How’s that for a title?
Deuteronomy 22 is a chapter that a lot of people love to hate. Most often it is used to show how backwards and oppressive the Bible is to women. And, in all fairness, I can see why they think that. It’s a tricky chapter.
But I do think there is more going on here than we might initially think. And it is worth it to look closely at these laws and what they are designed to do.
I will barely be scratching the surface with my thoughts here. So feel free to add your own in the comments.
One thing became very clear from this chapter: In Israelite society, sex was incredibly important. Sexual activity could (aside from the consequences you might expect: pleasure, pregnancy, or disease) get you fined a hefty amount of money, trap you in a marriage that you legally cannot get out of, or get you killed.
They had to be very careful about who, when, and why they had sex.
Sex was not just a thing you did once and that was it. Even a rapist was forced to deal with the long-term consequences. If a man man raped a woman who was not engaged, he was forced pay the bride price, marry her, and could never divorce her.
Now he has to care for her and provide for her for the rest of his life. I’m not saying that this is a great idea, but it tells us something about how they viewed sex. It was a marriage commitment. You want to have sex? Then you need to be prepared to deal with all the consequences.
For women, virginity was life.
A woman who was a virgin could get a husband and was fully protected under the law. If she wasn’t a virgin on the night she was married, it could end up with her being stoned to death (provided, of course, that this was not the result of rape).
For men, it was a non-issue. This seems a bit unfair. But there is no way to prove that a man is a virgin. So biology wins the day here.
Rape is never a topic I want to take lightly. It is serious. It destroys people. It is an all-together horrible thing that humans have invented. So I do want to treat this section with an appropriate measure of respect. If you don’t feel that I do, I sincerely apologize.
Here is a really interesting thing about their rape laws: If there is proof that a rape happened, the law always protects the woman.
Rapists always pay the price.
- If they rape an engaged woman, they die.
- If they rape an un-engaged woman, they are forced to care for her for the rest of their lives.
I feel like this chapter warrants a larger conversation than I am capable of having here. So I’d love some of your own thoughts. Particularly the women who read this blog. What do you see or feel when you read this chapter?
Ben, when I ponder these things, one of the things that I “sense” (not sure if that is the right word) is that Israel raised the standards for women. Do we think it unfair in light of today’s society? Yes. But did the Israelite women have it better than the women in the surrounding nations? I think so. So, should this be an impetus for us to raise the standards for how women are treated in our society?
I think so. Some would say that in Scripture, women get progressively treated better and better and more equal to men. So I think your impetus is a good one.
This is such a hard subject area. One I generally prefer to ignore. Is that cowardly?
Thank you for the reminder that these laws were given (and recieved) in a context and time that I can never fully understand. Coming from a very conservative background, which tried to apply the bible (and often the old testament) to all modern issues. Well… yikes. It would be easier to write off certain passages (like this one!), than try to find some value. Context, context, context…
The tricky part is figuring out how to worship and serve God in my own context.
Thanks for the comment!
I think Larry had some good stuff to say in his comment. What was God trying to do in their context? What is he trying to do in ours?
This is one of those subjects I’m always torn on, same as the treatment of civilians in Old Testament warfare. On the one hand I can appreciate that women were treated more fairly in Israel than the neighbouring areas, on the other… well, if these are God’s laws, shouldn’t we expect them to be setting the standard straight away rather than gradually raising the bar slightly?
I don’t know. There are still questions I struggle with, and I think that’s a necessary part of faith. However, I do know that reading your blog has helped me to frame the questions differently and look at them from a new angle – thank you.