The untrained theologian will go to Genesis 34 to say, “See? God doesn’t care about rape. He hates women.” The utter failure of this is that they make the text say something it never says. Once again, we come to the sharp distinction that always needs to be made when reading a historical narrative: prescription vs. description. The description of events happening in a historical narrative, such as is the case here, does not equal to a prescription for norms of behaviour. No one would do this when reading any other history book, so it is incredibly stupid to commit that error here. Yet if we read the text closely and view it in the wider context of Scripture, we can see God’s disgust over rape.
The short version of this account is that after Shechem rapes Dinah, her brothers conspire to kill him while their father, Jacob, refuses to seek vengeance. He tries to resolve the matter by giving Dinah to Shechem as a wife in order that she might live (more on that a little later). Her brothers were not happy with this, and Simeon and Levi massacre Shechem, his father, and all the males in their house. Jacob, of course, was distressed over what they had done (34:30). And what does God do after they get their revenge? Initially, nothing.
As the Lord commanded, Jacob and his sons go to Bethel to call upon the Lord in the day of his distress over this violence (35:3). In fact, God protects Simeon and Levi on their journey (35:5) (this would’ve been a great time for God to punish them for what they did). Jacob thought he and his household would be destroyed because of what his sons had done, but God promises him fecundity (35:11).
However, there is still the matter that even though “justice” was served, Simeon and Levi still killed human beings made in God’s image, which God said a long time ago the punishment for such murder would be your own death by the shedding of your own blood (9:5-6). So, according to the Word of the Lord, even though Simeon and Levi avenge their sister and restore her honour, they still needed to die because they took matters into their own hands and murdered human beings made in God’s image.
But God doesn’t kill them. Instead of being murdered themselves just as they murdered her rapist, including innocent men who had nothing to do with her rape, God curses their tribes to be divided and scattered throughout Israel (49:5-7). Truly, this is merciful compared to what they deserved.
I imagine God would have exacted His justice in His own timing, for God is not known for letting evil go unpunished for too long. There are times when God permits wicked men to continue living only to destroy them in the long run because of the evil things they’ve done. We should always bear in mind what God says much later, “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip” (Deuteronomy 32:35). Or as Paul paraphrases much, much later, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord'” (Romans 12:19).
Also in Deuteronomy, we see that the punishment for rape is death (Deuteronomy 22:23-29), except in cases where the woman was a virgin and not yet pledged to be married. In this case, like Jacob tried to do, she would have to marry the man who raped her. “She shall be his wife because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days” (v. 29). While this might seem absurd and sickening to us, consider the ancient times of Israel. In these times, women couldn’t own property and they couldn’t legally work to support themselves. She had no legal protection without a father, husband, or son.
In ancient Israel, if an unmarried woman was not a virgin, she would never marry because no man would desire her, especially if she were raped. So, to protect her from poverty (which meant certain death in these times), the Lord prescribed a law in which the unmarried woman would have to marry her rapist so she could live and have security, otherwise she would be left for dead. This was also a punishment for the man, for the last thing he wants to be is a loving husband. On the other hand, if she were married, or cried out for help and received none, or was in a secluded area where help was impossible, the rapist was to be put to death.
No matter how you look at it, this was the best situation for such a woman in ancient times. They had no opportunity for individualism like we do today. A woman simply couldn’t survive and thrive on her own, whether or not she was raped. It was either the tragic circumstance of marrying the man who violated her (much to his chagrin), or to be shunned by society with a metaphorical scarlet letter and be left for dead. Rather than shunning the woman and leaving her to die, the man was commanded to step up and be a loving husband, certainly a far better outcome than saying, “Welp, too bad, you gotta’ be on your own and die now.”
Featured Image: Rape of Dinah by Giuliano Bugiardini (1475-1555). Wikimedia Commons.