What happened to Dinah with Shechem (Gen. 34), Bathsheba with David (2 Sam. 11), and Tamar with Amnon (2 Sam. 13)? I think two (for sure) describe rape, maybe all three, but I’ve heard a lot of explanations. Some people say Bathsheba was a seductress. Some blame the victims. Also, book authors have written fiction novels about these people and I can’t tell who has the right view. What happened in each case? Why are these things in the Bible?
Today’s question merits caution. Someone who has experienced sexual trauma may be searching for an explanation, and I believe a careful reading shows these accounts were not written for that purpose. God’s Word presents only a few direct examples of sexual violence and none of them include a counseling manual. We can certainly see some effects of sin, but not the full physical, emotional, and spiritual effects on the individual. These are complicated and situation-specific. If you have suffered this way, ongoing support from a godly, professional therapist is essential. This study will not provide the resources you need.
That said, I believe all three incidents involve sexual misconduct, but to learn “what happened,” we must both agree that Scripture speaks for itself when carefully read in context. Scripture must be handled reverently, and none of us can be accurately taught by truth if we add to, or subtract from, the text or its context. Additionally, Bible translations can have different renderings of difficult words, but this does not upset my faith. More on that later.
Why are these things in the Bible?
I want to take up your last question first. We must ask, “why did God put these stories in the Bible?” But what many people ask is, “why would I put them there?” The passages are then used as proof-texts on sexual violence. Extreme fundamentalists focus on the supposed faults of the victim and disregard all else. Liberal or progressive types want Scripture to validate the binary oppression narratives popular in our present culture. I believe these views do not accurately show the pattern of truth God gives us.
Neither we, nor our experiences, are the main theme of Scripture. One way or another, God’s Word is telling us something about the coming and kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice how narrative accounts of this kind tend to center around the human lineage by which Jesus Christ would be born. So, we see Satan’s efforts to create doubt and confusion. God sovereignly overruled and both of Jesus’ natural parents had proven genealogies (Mat. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). But some things people did or experienced in these accounts are grievous, and help show why the Lord Jesus had to come as the Redeemer.
That said, God’s truth does provide a basis for applying wisdom in our lives. But we must realize that God is superior to all human ideas including personal feelings and cultural standards. Before accepting anyone’s opinion on the Word of God, read it carefully. What do you find there? I find that God has a perfectly righteous standard and every person will be held individually accountable. The gospel itself is built upon this fact, and there are also lessons for practical conduct. Choices have consequences, both good and bad. Poor choices others force upon me can have consequences outside my control, but I can learn by God’s grace to overcome things which might otherwise turn into bitterness. If I have trusted in Jesus as Lord, my sins are forgiven. When I depend on Him for daily help, Christ is exalted and I will find peace. But if I try to do things my way, unintended outcomes will occur.
Keep this pattern in mind, especially when reading Old Testament narratives. Many are presented as plain facts with minimal commentary. Failure and faith tend to be mixed together. To see how the Lord and His purposes fit in the larger picture, spiritual discernment is required along with careful study of details and context.
Dinah and Shechem (Gen. 34)
“Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land” (Gen. 34:1). A fast reader could pass over this as “only” a detail. But the Spirit of God records details purposefully. So, let us ask: what land, and who were the people living in it?
In Gen. 33:18-20, Jacob purchased from “the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent.” More details! Jacob was a man of faith, but most of his life was guided by self-reliance. Here, Jacob bought real estate. The location looked good. The nearby city would facilitate economic trade and military defense.
But recall that God had promised to give the entire land to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, and to his descendants “forever” (Gen. 13:14-18). Jacob could have asked God for direction. If God intended for Jacob to buy land for a purpose, as his grandfather Abraham had once done with the Hittites (Gen. 23), then God would have led Jacob to the right place and to caring people. Hamor’s tribe seemed friendly at first, but later events proved they only had selfish motives (Gen. 34:20-23). Since Jacob wasn’t practicing godly dependence in this decision, it’s not surprising that his family also shows little wisdom as the account continues.
Scripture does not tell us what Dinah thought she would find by going “out to visit the women of the land.” But the lessons are not applicable to her. They are for us (Rom. 15:4). So, I believe one lesson is that if we go to the world looking for companions, we will learn by painful experience that the world is fundamentally selfish. When it suits their purposes, people will casually exploit and abuse other people. We can assume Dinah did not expect to be victimized by Shechem, nor did she deserve it. But she did look for relationships among a tribe that did not value her God or her personal dignity, and this was the awful result.
What kind of assault occurred? Bible translations are unclear. A tender-hearted person can become wrapped up in sympathetic reasoning, even to the point of assuming details that are not given. To properly apply Scripture to ourselves, we must read the examples, consider the lessons, and act wisely in response. Is it wise for me to seek close, intimate relationships with worldly people? No. Is it possible to increase my exposure to exploitation and emotional pain from sinful humans if I disregard God’s boundaries? Yes.
This example does not speak to every situation where abuse could occur. As said earlier, I don’t believe that’s a correct application of the passage. The rape isn’t the main point, or we would have been given additional, necessary details. But the passage does show us, through a very painful example, something that can happen when godly wisdom is not used in our lives.
The lack of wisdom in Jacob’s family then continues in Simeon and Levi’s response (Gen. 34:13-30). They use a cruel deception as an opportunity to kill every male in Hamor’s city and plunder all the women, children, and possessions. One violent injustice is answered by another, and the situation escalates. Jacob rebukes his sons for putting their family at risk of war with the entire land (Gen. 34:30). Years later, Simeon and Levi receive a continuing rebuke and curse at Jacob’s deathbed, the place where sons would normally receive their blessing and inheritance (Gen. 49:5-7).
Pausing Part 1 (for now)…
A lot more could be said, and I haven’t yet discussed the examples of David and Bathsheba, or Tamar and Amnon. Also, the account of Dinah and Shechem changes tone between some Bible translations and commentators, and that must be explained.
So, I will divide this answer into three parts. In Part 2 we’ll ask: “Why is there any controversy about Dinah’s experience in Genesis 34?” In Part 3, we’ll examine what happened in David’s house: first between David and Bathsheba, and later between Tamar and Amnon.
Until then, has this answer raised questions or concerns for you? Please post them below! The Patterns of Truth team would like to engage with your thoughts.
 In biblical commentary, “proof-texting” means taking small portions of Scripture out of context and using them to prove an idea or opinion. “Proof-texts” are often chosen because they seem to make a powerful statement, while a broader and more careful reading would show that God was presenting something different from what the commentator believes.
 In short, this view sees only oppressors (villains), and oppressed (victims and/or heroes, depending how the story is told). The complicated interplay of choices and consequences is replaced by simple explanations that satisfy young children and far too many adults. Although some situations do involve completely innocent victims and wicked predators, other situations are just not that simple. I believe God wants Christians to be smart enough to think carefully about complexity (compare 2 Tim. 1:7).