John Roth tells what happened to him late one night on a commuter train in Hamburg, Germany. John says:
The train car was completely empty at the late hour and I dozed sleepily as it rattled past the harbor and then through the industrial district. Some minutes into the trip, an elderly man dressed in rags and clearly suffering from mental disability shuffled into the car. And he was closely followed by four teenagers, young men sporting an assortment of chains and tattoos and body piercings, and they entered the car amid raucous laughter and loud talk.
And almost immediately, their attention focused on the old man, who seated himself near the center doors. The four began to taunt him, shouting obscenities and making humiliating references to his mental condition. Then one of the teens shook up a half can of beer and aimed the foamy spray into the old man's face. And then without warning began kicking his legs with their heavy boots and punching him in the arms and face.
[John Roth says] Seated toward the back of the car, I looked on with a mixture of horror and fear as the terrible scene unfolded before me. I'm not a big person. I'm not trained in any of the martial arts. And I've never considered myself particularly brave. Yet as a professing Christian, I knew with absolute certainty that I could not simply sit back and watch this helpless old man be mercilessly beaten.
I whispered a deep prayer: "God, calm my fear. Show me the right thing to do". And then without really giving my next actions any careful thought, I got out of my seat and walked purposefully toward the old man and his attackers.
What do you imagine John's going to do? What would you do? How do you respond to injustice and violence and evil? What should God's people do? Well, I'll share with you what John did in a few moments.
But the brutal, R-rated story of Genesis 34 shows us two opposite reactions to evil, two very different reactions. And as we continue back in our study through Genesis, we come to this story of Dinah and the Shechemites and these reactions to evil. Let this ugly story challenge your responses when injustice and wickedness make an appearance in your life.
Two reactions to evil
Let me read the first few verses here in Genesis 34 as it begins:
Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had born to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and violated her. His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father, "Give me this girl as my wife."
Now, Jacob is a follower of the one true God, the father of a number of sons and this one daughter, Dinah, and they are living among a pagan people. He has just moved to this area. He really was supposed to go to Bethel. I just want you to look on this map, at about in the center, and you'll see the word Shechem. Where Jacob should have gone, and where he will go soon, is below thatit's Bethel, a place he's been before. It's the land of the promise.
But instead, Jacob stopped short of that, the chapter before tells us, and he buys a piece of land right in sight of the city of Shechem. And he's living alongside people with very, very different values. And when you do that, it can be dangerous. This time, his daughter Dinah pays the price.
Now Dinah, she's from the less-loved branch of the family. If you know anything about Jacob, you'll remember that he's got many children by four different women. Two of them he's married to. And the one he loves the least is the mother of Dinah, if that makes any difference. Dinah goes out to visit her friendsand that sounds innocent to us, but let me remind you that, culturally, it was improper in that day for a women to do this without an escort, particularly in an area like Shechem. A member of the ruling family notices her, and she is raped violated. And after the sexual act, Shechem, the guy who does it, the rapist, realizes he wants more than simple gratification or whatever it was that he carried out. So he tries to soothe Dinah, it says. He speaks kindly to her.
Now, you need to realize that Dinah and Shechem were probably both in their late teens. These are young people. And I want you to notice, too, that the kind of guy Shechem is is characterized first of all by the rape. That's the kind of guy he is. He's also characterized here in how he speaks to his father. He demands whatever is necessary to get Dinah. And he refers to her as "this child." He doesn't call her by name. He doesn't give her a term of endearment. He gives her this derogatory name, not of one of respect. And later, when he speaks to her family about Dinah, he doesn't use this word. This is the kind of guy Shechem ishe's a louse.
Look at Jacob's reaction in verse 5: "When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock. So he kept quiet about it until they came home." Jacob's reaction to hearing that his daughter has been defiled, has been raped, is very passive. What would you do? How would you respond? Jacob is passive. And look at the reason that's given. He doesn't want to interrupt his sons' shepherding responsibilities. He could send a slave. He could send a servant to go tell them. He could send a messenger. But he doesn't want to interrupt the business. So he is passive, maybe even apathetic, about this rape.
Verse 6: "Then Shechem's father, Hamor, went out to talk with Jacob. Jacob's sons had come in from the fields. As soon as they heard about what happened, they were filled with grief and fury because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, a thing that should not be done."
So the father of the rapist shows up. He doesn't show up with an apology or an explanation. He shows up with a business proposition, which we'll see in a moment. Word got to Jacob's sons, despite the fact their father wanted to keep it quiet until the end of the day. Somebody must have run off and told them, and they immediately come home, furious. They're angry. They're ready for blood. And what do they find? In the living room with Dad is the father of the guy who raped their sister. Not talking about justicetalking business.
Now, you can imagine the reaction of these brothers. That's understandable, I think, to most of us. They're volatile. They denounce the situation as a disgraceand that's a very, very strong word. It's a disgusting thing that's been done.
But Hamor talks business. Verse 8: "He said to them, 'My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter. Please give him to her as his wife. 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.'" The offer here is that they make a permanent alliance between these two groups, become one people, and share everything.
Now, let me tell you right off that this plan would obviously not be what God would want. He had chosen this family out of all the families on the earth. He had chosen this people to make his own people, to become his nation, and to grow into a people that honored him. So he wouldn't want this.
But Hamor's talking, and he appeals to the economic advantages. He says: We'll be one, big, happy family.
And later on we see his real motives down in verse 23. Here, he's talking, telling, and selling the deal to his own people. He says: Hey, we're going to take these folks. We're going to get them, get all their stuff. Won't that be great?
So then Shechem, the rapist, pitches the deal himself to Jacob. In verses 1112, he says: We'll give you whatever you want. I want this woman. I'll give you whatever it is. Dad will pony up the money. I want her.
Notice that Jacob has said nothing. We only know what he hasn't said. Jacob's not recorded as saying anything this whole time. He hasn't demanded justice. He hasn't said, "I am revolted by this offer. Take your money and leave!" He hasn't said anything. He seems open to making this whole ugly incident disappear. On the other hand, Dinah's brothers aren't so quiet. Look what they say in verse 13:
Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob's sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. They said to him, "We can't do such a thing; we can't give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us. We'll give our consent to you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We'll settle among you and become one people with you. But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we'll take our sister and go."
It's a clever little deception they have here. They say: We can't agree to this unless you do this little surgical procedure. It has some religious significance for us; it's important for us. But you do it, and we'll let it happen.
They're plotting. Shechem and Hamor think: That's not so bad. We can do that. And they go to the rest of the men in the city and they tell them: Hey, do this little thing, this little procedure, and we're going to get everything.
Everybody's pretty hopped up on this idea. They think it's great. And every male was circumcised in the city. Now, in those days, it was a crude procedure. There was no doctor. There were no surgical instruments. There was a crude knife made out of flint. And for a grown man, this little operation would take time to heal.
The text says the brothers waited three days, because that was the time when it would be most painful to these guys, and they would be moving slowly in their recuperation. And then the brothersat least some of the brothers, probably with their servants and friendscarried out a savage and treacherous plan of revenge and retaliation. They killed all the men in Shechem. And they saved the two worst guys for last, verse 26: "They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem's house and left."
Now, notice, there's something we didn't know. Dinah was being kept at Shechem's house. What a horrific time this is for this poor young lady. She has been violated and taken away by a stranger, and then she's the cause of the cold-blooded murder of all of Shechem's people. And we never hear her voice. We never hear her cries. We never know her desires in all of this. She's the forgotten victim treated as a piece of property. But after her brothers rescue her, they loot the city and they take everything. They just strip it bare. They take everything of value; everything that's not nailed down they take for themselves.
And then, finally, we hear what Jacob thinks. Look and listen to what Jacob says in verse 30. He said to Simeon and Levi, two of his sons: "You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed." Jacob is complaining about the trouble they got him into. He says: My reputation stinks.
Notice that he didn't care too much about Dinah's reputation. He cares about his own. Notice that he wasn't too concerned for Dinah's well being. Instead, he's concerned that he might get killed or beaten up. He doesn't condemn his sons for massacring defenseless men and pillaging the city, or for misusing the rite of circumcision. Jacob is only concerned about his own welfare.
And the story ends with the brothers' response to their dad, verse 31: "Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?" Another translation: "Like a whore should our sister be treated?" This condemns Shechem. But I think the way they say it also condemns Jacob in his willingness to overlook the rape and to accept gifts in exchangehe acts like a pimp. Despite the violence, at least the brothers cared about their sistercared more about their sister's honor than their own.
Jacob doesn't have anything to say in response to that last question. He's lost any moral authority he had. Consequently, his rebellious, rash sons will go on to do more rebellious, rash things in the future. Jacob has no control here. He has no moral authority.
If it was your daughter, if it was your sister, how would you react? Would it have been more like her father or more like her brothers? Let me tell you that both reactions are wrong. In fact, this is a story of two wrong reactions to evil.
Two wrong reactions to evil
What are they? Well, we have Jacob's reaction, which is selfish indifference. I would say Jacob basically pulled out the white flag and surrendered. Jacob was passivehe did nothing and he was selfish about it all. This wrong reaction to evil is that, in the face of a morally wrong situation or an act of injustice, you do nothing. You keep quiet or stay passive. It may be because you're indifferent, and Jacob was somewhat indifferent. It may be because you're fearful, and Jacob then ended up being fearful, too. Any of those reasons may cause us to act in this way.
Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer Prize for a picture of a starving Sudanese child crawling toward a feeding center. In the background, a vulture watched. Carter became famous. The Pulitzer Prize is the highest prize you can get for photojournalism. And people wanted to know how it ended. They asked him continually, "What did you do after you took the picture?" "How did you help the little girl?"
But Carter had to admit that, after taking 20 minutes to frame that prize-winning picture, he had simply walked away. And so, two months after receiving the Pulitzer Prize, the highest award in journalism, Kevin Carter took his own life.
That's an extreme, certainly. But has there ever been a time when you have done nothing? Maybe your very close friend is cheating on his wife, and you shake your head sadly and say a prayer or two, but you feel, It's not my business to confront him.
Maybe your teenage daughter is sexually active, and you wish it wasn't so. You oh, so much, wish it wasn't so. But what can you do when her friends hook up with no problem at all? That's so common and ordinary and expected. What can you do when her cultural world is full of movies and music and programs that tell her it's okay? So you sigh deeply and you frown and you mutter a little bit, but you do nothing. When we pacify, when we placate out of fear and selfishness, we're waving the white flag. We're surrendering. When we act in apathy, we fail to act for God.
The other wrong reaction is what the brothers did: furious vengeance. They took furious vengeance. This is obviously the opposite approach, one which we might be more ready to takebut it's no better. You become angered and incensed over some moral wrong or some injustice that is real and true, and you do something to retaliate, to avenge, to pay back.
Unfortunately, our world sees very few kinds of Christians. The passive ones never speak out, and the vocal ones are so angry and bitter that, too often, they're vicious. I have to confess to you that I've had both of those reactions to evil. But number two is much more frequent in my list of sins. I'll share one instance with you. I feel this is easier to share because I shared it with my men's group right after it happened, and I confessed to them as well as to God.
It was a couple of years ago when my family was headed for vacation. We started driving and stopped to fill up for gas. And right on the other side of the pump, a car pulled upa sports car with music blaring really loud. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that the "F-word" was repeated every other word, and I had my family in the car. And so I reacted. I angrily told the guy: "Turn that down. Turn it off. I got my family here!" And he used a few words in the song to tell me he wasn't going to do that.
But I didn't let it stop. I went at him. I didn't swear, but I went in his face. And I told him what I would do to him physically if he didn't do that. I'm so ashamed. My family was hiding in the car, embarrassed of me. In my eagerness to protect their innocent ears, I showed them something far worse as I threatened to take this guy apart.
He told me in no uncertain terms how he would sue me if that happened. And we continued that the whole time we filled up our cars until we went in together to pay, and people gathered around to watch. I was a moron. I look back now, and I realize how easily I could have at least started that in a good way instead of an angry way, instead of a vengeful way. So I repent, confess, and pray that that's not my normal reaction.
Has that happened to you? It's like James and Johnthose followers of Jesus, those two brothers, those hot-headed boys. Remember that village that just rejected Jesus? They disrespected him. They chased him away. And James and John said: Hey, let's firebomb the whole place, Jesus! Let's call fire down from heaven and just wipe them out. Okay?
But Jesus rebuked them. He rebuked them.
Many have made this mistake. That's why people firebomb abortion clinics thinking they are doing God a service. That's why some who feel they are on God's side beat up homosexuals. That's why some who feel they are defending God's honor scream at the opposition. But what does the Bible say, even in that text we read all the time: Romans 12? It says don't repay evil for evil. It says don't take revenge. It says leave room for God's wrath. It says if your enemy is hungry, feed him. It says overcome evil with good, not with a bat.
A better way
And this nasty story in Genesis 34 shows us two ways not to deal with wrong. See, God has called us to something different. God has called us, those of us who have mercy, to give mercy. We've received it; let's give it. For those of us who know the difference between right and wrong, we must stand for what's right.
So what should we do? Well, John Roth walked toward the four guys who were beating up the old man in the train. You know, when I first read John's story, right at this point I was thinking, What is he going to do? I couldn't imagine. What would I have done?
John Roth used his best German and called out to the old, ragged man the thugs were beating on. He said: "Hans, Hans, how are you? It's been such a long time since we've seen each other." And then, slipping between those surprised attackers, he embraced this old man, helped him to his feet, and said: "Come sit with me, Hans. We have so much to catch up on." And the old man followed John to the end of the car and slid into the window seat, and the teens looked on, not sure what they should do. They talked among themselves for a while. But when the train pulled to a stop, they got out, and Hans left as well.
And Roth says the common sense of our culture teaches that the only way to respond to fear is a cowardly retreat or a fight to the finishthe flag or the bat. The beauty and power of the gospel is that Jesus Christ offers a third alternative: trust in God and in the transforming, surprising power of love.
So here's what I say in conclusion from this nasty, ugly story in Genesis 34. We're called to act in love on the side of truth. Is that an easy answer? No. But we're not to wave the flag of surrender; we're to act. We're not to beat; we're to do it in love and on the side of truth. Don't wave the white flag of indifference. Don't swing the club of vengeance. Brandish the instrument of love on the side of truth.
Go. Make a difference in your world.
John Henry Beukema is pastor of Cypress Bible Church in Cypress, Texas, and author of Stories from God's Heart (Moody). He served as associate editor of PreachingToday.com.