If Only….

I find the Old Testament fascinating… the stories, the cultures, the people, the way God worked… Sometimes, as I reread through stories that I’ve heard all of my life, it is amazing the things that the Holy Spirit causes to leap right off the pages and into my heart where I mull them over, often for several weeks… sometimes for a really, really long time. The story of Dinah has been one of those stories that I’ve returned to time and time again over the past 18 months.

I knew the story of Dinah; we’d studied it in church/Sunday School more than once and she was most definitely one of the Bible’s “bad” girls. Matthew Henry writes: “Dinah was, for aught that appears, Jacob’s only daughter, and we may suppose her therefore the mother’s fondling and the darling of the family, and yet she proves neither a joy nor a credit to them; for those children seldom prove either the best or the happiest that are most indulged. She is reckoned now but fifteen or sixteen years of age when she here occasioned so much mischief. Observe, her vain curiosity, which exposed her. She went out, perhaps unknown to her father, but by the connivance of her mother, to see the daughters of the land (v. 1)…. She went to see, yet that was not all, 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. I doubt she went to get an acquaintance with those Canaanites, and to learn their way. Note, The pride and vanity of young people betray them into many snares.” I would have to say that Mr. Henry’s opinions are probably the ones I’ve heard most frequently expressed. Needless to say, Dinah was never one of my heroines… and I never gave her story any more thought until…

…I started teaching a Bible study to 15 and 16 year old girls, until remembering that the fifteenth birthday of my oldest is just around the corner… and my oldest girl follows just on his heels. But back to the Bible study – the girls wanted to study different women in the Bible and they chose Dinah for several reasons – close to their age, her story is tragic and there is just something magnetic about those less than nice girls.

The first thing that struck me as I began looking at her story again, was that while the name Dinah means “justice,” it is questionable whether she received any at the hands of her world or her family… and the in mind of today’s followers of Jesus.

The bulk of her story is contained in Genesis 34:

“And Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her. And his soul clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spake kindly unto the damsel. And Shechem spake unto his father Hamor, saying, Get me this damsel to wife. And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter: now his sons were with his cattle in the field: and Jacob held his peace until they were come. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out unto Jacob to commune with him. And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter: which thing ought not to be done.”

Reading and rereading this passage, it is not clear from the biblical text that Dinah actually did anything wrong. Her desire to see the daughters of the land is never condemned. We just don’t know for sure in reading the biblical account. While she may have been maliciously and deceptively sinful – she may have snuck out of her father’s house, she may have lied, she may have dressed seductively and actually gone looking for boys while telling her mom she wanted to meet some girls her own age… the list of evil possibilities is probably endless. But she also might have been a young girl, the only daughter in her father’s house, who’d just moved to a new place, who was lonely and desiring the company of other gals her age and so she desired to show herself friendly so that she could make some new friends, and then she became a victim of her new neighbors, her family and her world and culture.

I guess I tend to lead towards the latter interpretation over the first, maybe because I’ve watched our children, my own young girls as we’ve moved them halfway around the world, entering a new and unfamiliar culture, a school where everyone speaks different languages and the school language they don’t yet understand… and the first thing they want to do is find and make some friends. They are great sister-friends within themselves, but God designed us, especially females, to enjoy relationships and both my big and little girls love to get to know other girls wherever we go – be it a new church in another state or a new school in a foreign language in a different country.

The key thought the Holy Spirit impressed on my heart is the need for discernment – as parents and as individuals – when we enter those new situations (and life is filled with almost daily new situations). As finite human beings, we can’t begin to see the train of consequences a simple action like “going out to visit the daughters of the land” might start rolling. I think this fact is emphasized in this particular passage by the fact that “and” begins almost every sentence… each action was a reaction provoked by the previous event. There was very little forethought or intentional planning, and when there was, it was for evil designs.

Thus, perhaps one of the most important things I can model for and teach my children is the need to think through possibilities and potentialities before choosing on a particular path, whenever that is doable. We need to know the reasons why we do what we do, and to teach our children to examine their motivations – to know that we are not just reacting to or following the lead of the world and culture around us.

One other thing I’ve taken from this Bible story, even today… as we are once again in the midst of our transition to this land where God has called our family to sojourn, is my need to extend grace to my big and little girls… well, more accurately, to all in our household… for those inevitable times when wise discernment just doesn’t happen regarding what is done, said or how we respond to ourselves and to others. We will… in fact we have already… made some massive mistakes in this transition and are dealing with consequences we couldn’t have foreseen. But God’s grace overflows and when we walk in His grace, offering it to ourselves and to others, He redeems situations where we’ve messed up, growing us, changing us and bringing glory to His name.

Is there some Bible story or passage that the Holy Spirit is showing you through new eyes? One that has particularly poignant application to a present situation?

(Post by: Richelle)


5 Responses to “If Only….”

  1. 1 Ashley L. October 7, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    I can’t think of a specific story, but I know that since becoming a mom (even though that was already 5 years ago), so many things have become new to me as I understand myself as a child of God and look to my Heavenly Father for guidance and example as I raise my kids. Then other passages of scripture have become new to me since moving overseas. Specifically passages about trial have become more vivid and tangible to my soul. I had a pretty cushy growing up experience with few trials to endure, so most of the greatest challenges and trials that I’ve endured so far have been since moving overseas (though also many of the greatest joys that I have ever experienced have also been during these years). The scriptures truly are living and active and I love how the word of God is tailored perfectly to meet our every need during every season so uniquely, even though the words never change.

  2. 2 Ashley L. October 7, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Also, I love the things that you’ve drawn from this passage about being discerning but also about the Lord’s grace when we make mistakes. Thank you for you words!

  3. 3 Ellie October 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    I find this story interesting in the total lack of value Jacob places on his daughter. Jacob does nothing. Absolutely nothing.

    It is his sons who are outraged. Dinah’s brothers.

    It is the sons who deceive the men of the city. It is two of her brothers who go in and get justice or revenge. Simeon and Levi… Levi, interestingly, who will become priest.

    They go in and kill every male in the city and destroy it.

    Jacob’s response? “You have made me odious.” In other words, “You’ve made people not like me.”

    Nothing about his daughter. Nothing. No response, not one word recorded anywhere of Jacob’s concern for his daughter or for his daughter’s justice, care, or anything. Silence.

    Even the brothers who sought her justice are rebuked – for causing Jacob’s image to be troubled.

  4. 4 richelle October 8, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    ellie – you might be interested in reading this


    a rather fascinating article (although, i don’t believe, a true biblical perspective) that discusses some of these issues and asks some hard questions and provokes thought regarding gender, racial and ethnic violence.

    dinah’s lack of voice in this account has always disturbed me — and there are so many unknowns — and the fact that we could put our own daughters (or sons) in a similarly difficult situation where they might not be able to discern consequences from actions that seemed benign… it has given me much, much thought and has been a source of many prayers.

  5. 5 Shilo October 9, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Living cross culturally and learning about tribal cultures has really brought the OT and the tribes of Israel alive to me. I really enjoyed this article, Richelle. Thank you for sharing what the Lord has taught you through it.

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