Kat Armstrong was born in Houston, Texas, where the humidity ruins her Mexi-German curls. She is a powerful voice in our generation as a sought-after Bible teacher and innovative ministry leader. She holds a master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and is the author of No More Holding Back and The In-Between Place. In 2008, Kat cofounded the Polished Network to gather working women in person and online to navigate careers and explore faith in authentic community.
As the host of The Polished Podcast, she interviews working women at the crossroads of faith and work. Kat is a proud board member of Pillar Seminary. She and her husband, Aaron, have been married for eighteen years and live in Dallas, Texas, with their son, Caleb, and attend Dallas Bible Church, where Aaron serves as the lead pastor.
“We are standing in modern-day Samaria. You’ll remember, it’s the setting for the story of the woman at the well. And now we’ll hear from Jackie Roese about Dinah’s story from Genesis 34.” One casual transition statement from our Israel tour guide, Ronnie, about the Holy Land site visit for the day to our Bible teacher, Jackie Roese, reoriented the way I read the Samaritan woman’s conversation with Jesus in John 4.
How did I not see it sooner? When I discovered that both Dinah’s story from Genesis 34 and the Samarian woman’s conversation with Jesus in John 4 have Samaria as their setting, I realized there is divine purpose in the places and spaces God revisits in the Scriptures.
Dr. Richard Bauckham’s compelling book Bible and Mission, deepened my appreciation for the redemption story we see woven from Genesis to Revelation. He points out that “biblical scholars and theologians have usually found biblical history more significant than biblical geography. Yet there is a great deal of geography in the Bible, much of it literal, but much of it also used with symbolic significance.”[i] I have to agree. His point made sense to me after tracing the biblical history of Shechem in the Old Testament, which is called Sychar in the New Testament.
Many tragic and traumatic events took place in Shechem, one being the rape of Dinah in Genesis 34. If sexual violence toward women is a trigger for you, hear me when I tell you it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t deserve it. God is not okay with the way you were abused, and you are so loved.
Shechem, a Really Bad Place
At first, Shechem was a host to God himself. Genesis 12 tells us that Abram built an altar to God in Shechem. This historic setting sounds like a safe place to meet God, worship him, and experience the peace of his presence. That’s what makes the next major biblical reference to Shechem so startling. In Genesis 34, Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, was raped in Shechem by a man named Shechem. At that point it became a corner of the earth where unspeakable violence toward women happened and where silence about sexual violence toward women became the status quo.
In the following chapter of Genesis, we see the patriarch Jacob trying to bury his idols in the ground at Shechem. Imagine this pathetic scene: the great leader of our faith, Jacob, attempting to hide physical evidence of sin, as if the dirt could absolve God’s people of idol worship. Jacob’s beloved son, Joseph, was sold into slavery in Shechem in Genesis 37, so it became a place where family members turned against family members with murderous intentions and where betrayal ended in human trafficking. What was once an area visited by God and marked by his presence became a crime scene for cover-ups, rape, attempted murder, and the slave trade.
It only got worse.
Image: Personal photo
Tucked into the sad history of Israel, under the judges’ leadership, is a story about evil King Abimelech (Judges 9). He tortured people and reigned with reckless abandon to all of his corrupt and destructive impulses. Not only did men like Shechem from Genesis 34 abuse women there, but the town also became a place where fickle followers empowered abusive men to oppress innocent victims. Evil was not just happening in Shechem; it was celebrated with a crown. The evil king Rehoboam was also coronated in Shechem (1 Kings 12:1). Although his reign was less severe than King Abimelech’s, it was disturbing nonetheless.
The next time we see Shechem it is renamed Sychar in John 4 where Jesus has his conversation with the woman at the well. John wrote that Jesus “had” to travel through Samaria, but the thing is, he didn’t. At least not in the usual way we interpret the word had to mean “had no choice.” Jesus made a deliberate choice. His destination, Sychar, would lead to a sacred conversation that would have redemptive impact on us all. To our surprise, what we soon learn is the Savior’s presence meant all bets were off. Look with me at a comparison between Dinah and the woman at the well’s experience in Shechem.
Dinah and the Samaritan Woman at the Well
Leah and Jacob’s daughter Dinah went out one day to visit her friends. Along the way, the prince’s son, Shechem, spotted her, stole her, and attacked her. Abusing her was not enough for Shechem. He became obsessed with her and enlisted his father, Hamor, to help him keep her under his power forever as his wife. Or should we say toy?
When Jacob, one of the fathers of our faith, heard his daughter had been “defiled,” he kept silent. Dinah’s brothers, on the other hand, were furious, enraged by the disgrace. A deal was then struck between Jacob and his sons and Shechem and his dad regarding the fate of the victimized young girl. She would marry Shechem, her rapist, but in turn, Hamor, Shechem, and their people would have to be circumcised. The terms of negotiation were simply a ploy to give Dinah’s brothers an advantage as they schemed revenge. Weakened from their surgeries, Hamor and Shechem and their people would be unable to defend themselves from Dinah’s brothers. Their plan worked, and Genesis 34 ends with mass murder and more women being brutalized.
Although Jacob seemed unconcerned with Dinah’s pain, he reprimanded his sons’ behavior with scolding remarks about how their revenge would bring trouble upon himself. Trouble to Jacob? Wow. Never mind Dinah’s troubles. Dinah became a discarded widow, and we never hear about her again in the Scriptures except when she’s mentioned as one of Leah’s daughters (Gen. 46:15).
In Dinah’s culture, women were objects to be acquired to produce male heirs for their husbands. The value assigned to a baby girl was woefully less than that of a male child. One way we know this to be true is the lack of daughters listed in the Bible at their birth. Dinah makes biblical history by being one of the very few (Gen. 30:21). And we see in her story that being Israelite “royalty” did not shelter her from oppression. In contrast, the Samaritan woman at the well is nameless in the text. But don’t miss the truth that Jesus knew her name. We may not, but he did. While Dinah is the first named daughter in the Bible, and her experience represents evil’s accessibility to even the most prestigious, the nameless woman at the well in John 4 represents all women, all Gentiles, and ultimately, all people.
In Dinah’s story we were introduced to her father’s landlord, Hamor the Hivite, the “region’s chieftain” (Gen. 34:2), and Hamor’s son, Shechem. The saying “like father, like son” rings true for these two. Hamor and Shechem, both princes of terror, sharply contrast the main man in John 4, Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Whereas Hamor and Shechem gave their town a bad name with their intimidation, Jesus, the one who knows all our names, ushers in harmony and safety with his presence.
When Dinah casually ventured out to connect with her friends, the mood was chill. Just another day. But while Dinah was minding her own business, Shechem was hunting his prey. We get the sense from the story that we need to hide from his wandering eye and protect ourselves from his looming presence. Compare that to the nameless Samaritan woman at the well who encountered the Prince of Peace. The Samaritan woman was also minding her own business, but when Jesus sat down near the well, his posture spoke to his vulnerability. Our Savior was a safe stranger to approach. Unlike Shechem, Jesus just wanted to talk.
What gets me in Dinah’s story is her father’s silence. Jacob, the man in her life tasked with her protection and provision, seemed uncaring at best. His reaction to his daughter’s rape shows him complicit in her trauma and a coconspirator in her demise. Not only do we not have a record of him ripping his clothes in mourning, shouting to the rooftops with anger, cursing his daughter’s tormentor, or falling to his knees in grief, we have no record of him talking to his daughter about her most painful moment. Shockingly, just a few chapters later, Jacob’s reaction to his son Joseph’s rumored death is full of emotional expressions we should have seen in Dinah’s story too. What kind of godly parent abandons a young girl to process her trauma on her own? Apparently, the same kind of guy willing to sell her off to a possessive sexual predator infatuated with his daughter. Why did Jacob sell her out? He bought his land from Shechem’s powerful dad, Hamor. To confront the sin could have meant disrupting the existing power structures and threatening his own power and possessions.
Contrast Jacob’s silence to the long conversation Jesus initiated with an unclean woman in Samaria. Even though Jesus knew every part of her story, he wanted her to tell it. He listened. He cared. Allowing her own voice to speak her truth, Jesus engaged her in “one of the longest continuous narratives” in the book of John.[ii] It’s as if Jesus wanted to remind you and me that we are worth a sit-down, face-to-face conversation. Jesus gave the Samaritan woman the dignity Dinah should have received from her father, Jacob. In doing so, Jesus gave away his power. He did not dominate the exchange, disrespect her by “mansplaining” her experience, or fail to believe her. Twice Jesus told her, “What you have said is true,” confirming his trust in her testimony and validating her story. Did you know Dinah was never heard in all of the Scriptures? Never. Her perspective was never given a voice. Jesus not only gave the Samaritan woman a voice, he also then gave her an audience to proclaim her truth—and the truth that Jesus is the Savior of the world.
Dinah’s story ends in Genesis 34 with genocide, and you can’t help but close the chapter disappointed that there was no redemption in the ending. In sharp contrast, the Samaritan woman’s story in John 4 ends with many in the town being saved. Dinah’s story begins with a dead-end future and ends in the death of a whole people group. The Samaritan woman’s story begins with a curious encounter and ends in a whole group of people finding eternal life. While Dinah and the woman at the well are connected through Shechem, Jacob and Jesus are contrasted through Shechem.
Jacob’s failures as a patriarch left a woman vulnerable, but Jesus is better than Jacob in every respect. In fact, this was one of the questions the Samaritan woman asked of Jesus in John 4:12: “Are you greater than our father Jacob?” The answer is yes. Jesus is greater.
Metaphorically speaking, I think God is showing us what he can do with our Shechem-like places. No longer will silence about rape be tolerated here. No longer will we tolerate abusive men in positions of power. It ends with Jesus. He enters into our broken places like he owns them—and he redeems them. No place is too broken, no person too far gone for Jesus to change the narrative with his presence.
Maybe you think the hardships or the trauma you’ve suffered feel like ancient history still haunting your present and hindering your future. Well, I have good news for you: Jesus specializes in redeeming broken places. What he did for Shechem, I know he can do for you.
[i] Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 55.
[ii] Ben Witherington, John’s Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 115.