“Revenge Plays,” like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, share key characteristics. A crime is committed (usually violent and against a family member of the avenger), but ordinary law cannot punish it. The protagonist seeks revenge, usually through complex planning. The avenger places him/herself outside the normal moral order and causes a catastrophe.
Genesis 34 reads like a revenge play. Leah’s daughter Dinah found herself in a storm of trauma and controversy. Shechem, the son of Hamor (ruler of the land), raped Dinah (v. 2) and then told his father he wanted her for his wife. This act of violation may have been a strategy to force the marriage. Hamor and Shechem came to Jacob to negotiate the deal, but Dinah’s brothers were understandably furious. Shechem begged for favor. To sweeten the deal, Hamor invited Jacob to stay in the land and intermarry with their people (vv. 9–10). Was God’s covenant with Abraham in jeopardy? The suggested arrangement would have economic and social benefits, but it meant the assimilation of Israel by the Canaanites and a loss of their distinct identity.
Jacob’s sons responded with deceit. They would only consent if the men in the land were circumcised. It may shock the reader that Shechem and Hamor agreed. They didn’t realize the cunning plot behind the deal. Three days later, while the men were still recovering, Jacob’s sons (Simeon and Levi) attacked the city and slaughtered every single man (vv. 25–29). They rescued Dinah and took women, children, and flocks as plunder. The providence of God was still at work—even in this reprehensible act. It is a reminder that God is able to accomplish His will, even in the context of horrific human behavior.
>> The moral of Dinah’s story is not a license to sin. God longs for our obedience and holiness. But there is also a comfort here, that—even in the midst of tragedy—His sovereignty is not superseded.
We are limited by time and space, and it can be difficult to see beyond the tragedies and hardships that we encounter. Thank you, Lord, for your love and power, which overcome the greatest darkness.