Revenge, Greed, and Deceit, Oh My!

13 The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. 14 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. 15 Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised. 16 Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to ourselves, and we will dwell with you and become one people. 17 But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter, and we will be gone.”

18 Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem. 19 And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob’s daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his father’s house. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, 21 “These men are at peace with us; let them dwell in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters as wives, and let us give them our daughters. 22 Only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us to become one people—when every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. 23 Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us.” 24 And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.

25 On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. 26 They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. 29 All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.

30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink 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.” 31 But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”  Genesis 34:13-31 ESV

One of the things that stands out in this whole affair is the silence of Jacob. As head of his clan, he had a responsibility to defend his daughter’s honor and to manage his sons’ behavior. But he appears to have said little and done nothing. And his silence regarding Dinah’s rape was unacceptable to her two brothers, Simeon and Levi. They were furious with Shechem for his dishonoring of their sister. And they were appalled that Jacob would consider signing a treaty that would sanction the marriage of their sister to her abuser and promote further unions between the two clans. So, they came up with a plan of their own.

As has been evident throughout the story of Jacob’s life, deceit and trickery come into play once again. The sons of Jacob have inherited their father’s deceptive ways and are determined to use them for their advantage. They even pull the wool over Jacob’s eyes, tricking him into believing that their efforts are sincere. Yet, Moses uses very precise language when describing their response to Hamor and Shechem.

The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. – Genesis 34:13 ESV

The Hebrew word translated as “deceitfully” is מִרְמָה (mirmâ) and it describes the use of guile, falsehood, or craftiness with the intent to deceive. The practice of deceit is repeatedly condemned in the Scriptures. Even David, a descendant of Jacob, wrote:

But you, O God, will cast them down
    into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery (mirmâ)
    shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you. – Psalm 55:23 ESV

Even King Solomon, another descendant of Jacob, penned the following assessment of those who practice deceit.

Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence,
    but a false witness utters deceit (mirmâ). – Proverbs 12:17 ESV

Notice that David links treachery or deceit with bloodshed, and that is exactly what takes place in this story. The lies of Jacob’s sons were intentional and, ultimately, deadly. Their plan all along was to deceive so that they might enact revenge. They had no intention of keeping their agreement with Hamor and Shechem. And nobody seems to see through their wicked scheme, including their own father.

Amazingly, Hamor and Shechem agreed to the rather bizarre conditions that Jacob’s sons added to the treaty. All the men of Shechem would be required to undergo the rite of circumcision in order to seal the agreement. And when Hamor and Shechem shared the terms of the treaty with their constituents, they received a unanimous affirmation.

So all the men in the town council agreed with Hamor and Shechem, and every male in the town was circumcised. – Genesis 34:24 NLT

This was a radical and painful concession on the part of the Shechemites. But it was not unprecedented. The Israelites were not the only nation to practice the rite of circumcision, and it was most commonly performed on male members of the community. There is some evidence that circumcision was practiced as premarital initiation. There is no indication from the text that Jacob’s sons were suggesting the mass conversion of the men of Shechem. They had no intention of welcoming these men into their faith community. It was simply a ploy, a cleverly disguised trick designed to lull the Shechemites into their trap. And it worked.

But it is important to note why the men of Shechem were so willing to endure such a painful procedure and allow themselves to be placed in such a vulnerable condition. Hamor and Shechem had been successful in persuading their countrymen because they had added an important caveat.

“…if we do this, all their livestock and possessions will eventually be ours. Come, let’s agree to their terms and let them settle here among us.” – Genesis 34:23 NLT

Greed was the impetus behind their decision. By agreeing to the terms of the treaty, the men of Shechem believed they would eventually assimilate the clan of Jacob into their own, and gain control over all their possessions. Intermarriage would result in great wealth and circumcision was a small price to pay for such a reward.

But little did these men know that Jacob’s sons had no intention of keeping their word. There would be no marriage between Shechem and Dinah, no blending of the two clans, and no sharing of livestock and possessions. All the Shechemites got out of the agreement was the pain associated with circumcision, followed by the penalty of death. They were slaughtered like helpless, injured animals.

But three days later, when their wounds were still sore, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, who were Dinah’s full brothers, took their swords and entered the town without opposition. Then they slaughtered every male there, including Hamor and his son Shechem. They killed them with their swords, then took Dinah from Shechem’s house and returned to their camp. – Genesis 34:25-26 NLT

Fueled by their anger and vengeance, Simeon and Levi left no man alive. They paid back the Shechemites for the defilement of their sister, delivering a devastating blow that would leave their father shocked and dismayed. And, to make matters worse, their brothers would join in on the action, looting and plundering the defenseless town. They even took the women and children of Shechem as slaves. And having heard the news of what his sons had done, Jacob confronted Simeon and Levi.

“You have ruined me! You’ve made me stink among all the people of this land—among all the Canaanites and Perizzites. We are so few that they will join forces and crush us. I will be ruined, and my entire household will be wiped out!” – Genesis 34:30 NLT

It’s interesting to note that Jacob was worried about his own reputation but never seems to have considered what Dinah’s rape had done to her social standing. Her virginity had been stolen from her, leaving her as little more than a social pariah. Her defilement had left her as “damaged goods” with little hope of ever being married. And Jacob’s willingness to give her to Shechem, the very man who had raped her, seems to indicate that he knew she had no other options. She either married Shechem or remained an unmarried woman the rest of her life.

But Jacob’s failure to deal with the egregious nature of Shechem’s sin left a leadership vacuum in his family, and his sons willingly filled it. And, in response to their father’s reprimand, Simeon and Levi defended their actions by angrily declaring, “But why should we let him treat our sister like a prostitute?” (Genesis 34:31 NLT).

It’s clear from the text that Jacob had already given Dinah to Shechem because the two brothers rescued her from his house. In Jacob’s mind, the deal was done, the treaty had been ratified. But in a single day, his sons had changed all that. And Jacob feared that their actions would end up turning the rest of the nations of Canaan against him. Word would get out and he would become a social pariah in the land of promise. He even feared that their newly acquired reputation for violence would come back to haunt them, resulting in their own eradication. But of all people, Jacob should have known that God had other plans.

He should have never settled outside the city of Shechem and he was wrong for signing an agreement with the citizens of that city. God had set him apart and had promised to make of his descendants a great nation. He and his children were the chosen people of God and the land of Canaan had been promised to them as their inheritance. In a way, Jacob’s sons had done him a favor, albeit by less-than-righteous means. Their spontaneous and anger-fueled response left Jacob with no option but to vacate the region of Shechem. He was no longer safe there. And in the very next chapter, God will direct Jacob to leave Shechem and return to Bethel because, despite Jacob’s fears, his days in Canaan were far from over.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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