Deuteronomy 21:10-14 – This seems like a troublesome passage. And if capturing wives wasn’t unusual enough, the next verse talks about polygamy! What’s going on?
We have seen the “primary will” expounded in several passages at the beginning of the legal code (Exodus 20 – The Ten Commandments, being the simplest expression of the highlights). Now we’re at the tail end of the Torah, dealing not with the primary desires of God, but with the “what if” sections.
[Footnote – there are only 79,847 words in the Torah , and 20,000+ are in Genesis, so if we say roughly 50,000 words in the legal code, that’s only a fraction of the 4 million words in the US tax code. Not every situation will be dealt with – we have principles for cases.]
- What if someone’s found dead and we can’t find the killer? (Deuteronomy 21:1-9)
- What if I really insist on marrying a beautiful captive I found? (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)
- What if I have two wives and I don’t want the birthright going to the hated wife’s kid? (Deuteronomy 21:15-17)
- What if I have a really rebellious kid and he won’t listen (Deuteronomy 21:18-23).
Just a reminder, this chapter (and all 4 situations dealt within) is not about the “primary will” of God – but rather dealing with the after effects of sin. In Matthew 19:8 Jesus said divorce was permitted only because of the “hardness of your heart.” For example, while the primary will of God is that we abstain from fornication (1 Thessalonians 4:3), what does a God-following society do with an instance of fornication? Under the dispensation of law, Exodus 22:16/Deuteronomy 22:28-29 applies – and the man has financial consequences regardless and should offer to assume marital responsibility (the “secondary will” – demonstrating God’s disdain for “deadbeat dads”). However the marital responsibility is not inviolate – if the father of the girl does not acquiesce, the marriage will not proceed (Exodus 22:17).
We see throughout the Bible that marrying “strange wives” (non-followers of God) was not the “primary will” (Numbers 31:16, Deuteronomy 7:3, Joshua 23:12-13, Judges 14:3, 1 Kings 11:3-10, Ezra 10:2-11, Nehemiah 13:27).
However, a young legal scholar in the Israeli army could identify a loophole in the legal code. While he was strongly discouraged from marrying a “strange wife,” if he found a really beautiful maiden, he could look at the actions of nations around him and conclude that “martial rape is an ancient practice.” The young soldier would argue that this was not adultery (because the husband was dead) so he would escape punishment under Leviticus 20:10, and the woman was not betrothed (because the bethrothee was dead), escaping punishment under Deuteronomy 22:23. [Ever wonder why Jesus was so hard on lawyers in Luke 11:46?]. So the young legal scholar/warrior thinks he has a plan! The first to forcibly take the attractive woman gets to keep her – until Moses addresses this issue.
Moses is prohibiting martial rape – and putting a statutory alternative to the otherwise engaged in practice. [Even today our present legal code has alternatives designed to affect behavior. While battery (physically attacking someone) is wrong, the consequences are less than homicide – otherwise if I’m going to physically attack you (my ethical deterrent is already lacking), I would not have a legal deterrent to finishing you off.]
While the Israelites were discouraged from foreign wives, because of the “hardness of heart” it was known that they would find a “loophole” and try to exploit it. The ceremonially unclean captive would be required to shave her head and pare her nails (Deuteronomy 21:12, also required in Leviticus 14:9, Numbers 6:9, 18), thus she would be reclassified from a ceremonially unclean leper, to a clean Israelite. But even then, the lawyer/warrior was forced to wait an entire month to consummate the relationship.
So the lawyer/warrior says – I can still come out ahead! Leviticus 25:44 says that heathen bondservants do not have the rights of Israelite bondservants (Leviticus 25:39). So I have the right to divorce her under Deuteronomy 24:1, and sell her to someone else (which I can’t do with a Hebrew servant (Exodus 21:8)). This is a relationship free from financial obligation that I could incur with an Israelite (Exodus 22:16/Deuteronomy 22:28-29). As might be said today – “Heads I enjoy the relationship, Tails I profit financially.”
Nope – Moses says you can’t sell her – she is now freed. Deuteronomy 21:14 gives the captive woman the same rights as an Israelite servant woman. The immediate enjoyment of martial rape was forbidden, the financial gain if the relationship failed was taken away.
This is a dramatically different practice than martial rape.
All of the commentaries I have access to note that the legal provisions in Deut 21.10-14 are ‘exceptional’, ‘remarkable’, ‘compassionate’, or even ‘humanistic'(!):
From Pearl Elman:
Legislating behaviour is no guarantee that it will be followed, but it does demonstrate the intention of the legislators.The [author of Deuteronomy] clearly was against rape of captive women by soldiers at war. In light of recent events in Bosnia, it must be appreciated how ethically and morally forward this thinking was.
Luke 9:56 – Some Christians seem to enjoy calling down fire from heaven upon the heathen. But Jesus said “the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
Luke 10:4 – Interesting tie to the passage we read earlier in the Torah about the duty to provide for one’s religious ministers.
Psalm 74:7 – A foreshadowing of AD 70 and the Siege of Jerusalem?
Proverbs 12:11 – A parallel of 1 Thessalonians 4:11?
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