Rape, Revenge, and Isaac’s Demise

Today’s reading: Genesis 34-35.

Rape is never right. It can’t be made right by speaking tenderly to the victim afterward or falling in love with her, and Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite discovered that the hard way.

He violated Jacob’s only daughter Dinah, tried to woo her, and evidently held her hostage until she acceded.

Jacob, hearing the news, keeps it to himself and is willing to hear Hamor explain his son’s actions. The eleven boys, however, were coming in from the fields – probably with their flocks and herds – and heard what happened. They were “filled with grief and fury, because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel … a thing that should not be done.”

So there was – at least among some of Abraham’s descendents – the beginning of a code of conduct, and rape was clearly a violation of it.

The Bible is full of gender bias. There, I’ve said it, and I have no intention of repenting of it. It’s true. But it’s a merely human assumption that scripture approves of gender bias. What it does – like those straight-news reporters of the 1950’s and 60’s hoped to do – is tell The Story accurately, about God’s people building their own culture, right or wrong.

There was no law. God hadn’t given it yet.

So while Hamor pleaded on behalf of his son and Shechem offered any dowry for Dinah to be given to him in marriage – perhaps trying to make the best of a bad situation with his neighbor Jacob; trying to make things right – “Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke.” They put the price of the dowry at the circumcision of every male in Hamor’s clan. Since this would cost them nothing in terms of wealth – and they said to themselves “Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours?” – they agreed.

And in the third day of their pain after surgery, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi, stormed Hamor’s city and killed every unsuspecting and virtually defenseless male in revenge for the crime against their sister. The other brothers joined them, looted it, “seized flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs.”

Jacob tried to upbraid them, and warn them of the consequences: the surrounding Canaanites might unite against the family and exterminate them in a preemptive strike to protect their own families. But he had no answer to their question: “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”

Then God directed Jacob to move to Bethel and build an altar there.

This reminder of God’s presence was enough for Jacob to tell his family to clear out all the idols, and wash the memory of sin from their clothes before they left for Bethel. There, God reminded Jacob that he was no more Jacob, but Israel … and He confirmed once again the Abrahamic promise. Jacob built the altar as God had directed.

Moving from Bethel to Ephrath (Bethlehem), Rachel went into labor with the last of Jacob/Israel’s sons, Benjamin. She had difficulty in delivery, and perished in childbirth. Israel set up a pillar to her memory at her tomb, and moved on. Hot-headed Reuben slept with Bilhah, the mother of some of his brothers, and Israel heard of it.

Then he went home to Mamre, where Abraham and Sarah had lived and his father Isaac was at the end of his one hundred and eighty years.

After Isaac breathed his last and was gathered to his people, both sons – Esau and Jacob – buried him.

In years to come, God would tell His people that vengeance was His; that He would repay. But for the moment, He seemed to be letting them write their own story and discover first-hand why vengeance should be His.

2 thoughts on “Rape, Revenge, and Isaac’s Demise

  1. Some of these stories are still hard for me to process even years after reading and teaching about them. I do think you are right that there was tremendous gender bias then and the Bible is reflecting that bias accurately.

    It is still hard to make sense of some stories though, like the guy offering his daughters instead of the male visitors to the depraved crowd outside his door. Or the man who pushed his concubine out and after she was killed cut her up in pieces. Having two daughters that I would die for I can say those are two of the hardest stories in the Bible for me to make sense of. Maybe that is the point, huh? They don’t make sense, and neither does any society that lives apart from God.

    Anyway, interesting post, Keith.

  2. The events of the early Biblical chapters happened at a barbaric time.

    Why God let mankind flail about on our own, I think, is best explained in Acts 17:26-27:

    “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”

    The real tragedy is that hardly anyone ever sought, or reached, or found Him.

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