Scripture references: Genesis 30:21; 34; 46:15
Date: About 1850 b.c.
Name: Dinah [DIE-nah; “justice”]
DINAH’S ROLE IN SCRIPTURE
Dinah was the daughter of Leah, born after her six brothers. Perhaps she was spoiled by them, as little sisters often are. When Dinah was raped, her brothers were incensed and demanded not the justice implied in her name, but revenge.
Dinah’s life story (Gen. 34; 46:15). Dinah was still a young girl when Jacob’s family returned toCanaan. She likely was just reaching marriageable age, then thirteen or fourteen years old. When the family stopped for a time near the city ofShechem, Dinah went looking for other girls to talk with.
Tragically, as she approached the city a young man saw her and raped her. While we are used to hearing of rape as epidemic in our society, we need to remember that male predators have preyed on women from the beginning of history. Rape was an ever-present danger in the ancient world too, and God’s Law specifically teaches that women like Dinah are to be held guiltless if they are attacked. Deuteronomy 22 states that if a young woman is forced in the countryside, “you shall do nothing to the young woman,” for even if she cried out “there was no one to save her” (Deut. 22:25, 27). This law, given centuries after Dinah’s experience, would have been small comfort to her. But it reminds us not to blame Dinah or any of her sisters who are violated by men.
This is direct contrast to fundamentalist Islamic law, as interpreted by the “imams” where a woman is judged guilty of “provoking” the rape unless she can present 4 male witnesses in her defense who saw what happened.
In this unusual case, Shechem, after raping Dinah, fell in love with her. He took her to his home and urged his father to begin negotiations with Jacob to make her his bride.
For Dinah, the few days in which this incident played itself out did constitute her life. Beyond this chapter the only other mention of Dinah in the Old Testament sees her, many years later, accompanying her father and brothers to Egypt—still an unmarried woman.
The brothers’ revenge (Gen. 34:8–31). When Jacob heard what had happened to his daughter, he said nothing until his sons were available. By that time Hamor, the father of Shechem, was ready to approach Jacob with his request. He made it clear that Shechem loved Dinah and wanted to marry her, and was willing to pay any price for that privilege. In this Hamor and Shechem were acting morally according to the customs of their time.
But Hamor was dealing with Dinah’s brothers, not Jacob. The brother pretended to agree, but demanded that all the men of Shechem be circumcised if the two peoples were to merge, as Hamor offered. This offer was to Hamor’s benefit, since Jacob was a wealthy man. Then, after the operation was carried out and the men were incapacitated, Simeon and Levi, two of Dinah’s brothers, went boldly into Shechem and killed every man. They took Dinah from Shechem’s home, and returned with her and much booty to Jacob’s camp.
Terrified that neighboring peoples would wipe out his family because of his sons’ violent actions, Jacob gathered his herds and hurried away with his family.
Over twenty years later Dinah’s name is included on the list of those who traveled to Egypt where her half-brother Joseph was vizier. Genesis 46 lists all sixty-six people who made that journey. Dinah, among them, is still alone and childless. It would seem that the young woman whose name meant “justice” received little of it in her life on earth.
Scripture references: Genesis 38
Date: About 1850 b.c.
Name: Tamar [TAY-mur: “palm tree”]
Greatest accomplishment: She became the mother of Perez, through whose line David and Jesus Christ came.
TAMAR’S ROLE IN SCRIPTURE
Tamar’s life story (Gen. 38:1–11). Tamar was the young woman selected by Judah, one of Jacob’s twelve sons, as a bride for his oldest son, Er. When Er died childless,Judah instructed his second son, Onan, to marry Tamar and produce an heir for Er. This practice, called leverite marriage, is authorized in Old Testament law but clearly was a custom long-practiced in the ancientMiddle East. To protect the line of a married man who died childless, his closest relative would impregnate his wife. Any son born of this union would be considered the son of the childless husband and would inherit not only any property but also his name and identity.
But Onan was unwilling to fulfill the duty assigned him by his father. Whenever he had sex with Tamar, he practiced coitus interruptus, and spilled his seed on the ground. This displeased God, and before long Onan died too.
After Onan’s death Judah told Tamar to return home but to live there as a widow until Judah’s youngest son, Shelah, was grown. But when Shelah reached maturity, and no arrangement had been made for him to wed Tamar asJudah had promised, Tamar took action. She pretended to be a prostitute, and was impregnated by her father-in-law, Judah. The twin sons she bore him were named Perez and Zerah.
Why is this story included? It seems strange that the inspired Scriptures drop the story of Tamar and Judah into the middle of chapters dealing with Joseph’s adventures. Why include the story here? Why include the story at all?
One reason is clear. In a few chapters a list of those who went to Egyptwith Jacob will be recorded. It was important to the Jewish people to maintain accurate genealogies, for they were God’s chosen people. The purity of their line was important, and the births of Perez and Zerah, included in Judah’s line, must be accounted for.
There may be another reason as well. In later Judaism the notion developed that salvation depended to a large extent not on the individual, but on the merits of the forefathers. Abraham and the men of the patriarchal age were deemed so good that the merit they accrued could be applied to cancel out the sins of thousands of individuals multiplied generations later.
We can see how a person might imagine that the Joseph portrayed in Genesis might possess such merits. Placed beside the account of Joseph’s life, the story of Tamar and Judah seems tawdry and out of place. Yet if we look more closely, we make an important discovery. Jesus the Messiah did not come from Joseph’s line, but from Judah’s. And specifically from Perez, Tamar’s son! And Tamar herself is one of four women named by Matthew in his genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:3).
It is not in the merits of the ancients that we find hope. It is in the sinless descendant of sinners, who came to bring forgiveness and to break the hold sin has on us.
LESSER–KNOWN WOMEN OF GENESIS
Lot’s wife and daughters (Gen. 19). When Sodom was destroyed God’s angels rescuedLot and the three women in his family. We know little about any of the three women.
Lot’s wife turned back (Gen. 19:26). The angels had warned the family members not to look back when Sodom and the cities of the plain were destroyed. Lot’s wife disobeyed and was “turned into a pillar of salt.”
The Jewish commentators have built their theory of her judgment on the verb translated turned back, which they felt indicated an unwillingness to let go not only of the possessions she had in Sodom but also of its sins. They also explained her fate, suggesting that a great gob of bitumen mixed with salt was hurled by the explosion, and buried her. Whatever her motives and whatever event the expression, “turned into a pillar of salt” describes, her disobedience to the divine command was the cause of her downfall.
Lot’s daughters gave up hope (Gen. 19:30–38). The two young women had been engaged to men of Sodom who refused to accompany Lot on his flight from the city. With the cities of the plain destroyed, Lot’s two daughters drew the unwarranted conclusion that there was no one left for them to marry. Taking matters into their own hands, they made their father drunk and had sex with him while he was in a stupor. Each became pregnant by her father, producing two peoples who later troubled the descendants of Abraham. Those two peoples were the Moabites and the Ammonites, of whom we read later in Scripture (Gen. 19:37, 38).
Potiphar’s Wife. Potiphar’s wife played a small but notorious role in Joseph’s life. After Joseph had been sold into slavery and had been promoted to overseer of his master Potiphar’s estate, Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. When Joseph refused her advances, she accused him of trying to rape her, and Joseph was imprisoned.
Even though Joseph suffered through many years of unjust treatment, each experience shaped him for the role God intended him to fulfill. His years managing Potiphar’s house, and later managing the prison where he was incarcerated, taught him skills that he used to manage the affairs of the nationEgypt. And the position he gained through imprisonment enabled him to save not only much of the population ofEgypt but also his aged father and brothers.
Later Joseph told his brothers that “it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen. 45:8). Perhaps the same could be said of Potiphar’s wife and of all those who mistreat us. Even the evil persons we come in contact with have a role to play in God’s plan.
This is important to remember when we encounter persons like Potiphar’s wife who cause us to suffer unjustly. We can still trust God, knowing that He is with us. We can still expect God to use our every experience to shape us for something that lies ahead. And we can pity our persecutors, who mean to do us evil but are unaware that God is shaping us through every experience, intent to do us good.