Genesis 34 Bible Commentary

John Calvin’s Bible Commentary

(Read all of Genesis 34)

Verse 1. And Dinah... . went out . This chapter records a severe contest, with which God again exercised his servant. how precious the chastity of his daughter would be to him, we may readily conjecture from the probity of his whole life. When therefore he heard that she was violated, this disgrace would inflict the deepest wound of grief upon his mind: yet soon his grief is trebled, when he hears that his sons, from the desire of revenge, have committed a most dreadful crime. But let us examine everything in order. Dinah is ravished, because, having left her father's house, she wandered about more freely than was proper. She ought to have remained quietly at home, as both the Apostle teaches and nature itself dictates; for to girls the virtue is suitable, which the proverb applies to women, that they should be (oijkouroi<,) or keepers of the house. Therefore fathers of families are taught to keep their daughters under strict discipline, if they desire to preserve them free from all dishonor; for if a vain curiosity was so heavily punished in the daughter of holy Jacob, not less danger hangs over weak virgins at this day, if they go too boldly and eagerly into public assemblies, and excite the passions of youth towards themselves. For it is not to be doubted that Moses in part casts the blame of the offense upon Dinah herself, when he says, "she went out to see the daughters of the land;" whereas she ought to have remained under her mother's eyes in the tent.

Verse 3. And his soul clave unto Dinah . Moses intimates that she was not so forcibly violated, that Shechem having once abused her, treated her with contempt, as is usual with harlots; for he loved her as a wife; and did not even object to be circumcised that he might have her; but the fervor of lust had so prevailed, that he first subjected her to disgrace. And therefore although he embraced Dinah with real and sincere attachment, yet, in this want of self-government, he grievously sinned. Shechem "spoke to the heart" of the maid, that is, he addressed her courteously, to allure her to himself by his bland speeches: whence it follows, that when she was unwilling and resisted, he used violence towards her.

Verse 4. And Shechem said to his father Hamor . In this place it is more clearly expressed, that Shechem desired to have Dinah for his wife; for his lust was not so unbridled, that when he had defiled, he despised her. Besides, a laudable modesty is shown, since he pays deference to the will of his father; for he does not attempt to form a contract of marriage of his own mind, but leaves this to his father's authority. For though he had basely fallen through the precipitate ardor of lust; yet now returning to himself, he follows the guidance of nature. So much the more ought young men to take heed to themselves, lest in the slippery period of their age, the lusts of the flesh should impel them to many crimes. For, at this day, greater license everywhere prevails, so that no moderation restrains youths from shameful conduct. Since, however, Shechem, under the rule and direction of nature, desired his father to be the procurer of his marriage, we hence infer that the right which parents have over their children is inviolable; so that they who attempt to overthrow it, confound heaven and earth. Wherefore, since the Pope, in honor of marriage, has dared to break this sacred bond of nature; this fornicator Shechem alone, will prove a judge sufficient, and more than sufficient, to condemn that barbarous conduct.

Verse 5. And Jacob heard . Moses inserts a single verse concerning the silent sorrow of Jacob. We know that they who have not been accustomed to reproaches, are the more grievously affected when any dishonor happens to them. Therefore the more this prudent man had endeavored to keep his family pure from every stain, chaste and well-ordered, the more deeply is he wounded. But since he is at home alone, he dissembles, and keeps his grief to himself, till his sons return from the field. Moreover, by this word, Moses does not mean that Jacob deferred vengeance till their return; but that, being alone and devoid of counsel and of consolation, he lay prostrate as one disheartened. The sense then is, that he was so oppressed with insupportable grief, that he held his peace. 1 By using the word "defiled," Moses teaches us what is the true purity of man; namely, when chastity is religiously cultivated, and every one possesses his vessel in honor. But whoever prostitutes his body to fornication, filthily defiles himself. If then Dinah is said to have been polluted, whom Shechem had forcibly violated, what must be said of voluntary adulterers and fornicators?

Verse 7. And the sons of Jacob came out of the field . Moses begins to relate the tragic issue of this history. Shechem, indeed, had acted wickedly and impiously; but it was far more atrocious and wicked that the sons of Jacob should murder a whole people, to avenge themselves of the private fault of one man. It was by no means fitting to seek a cruel compensation for the levity and rashness of one youth, by the slaughter of so many men. Again, who had constituted them judges, that they should dare, with their own hands, to execute vengeance for an injury inflicted upon them? Perfidy was also superadded, because they proceeded, under the pretext of a covenant, to perpetrate this enormous crime. In Jacob, moreover, we have an admirable example of patient endurance; who, though afflicted with so many evils, yet did not faint under them. But chiefly we must consider the mercy of God, by which it came to pass, that the covenant of grace remained with the posterity of Jacob. For what seemed less suitable, than that a few men in whom such furious rage and such implacable malice reigned, should be reckoned among the people and the sons of God, to the exclusion of all the world besides? We see certainly that it was not through any power of their own that they had not altogether declined from the kingdom of God. Whence it appears that the favor which God had vouchsafed unto them was gratuitous, and not founded upon their merits. We also require to be treated by Him with the same indulgence, seeing that we should utterly fall away, if God did not pardon our sins. The sons of Jacob have, indeed, a just cause of offense, because not only are they affected with their own private ignominy, but they are tormented with the indignity of the crime, because their sister had been dragged forth from the house of Jacob, as from a sanctuary, to be violated. For this they chiefly urge, that it would have been wickedness to allow such disgrace in the elect and holy people: 2 but they themselves, through the hatred of one sin, rush furiously forward to greater and more intolerable crimes. Therefore we must beware, lest, after we have become severe judges in condemning the faults of others, we hasten inconsiderately into evil. But chiefly we must abstain from violent remedies which surpass the evil we desire to correct.

Which thing ought not to be done . 3 Interpreters commonly explain the passage as meaning, "it is not becoming that such a thing should be done;" but, in my judgment, it applies more properly to the sons of Jacob, who had determined with themselves that the injury was not to be borne. Yet they wrongfully appropriate to themselves the right of taking revenge: why do they not rather reflect thus; "God, who has received us under his care and protection, will not suffer this injury to pass unavenged; in the meantime, it is our part to be silent, and to leave the act of punishing, which is not placed in our hands, entirely to his sovereign will." Hence we may learn, when we are angry at the sins of other men, not to attempt anything which is beyond our own duty.

Verse 8. And Hamor communed with them . Though the sons of Jacob were justly incensed, yet their indignation ought to have been appeased, or at least somewhat mitigated, by the great courteousness of Hamor. And if the humanity of Hamor could not reconcile the sons of Jacob to Shechem, the old man himself was indeed worthy of a benignant reception. We see what equitable conditions he offers; he himself was the prince of the city, the sons of Jacob were strangers. Therefore their minds must have been savage beyond measure, not to be inclined to levity. Besides, the suppliant entreaty of Shechem himself deserved this, that they should have granted forgiveness to his fervent love. Therefore, that they remained implacable, is a sign of most cruel pride. What would they have done to enemies who had purposely injured them, when they are not moved by the prayers of him, who, being deceived by blind love, and by the error of incontinence, has injured them without any malicious intention?

Verse 13. And the sons of Jacob answered . The commencement of their perfidious course is here related: for they, being outrageous rather than simply angry, wish to overthrow the whole city, and not being sufficiently strong to contend against so great a number of people, they contrive a new fraud, in order that they may suddenly rise upon the inhabitants weakened by wounds. Therefore, since the Shechemites had no strength to resist, it became a cruel butchery rather than a conquest, which increased the atrocity of wickedness in Jacob's sons, who cared for nothing so that they might but gratify their rage. They allege in excuse, that, whereas they were separated from other nations, it was not lawful for them to give wives of their own family to the uncircumcised. Which indeed was true if they said it sincerely; but they falsely use the sacred name of God as a pretext; yea, their double profanation of that name proves them to be doubly sacrilegious; for they cared nothing about circumcision, but were intent on this one thing, how they might crush the miserable men in a state of weakness. Besides, they wickedly sever the sign from the truth which it represents; as if any one, by laying aside his uncircumcision, might suddenly pass over into the Church of God. And in this mode they pollute the spiritual symbol of life, by admitting foreigners, promiscuously and without discrimination, into its society. But since their pretense has some color of probability, we must observe what they say, that it would be disgraceful to them to give their sister to a man uncircumcised. This also is true, if they who used the words were sincere; for since they bore the mark of God in their flesh, it was wicked in them to contract marriages with unbelievers. So also, at the present time, our baptism separates us from the profane, so that whoever mixes himself with them, fixes a mark of infamy upon himself.

Verse 18. And their words pleased Hamor . Moses prosecutes the history until he comes to the slaughter of the Shechemites. Hamor had, no doubt, been induced by the entreaties of his son, to show himself thus tractable. Whence appears the excessive indulgence of the kind old man. He ought, in the beginning, severely to have corrected the fault of his son; but he not only covers it as much as possible, but yields to all his wishes. This moderation and equity would have been commendable, if what his son had required was just; but that the old man, for the sake of his son, should adopt a new religion, and suffer a wound to be inflicted on his own flesh, cannot be deemed free from folly. The youth is said not to have delayed, because he vehemently loved the maid, and excelled in dignity among his own citizens; and on account of the honor of his rank he easily obtained what he wished: for the fervor of his love would have availed nothing, unless he had possessed the power of accomplishing his object.

Verse 21. These men are peaceable . Moses describes the mode of acting, whereby they persuaded the Shechemites to accept the conditions which the sons of Jacob had imposed. It was difficult to induce a whole people to submit in an affair of such magnitude to a few foreigners. For we know what displeasure a change of religion produces: but Hamor and Shechem reason from utility; and this is natural rhetoric. For although honor has a more plausible appearance, it is yet for the most part cold in persuasion. But among the vulgar, utility carries almost every point; because the major part eagerly pursues what it deems expedient for itself. With this design, Hamor and Shechem extol the family of Jacob for their honesty and tranquil habits, in order that the Shechemites may deem it useful to themselves to receive such guests. They add that the land is sufficiently large, so that no loss is to be feared on the part of the original inhabitants. They then enumerate other advantages; meanwhile, they cunningly conceal the private and real cause of their request. Whence it follows that all these pretexts were fallacious. But it is a very common disease, that men of rank who have great authority, while making all things subservient to their own private ends, feign themselves to be considerate for the common good, and pretend to a desire for the public advantage. And, truly, it may be believed, that the persons here spoken of were the best among all the people, and were endowed with singular superiority; for the Shechemites had chosen Hamor for their prince, as one who was preeminent in excellent gifts. Yet we see how he and his son lie and deceive, under the appearance of rectitude. Whence also we perceive hypocrisy to be so deeply rooted in human minds, that it is a miracle to find any one entirely free from it; especially where private advantage is concerned. From this example let all who govern, learn to cultivate sincerity in public designs, without any sinister regard to their own interests. On the other hand; let the people exercise self-government, lest they too earnestly seek their own advantage; because it will often happen that they are caught by a specious appearance of good, as fishes by the hook. For as self-love is blind, we are drawn without judgment to the hope of gain. And the Lord also justly chastises this cupidity, to which he sees us to be unduly prone, when he suffers us to be deceived by it. Moses says that this discourse took place in the gate of the city, where public assemblies were then wont to be held and judgment administered.

Verse 24. And unto Hamor and unto Shechem his son hearkened, etc . Apparently this consent may be ascribed to modesty and humanity; for, by readily obeying their princes, and kindly admitting the strangers to an equality of rights in the city, they show themselves, in both respects, modest and humane. But if we reflect on the true import of circumcision, it will easily appear that they were too much addicted to their own selfish interests. They knew that, by a new sacrament, they would be committed to a different worship of God. They had not yet been taught that the ablutions and sacrifices, to which they had been all their life accustomed, were unprofitable trifles. Therefore, to change their religion so carelessly betrays, on their part, a gross contempt of God; for never do they who seriously worship God, so suddenly cast aside their superstitions, unless they are convinced by sound doctrine and arguments. But the Shechemites, blinded by an evil conscience, and by the hope of gain, pass over, like men half brutalized, to an unknown God. Search the isles, (saith the Prophet,) is there any nation which deserts its, gods, who yet are not gods? 4 Yet this was done at Shechem, when no defect had been shown to exist in the received superstitions; wherefore none ought to wonder that a sad result followed this levity of mind. nevertheless, Simian and Levi were not, on that account, excusable for the indulgence of their own cruelty: yea, their impiety appears the more detestable, because they not only rush impetuously upon men, but, in a sense, trample upon the sacred covenant of God, of which alone they make their boast. Certainly, if they had no feeling for the men themselves, yet reverence for God ought to have restrained their ferocity, when they reflected from what cause the weakness of the Shechemites proceeded.

Verse 25. Simian and Levi, Dinah's brethren . Because Moses says that the slaughter took place on the third day, the Hebrews think that, at that time, the pain of the wound was most severe. The proof, however, is not valid; nor is it of much moment. Although Moses names only two authors of the slaughter, it does not appear to me probable that they came alone, but that they were the leaders of the troop: for Jacob had a large family, and it might be that they called some of their brothers to join them; yet, because the affair was conducted by their counsel and direction, it is ascribed to them, as Cartage is said to have been destroyed by Scipio. Moses also calls them the brothers of Dinah, because they were by the same mother. We have seen that Dinah was the daughter of Leah; for which reason Simon and Levi, whose own sister she was by both parents, were the more enraged at the violation of her chastity: they were therefore impelled, not so much by the common reproach brought upon the holy and elect race, (according to their recent boast,) as by a sense of the infamy brought upon themselves. However, there is no reader who does not readily perceive how dreadful and execrable was this crime. One man only had sinned, and he endeavored to compensate for the injury, by many acts of kindness; but the cruelty of Simon and Levi could only be satiated by the destruction of the whole city; and, under the pretext of a covenant, they form a design against friends and hospitable persons, in a time of peace, which would have been deemed intolerable against enemies in open war. Hence we perceive how mercifully God dealt with that people; seeing that, from the posterity of a sanguinary man, and even of a wicked robber, he raised up a priesthood for himself. Let the Jews now go and be proud of their noble origin. But the Lord declared his gratuitous mercy by too many proofs for the ingratitude of man to be able to obscure it. Moreover, we hence learn that Moses did not speak from carnal sense; but was the instrument of the Holy Spirit, and the herald of the celestial Judge; for though he was a Levite, he yet is so far from sparing his own race, that he does not hesitate to brand the father of his tribe with perpetual infamy. And it is not to be doubted that the Lord purposely intended to stop the mouths of impure and profane men, such as the Lucianists, who confess that Moses was a very great man, and of rare excellence; but that he procured for himself, by craft and subtlety, authority over a great people, as if, indeed, an acute and intelligent man would not have known that, by this single act of wickedness, the honor of his race would be greatly tarnished. He had, however, no other design than to extol the goodness of God towards his people; and truly there was nothing which he less desired than to exercise dominion, as appears clearly from the fact, that he transferred the office of priesthood to another family, and commanded his sons to be only ministers. With respect to the Shechemites, although in the sight of God they were not innocent; seeing they preferred their own advantage to a religion which they thought lawful, yet it was not the Lord's will that they should be so grievously punished for their fault; but he suffered this signal punishment to follow the violation of one maid, that he might testify to all ages his great abhorrence of lust. Besides, seeing that the iniquity had arisen from a prince of the city, the punishment is rightly extended to the whole body of the people: for since God never commits the government to evil and vicious princes, except in righteous judgment, there is no wonder that, when they sin, they involve their subjects with them in the same condemnation. Moreover, from this example let us learn, that if, at any time, fornication prevail with impunity, God will, at length, exact punishments so much the more severe: for if the violation of one maid was avenged by the horrible massacre of a whole city; he will not sleep nor be quiet, if a whole people indulge in a common license of fornication, and, on all sides, connive at each other's iniquity. The sons of Jacob acted indeed wickedly; but we must observe that fornication was, in this manner, divinely condemned.

Verse 27. The sons of Jacob came . Moses shows that, not content with simple revenge, they fly together to the spoil. As it respects the words, they are said to have come upon the slain, either because they made themselves a way over the slaughtered bodies; or because, in addition to the slaughter, they rushed to the plunder. In whichever way it is taken, Moses teaches that, not satisfied with their former wickedness, they made this addition to it. Be it, that they were blinded with anger in shedding blood; yet by what right do they sack the city? This certainly cannot be ascribed to anger. But these are the ordinary fruits of human intemperance, that he who gives himself the rein in perpetrating one wickedness, soon breaks out into another. Thus the sons of Jacob, from being murderers, become also robbers, and the guilt of avarice is added to that of cruelty. The more anxious then should be our endeavors to bridle our desires; lest they should mutually fan each other, so that at length, by their combined action, a dreadful conflagration should arise; but especially, we must beware of using force of arms, which brings with it many perverse and brutal assaults. Moses says that the sons of Jacob did this, because the Shechemites had defiled their sister; but the whole city was not guilty. Moses, however, only states in what way the authors of the slaughter are affected: for although they wish to appear just avengers of the injury, yet they pay no respect to what it was lawful for them to do, and make no attempt to control their depraved affections, and consequently set no bounds to their wickedness. Should any one prefer taking the expression in a higher sense, it may be referred to the judgment of God, by which the whole city was involved in guilt, because no one had opposed the lust of the prince: perhaps many had consented to it, as not being very much concerned about the unjust dishonor done to their guests; but the former sense is what I most approve.

Verse 30. And Jacob said . Moses declares that the crime was condemned by the holy man, lest any one should think that he had participated in their counsel. He also expostulates with his sons, because they had caused him to stink among the inhabitants of the land; that is, they had rendered him so odious, that no one would be able to bear him. If then the neighboring nations should conspire among themselves, he would be unable to resist them, seeing he had so small a band, in comparison with their great number. He also expressly names the Canaanites and Perizzites, who, though they had received no wrong, were yet by nature exceedingly prone to inflict injury. But Jacob may seem to act preposterously, in overlooking the offense committed against God, and in considering only his own danger. Why is he not rather angry at their cruelty? why is he not offended at their perfidy? why does he not reprove their rapaciousness? It is however probable, that when he saw them terror—stricken at their recent crime, he suited miswords to their state of mind. For he acts as if he were complaining that he, rather than the Shechemites, was slain by them. We know that men are seldom if ever drawn to repentance, except by the fear of punishment: especially when they have any specious pretext as a covering for their fault. Besides, we know not whether Moses may not have selected this as a part out of a long expostulation, to cause his readers to understand that the fury of Simon and Levi was so outrageous, that they were more insensible than brute beasts to their own destruction and that of their whole family. This is clear from their own answer, which not only breathes a barbarous ferocity, but shows that they had no feeling. It was barbarous, first, because they excuse themselves for having destroyed a whole people and plundered their city, on account of the injury done by one man; secondly, because they answer their father so shortly and contumaciously; thirdly, because they obstinately defend the revenge which they had rashly taken. Moreover, their insensibility was prodigious, because they were not affected by the thought of their own death, and that of their parents, wives, and children, which seemed just at hand. Thus we are taught, how intemperate anger deprives men of their senses. We are also admonished, that it is not enough for us to be able to lay blame on our opponents; but we must always see how far it is lawful for us to proceed.

1 Or, he might be restrained by prudence from imparting his feelings to others, lest by making them public, he should expose himself to danger, before he was prepared to meet it. At all events, it was wise to restrain the expression of his indignation, till he was surrounded by those who might help him with their counsel, or attempt the rescue of his daughter from the hands of her violator. —Ed.

2 "He had wrought folly in Israel." Ainsworth says, "Or against Israel." "Israel being put for the posterity of Israel." Professor Bush says, "Rather, 'Because folly had been wrought in Israel,' (the active for the passive)." But perhaps Ainsworth's translation is to be preferred. "This is the first instance on record where the family of Jacob is designated by the distinguished patronymic title of 'Israel,' which afterwards became the dominant appellation of his posterity."—Bush in loc.—Ed.

3 Et sic non fiet. "And so it may not, or shall not be done." The sense given in the English translation is that which Calvin rejects, though he allows it to be the common meaning attached by commentators to the expression.—Ed.