Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 34

By Joseph Benson


Verse 1
Genesis 34:1. Dinah, the daughter of Leah, went out — From her father’s house into the city, out of curiosity, there being then, as Josephus asserts, (Ant., lib. 50. c. 20,) a great concourse of people to a feast. It does not appear that she asked, much less obtained, her father’s consent in this: but, to gratify her foolish fancy, put herself out of his protection, and exposed both herself and others to temptation, and that among persons who had no fear of God to restrain them from the most enormous crimes. “She went to see; yet that was not all,” says Henry, “she went to be seen too. She went to see the daughters of the land, but it may be, with some thoughts of the sons of the land too.” It is supposed that she was now only about fifteen or sixteen years of age.

Verse 2
Genesis 34:2. Shechem took her, and defiled her — Hebrew, humbled her. “The word,” says Bishop Kidder, “intimates his violence, as well as her dissent.” Young women may learn from this to be “chaste, keepers at home,” (Titus 2:5,) which qualities have a closer connection than many are willing to believe. They that are fond of going abroad, and intermixing in company with persons of whose piety and good conduct they have no proof, often expose their virtue to a snare. From what happened to Dinah, all may learn to avoid all occasions of falling into temptation, or leading others into it.

Verse 3
Genesis 34:3. He spake kindly unto the damsel — Desiring not only to comfort her after the ignominy he had brought upon her, but to conciliate her mind, and get her consent to marry him, that he might thereby repair, as far as possible, the injury he had done her. So that, though his behaviour had been very sinful in the first action; yet in the sequel it was honest and noble, and such as may fill with confusion of face too many who, with the utmost baseness, act a very different part.

Verse 5
Genesis 34:5. His (Jacob’s) sons were in the field — Probably at a very considerable distance; for it was usual to drive their flocks many miles for pasture. Jacob held his peace till they were come — Oppressed with grief and shame, on account of his daughter’s disgrace, and being unable to determine himself what steps it would be best to take, he waits for their coming and advice.

Verse 6
Genesis 34:6. Hamor went to commune with Jacob — It seems that Jacob would have acted wisely if he had followed his own judgment in this affair, instead of consulting his sons, who were young, rash, and violent. But it is evident that they had gained a considerable degree of influence with him: and on this occasion they plunged him into great trouble, and his whole family into great disgrace and danger.

Verse 7
Genesis 34:7. He had wrought folly — All sin is folly: but some sinful actions are attended with such circumstances of ignorance and thoughtlessness, and are so inimical to our temporal as well as eternal interests, that they peculiarly merit the name of folly. Shechem’s sin is termed folly in Israel, according to the language of after-times; for Israel was not yet a people, but a family only.

Verse 8
Genesis 34:8. Hamor communed with them — Not only with Jacob, but with his sons, to whom Jacob had imprudently referred him. And here we have a particular account of the treaty, in which, it is a shame to say, the Canaanites were more honest than the Israelites.

Verse 10
Genesis 34:10. The land shall be before you — That is, in your power, to dwell where you please, and to have the same rights and privileges in it which we have. Get you possessions therein — Or take possession in it, that is, in any vacant part of it: use it for pasture or tillage, as you think good, and take the benefit to yourselves.

Verse 12-13
Genesis 34:12-13. Ask me never so much dowry and gift — Dowry to her for her portion, according to the ancient custom of men’s buying their wives, Exodus 22:17; and gift to you, either for reparation of the past injury, or in testimony of my respect to you, and desire of her. The sons of Jacob answered deceitfully — Pretending and promising marriages with them upon that condition, which they never intended.

Verse 14
Genesis 34:14. We cannot give our sister to one who is uncircumcised — They were not prohibited from doing this by any law yet in force, as the examples of Isaac and Jacob show, who both married the daughters of uncircumcised persons; and therefore they do not here reject the proposal as simply unlawful, but only as dishonourable and reproachful. Religion is too often pleaded for the vilest practices.

Verse 18-19
Genesis 34:18-19. Hamor and Shechem gave consent themselves to be circumcised. To this perhaps they were moved, not only by the strong desire they had to bring about this match, but by what they might have heard of the sacred and honourable intentions of this sign, in the family of Abraham, which it is probable they had some confused notions of, and of the promises confirmed by it; which made them the more desirous to incorporate with the family of Jacob. He (Shechem) was more honourable than all the house of his father — More highly esteemed by the people, which was the reason he prevailed so much with them in so strange a request.

Verse 23
Genesis 34:23. Shall not their cattle and substance be ours? — Either for our use and benefit in the way of trade and commerce, or because they will descend to the issue of our children as well as theirs. Thus they cover their private designs with the specious show of public good.

Verse 24
Genesis 34:24. Unto Hamor and Shechem hearkened all, &c. — They consented to be circumcised, partly in compliance with their young prince, whom they either feared or loved; and partly in prospect of their own advantage; for which men are frequently willing to expose themselves to great pains and hazards.

Verses 25-27
Genesis 34:25-27. They slew all the males — Nothing can excuse this execrable villany. It was true Shechem had wrought folly in Israel, in defiling Dinah: but it ought to have been considered how far Dinah herself had been accessary to it. Had Shechem abused her in her mother’s tent, it had been another matter; but she went upon his ground, and struck the spark which began the fire. When we are severe upon the sinner, we ought to consider who was the tempter. It was true that Shechem had done ill; but he was endeavouring to atone for it, and was as honest and honourable afterward as the case would admit. It is true that Shechem had done ill, but what was that to all the Shechemites? Doth one man sin, and must the innocent fall with the guilty? This was barbarous indeed. But that which above all aggravated the cruelty, was the most perfidious treachery that was in it. The Shechemites had submitted to their conditions, and had done that upon which they had promised to become one people with them. Yet they act as sworn enemies to those to whom they were lately become sworn friends, making as light of their covenant as they did of the laws of humanity. And these are the sons of Israel! Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce. Though Simeon and Levi only were the murderers, yet others of the sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city — And so became accessory to the murder.

Verse 29
Genesis 34:29. Their little ones and their wives took they captive — No mention is made of these captives afterward: nor is it easy to conjecture what became of them. Perhaps the most probable supposition is, that Jacob restored both them and the property taken by his sons to their surviving relatives and countrymen.

Verse 30
Genesis 34:30. Ye have troubled me, to make me to stink — That is, you have rendered me and my family odious among the inhabitants of the land. Abraham and Isaac had been much respected, though strangers in the country, and their wise, righteous, and benevolent conduct, and that of their families, had gained honour to their religion: but Jacob was apprehensive, and not without reason, that these shameful proceedings of his sons would cause him and his religion to be execrated among these Canaanites, whose crimes they had exceeded. Well might he say, they had troubled him! Well might he always keep their conduct in remembrance and mention it with indignation on his death-bed, for nothing could be more treacherous, base, and cruel. I shall be destroyed, I and my house — Indeed, what else could he expect, but that, numerous and formidable as the Canaanites were, they would unite together against him, and that he and his little family would be an easy prey to them? He knew, indeed, that God had promised to preserve his house; but he might justly fear that these vile practices of his children would amount to a forfeiture, and cut off the entail. When sin is in the house, there is reason to fear ruin at the door.

Verse 31
Genesis 34:31. Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot? — No, he should not; but, if he do, must they be their own avengers? and nothing less than so many lives, and the ruin of a whole city, serve to atone for the abuse?