Like several passages in Deuteronomy, today’s passage may cause modern readers to cringe. After the advent of birth control and the sexual revolution of recent decades, passages like this seem brutish and outdated. In fact, one of the chief things you’ll hear from popular atheists is the absurdity of a supreme being caring about who has sex with whom. What I hope we see today is that it’s not so much that God cares about people having sex with one another, but that His love is expressed through people in healthy, sustaining relationships. Jesus said that the whole Law can be summed up with: 1. love the Lord and 2. love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–40). What I mean to say is this passage fits squarely in the “love your neighbor as yourself” category.
This passage deals with several of the if/then scenarios that God’s people might encounter dealing with extramarital relations. It’s harsh that death is often the punishment for sexual sin. However, part of the harshness is the fact that our culture has become so numb to the fact that it’s wrong. Almost every show on television celebrates what the Bible calls sexual sin. We laugh along with the jokes because our hearts aren’t broken over sin the way God’s heart is. The death penalty was harsh, but it was meant to show the seriousness of these actions—a deterrence.
Looking specifically at verse 28, does God require a woman to marry her rapist? No. First, this passage does not mean a woman must marry her rapist. That would be incredibly cruel. Instead, taken with the corresponding passage, Exodus 22:16–17, the man must pay a bride price and if the girl’s father demands it, the rapist must marry the daughter without any opportunity for divorce. What this means is that rape of an unattached women was not a short-term deal—it had life-long consequences. Hopefully, young men pumped the brakes before considering such an action. Second, no matter what, the man had to pay a bride-price. However, if the father refused to give his daughter away, the man would have to pay without getting a wife.
Third, and most importantly, although it doesn’t feel like it, this law was designed to protect women. It’s not news that the ancient world often looked upon women as second or third-class creatures. These Laws elevated women and protected them. Women have value—a man could not force himself without consequences. More than that, an unwed pregnant woman would have no prospects what-so-ever. Most likely, she would have to turn to prostitution just to feed herself and her child. If she were raped, became pregnant, and her father consented to let her marry, then she would be provided for and her child would have claim to an inheritance. Although our first-world modern ears don’t want to hear this, there are women in the world today that would jump at such a deal.
In summary, these Laws amount to deterrence for sexual sin and protection for women. The one New Testament example we have of the enforcement of these Laws is John 8 when Jesus responds, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” No longer is a physical kingdom in need of protection. Ours is a spiritual kingdom in need of purity, righteousness, and holiness. Christ died the death that any of this sin merits. Not only that, church discipline accounts for the unrepentant among us. Sexual sin is serious, but redemption is available for any person who professes faith and repents (1 John 1:9).
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate