Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the region. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her, he seized her and lay with her by force. And his soul was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl, and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, ‘Get me this girl to be my wife.’ Now Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled his daughter Dinah; but his sons were with his cattle in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him, just as the sons of Jacob came in from the field. When they heard of it, the men were indignant and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done.
But Hamor spoke with them, saying, ‘The heart of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. Make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. You shall live with us; and the land shall be open to you; live and trade in it, and get property in it.’ Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, ‘Let me find favour with you, and whatever you say to me I will give. Put the marriage present and gift as high as you like, and I will give whatever you ask me; only give me the girl to be my wife.’
The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, ‘We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: that you will become as we are and every male among you be circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live among you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and be gone.’
Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem. And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter… On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away. And the other sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled…Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.’ But they said, ‘Should our sister be treated like a whore?
According to the proverb, “All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Rape is never about sex. It is about power.
In this passage we see the shift of power from the prince’s son; to the brothers; to Jacob; and potentially to the tribes around them. Power often gives its holder the opinion that they have the right to do what they want. Nobody in this story is necessarily right – Shechem was wrong to take Dinah by force then try to take her as his wife. The brothers were wrong to deceive the prince into having all his menfolk circumcised and to deceive Jacob as to what they were planning to do. It would be wrong then for the surrounding tribes to take vengeance on Jacob. But the only person in this story who appears to have no power, yet underpins everything that happened is Dinah. In the times of “#metoo” where women are standing up to abusers and speaking out about inequality we can often be fooled into thinking that feminism and women’s rights are a new thing. While Dinah is a silent character in this story, still she is at the root of this story. She is treated as an object of passion by Shechem and then as a damsel to be defended by her brothers. We do not hear her side of the story. Abuse is never acceptable but by the same token vengeance is never the answer. May we speak up about abuse and injustice without taking matters into our own hands.
Lord may all power be given to you. Inspire us to stand up against injustice and speak out about abuse that those who are victims may know their voice is heard. Remind us that “vengeance is yours” so that we are never tempted to take matters into our own hands to avenge a loved one who has been hurt by others. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours – now and forever. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Watson, Minister in Bolton and Salford Missional Partnership