What If…?

Do you ever play the “what-if” game? We all do. What if you could suddenly understand your dog? Or what if your mom was a spy? You might want to take a closer look at her right now…But there’s a deadly version that I don’t recommend playing, especially after a tragedy. It can heap shame and guilt on top of the grace the Lord is pouring out to bring you healing. Peter may have played that game for three days after Jesus’ arrest in the garden: what if my sword had been true and I had been able to stop them from taking the Lord?  We know how that story ended. Here are some what ifs for the tragic story of Dinah’s rape in Genesis 34.

What if Jacob had obeyed God and gone back to Bethel, instead of settling first in Succoth and then in Shechem? What if Jacob had not let his only daughter wander alone in a wicked city? What if Jacob had not been such a passive bystander after his daughter’s assault? What if Jacob had understood the level of his sons’ rage after the assault and had responded strongly to them? We don’t know. Here’s what we do know.

It’s an ugly story, there’s just no way around it, and like so many of the stories we have read in Genesis, there are no real winners. God is the hero of the book but in this story, he is ignored by all.

Dinah was the youngest of Leah’s seven children, and the only girl. Most likely she was a teenager around 15 years old, but we cannot know for sure. She “went out” to see the women of the land, and in doing so Allen Ross says she “loosened the stone for the slide.” In the Old Testament, the wording there for “went out” often refers to making a poor moral choice. But the question is whether Jacob or Leah knew she was wandering in the city. Did she tell them she was going to see the town on her own and Jacob just shrugged? Or did Jacob absolutely forbid it and she did it anyway? Again, we cannot be certain. Leon Morris writes, “Unattached young women were considered fair game in cities of the time, in which promiscuity was not only common but, in fact, a part of the very religious system itself.” Even in the near east today Arab women and Muslim women never go out into public alone. They are always together. It was then and is now a dangerous world for young people, especially young girls, and every parent’s worst nightmare happened to Dinah.

The report of the assault is essential to the story, and Moses makes it clear that it was an assault. Shechem “saw her…seized her…lay with her… humiliated her.” The construction of the phrase, “lay with her” in Hebrew does not include “with,” as it does later when Potiphar’s wife says to Joseph, “lie with me.” There is no indication of consent with Dinah, only force and a violent crime that humiliated this young girl and is one of the most shameful events in the Old Testament. Shechem took advantage of this young woman, and then happily took her to his home. Then what happened?

Moses writes that Shechem “loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.” What a perversion of what the order of such a relationship is to be! The word of God is clear: A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Shechem forced Dinah to “become one flesh,” a clear violation of the law of God, and then decided that he “loved her,” which was probably nothing more than sensual desire, and began to pursue her as a wife. Young people, be careful not to fall into the trap that has been prevalent since the fall. “Young men use ‘love’ to get intimacy and young women use intimacy to get love” is a cliché for a reason. In the case of Shechem and Dinah, he alone was the guilty party, even though she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His violent demand for immediate gratification would have deadly consequences.

You can read the rest of the story, but the sad truth is that Dinah is never heard from again in the Bible. The “what if” questions are haunting.