Russell and Duenes

Hard O.T. Texts: Women Being Raped

with 5 comments

Deuteronomy 22 proves to be a difficult and unsavory chapter for our modern ears as well. In vs.23-24 it reads,

If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, 24then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

Some object to the fact that the woman has to “cry out” in order to be considered innocent. But again, try not to think of this as we would of some kind of modern armed assault where a man might stick a gun in a woman’s back on a dark street and rape her at gunpoint, or worse, break into her house with a gun and do the same. This is not a scenario we would see among a nomadic people wandering in the desert. Nor should we imagine Israelite towns to be anything like modern suburban subdivisions. Obviously this didn’t preclude men from seizing women and forcing themselves on them, otherwise there would have been no need for this law, but women were certainly not as autonomous and independent as they are today. Today’s women are often left very vulnerable.

At any rate, I think this law is simply trying to ameliorate a bad situation. If a man takes a woman and tries to have sex with her, and she says nothing, what other assumption could we make than that she consented to it? If the law were such that a woman could claim rape, thus bringing capital punishment on the man and nothing on herself (identical to the law pertaining to rape in the countryside), you can see how that would be worse. If a woman is raped outside the city, she has recourse. But if she’s in the city, and witnesses are around, and says nothing, she forfeits that recourse, and this is really the only way justice could be served in that context.

Now, the harder text is what comes next: If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29then 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 (vs.28-29).

I don’t have some kind of “easy” explanation of this, so I’ll just make the observations that strike me. First, since the woman in this case is unmarried, it is not a case of adultery, and as such, does not require capital punishment. This does not mean it is not a serious crime. I don’t know how to assess the severity of the penalty for the man. Further, we have a parallel text in Exodus 22 which envisions the same crime, but grants the father of the woman the right to refuse the marriage to his daughter. This may have been assumed when reading the text in Deuteronomy. I can’t say what a godly father would do in such cases. The social context with respect to women was so different from ours and as such different considerations would have to be made.

But if the father does grant the marriage, the man is now responsible for being her husband and providing for her for the rest of his life. Now, I know we saying to ourselves, “So this woman has essentially been raped and now she must live with this rapist as her husband for the rest of her life? True love, eh! And what kind of husband will this man be, seeing as he raped her?” But let’s consider the alternatives in that context. If the man rapes her and does not become her husband, what will she do? It is not likely that another man will marry her, given that she has been violated and “defiled” (cf., Duet.24:4), and if/ once her father cannot provide for her, how will she survive financially?

None of my explanation here is meant to soften a hard situation. There is no law that can do that, sin being what it is. We underestimate sin’s power and effects constantly in our world today. And if this happened to one of my daughters or one of my sisters, I would shriek in horror. But I do think that what we are seeing once again is God’s desire to lessen and ameliorate the evil that would occur without such a law, where men would be able to basically do what they want with impunity. God’s law takes into account our sinfulness and works to counteract it and lessen its painful toll on us. Of course, it also points us forward to Christ, as all the Scriptures do, showing us the utter brokenness, pain and horror in a world filled with sin. When looking to Christ, the Israelites are looking to a Redeemer, one who will go through far worse pain and misery than any human ever contemplated, and who will set all injustices right when he comes in glory to be worshipped and honored by his people. Christ’s life in us makes good the promise that “our sufferings in this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom.8:18).



Written by Michael Duenes

July 2, 2010 at 10:33 am

Posted in Duenes, Theology

5 Responses

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  1. I appreciate the importance you have placed upon context. Obviously, there are legal (woman crying out) and social (the man having to marry her) concerns here. My question is, doesn’t contextualization of the passage point to the idea that, perhaps, these are laws for a desert people chosen by God? In other words, does contextual analysis point to the conclusion that the passages and surrounding passages are not eternal, deontological definitions of sin, but rather a legal framework through which a desert people’s (and mankind’s) depravity is being revealed? I tend to think so and, thus, I think morality is much more situational than anyone admits. Of course, other more directly scriptures point to that conclusion (eg, David eating the priests’ food), but I think it’s important to consider it when looking at these “hard passages.”

    Joshua House

    July 2, 2010 at 11:06 am

  2. I agree that these are control laws, put in place to ultimately protect women who are living in a sinful society in which men hold much more power.

    I also want to say two words: progressive revelation. The Israelites didn’t know God fully, they were only starting to see in part. Until we see God’s grace revealed in Christ, we don’t understand the greater demands of love (that far exceed living by rules) nor that men, women, slave, free are all the same in Christ.

    Thank God we don’t live under the old covenant.


    July 2, 2010 at 11:35 am

    • Andy and Josh – Both of your points are well-taken and, I think, reflected in my interpretations. I have been explicit in all posts to show how these texts are specific to the Old Testament and point the way forward to God’s greatest and final revelation in Christ. These laws clearly are for a nomadic people wandering in the desert. However, they are also to remain in place for the remainder of the Old Covenant, and thus are applicable to their life in the promised land. Andy, I agree with you essentially, only I object, as always, to your false dichotomy between “rules” and “Christ.” Christ gave us rules, and we live upon them by the power of the Spirit, a power which we have in greater measure than O.T. saints. I don’t think you and I think about the Old Covenant similarly, at least in our attitude toward it. Yes, living under the New Covenant is better, but Old Covenant saints were not living some kind of non-spiritual, hellish existence, trying to keep rules, as you put it, under their own power, while we here in the New Covenant have dispensed with all that. That’s a misunderstanding of the Old Covenant. Yes, revelation is progressive, but I find that one of the most challenging things about knowing God is knowing his character based on the entire Scripture, and not just the New Covenant, which means we have to understand the relationship between the covenants. But that’s another topic for another day.



      July 2, 2010 at 10:00 pm

  3. For me, “by” means “by the agency of” or “through,” which is why I say that I don’t live by rules. My understanding is that there is a law that hasn’t changed, though we see it better because we’ve seen Christ. But now this Law is to be written on our hearts. We live out the law by the Spirit, and we have a spirit of love, not fear. We can take risks and live to the fullest without holding back because we know the love of God. Living by rules, not the the Spirit, will tend to keep people under control. People under rules are quick to learn the minimum standards. Only those who know the love of God will have the desire and freedom to take great risks and adventures of faith.

    I’m not saying people in the OT never knew the heart of God, because there are examples like Samuel, Elijah, etc. But on the whole we’re much better off now, because we in Christ all have his Spirit living within us.

    I’m trying to not disparage the OT, but I can’t help resonating with what Paul wrote about being free from the law of sin and death, in Romans 6-8. I don’t want a new law, or rules to live by, but my impression is that the early church soon began returning to the comfort of rules in the hands of men rather than testing the wildness and freedom of life Jesus intended.

    Sorry this is so far off topic.


    July 7, 2010 at 10:18 am

    • Andy – It’s not off topic, and you are quite right about the indwelling Holy Spirit for New Covenant believers. And yes, the law is written on our hearts in a way that it was not for OT believers, as this is one of the promises of the New Covenant (Jer.31, cf. Heb.8). And Paul’s reflections in Romans 6-8 mean simply that the Law did not carry with it the power to obey. As you rightly point out, the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is what allows us “to fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law” (Rom.8:4). All I was trying to say is that an OT law like, “Don’t boil a kid in it’s mother’s milk” was to be obeyed by grace through faith just as surely as “Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth (Eph.4:29)” is to be obeyed by grace through faith. Neither was intended to be obeyed apart from God’s grace. So there was to be no “living by rules, not by the Spirit” in either testament.



      July 8, 2010 at 7:37 am

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