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Calvin on Genesis 34:1-7 

Jacob's trial; guidance for young men and women


Commentary on Genesis 34:1-7 by John Calvin (1509-1564).  

One of the leading lights of the Reformation in Europe, John Calvin was born in Noyon, Picardy in France. What Martin Luther had begun by God’s mighty power, John Calvin carried on, teaching the doctrine and application of justification by faith alone in the Christ revealed in Scripture alone; and endeavouring to apply Scriptural teaching to every area of life. Pressed by a friend named William Farel to stay in Geneva to preach (that city being a haven for persecuted Christians), Calvin at length complied, and the Genevan Church became a centre of the Protestant Reformation. The Scottish Reformer John Knox spoke of the Church in Geneva as “the most perfect school of Christ since the days of the apostles”.


1. And Dinah....went out. This chapter records a severe contest, with which God again exercised his servant. How precious the chastity of his daughter would be to him, we may readily conjecture from the probity of his whole life. When therefore he heard that she was violated, this disgrace would inflict the deepest wound of grief upon his mind: yet soon his grief is trebled, when he hears that his sons, from the desire of revenge, have committed a most dreadful crime. But let us examine everything in order. Dinah is ravished, because, having left her father's house, she wandered about more freely than was proper. She ought to have remained quietly at home, as both the Apostle teaches and nature itself dictates; for to girls the virtue is suitable, which the proverb applies to women, that they should be oikouroi, or keepers of the house. Therefore fathers of families are taught to keep their daughters under strict discipline, if they desire to preserve them free from all dishonour; for if a vain curiosity was so heavily punished in the daughter of holy Jacob, not less danger hangs over weak virgins at this day, if they go too boldly and eagerly into public assemblies, and excite the passions of youth towards themselves. For it is not to be doubted that Moses in part casts the blame of the offence upon Dinah herself, when he says, "she went out to see the daughters of the land;" whereas she ought to have remained under her mother's eyes in the tent.


3. And his soul clave unto Dinah. Moses intimates that she was not so forcibly violated, that Shechem having once abused her, treated her with contempt, as is usual with harlots; for he loved her as a wife; and did not even object to be circumcised that he might have her; but the fervour of lust had so prevailed, that he first subjected her to disgrace. And therefore although he embraced Dinah with real and sincere attachment, yet, in this want of self-government, he grievously sinned. Shechem "spoke to the heart" of the maid, that is, he addressed her courteously, to allure her to himself by his bland speeches: whence it follows, that when she was unwilling and resisted, he used violence towards her.


4. And Shechem said to his father Hamor. In this place it is more clearly expressed, that Shechem desired to have Dinah for his wife; for his lust was not so unbridled, that when he had defiled, he despised her. Besides, a laudable modesty is shown, since he pays deference to the will of his father; for he does not attempt to form a contract of marriage of his own mind, but leaves this to his father's authority. For though he had basely fallen through the precipitate ardour of lust; yet now returning to himself, he follows the guidance of nature. So much the more ought young men to take head to themselves, lest in the slippery period of their age, the lusts of the flesh should impel them to many crimes. For, at this day, greater license everywhere prevails, so that no moderation restrains youths from shameful conduct. Since, however, Shechem, under the rule and direction of nature, desired his father to be the procurer of his marriage, we hence infer that the right which parents have over their children is inviolable; so that they who attempt to overthrow it, confound heaven and earth. Wherefore, since the Pope, in honour of marriage, has dared to break this sacred bond of nature; this fornicator Shechem alone, will prove a judge sufficient, and more than sufficient, to condemn that barbarous conduct.


5. And Jacob heard. Moses inserts a single verse concerning the silent sorrow of Jacob. We know that they who have not been accustomed to reproaches, are the more grievously affected when any dishonour happens to them. Therefore the more this prudent man had endeavoured to keep his family pure from every stain, chaste and well-ordered, the more deeply is he wounded. But since he is at home alone, he dissembles, and keeps his grief to himself, till his sons return from the field. Moreover, by this word, Moses does not mean that Jacob deferred vengeance till their return; but that, being alone and devoid of counsel and of consolation, he lay prostrate as one disheartened. The sense then is, that he was so oppressed with insupportable grief, that he held his peace.[1] By using the word "defiled," Moses teaches us what is the true purity of man; namely, when chastity is religiously cultivated, and every one possesses his vessel in honour. But whoever prostitutes his body to fornication, filthily defiles himself. If then Dinah is said to have been polluted, whom Shechem had forcibly violated, what must be said of voluntary adulterers and fornicators?


7. And the sons of Jacob come out of the field. Moses begins to relate the tragic issue of this history. Shechem, indeed, had acted wickedly and impiously; but it was far more atrocious and wicked that the sons of Jacob should murder a whole people, to avenge themselves of the private fault of one man. It was by no means fitting to seek a cruel compensation for the levity and rashness of one youth, by the slaughter of so many men. Again, who had constituted them judges, that they should dare, with their own hands, to execute vengeance for an injury inflicted upon them? Perfidy was also superadded, because they proceeded, under the pretext of a covenant, to perpetrate this enormous crime. In Jacob, moreover, we have an admirable example of patient endurance; who, though afflicted with so many evils, yet did not faint under them. But chiefly we must consider the mercy of God, by which it came to pass, that the covenant of grace remained with the posterity of Jacob. For what seemed less suitable, than that a few men in whom such furious rage and such implacable malice reigned, should be reckoned among the people and the sons of God, to the exclusion of all the world besides? We see certainly that it was not through any power of their own that they had not altogether declined from the kingdom of God. Whence it appears that the favour which God had vouchsafed unto them was gratuitous, and not founded upon their merits. We also require to be treated by Him with the same indulgence, seeing that we should utterly fall away, if God did not pardon our sins. The sons of Jacob have, indeed, a just cause of offence, because not only are they affected with their own private ignominy, but they are tormented with the indignity of the crime, because their sister had been dragged forth from the house of Jacob, as from a sanctuary, to be violated. For this they chiefly urge, that it would have been wickedness to allow such disgrace in the elect and holy people:[2] but they themselves, through hatred of one sin, rush furiously forward to greater and more intolerable crimes. Therefore we must beware, lest, after we have become severe judges in condemning the faults of others, we hasten inconsiderately into evil. But chiefly we must abstain from violent remedies which surpass the evil we desire to correct.



[1] Or, he might be restrained by prudence from imparting his feelings to others, lest by making them public, he should expose himself to danger, before he was prepared to meet it. At all events, it was wise to restrain the expression of his indignation, till he was surrounded by those who might help him with their counsel, or attempt the rescue of his daughter from the hands of her violator. Ed.                                       

[2] "He had wrought folly in Israel." Ainsworth says, "Or against Israel." "Israel being put for the posterity of Israel." Professor Bush says, "Rather, 'Because folly had been wrought in Israel,' (the active for the passive)." But perhaps Ainsworth's translation is to be preferred. "This is the first instance on record where the family of Jacob is designated by the distinguished patronymic title of 'Israel,' which afterwards became the dominant appellation of his posterity." Bush in loc. Ed.


“Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles,” by John Calvin. Translated by the Rev. John King, M.A.. Originally printed for the Calvin Translation Society, Edinburgh, Scotland. Reprinted 2003 by Baker Books (USA). pp. 218-221.