How was it that Jacob ended up in Shechem? It was a town he had to pass through as he made his way back to his father’s home. Yet he remained there for several years. Why was this the case? Here are two reasons.
First, we can see this decision as a failure of Jacob to live up to his earlier promises to God. In Genesis 28 we are told that after seeing God at Bethel Jacob made a promise to the Lord that if he brought Jacob back to Canaan he would built an altar at Bethel and regard it as a place of worship (vv. 21-22). It looks as if Jacob had forgotten that personal vow, but we can be sure that the Lord had not forgotten it. The Lord had kept his promises and taken Jacob back to Canaan. So far, Jacob had not been interested in doing what he had promised.
Second, when he had returned to the Promised Land, Jacob had obtained a special blessing from God on Peniel and had been shown that his concerns about Esau’s revenge had not been necessary. So he had reasons for expecting God to protect him as he travelled to Bethel. Yet he had resorted to telling his brother a lie regarding going to see him in Seir and was now living with its consequences in Shechem. He had brought his family into a place of danger, perhaps without realising it.
Although he now returned to the Promised Land, Jacob’s life was not going to be easy, and we can see that in the terrible interest recorded in this chapter when his teenage daughter Dinah was raped by Shechem. We are not told if she had been visiting the women of Shechem regularly. After all, she had no sisters. But she would have expected protection there and she did not get any.
The chapter is concerned with how Jacob will deal with the situation. Moses depicts two groups of schemers – the Canaanites and the sons of Jacob. From one perspective, they are both the same in that neither group tells the real intentions to the other. Shechem’s family want to use Dinah as a means of getting Jacob’s assets and his sons concoct a plan whereby they can destroy their opponents. Watching the story unfold, a clear question arises about Jacob’s weakness. He cannot control his sons and their cruel actions make it dangerous for him to live in the vicinity.
But how can he get out of this situation, made worse by the cruelty of his sons? The next chapter will tell us.