Deuteronomy 21-23 Rated R: If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her

From Deuteronomy 21-23

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Today’s passage continues the commands included in the law of Moses. Our passage considers how to deal with sexual immorality. The passage may be upsetting for some. So I have rated this post R because of the depictions of forced sex in it. I suggest if you are sensitive to such things you don’t read this post.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

Today’s passage echoes Exodus 22 and gives a series of commands about sex for marrieds and singles. It might be helpful to know women were basically seen as the property of men in their culture. Young virgin women in particular were worth a fair amount of money ($$$) to their fathers. They could marry them off for a nice dowery. Men wanted to marry virgin women to secure a pure family line.

In most cases I would hope marriages were healthy and both parties were happy.

These laws give instruction when things go horribly wrong.

13 “If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her 14 and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,’

15 then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. 16 And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; 17 and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city.

18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him, 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days.

20 But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Dt 22.13-21)

Sometimes the transaction does not go as planned.

The husband sleeps with his wife and has second thoughts.

If he tries to convince others she wasn’t a virgin and didn’t get what he paid for. He will be in dispute with her father who wants to protect his family name.

Her evidence of virginity is the blood stained sheets from the wedding night. This assumes that first time sex for a woman will break the hymen and cause her to bleed. We know today this is not always the case.

Take note of the punishments as we step through the passage.

If the man is wrong and she is shown to be a virgin. He will get whipped. He will have to pay her father a large amount of money and she shall remain his wife.

On the other hand, if they cannot prove the woman’s virginity they will assume she has prostituted herself in her father’s house and then led others to think she was a virgin. In this case she will be stoned to death.

22 “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. (Dt 22.22)

This is clear cut adultery. She is the ‘wife of another man’ and by having sex they break the covenant vow between the woman and her husband. The punishment for this sexual crime is death. Both the woman and the man shall die (‘purge the evil’).

23 “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, 24 then 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. (Dt 22.23-24)

Betrothed virgins are largely considered to be married. But the bride price has not been exchanged and the marriage has not been consummated. None the less they consider what happens to be adultery and therefore it warrants the same punishment.

The man has to die. The woman is obligated to cry out for help. In the city people would hear her cry for help. If she doesn’t then it is assumed the sex was consensual and she is killed as well.

This may be so, but there could be something else that needs to be said. The text doesn’t seem to take into account woman can get so afraid when they are attacked their bodies can shut down leaving them unable to cry out. The law of Moses doesn’t seem to take into account these innocent victims.

25 “But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, 27 because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 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. (Dt 22.25-29)

Difficult passage. In both sections (v25-27, 28-30) the man seizes (also could be rendered ‘captured’, ‘took hold of’) the woman (v25,28). It’s probable the text is describing forced sex – rape. The forced sex in v25-27 also happens in the ‘open country’. No one would hear her when she cried out for help.

The text makes a distinction between betrothed women and unbetrothed women.

Betrothed women are assumed to be married. So the man commits adultery. The man must die. From before if the betrothed woman did not cry out she must die as well (v23-24). Here the text assumes she did cry out, but no one could hear her. She later reports the crime and the man dies for committing adultery.

If the woman is not betrothed, that is she is a single woman. The adultery laws do not apply. The man could be married or single the text doesn’t say. Either way the man must pay her father the bride price and she becomes his wife.

If we assume rape is being described. Sadly the text does not exact a punishment for the man’s action in ‘seizing’ the woman. He is not punished. He is not killed for what he did and does not have to make a sin offering. Which suggests the text does not see his actions as sinful either. The only thing the law obligates him to do is pay the bride price and have her as his wife.

What if the sex was consensual?

The text suggests it doesn’t consider consensual sex between a man (married or single) and a single woman to be sin either. The same applies for Ex 22.16-17 where it opens up the possibility the man does not have to marry the woman.

All this applies to those under the law of Moses.

30  “A man shall not take his father’s wife, so that he does not uncover his father’s nakedness. (Dt 22.30)

The father’s wife is not his mother. His father must have married more than one woman. As we have seen in Leviticus 18 the man is not allowed to sleep with her.

Story of Israel

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

The two most relevant passages in Israel’s history concerning these commands are Hos 1.2-3 and 2 Sam 13.11-15.

In Hosea the LORD commands the prophet to take a prostitute as his wife. We don’t know if she carried out her trade in her father’s house, but the incident is a clear exception to what we have seen above (Dt 22.13-21). Hosea is meant to be a visible enactment of the relationship the LORD has with Israel. Hosea’s relationship with Gomer is not meant to be a good relationship.

In 2 Sam 13.11-15 there is a horrible story of the rape of an unbetrothed virgin named Tamar. After the ordeal Tamar amazingly pleads with her rapist Amnon to remain with her in the hope they will be married. As we have seen above in Dt 22.29 this is what would have been required of him under the law of Moses. Amnon refuses and casts her away, now a destitute woman. He will eventually be punished for his crime.

Story of Jesus

Overall we haven’t seen much in the way of women’s rights in these passages. Men are generally disciplined, women are killed. In the gospel Jesus levels the playing field in marriage.

3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”

8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Mt 19.3-9)

Jesus’ basic point is that women are not playthings that men can do with as they want and then throw away when they please. Marriage is intended to be permanent. In Ephesians we see a symbol of Christ’s relationship with the church. A reverse of what Hosea had to go through.

Men need to take their marriage vows seriously. They need to treat women with care and respect. How do you treat the women in your life?

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2016. All Rights Reserved.