dear Matthew Henry,

I’m sure you have a lot of good things to say, but this particular one makes me wish to punch you in the face.

First, I should announce to the (small, but nonetheless important) readership of this site, that for a while now, I have been  struggling exploring what feminism might mean within the framework of my beliefs.  I would agree with people who say that radical feminism is unhealthy, but I would argue that the Apostle Paul himself was the first advocate of feminism in its purest form: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – Galatians 3:28.

Anyway. Last night I was surfing some blogs and I stumbled across a young lady’s blog post about Dinah, Jacob’s daughter and Shechem. The main gist is of the Bible story is that Shechem meets Dinah, sleeps with her and then asks for her hand in marriage. Obviously this is the cart before the horse*, but that does not excuse the fact that Jacob gets him and his entire clan to get circumcised and then Jacob’s sons slaughter them all.

This young lady’s blog post started out with extended quotation from Matthew Henry’s commentary about Genesis 34, which starts out like this:

Young persons, especially females, are never so safe and well off as under the care of pious parents. They are their own enemies if they desire to go abroad, especially alone, among strangers to true religion.

He goes on to call Dinah an “indulged” child, who wandered out on pretence to see the women of the land “to see how they dressed, and how they danced, and what was fashionable among them,” essentially, she was out “gadding.”

I don’t see any evidence of that in the passage. The only thing the passage says about Dinah is that she “went out to see the daughters of the land.” This is before any of the Lord’s commands to not mingle with other peoples, right? So we’re going to just condemn her for going out to visit friends, and we’re going to assume that she had frivolous reasons for it even though the Bible doesn’t say anything of the kind?

The initial details of Shechem and Dinah’s meeting are a little vague, we aren’t told that there was violence involved, inf fact, the author tells us of Shechem’s love for Dinah and his desire to have her as his wife, and that he agreed to join the religion of Jacob because he delighted in her and because he was more honorable than all his father’s house. And yet Jacob’s sons slaughtered him and his entire household.  Matthew Henry draws out a cause for this, a moralizing of the scripture that I detest. From this horrific tale of blood and slaughter, we are to conclude that it is all Dinah’s fault for going out that day.

There’s a whole discussion we could have here about whether this, as the young blogger I was reading decided, indicated that a woman should never leave her father’s house alone whether just to gad about or to live, as I do, in a home of my own, but I will leave that for another time.

When I read this passage, I see anger and unforgiveness on the part of Jacob’s sons (who are rebuked for their father for it), and sincere desire to join families on the part of Hamor and Shechem, and I’m tempted to blame Simeon and Levi far more than youthful indiscretions. It seems to me that moralizing that “[f]oolish pleasures lead to seduction; seduction produces wrath; wrath thirsts for revenge; the thirst of revenge has recourse to treachery; treachery issues in murder; and murder is followed by other lawless actions,” takes a lot of the blame of human bloodshed off of Levi and Shechem’s head and places it on a barely teenage girl.

This is a situation where I am inclined to abandon Matthew Henry for John Wesley’s straightforward “And here we have a particular account of the treaty, in which it is a shame to say the Canaanites were more honest than the Israelites…Nothing can excuse this execrable villainy.” How true, Wesley, how true. Let’s not lay blame at the doors of those who do not deserve it.

*Although I smell a double standard, here, Matthew Henry, when your commentary on Ruth’s liason with Boaz simply says “What in one age or nation would be improper, is not always so in another age or another nation.”  As Buffy noted to me, it’s interesting what we’ve learned to accept and condemn.

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One thought on “dear Matthew Henry,

  1. Is Mr Henry suffering from that problem of thinking that the patriarchs were always right? Seems to me that the point is that our Lord is gracious and merciful to His people for the sake of His promise to them and not because they’re always oh-so-good. But if we WANT them to be oh-so-good, we’ll come up with some pretty weird interpretations.

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