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By Stephen Green. (First published in Christian Voice January 2004)
Why not get a youth group together from your church, read them Genesis chapter 34, and then ask them which of the six main characters is in the right and which in the wrong? Give them a clue - characters need not be 100% in the right all the way through or 100% in the wrong - but they might be.
My Bible heads the chapter: "Dinah is raped." It is good to remind ourselves that headings in a bible are not holy writ. There is no firm evidence that Shechem took Dinah by force. The KJV expression 'humbled her' or 'defiled her' (Heb: anah) is applied to occasions when a man sleeps with a woman outside the bounds of marriage, forcibly or just illicitly. She is 'humbled' by being treated as a prostitute, giving away her virginity before her wedding.
If we look at Deut 22:29, we find the same Hebrew word used in connection with a man who has taken a girl apparently but not necessarily by force, in the field. The facts are that he has lain with her and that they are not married. He must marry her and pay a bride-price and may never divorce her. Should he lie with a girl who is engaged to another, she is also 'humbled', and the sexual intercourse in Deut 22:23-24 is most definitely consensual. Interestingly, the same word is used at Deut 21:14, this time in the context of taking a wife (Deut 21:10) from a conquered people.
There is a real rape recorded in the Bible, that of Tamar, and the same word is used (2Sam 13:12), although the KJV translates it as 'force' not 'humble'. The difference is that afterwards, Ammon hated Tamar (2Sam 13:15). The feeling of disgust toward the victim after the act is, I understand, typical. But Shechem loved Dinah both before and afterwards. The most plausible explanation is that Dinah and Shechem fell in love and, to put it delicately, anticipated their wedding. That is still 'humbling her'. So what of the characters? How does their behaviour rate on a right-or-wrong scale?
HAMOR AND SHECHEM
Hamor, Shechem's father, was wrong not to teach his son strongly enough the virtue of chivalry. His son's duty to care and protect a young woman in his orbit was lost in the heat of passion. He was however right to support his son in trying to make amends (vs 8-10). But Hamor's chief failing is that of foolishness, in selling a bad deal to his whole people (vs 21-24) to please his son.
Shechem, we read, was "more honourable than all the house of his father" (vs 19). He did wrong not to respect Dinah's virginity and to sleep with her outside marriage. He did right subsequently in trying to put matters in order by offering, indeed pleading (vs 11-12), to marry her. The law given to Israel by Moses contains the same provision, obviously already well known to the ancient world: "If a man entice a maid that is not betrothed and lie with her he shall surely endow her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins." (Ex 22:16-17 cf Deut 22:28-29)
Jacob shows himself up in all his weakness. He was under no obligation to give his daughter to Shechem. He could have demanded the bride-price in any case. Perhaps he feared the trouble which would result. Perhaps he was under pressure from his daughter. He seems to have been weak in his dealings with her from the start. "Dinah ... went out to see the daughters of the land" (vs 1). I see Dinah going out quite a few times to see the other girls. "Where are you going?" "Just out to see the daughters of the land again, Daddy." Seeing 'the daughters of the land' may of course be quite innocent, and girls are social beings who do love just to spend time with each other. On the other hand, parents must recognise the obvious moral and physical dangers. What are the modern versions of Dinah's excuse? Hanging out with friends in town, going to overnight music festivals, doing parties and sleepovers perhaps. "I'm staying overnight with Sarah", or Rachel, or Rebecca or whoever. How many Christian children 'sleep over' today at places of which their parents have little knowledge? Jacob failed to protect his daughter by stopping her going out, or making sure she was properly chaperoned. It seems it was just as difficult then as now to protect daughters from themselves, but just as necessary. Nor does Dinah appear to have learned the virtues of modesty and chastity. Again her father carries the can for that, even though it was her mother's - Leah's - job to teach her.
Jacob in his weakness also failed to control his sons Simeon and Levi in their murderous design, and cursing them for it on his death-bed (Gen 49:5-7) does not make his weakness any better. Finally he was wrong to believe that he will be under threat for the massacre (vs 30). Israel gained from it (Gen 35:5). So Jacob is totally in the wrong, and not for the first time.
SIMEON AND LEVI
Simeon and Levi bore false witness in the deal they struck with Hamor and Shechem, and their murder of the defenceless (vs 25-26) was sinful as well. Just in one thing were they right: Shechem did indeed treat their sister as a harlot (vs 31). It is not a popular view today, even in some parts of the church sadly, but a girl who sleeps with a young man before they are married is no better than a tart, and he is no better than she is. In the eyes of God, it does not take a number of 'partners' for a girl to be a slag, it takes just one. As for a girl who carries condoms in her handbag 'just in case', Simeon and Levi would have regarded such as a common prostitute, whether or not money changed hands.
There is no age of consent in the Bible, there is a state of consent, and it is called marriage. Parents in the ancient world safeguarded their children -especially their daughters - until they were ready to marry. The Government was not involved, and set no 'age of consent'. It was up to the families at what age their children got married. But until they were married, they kept their virginity. Not to do so rightly brought shame on the whole family. When they got married, they entered into a state of consent which we call holy matrimony. The history of civilisations shows that when societies had strong families and where sexual congress outside marriage was unheard of, those societies thrived. When sexual morality broke down, they failed.
We are currently conducting a social experiment in Britain to see if that maxim is still true, and we have an age of consent today because in the nineteenth century the family structure in the industrial cities had weakened and could no longer police and protect its young people - the Jacob syndrome brought up-to-date. Prostitution was rife and younger and younger children were being forced into it. So Parliament set an age of consent, initially at 12, then at 16. Which all brings us nicely to Dinah.
Dinah played the whore while in her father's house. There is no nice way of putting it. She gave herself away. She could no longer present herself as a virgin on her wedding day, and that would make her a second-hand bride. Indeed we do not read of her marrying after this incident at all. She appears to have been as much at fault as Shechem, although her brothers are keen to blame him for "dealing" with their sister "as with a harlot" and to absolve her of blame. It would have been a brave man who would have told Simeon and Levi that Dinah gave away her virginity voluntarily outside the bonds of matrimony, and that therefore she was not just dealt with as a harlot but behaved every bit as one. She might with some justification blame her parents, but the responsibility for her wrong-doing is still hers alone.
In Britain today, we appear to have a whole generation of Dinahs. Most girls think nothing of sex outside marriage, and it is a rare bride who is a virgin on her wedding-day. Indeed, brides are rare full-stop, as more and more couples simply cohabit without the formal ceremony of marriage, a ceremony which has consistently been the norm from the earliest days. But 'everybody's doing it' does not make it any more right to sleep together without being married in our day than it was for Shechem and Dinah in theirs.
TO SUM UP!
So we have Shechem in the wrong then in the right, Hamor in the right then in the wrong, Simeon and Levi with wrong actions from a right attitude, and Jacob and Dinah totally in the wrong. I think that about sums it up.
The message we want young people to take away from the Dinah story is twofold:
(1) Parents are responsible before Almighty God for their children's behaviour. When parents say 'No' to children who want to 'hang out' with their friends in town, or go to a party, or sleep over with someone their parents hardly know, it is not because they are horrible, it is because they care more than Jacob did.
(2) Sex outside marriage is wrong in the eyes of God. To be attracted to the opposite sex is good and God-ordained (Gen 2:22-24). The survival of the human race depends upon it (Gen 1:28). But our sex-drive is there to be brought under control (Rom 6:12-23, 1Cor 6:15-20). Young men are to be chivalrous and protective to the opposite sex. Young women are to be chaste and modest. It is a wonderful experience to do the most intimate and loving thing a man and a woman can do with each for the first time on your wedding night. Virginity is the most precious gift anyone of either sex can bring to their marriage.