Summary: The story of the rape of Dinah is one that makes us feel uncomfortable. What does such a story have to do with revealing God to us? This sermon explores living as faithful Christians in an ever increasingly violent world.
Bibliography: Culture Shifts, lesson 5
Our Bible story makes us feel uncomfortable. We are not really comfortable with it being in the Bible. Its a story that seems rather out of place and it doesn’t seem like it belongs. What is it doing in a book that talks about the relationship of faith between humans and God?
Our story is one of violence and the pain and suffering we cause one another. Our story is one of relationships with people who are different than us.
Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, has recently reconciled with his brother Esau. His name has been changed by God to Israel. In him, his family, and their descendants rests the promises of God. They are to be God’s holy people.
Jacob has left his brother Esau and is traveling towards the land promised to them by God - the land of Canaan. His family comes to reside outside of a city called Shechem. There, the young ruler of the same name rapes Jacob’s daughter Dinah.
When Jacob finds out what has happened, he waits for his sons - Dinah’s brothers - to come home to determine how to handle the situation.
In the meantime, though his initial demonstration of affection was by force, Shechem expresses a desire for Dinah to become his wife. He asks for his father to approach Jacob and ask for Dinah’s hand in marriage.
This creates a two fold dilemma. First, as we will see by their actions, Simeon and Levi who are Dinah’s brothers are angry about Shechem’s treatment of their sister. Furthermore, Jacob’s family understands that they are a people set a part by God for God. They cannot intermarry with other people who do not believe as they do, worship the same God they do.
Jacob is strangely silent. Simeon and Levi make the arrangements for their sister to marry this foreigner, on the one condition that Shechem and his people must become a part of the covenant Jacob and his family adhere to with God. They must be circumcised.
Somehow, Shechem convinces all of the city and every man agrees to be circumcised, entering into covenant with God.
It becomes very clear very quickly, that Simeon and Levi had other plans besides just incorporating these strangers into their faith. Three days following their circumcision, while the men are still incapacitated by the pain, the brothers attack the city. They kill every man and plunder the city. They take every woman and child, all of their flocks and herds, and everything that they had.
In the end we see Jacob rebuke them for their actions. He is afraid of retribution from neighboring cities. After all, the true foreigners here are Jacob and his family.
But the brothers reply, “Should our sister be treated like a prostitute?”
From the very beginning, we bristle at the actions that are taking place within the story. With each seceding development, things just go from bad to worse. Nothing good comes out of this story. Notice the lack of interaction between humanity and God within it. Why was this story recorded for us? What are we suppose to learn from its retelling?
There are several little things, several curiosities that jump out at me as we explore this story.
The 360 degree change in Shechem’s actions and attitudes towards Dinah makes me wonder about her role in all of this. Most rapist don’t fall in love with their victims or want to marry them. Of course, we have become more aware of stalkers in our society and the irregular behavior of such individuals today, but I am skeptical of this being the case here. The role and rights of women in that day wouldn’t extend to the freedom from stalking. It wouldn’t be considered stalking. She would have no say so in whether she was to be married or not. And even though he eventually indicated he wanted to marry her, having sex with her before marriage would still have been a disgrace to her reputation and honor.
I am just drawn to question whether the “rape” wasn’t more of an interpretation on her brothers’ part of what had actually happened, rather than the actual actions on the part of Shechem.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that Dinah led him on or deserved what she got from Shechem. I’m sure no one asked her what she wanted. She was just a woman and counted for very little in that day and age. My point is that there inconsistencies in the retelling of events. I am led to wonder if "rape" is really what happened, or is that the biased perception of the writer and of Dinah’s brothers because of their feelings about Shechem - an outsider and one they considered inferior to them.