There were thirteen members of Jacob’s family: twelve sons and a daughter. What are some difficulties associated with growing up in a large family?
Our story begins with Jacob and his family settling in Shechem, Canaan (see map in Introduction) after he and his twin brother Esau had made peace. Jacob, sometimes known as Israel, had been a resident of the area for some time at this point.
also invested in a homesteading plot of land. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time an Abrahamic descendant has ever bought land in Canaan, and it’s possible that Jacob was planning to make the region his permanent home.
You may recall that Jacob had four concubines in addition to his two wives. He had worked for his uncle Laban for a long time and had developed feelings for Rachel, the younger of Laban’s two daughters. Laban had granted Jacob’s request to marry Rachel on the condition that he work for seven years to pay for his bride-to-be. Jacob happily consented to this condition, but at the conclusion of the seven years Laban fooled him by giving him his older daughter, Leah, instead of Rachel. Then, for the next seven years, Jacob toiled for Rachel’s hand in marriage.
Jacob’s feelings for Rachel grew stronger than those for Leah over time, and he made no attempt to hide this fact from his family. While Rachel was left childless, Leah was blessed with six sons from the Lord. Rachel, in response, was envious of Leah’s ability to have children, so she convinced Jacob to father children via a maidservant. (Children born to the maidservant would have been legally considered Rachel’s.) Leah acted like it was a game and gave Jacob her maidservant. As for the contest itself:
continued with the two sisters; Leah had two more sons and a daughter while Rachel had none.
Rachel’s cries to God during her anguish were eventually answered, and the Lord blessed her by allowing her to conceive. When she was pregnant, she gave birth to Joseph, and then she gave birth to Benjamin. There was at least one female among Jacob’s progeny of twelve boys. In the next lesson, we’ll meet Jacob’s twelve sons, but for now, let’s get to know his daughter, Dinah. Dinah, the youngest child of Leah, would have been around fourteen or sixteen when the story begins.
In Jacob’s day, it was unlikely for a teenage female to explore an unfamiliar city all by herself. However, it appears that Dinah was planning on doing just that. However, as we will see, the consequences of her trip would be rather dramatic, even if we never learn the true motivation behind her adventure.
Read Genesis 33:18–34:31, noting the key words and phrases indicated below.
Jacob in Canaan: After reconciling with his brother, Jacob takes his family to Succoth and then settles near the city of Shechem in the land of Canaan.
Genesis 33:18, ESV: And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city.
18. Came safely: This remark alludes to the fact that after leaving Canaan, Jacob vowed to God that he would return safely, and God delivered on his promise (Genesis 33:18). When Jacob finally reached Canaan, he fulfilled his promise to God to return a tithe (one tenth of his goods) (see Genesis 28:20–22). He probably kept his word at Shechem or, later, at Bethel (see 35:1).
Genesis 33:19, ESV: And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent.
19. He Bought the piece of land where he had set his camp; this was the second property in the Promised Land to be owned by a direct descendant of Abraham (see Genesis 23:17–18; 25:9–10).
However, Abraham and his descendants did not become land owners land just because they paid for it; instead, God, who possessed the land outright (see Leviticus 25:23), granted it to them as their possession.
Genesis 33:19, ESV: There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.
20. He erected an altar: At the same area where Abraham had previously constructed an altar (Genesis 12:6-7), Jacob did the same, although this time he gave the altar a new name: El Elohe Israel, which translates to “God, the God of Israel.” Jacob professed his faith in the “Mighty One” in this fashion.
Even when it was little more than Jacob’s extended family, the name Israel may have foretold its use for the nation with which it quickly became linked.
Dinah Goes Out: So it is that Jacob purchases land in Shechem and settles his family there. One day, his daughter, Dinah, decides to go exploring on her own.
Genesis 34:1, ESV: Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her.
Dinah: After Leah had her sixth son, Zebulun (see Genesis 30:20-21), she gave birth to Jacob’s eleventh child, Dinah.).
1. Went out to see the daughters of the land: The Jewish historian Josephus asserted that Dinah went to the Canaanite celebration to admire the women’s attire. She apparently went solo, which was rather unusual in that society. Typically, a young woman would have traveled with her family, including her mother and female maids and perhaps her brothers as well. This suggests that Dinah may have escaped without telling her father.
Genesis 34:2, ESV: And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.
2. Shechem: The Canaanites’ city of residence, where Jacob and his family had settled, was apparently also a family name. In many cases, the names of towns and cities are derived from the names of the first people to settle there or from the names of their leaders. Shechem was the king’s son in this instance. There is evidence that Jacob intended to make Shechem his permanent home because he bought land there. However, Jacob’s choice to make his home among the Canaanites went against God’s original design and had disastrous results.
Tragedy Strikes: Young Dinah was not protected by her brothers, who were tending their flocks in the fields. A wealthy young ruler took advantage of her vulnerability.
saw her . . . took her . . . lay with her . . . violated her: This is a profound picture of the cycle of sin. Shechem indulged the desire of his eyes, then reached out and took what he lusted after (as Eve did in Genesis 3), and then committed sin. This sin brought forth death, as it always does: “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14–15).
3. strongly attracted: This phrase is a single Hebrew word meaning “to cling to” or “to be joined with.” It is the same word translated joined in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Despite the violence of Shechem’s crime, he joined his soul with Dinah’s.
he loved the young woman: Shechem’s sin was not undone or made right by his subsequent love toward Dinah. The same is true today. Neither is sin atoned for by our regrets, or even by our attempts to “make it up” to someone we have injured.
4. Get me this young woman as a wife: This is actually quite close to God’s law given through Moses: “If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days” (Deuteronomy 22:28–29).
5. he had defiled Dinah: The word defile means “to soil or pollute, to corrupt morally, or to make unfit for holy purposes.” This is a serious concept, and it underscores the importance of sexual purity in God’s people. Shechem had stolen something precious from Dinah and had corrupted her in the process.
Jacob held his peace until they came: Some have suggested that Jacob was looking to his sons for guidance in this matter. However, his reticence may simply have been the course of wisdom, whereby he sought counsel and took his time before reacting. Still,
Jacob himself should have exerted godly leadership in this situation. His sons’ subsequent actions suggest he was not a strong leader in his own household.
7. the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it: The brothers’ initial response to this crime was proper: they dropped what they were doing and rushed to help. God’s people today should be equally quick to draw together when a brother or sister is in difficulties.
he had done a disgraceful thing: Sexual immorality has become so common in our culture that Christians are prone to turn a blind eye to it. But this is not the way God sees promiscuity: in His eyes, sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage is a grave wickedness. It is a disgraceful thing when God’s people fail to keep themselves sexually pure—it is “a thing which ought not to be done” (verse 7).
Shechem Repents: The young prince Shechem has committed a terrible crime against Dinah, but he quickly repents and tries to make restitution.
8. give her to him as a wife: On the surface this was a reasonable request from Hamor, the father of Shechem, and it was in keeping with God’s law. Dinah’s honor had been violated, and it would have been difficult for her to find a husband in the future.
The problem, however, was that the Canaanites did not serve God, and the people of Israel were not to intermarry with the world around them. It is understandable that Jacob was hesitant to make a decision here, as he was in a difficult position.
9. make marriages with us: Abraham and Isaac had charged their sons not to take wives from among the Canaanites (see Genesis 24; 28:1), and Jacob understood this principle. God’s people are not to intermarry with those who do not serve Him, because it is similar to yoking together an ox and a donkey: the two animals are completely different and will attempt to plow in different directions. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
10. the land shall be before you: Hamor’s offer was perfectly legitimate, even generous: “Settle with us; trade with us; become one of us; own land and homes.” But the Lord had already promised the land to Abraham’s descendants, so from God’s perspective it wasn’t Hamor’s to give. The Lord intended for His people to live as pilgrims and strangers in the land
during Jacob’s day (see Hebrews 11:9–10), and it was not time yet for the nation of Israel to settle into Canaan.
11. Let me find favor in your eyes: Shechem was asking for forgiveness, and he made it clear he was willing to make whatever restitution for his crime that Dinah’s family demanded. His crime was grievous, but his sorrow seemed genuine. Shechem’s behavior here was honorable.
The Brothers Conspire: Jacob’s sons are unwilling to accept Shechem’s offer of restitution. Instead, they plot to get revenge.
13. the sons of Jacob . . . spoke deceitfully: Jacob’s life had been characterized by deceit and craftiness, and now his sons were following in his footsteps.
because he had defiled Dinah their sister: There is no question that Shechem’s violence toward Dinah was wicked, but all sin is wicked in the eyes of God. The young man had repented of his sin and expressed a desired to make whatever restitution was required. But the brothers responded with wickedness of their own.
14. We cannot . . . give our sister to one who is uncircumcised: This statement from Jacob’s sons was actually true, as the Lord did not want His people to
intermarry with the Canaanites. But the Mosaic Law (which had not yet been given) made provisions for Gentiles to be circumcised and sojourn with God’s people. The Lord’s reason for selecting a chosen people in the first place was to make His grace evident to the entire world—not to simply bless the descendants of Abraham. Jacob’s sons were grossly misusing God’s provisions of grace to serve their own ends of revenge. “My beloved brethren, let every man be . . . slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19–20).
that would be a reproach to us: Ironically, what the sons of Jacob were about to do would also be a great reproach to them.
15. If you will become as we are: Here again we find an ironic statement, as Shechem was the one who was being honorable in this conversation, while the sons of Jacob were acting dishonorably.
16. we will become one people: This remark from Jacob’s sons was an outright lie. As Paul wrote, “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25).
19. the young man did not delay: This proved Shechem’s words were genuine, as he did not delay to do what Dinah’s family required in making amends for his sin.
He was more honorable than all the household of his father: This can be taken two ways. It indicates that Shechem was held in high esteem by his countrymen, as demonstrated by the fact that the men of the city submitted themselves to the painful and debilitating rite of circumcision. It also means that Shechem’s actions, at least in part, were motivated by a genuine sorrow, while the actions of his father’s household apparently were motivated by a desire for financial gain.
23. Will not their . . . property . . . be ours: This seems to suggest that Hamor and Shechem were at least slightly motivated by the prospect of financial gain.
Overkill: Jacob’s sons take matters into their own hands and go far beyond justice in carrying out their vengeance.
24. every male was circumcised: God made the covenant of circumcision with Abraham (see Genesis 17:9–13) as an outward sign that his household and descendants had cut off the flesh and entered into a new relationship of peace with the Lord. The rite was
to be carried out when a boy was only eight days old, though it also permitted circumcision of adult men. Circumcision of an adult, however, was painful and incapacitating—as Jacob’s sons were well aware. They were not interested in seeing the Canaanites make a covenant of peace with God; rather, they were concerned with satisfying their own lust for revenge.
25. Simeon and Levi: Simeon and Levi were the second and third sons of Jacob. In the next study we will discuss how Jacob’s firstborn son, Reuben, committed a gross sin that made him unfit to receive the birthright of the firstborn, but this sin by Simeon and Levi may be part of the reason why they also did not receive the birthright. That honor would eventually be passed to Judah, who was fourth in line. Jesus was born through the line of Judah—not through Reuben, Simeon, or Levi.
26. they killed Hamor and Shechem: The punishment required by Mosaic Law was for Shechem to make restitution and marry the woman he had violated—not for the young man’s death, and certainly not for the death of his family. Yet Jacob’s sons went beyond even that extremity and slaughtered all the men of the city. This was nothing but the indulgence of bloodlust, and there was no justice in it.
27. The sons of Jacob: Simeon and Levi were guilty of murder, but all the sons apparently took a share in the guilt by plundering the dead. This sad perversion of family unity would repeat itself when the brothers united together to murder Joseph.
30. they will gather themselves together against me and kill me: Jacob’s primary concern was his own safety, not the people who were slain or the wicked behavior of his sons. The sad irony is that Jacob would not have been faced with this danger if he had avoided settling in Shechem in the first place.
31. Should he treat our sister like a harlot: The sons of Jacob were trying to justify their wickedness, but Shechem’s honorable attempts at restitution point accusingly at their guilt. In the long run, Shechem had not treated Dinah like a harlot.
Question that Arises From the Text
1) What motivated Dinah to go into town on her own? Do you think her actions were justified or unwise? Why?
2) What motivated Dinah’s brothers to carry out such a bloody revenge? If you had been in their place, what would you have done?
3) Do you think Shechem’s sorrow was genuine or insincere? Was his offer of marriage a sufficient recompense for what he had done? Support your answers from this passage.
4) If you had been in Jacob’s place, how would you have responded to Shechem’s repentance?
Exploring the Meaning
God’s people must live as pilgrims and strangers in this world. God had promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the entire land of Canaan, but he himself was called to live like a nomad, moving from place to place without ever inheriting a single
acre. The New Testament uses his example to teach us that Christians will inherit the eternal kingdom of God—but that kingdom is not of this world, and we must not lose sight of that fact.
Abraham “waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10), and his expectations were never realized in his lifetime. The same is true for God’s people today: our true home is eternal, and the things of this world that consume our time and energies can distract us from storing up eternal treasures. Jacob lost sight of this when he bought land in Shechem and began to settle down.
It is not wrong to have a home and a career and to “put down roots” in a community. The danger lies in forgetting these things are only temporary. Our focus must always be on investing into the kingdom of God—investing for eternity rather than for today.
God hates sin, but He also forgives sin. Shechem was a lustful young man, and he lacked the discipline to control his passions. He saw a beautiful young girl, allowed his lust to control him, and defiled her. His sin brought shame both on himself and on an innocent girl—but then he repented of that sin and sought to make restitution.
In God’s eyes, all sins are an absolute affront to his holy character—every act of disobedience, no matter how small and insignificant in our eyes, brings defilement and reproach on us and on others. But God, unlike Jacob’s sons, also makes provision for repentance and restitution. What’s more, He provides His Holy Spirit to believers in Jesus Christ, and the Spirit’s role in part is to convict us of sin and urge us toward repentance.
Every one of us is guilty of wickedness, just as Shechem and Jacob’s sons were guilty before God: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). But every one of us also has the opportunity to repent of sins and be fully restored to an unbroken relationship with our Creator: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (verse 9).
Vengeance belongs to God, not to us. Shechem’s sin against Dinah brought disgrace on her entire family, and her brothers were right to be angry. They were wrong, however, to take their own revenge on the people of that city. In so doing, they were as guilty as Shechem for not controlling their own passions.
We all suffer at the hands of other people from time to time, and sometimes we can be called to suffer greatly. However, we must remember to view such sufferings as God’s tools of purification and strengthening for us. Those who hate us are not permitted to cause evil in our lives unless God allows it—and when He allows it, He does so for a reason.
God’s reasons for allowing His children to suffer are always intended to bring glory to His name. It may be that He is working to bring the wrongdoer to salvation, or perhaps He is working on making us more like Christ. Whether we can see a reason or not, we must never repay evil with evil. “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19–21).
God calls His people to be instruments of grace, not weapons of wrath. The Lord had instituted the covenant of circumcision with Abraham’s descendants to provide an outward, visible sign to the world that the Israelites were His people. That covenant was for God’s glory, not because Israel had done something to earn His favor. Jacob’s sons, however, used God’s provision of grace for their own lustful purposes, and in so doing they brought disgrace on God’s name.
5) In your opinion, what motivated Jacob to purchase land near Shechem? Was this wise or unwise? Why?
6) Have you ever known someone who committed a grievous sin but then later repented? What fruits of repentance (evidence of a changed heart) did that person exhibit in his or her life?
7) How should Jacob have responded to Shechem’s sin? Did Jacob do the right thing regarding Shechem? Regarding his sons?
8) When have you seen God’s grace demonstrated by someone who was wronged? Is there a circumstance in your life right now in which you can demonstrate grace toward someone else?
9) How do you respond when someone wrongs you? Do you take revenge or offer forgiveness?
How do you respond when you have committed a sin against someone else? Do you seek forgiveness and offer restitution?