What the Story of Dinah Can Teach Us About Revenge (Genesis 34:14)

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I get why Reuben and Levi wanted to protect their sister. I feel it. I understand it.

But I don’t agree with what they did at all.

To recap, Dinah is abducted and raped by the prince of Shechem. The prince’s father makes a desperate attempt to legitimize the union by offering to pay Dinah’s dowry in exchange for a marriage to his son. Dinah’s brothers use this opportunity to trick and kill every male in the city (Genesis 34:23).

Were the brothers right in doing this? Some might argue that, yes, Reuben and Levi were perfectly in their rights by exacting this kind of revenge. The people of Shechem raped their sister and dishonored their family, so retribution is necessary.

However, I think most reasonable people would argue that they were clearly in the wrong (I hope). 

But why is that, though? If virtually everyone looking at the story can see the error in Reuben and Levi’s ways, why is it that they couldn’t? Why did they feel justified in what they did?

One word: Emotion.

Think about this idea from a different story. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and ordered Uriah the Hittite’s execution (2 Samuel 11-12), he didn’t really seem to understand just how wrong it was until Nathan approached him. 

Emotionally, he was fully invested in his actions. Objectively, viewing it through the eyes of the parable, he saw just how wrong he was. 

That’s the beauty of hindsight and the power of stories like these preserved through posterity. Most now can see the problem with the brothers’ revenge, but they had justified it in their mind because of their emotions.

That’s really the problem with revenge, isn’t it? Since it’s emotionally charged, it makes no sense to anyone unless you are the person that feels victimized. Later, after that emotion wears off, you see the effects of your rage.

This is why Paul says in Ephesians 4:26 to “be angry, and sin not.” You’re allowed to be angry, but you’re not allowed to destroy an entire town in your wrath. Justice should always be left up to God (Romans 12:19).