Friday, April 20, 2018

The God Who Protects Women

God watches over the weak. We already saw that God watches over the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner. His concern covers all women. In a world that regarded women as little more than a commodity, God expected Israel to treat them fairly.

This is displayed in one of the more controversial passages in Deuteronomy:

"If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives" (22:28-29).
The complaint is that this passage forces a woman to marry her rapist. (Language experts debate whether the word rendered "rape" in this verse means rape or should it be translated more like "seduce". The word in this verse is different from the one in the previous command that is clearly referring to rape. But it really doesn't matter for the purposes of this discussion.)

It sounds harsh until you think about the world they lived in. There are two important things to consider.

1. Like most ancient societies, Israelites valued female virginity. Not being a virgin would seriously damage a young woman's marriage prospects, and you dared not try to pull a fast one by keeping the young woman's situation a secret. (cf, Deut 22:13-21)

2. A woman really only had two ways to "make a living" in this time period, specifically, housewife or prostitute. If she didn't have a husband she was totally dependent on either family or community charity — or that ... other option.

So this man in verse 28 has done this young lady a terrible wrong, whether he forced her or simply seduced her. And now he is forced to provide for her for the rest of his life.

Is this an ideal situation? No. Ideal went out the window when the act happened. We are now making the best of a bad situation. As unpleasant as living with this cad might be, she's got a roof and food and hasn't been forced to resort to prostitution to survive. Also of note, this passage has a parallel of sorts in Ex 22:16-17. In it, the girl's father has veto power over the marriage (presumably if the culprit is too horrible, Dad won't permit it), so this passage is really more about the "he can never divorce her" part — that is, he has to provide for her for as long as he lives.

Also in this chapter, though adultery is a capital offense, the woman was to be given the benefit of the doubt if there was a real chance it wasn't consensual (v 25-27). Divorce was grudgingly permitted (cf Matt 19:8), but the woman was to be given a "certificate" (Deut 24:1-4) — preventing her from being labeled as an adulteress later.

In a perfect world, none of this would be necessary. In the world we actually live in, these people were expected to take pains to protect women from the abuses of men's sexual excesses. God watches over the weak. And he expects us to do the same.