2.26 Tensions with the Canaanites
After this brief interlude of relational restoration, we plunge into an incident of rape and racial murder, involving Jacob's sons and a Canaanite tribe. Jacob settled in Shechem, purchasing land from the sons of the ruler (Gen 33:19). But one of these sons took Dinah, Leah's daughter, and raped her, then told his father Hamor he wanted to marry her. Both father and son went to Jacob to try to pacify the newcomers and enter into a marriage agreement with them:
"Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it" (Gen 34:9-10).
In other words, "become one of us." It was a reasonable offer in the Canaanites' eyes, accompanied by a generous marriage gift. The Canaanites were being "inclusive," in our terminology. Of course, this proposal would have nullified the distinction that God had made between Israel and all other nations. The lineage of Jacob would have been dispersed throughout Canaan in intermarriage. Jacob's sons pretended to agree to the proposal, but secretly Simeon and Levi plotted vengeance. A counter-offer was made: If the Canaanites would adopt the Israelites' mark of distinction, circumcision, the two families would be united. The Canaanites agreed and convinced all the men in the town to be circumcised. While they were recuperating, the two brothers, no doubt with the aid of their servants, murdered the men of the city and rescued their sister. The rest of the brothers then captured all the Canaanite women, children and property.
Jacob was not in on the plot, but one wonders why he allowed his sons to run riot. Here was the man who had "prevailed" with God and man, but could not rule his own family. He protested their deeds after the fact, but that was out of fear of attack from the rest of the Canaanites:
"If they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed" (Gen 34:30).
This tragedy shows the escalation of sin, from lust to violent crime to mass murder. Without decisive involvement on the part of the head of the family, events got out of hand, driven by emotions. Instead of seeking justice, Jacob's sons wrought vengeance without measure. The violence of the remedy far exceeded that of the original deed. And the only person who had no say in the outcome at all was the person most affected -- Dinah. She disappears from the Biblical record.
Unfortunately, this event was just the first example of many violent encounters between Israelites and Canaanites. These incidents would not have occurred if Israel had consented to give up their uniqueness and melt into the landscape. Because they did not do so, friction with their neighbors was inevitable. Yet, as we have seen, though they were God's possession among mankind, Israel was not always the righteous party in these conflicts.