Dinah, Sister of the Patriarchs
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, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her and humbled her. And his soul clung to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke to the heart of the girl. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying,”Get me this young girl for a wife.” Genesis 34:1-4, New American Standard Bible (marginal readings). [Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation; quoted by permission.]
Most of us harbor a special sense of protectiveness toward our sisters. We may feel that a brother can generally fend for himself, but that a sister needs to be sheltered. Yet this natural feeling can go too far. It came to a horrifying climax in the story of Dinah, sister of the twelve sons of Jacob.
The trouble may have started simply because young Dinah was missing out on girl-talk. She may have had sisters, but the Bible doesn’t mention any. With so many brothers (six) and half-brothers (eventually six more) in her parents’ traveling household, Dinah may have been yearning for female companionship.
Old Jacob had brought his vast, quarrelsome clan through the desert and encamped them near the walls of a Canaanite city in the central highlands of Palestine. Perhaps young Dinah had never before been so close to an urban center. She wanted to see what life was like in town — especially, life for a girl in town.
But Dinah’s innocent visit with “the daughters of the land” ended badly. Prince Shechem saw her, was immediately attracted to her, and . . . did he then rape or ravish or violate her? Some Bible translations say that he did. Others, like the one quoted above (which stays close to the original Hebrew), only say that “he humbled her” in the course of their having sexual relations.
As a matter of fact the Scriptural record speaks well of the overly eager young Canaanite prince. He was the most respected man in the city, he truly loved Dinah, he spoke tenderly to her, he sought to marry her. Did Dinah object to any of this? Perhaps it is telling that after an unplanned sexual encounter, she stayed on in the house of Prince Shechem rather than going back home.
After that . . . watch out! The overprotective impulses of two of Dinah’s older brothers came into play. I have known personally the sad case of a young sister who was no doubt wronged, yet whose brother’s retribution toward the wrongdoer was so far out of proportion that it did everybody more harm than good. This was what happened with Simeon and Levi.
Dinah’s two brothers had learned all too well from their father Jacob that deception can be a useful tool. Under cover of seeking cultural and racial purity for their sister’s intended, they cruelly attacked his city when it was most vulnerable, killing or enslaving everybody in it. (You can read the sordid details for yourself in Genesis 34:7-29 — but don’t share them with the children!)
To Father Jacob’s eternal credit, he distanced himself from the reckless deeds of his sons. Even many years later on his deathbed, he still condemned Simeon and Levi for their pitiless actions (Genesis 49:5-7).
In the meantime, what happened to Dinah? The Bible only says that she was brought back home to her parents’ encampment outside the city walls. In Middle Eastern society, long ago as now, she would have been considered “damaged goods.” Her sad story stands in Scripture as a stark warning to all of those young people of today who truly care about each other, yet somehow can’t seem to wait for the proper time.
We came in from the desert
and camped outside the gate.
I yearned to learn of town life,
but mother said to wait.
I went to see new neighbors,
the women of this place.
I never dreamed Prince Shechem
would note a fresh new face.
He noticed me, spoke kindly,
and took me to his room.
One thing led to another:
That’s how I lost my bloom.
We wished to stay together,
although we’d started wrong.
Prince Shechem was so handsome,
his love for me so strong.
Alas! My headstrong brothers
heard what had passed in town.
They came with swords and hatred,
and mowed that household down.
So now my home is once more
my mother’s tent. My life
seems like a widow’s, although
I’ve never been a wife.
O Father God, help all of us to model responsible sexual behavior for the coming generations. At the same time, help us to show mercy rather than vengeance toward those who go astray. Amen.
Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas