This post is part of an ongoing series. The series is introduced here.
One thing I’m constantly at pains to teach my students is that the Bible was written in time. It’s not a giant book of aphorisms from which we can freely draft captions for inspirational posters. It matters that this book of the Bible precedes that one and follows that one. It matters that Deuteronomy was written after Exodus. We see many of the same laws (case law, mind you), and the relative contexts can be helpful in understanding them.
For example, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 gives the following instruction: “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.” Wow. Can you say sexist woman-hating pig? A man rapes a woman, and she has to marry her rapist? All he has to do is pay off her father? How is this justice?
Deuteronomy means “second law:” it was written (and is meant to be read) after Exodus, where the law was first given. There’s a corresponding passage in Exodus that may help shed some light: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins” (Exodus 22:16-17). Depending on how angry you already are, this may make things worse.
As I said the other day, God hates rape. He doesn’t condone it. It doesn’t get overlooked when money changes hands. This all goes back to God’s intention for marriage. God intended that marriage and sex would go together. In the case of rape, God desires redemption and restoration. It would be best, if she were willing, for these two people to be together. Notice that the man doesn’t get a choice here: he made his decision when he raped her. She does; again, JPS indicates that in this situation the girl and her father can refuse the young man. In that case, he must pay the bride price, not as payment for property, but to show the value of the young woman whom he has violated.
These laws were set in place to protect young women from rape and indignity, not to enslave them. Laws like this in Israel were meant to keep young men honest and young women safe. You may think our culture is better– we have no statistics from ancient Israel for comparison, but it is difficult to imagine a worse scenario than the one facing us today. 33% of children in America grow up in homes with no fathers. A woman’s chance of being raped in the U.S. is 1 in 5, and over half of those are never reported.
We may understand the world of the Bible. We may not understand the cultures of the time. We certainly do not understand the mind of God. But I hope we can see, upon careful, faithful investigation of the Scripture, that God is a God who hates sin and loves righteousness, a God who cares to protect the weak and vulnerable in any culture, a God who loves women and sent his Son into the world to redeem them, to make them heirs of the grace of life.