Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 34

Through the Whole Bible hits another one of those unhappy chapters in Scripture today. Genesis 34 (link) presents us with the ugly tale of the rape of Dinah. That, in and of itself, is a bad thing. A quick note: there is a not a specific Hebrew word at the time for our concept of rape—however, you can see here the concept of "took her and lay with her by force" which does not suggest consensual behavior. The traditional understanding of the Hebrew words here captures the concept: Dinah, previously pure and undefiled, is forced into Shechem's bed. No lexical flips and flops here can create any shared responsibility.

When people are involved, though, one bad thing is rarely enough. The story carries on that her rapist, who is the son of prince of the city, decides he really loves her and wants her for a wife. In negotiating a bride-price, her brothers set up the entire city for slaughter and destroy Hamor. Her father, meanwhile, only raises a cry about the bad effect on public relations that destroying the city will bring.

There are several layers of lesson in this passage; some are obvious whilst others are less clear. Some are quite the stretch: I could tell you that this passage shows a Biblical reason for concealed carry permits and personal weapons training, but that's another story.

Neither should you need me to give you the obvious: rape is sinful. Later Scripture makes it a capital offense, demanding execution for the rapist in Deuteronomy 22:25-27. If you do not think that forcing or coercing someone into sexual activity is wrong, then you have problems that a blog won't solve.

You should also already see that Simeon and Levi's deception and slaughter of the city was wrong. They persuade the city leadership that if every male is circumcised, then Shechem can have Dinah and the family of Jacob will intermarry with the city and settle down. Instead, though, as the men are recovering from circumcision, Simeon and Levi show up and slaughter all the men of the city. And if you don't know how two guys could pull that off, look up 'circumcision.'

That was bad for two reasons: one, it exceeded appropriate justice for Dinah. Shechem deserved some form of justice, and perhaps his father if any cover-up had been occurring. Yet what of the other men? What of the women and children now taken as slaves? It's entirely likely that Simeon and Levi's version of "justice" led to a lifetime of coerced sexual activity for the women taken from the city.

The other reason the deception was wrong is the inappropriate use of religious practice. Circumcision was given to the Hebrews as a sign of religious devotion to the One True God. Taking the covenant action and using it as cover for an attack was wrong—just as wrong as forcing someone to be baptized or any other similar action.

What lesson should we gather here? The one I want to highlight is this: the lack of justice destroys cities, families, and lives.

At this point in the story, justice should have been handled directly by Jacob on behalf of his daughter. That was the way of the times: Hamor and Jacob should have sorted out what to do about the situation. Likely their solution would not have been perfect and it probably would not be what I expect I would want in a similar situation with my daughter.

But nothing happened. Jacob took no action at all.

The system of justice broke down. Dinah is left to deal with her assault with no hope. She will likely be considered unmarriageable by the culture (wrong, but normal then) and be subject to whispers and rumors for her whole life. Shechem looks like he'll be left free to do whatsoever he chooses again and again.

So, Simeon and Levi take the matter into their own hands and destroy an entire city for the actions of one man. They enslave the survivors and then end up forcing their whole family to flee the area for safety.

The failure of the justice system to provide justice destroyed everyone involved in this case. Simeon and Levi lose their birth order rights (that's later in Genesis) for this; the men of the city are killed; the women are enslaved; and Dinah remains the innocent one here.

You want a cautionary tale about a justice system that allows a rich person to get away with crime? That allows someone from "in the group" to do whatever he wishes?

You've got that tale here.

The first caution is this: when justice is denied, people will seek it for themselves.

The second caution is this: when people seek justice for themselves, the endgame is ugly.

If you miss the first caution, you cannot avoid the second caution. It never works to rebuke the vigilante or the caped crusader: the first caution must be heeded or the second caution is inescapable.

Where do we sit today?

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