all of the stuff.
I believe it is fairly easily seen that they were on the side of righteousness, though not all of their actions were righteous. They had to rescue their sister, not only had she been horribly abused, but she was being held captive at that moment. If the lie that Rahab told was not a sin, then their own deceit to rescue their daughter should be seen in the same light. And, though not all of their actions seem justified by the text, at least part of them are. And this is obvious from the final line of this narrative, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” (Genesis 34:31 ESV). But they went too far in killing all the men of the town and taking all of the people and stuff as their own possession. And because of their over action they really did endanger the entire household.
There is much damage done when leadership doesn’t lead in the fight against sin. When people are forced to bear burdens that they should not have to bear, much damage can ensue.
We also learn from this that you can be on the side of righteousness and respond poorly.
I am sure that I am not the only person that has seen a person be on the right side but do a lot of damage as they cross lines that should not be crossed. Here the brothers stepped in to rescue Dinah where their father had not. But they were uncontrolled and unrestrained in their response.
I bet you’ve run into this in your marriage. Has there ever been a time where you were right but acted like a jerk filled with self-righteousness? I certainly have. And in doing so I did damage to my family that I had to apologize for and thankfully they forgave me. We see it with children all the time as well. Yes, they should not have played with your toy, but you should not have given them a black eye in response.
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18 ESV)
Their era was not like ours. They did not have anyone looking out for the welfare of their sister. They had to take matters into their own hands. And they had to go get their sister by force. Did they have to kill all the men in the town, take their stuff, and their women and children?
I think we can all see places that we fail in these areas. And it is one of those passages where so much goes wrong and so many people chose to be sinful that it almost feels hopeless. But here I want to bring us to look to Christ. That is what a passage like this always does.
Despite all the sin all the failure, God was with Jacob and his family. The sons caused massive problems for the family, but we will see that God was with them and that God protected them. Jacob abdicated his responsibility and caused massive damage, but God was with hem and God protected them.
We sin in a multitude of ways and I am sure that we all have felt the sting of failing in the ways described here. But there is hope for us because God is gracious. And God extended His grace to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.
We rebelled against God and earned His wrath and justice. We have earned for ourselves the curse of God because we have fallen short of His standard. And when we hear a message like this, we understand that we have fallen so, very short and earned His justice and wrath. But praise be to God, He made a way for us to be made righteous in Him. God sent His Son to live a perfect life on behalf of wicked sinners. He lived that perfect life so that all those who trust in Him could be counted righteous in Him, so that they could be credited with His perfect righteousness. He died on the cross and paid the punishment for sin so that all those that trust in Him have their sins washed away by the blood of the Lamb.
Our text today pointed out a whole lot of failures. And it is quite possible that you are listening to this text and thinking of ways that you have failed. Even if you didn’t murder all the men in a small town, you likely saw a good number of ways that you’ve fallen short. And here is why I mention Christ, there is forgiveness in Him. We are declared righteous in Him. We are brought into perfect fellowship with God in Him and only in Him.
Act. In the area you are to lead do not allow sin and unrighteousness to reign. Act. And act wisely. But you will at times fail. And when you do, know that you are forgiven in Christ.
R. Dwain Minor