Chapter 34 picks up around ten years after Jacob parted ways with Esau and settled his family in Shechem, a pilgrimage which should have carried on to Bethel. Dinah was a child of perhaps seven when the family left Paddan-aram. Now, in Succoth and Shechem, enough time has lapsed for Jacob to build homes and cattle stalls. Dinah is now a young woman and tragedy is about to strike. Chapter 34 relates a series of events which remind us of the grievous cost of sin.
Derek Kidner writes:
Shechem offered Jacob the attractions of a compromise. His summons was to Bethel; but Shechem, about a day’s journey short of it, stood attractively at the crossroads of trade. He was called to be a stranger and pilgrim; but while buying his own plot of land there (33:19) he could argue that it was within his promised borders. It was disobedience none the less, and his pious act of rearing an altar and claiming his new name of Israel could not disguise the fact.
Chapter 34 shows the cost of it, paid in rape, treachery and massacre, a chain of evil that proceeded logically enough from the unequal partnership with the Canaanite community. There would still be echoes of it in the days of the Judges (Judges 9:28). Its very fierceness, as it turned out, saved Jacob, in his mood of appeasement (vv. 5, 30), from re-enacting the story of Lot: only fear for his life opened his ears again to God’s call to Bethel.
Once again the story of Jacob speaks of the tragedy of sin and points to the necessity of redeeming grace. Sinners need far more than healing from brokenness. Sinners need a divine, sin-bearing substitute. Sinners need their guilt to be assuaged, their sins forgiven, and their lives redeemed. And in Jesus Christ all of this has been purchased on the cross for the worst of sinners.