Jacob sent Joseph to Shechem to check on his sons and his flocks.
- Shechem was the place where Abraham had first gone when he obediently left Haran for the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:1-7)
- At Shechem, God had appeared to Abraham and told him that Canaan was to be his offspring's possession. (Genesis 12:7)
- Abraham also built an altar to God there. (Genesis 12:7)
- After Jacob came back to Canaan from Laban's household in Paddan Aram, he bought a plot of ground that was within sight of the city of Shechem. (Genesis 33:18)
- Jacob bought this land from the sons of Hamor (who was the father of the man Shechem). (Genesis 33:19)
- Jacob also built an altar at his plot of land near the city of Shechem. (Genesis 33:20) He called it El Elohe Israel, which means 'God, the God of Israel' or 'Mighty is the God of Israel'.
- Jacob's daughter Dinah was raped by Shechem (the son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area) when she went out to visit the women of the city. In retaliation, Dinah's brothers killed all the men of Shechem. Afterwards, Jacob's sons looted the city and took all their wealth, wives and children. (Genesis 34)
As Jacob sent Joseph, he may have been wondering about the safety of his sons and flocks as they grazed near Shechem. However, the flocks continually needed new land on which to graze, and water to drink. Perhaps Jacob had figured that the area of Shechem would have remained somewhat deserted after the plundering of the city. Also, his sons were grown men who could take care of themselves. Nevertheless, Jacob seems to have some concern for them, so he sends Joseph to check on them. He may have wanted to check on them for other reasons as well, after Joseph's previous bad report. (Genesis 37:2)