What does Genesis chapter 34 mean?Jacob and his family have settled within sight of the city of Shechem. They've purchased the land they occupy outside of the city from the city's ruler, Hamor (Genesis 33:18–19). These "Israelites" have found a home. Eventually, though, things go terribly wrong between the Shechemites and Jacob's family.
One day when Jacob's daughter Dinah has gone to the city to socialize with the women of Shechem, Hamor's son, also called Shechem, sees Dinah. He grabs her and rapes her. Then language of the text make it clear this was not seduction, or something consensual. Then, perversely, he decides he loves her and wants her for his wife. He demands that his father Hamor make that happen (Genesis 34:1–4).
This ignites a series of devastating events. First, Jacob learns of the rape but takes no immediate action. Instead, he waits for his now-grown sons to return from the fields where they were working. As soon as news reaches them, Jacob's sons are livid. In their fury, they express that such a thing must not be done "in Israel." This is the first time that Jacob's new, God-given name is used in reference to a distinct group of people (Genesis 34:5–7).
Hamor and Shechem arrive and begin to negotiate for Dinah to be Shechem's wife. It's not clear if Hamor and Shechem know that Jacob and Dinah's brothers know about the rape. If they do, they do not express any remorse. Rather, everything from these two men is framed in terms of material wealth. Hamor suggests Jacob's family and the people of the city intermarry. This would make them a single, prosperous people. His son Shechem, though, wants to focus on Dinah. He tells Jacob and his sons to name any bride price to allow him to marry her (Genesis 34:8–12).
We're told nothing of Jacob's response. In fact, Scripture records nothing from him until the aftermath has become bloody. Instead, his sons seem to take over the negotiation, likely led by Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers by Leah. Their response shows they have learned from their father's example. They hatch a deceitful scheme to take their revenge on Shechem (Genesis 34:13).
Jacob's sons claim Dinah may marry Shechem, and that all their family may intermarry with the people of the city. They establish one condition, however: all the men of Shechem would have to be circumcised as the men of Jacob's family were. This is the ritual removal of the foreskin from the penis. Performed on an adult, it's simple but painful. If the men of Shechem won't be circumcised, they threaten to take their sister—possibly by force—and leave the area (Genesis 34:14–17).
Perhaps surprisingly, Hamor and Shechem immediately agree. Shechem wants to have Dinah for his wife very badly and this passage indicates he has little self-control. His father seems focused on the financial opportunity presented by intermarrying with Jacob's family. And, this would mean keeping his impulsive son safe from the consequences of his own actions. Together, they gather all the men of the city and make their pitch: If we all get circumcised, we will all end up much wealthier. They do not directly mention the rape or Shechem's desire to marry Dinah. The men of Shechem agree and undergo the ritual surgery (Genesis 34:18–24).
In this era before modern pain management, adult circumcision was painful and debilitating. While the site was healing, a circumcised man could expect to be very sore and restricted in his movement. Jacob's sons counted on that when forming their revenge plot. While the men of the city are handicapped, Levi and Simeon lead an assault on the city, slaughtering all the adult males. They also retrieve Dinah and kill Hamor and Shechem. Next, the rest of Jacob's sons enter the city and gather up the Shechemites' livestock, money, possessions, wives, and children (Genesis 24:25–29).
Jacob reappears in the narrative, quite angry. But his response makes no mention of Dinah's abuse or the brutal trickery of his sons. Rather, he condemns Levi and Simeon for ruining his reputation with the other Canaanite people. Ever-fearful, Jacob sees himself now exposed to attack from the people of the land. Levi and Simeon answer with a pointed, accusing question: should we have allowed our sister to be treated like a prostitute (Genesis 34:30–31).
As it turns out, the response of the surrounding people will not be anger, but fear. At least from now until the time Jacob's family moves into Egypt, the Canaanites will treat Israel with extreme caution (Genesis 34:5).