THE EXAMINATION OF FIVE CASES THAT PROMOTE SEXUAL FIDELITY AND PROTECT AGAINST ABUSE
Eugene Merrill: It is commonplace in the Old Testament to find the Lord’s covenant with Israel compared to the marriage relationship between husband and wife. The following section should be understood against that theological background, though obviously the instructions here had practical and immediate relevance to Israel’s family life as well.
Daniel Block: Although these texts do not gloss over sin committed by females (vv. 20–21, 22, 23–24), their primary concern is to rein in abusive and abominable male behavior: slandering and then seeking to get rid of a wife (vv. 13–19); adultery with a woman betrothed to another man (vv. 23–24); degrading a woman betrothed to another man (vv. 25–27); degrading a virgin (vv. 28–29); and finally abusing one’s father and step-mother (v. 30[23:1]. The moral trajectory reflected here characterizes the entire book of Deuteronomy.
Warren Wiersbe: “Sex has become one of the most discussed subjects of modern times,” said Fulton J. Sheen. “The Victorians pretended it did not exist; the moderns pretend that nothing else exists.” God created sex and has every right to control the way we use it, and if we obey Him, it will bring enrichment and enjoyment. One of the basic rules is that sex must not be experienced outside of the bonds of marriage. The Law of Moses and the New Testament magnify personal purity and the importance of honesty and loyalty in marriage.
Pulpit Commentary: The laws in this section have the design of fostering purity and fidelity in the relation of the sexes, and also of protecting the female against the malice of sated lust and the violence of brutal lust.
I. (:13-21) CASE #1 – DEALING WITH THE HUSBAND’S CHARGE OF PREMARITAL SEXUAL IMPURITY AGAINST HIS NEW WIFE
A. (:13-14) The Charge
“If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then turns against her, 14 and charges her with shameful deeds and publicly defames her, and says, ‘I took this woman, but when I came near her, I did not find her a virgin,’”
Peter Craigie: Although the time sequence is not clearly specified, it is probable that the action stated in the last clause (he hates her) follows immediately upon the consummation of the marriage. Likewise, the reason for the hate is not made explicit, though it could have been related to some factor unknown before the wedding, such as lack of sexual compatibility.
Gerald Gerbrandt: This is not a neutral presentation of an accusation before the court, but a report of a man who without justification is slandering his wife: he dislikes her [, he] makes up charges against her, slandering [lit., sends out a bad name against] her by saying… The man is not bringing a formal charge against his wife before the court but rather is participating in malicious gossip within the community. The motivation for the husband’s actions is not given. Perhaps the false charges are intended to provide grounds for granting a difficult divorce. Or perhaps the husband is trying to blackmail the bride’s family into returning the original bride-price. In either case, the introductory wording signals that the husband’s allegation is false and intentionally harmful, with the effect of dishonoring the bride and her family. . .
Although on one level the logic of the indictment is clear, the larger situation itself is less so. In fact, on a practical level the law appears quite unworkable. If retaining a bloodstained cloth from the wedding night is general practice, then surely the man is aware of it and would be hesitant to make the false accusation. And given the nature of the evidence, the possibility of fabricating such evidence by the parents seems not out of the question (cf. Nelson 2002: 270). These observations suggest that the passage is not really a “regulation” but intended more as instruction.
Jack Deere: This law was meant to enforce premarital sexual purity and to encourage parents to instill within their children the value of sexual purity. The law might be misused, however, by an unscrupulous husband against his wife for personal reasons, or perhaps to recover the bride-price he originally paid to the girl’s father.
B. (:15-17) The Defense
“then the girl’s father and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of the girl’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 And the girl’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, but he turned against her; 17 and behold, he has charged her with shameful deeds, saying, “I did not find your daughter a virgin.” But this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city.”
Daniel Block: Whereas earlier texts had called for multiple witnesses to establish the truth in a legal case (17:6–7; 19:15), in this case material evidence is presented. The vague reference to “proof of her virginity” in verse 14 is clarified somewhat in verse 17 with “cloth.” Although this word normally refers to an outer garment, here it refers either to the garment worn on the night of the wedding or the bed sheet, giving evidence of the breaking of the girl’s hymen. The accused woman may have stored the sheet in her “hope chest,” as a commemoration of the night of her first intercourse and as concrete evidence of her virginity at the time of her marriage—in case anyone should ever challenge this. This she now produces to her father and mother as proof of her premarital purity.
C. (:18-21) The Judgment
1. (:18-19) Judgment if the Charge is Proven False
a. (:18) Public Flogging
“So the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him,”
b. (:19a) Punitive Fine
“and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give it to the girl’s father, because he publicly defamed a virgin of Israel.”
MacArthur: A shekel weighed .4 oz., so the total fine would be about 2.5 lbs. of silver.
c. (:19b) Permanent Marriage
“And she shall remain his wife;
he cannot divorce her all his days.”
Daniel Block: The testimony of the bride’s father and the material evidence call for a decisive response against the husband. The elders must take the man and flog him (NIV “punish”), fine him one hundred shekels of silver—to be paid to the father of the young woman as compensation for her sullied reputation—and prohibit him from ever divorcing his wife (v. 19b). While modern readers may find the last prescription troublesome, this requirement aims for a rehabilitative outcome. Because the matter is resolved in a public court of law, the people in the community become guarantors of the man’s good behavior.
The fine goes beyond compensating for the injury done to the woman’s reputation; it also restores righteousness in Israel. The striking ending of the motive clause in verse 19 assumes that sexual sins are not only personal crimes against another individual; they are also crimes against the entire community. This solution takes seriously the implications for the health of society of the original charges and the extension of the woman’s guilt to the covenant community. The court must preserve the good name of all Israelite women, but they must also act to preserve righteousness within the nation as a whole.
Michael Grisanti: The final aspect of the penalty levied against the husband is that he can never divorce this wife. Although this prohibition may seem less than desirable for the woman, in fact it protects her—a defamed and maritally undesirable divorcée—from deprivation in a culture characterized by women’s economic dependence on men (Wright, Deuteronomy, 243).
2. (:20-21) Judgment if the Charge is Proven True
“But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin,”
a. (:21a) Stoning to Death
“then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel, by playing the harlot in her father’s house;”
Daniel Block: The punishment for premarital adultery is severe: shameful death by stoning at the entrance to the woman’s father’s house, because she committed fornication while still at home. This punishment implies the public defaming of the father and his household for having “sold damaged goods” to the husband. . .
Radical surgery is required to remove those who flaunt contempt for the covenant by promiscuous behavior. Young men and women are to keep themselves pure for their spouse.
Peter Craigie: The location of the execution pointed to the shame resting on the family. Although there is no suggestion that the father knew of his daughter’s offense (and therefore he was not guilty of deliberate misrepresentation in giving his daughter to the man in marriage), nevertheless, as head of the household, he was in part responsible for his daughter’s behavior. By committing fornication in her father’s house—the sense is not that the act was done literally in the house (though it could have been), but that the woman was guilty of fornication while still resident in the family home, before her marriage. Her act was tantamount to making the family home a “house of ill-repute.” The severe punishment appointed for the woman was not only for the sin of fornication, but for misrepresenting herself, both to the father and the bridegroom, as a virgin.
b. (:21b) Purging the Evil from the Community
“thus you shall purge the evil from among you.”
Michael Grisanti: The key point is not her sexual condition, i.e., that only virgins could become married in Israel; rather, she has concealed her immorality, which is an act of treachery (like any lie). By stoning her, God’s people are able to purge the evil from their midst (cf. 22:22, 24).
II. (:22) CASE #2 – DEALING WITH ADULTERY WITH A MARRIED WOMAN
A. The Crime
“If a man is found lying with a married woman,”
Eugene Merrill: The marital state of the man had nothing to do with the fact of adultery. In ancient Israel the wife was considered as belonging to her husband in a way that was not true of the converse. Thus it was always the woman who was being abused (along with her husband) and not the man, whether or not he was married.
B. The Consequences
“then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman;”
C. The Cleansing
“thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.
III. (:23-27) CASE #3 – DEALING WITH IMPROPER SEXUAL RELATIONS WITH A VIRGIN ENGAGED TO ANOTHER MAN
A. (:23-24) Occurring in the City – Assumption is Consensual Sex
1. (:23) The Circumstances
“If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man,
and another man finds her in the city and lies with her,”
2. (:24a) The Consequences
“then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city
and you shall stone them to death;
the girl, because she did not cry out in the city,
and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife.”
Daniel Block: Whereas modern Western engagements involve public declarations of intention to marry, betrothal refers to a publicly binding legal act, which explains why in this context the woman was considered “another man’s wife” (v. 24).
3. (:24b) The Cleansing
“Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.”
B. (:25-27) Occurring in a Remote Field – Assumption is Rape
1. (:25a) The Circumstances
“But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged,
and the man forces her and lies with her,”
2. (:25b) The Consequences
“then only the man who lies with her shall die.”
3. (:26-27) The Caveat
“But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. 27 When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.”
Daniel Block: The countercase (vv. 25–27) highlights the role of the woman as victim. This hypothetical encounter transpires in the open field, where, even if she had cried for help, no one within earshot would have heard her cry. Consequently, she is given the benefit of the doubt, while the man is considered guilty. Having encountered her (v. 27) away from the village in the open country, he seized her and “lay” with her. Comparing the woman’s fate to that of the victim of murder (cf. 19:11–13), Moses pronounces the death penalty on the man. However, since the woman is presumed an innocent victim, she shall not die.
IV. (:28-29) CASE #4 – DEALING WITH IMPROPER SEXUAL RELATIONS WITH A VIRGIN WHO IS NOT ENGAGED
A. (:28) The Crime
“If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged,
and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered,”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The phrase He seizes her may imply rape (as in v. 25), but ambiguously so. In this particular passage the question of the woman’s consent is probably not legally significant (Pressler: 37). Whether voluntary or not, the effect is the same: the woman and her family have been shamed, with the result that her marriage prospects have been seriously damaged, making a negative financial impact upon her father. The punishment thus compensates the young woman’s father (thereby protecting his rights), yet also requires that the man who committed the deed marry her without any possibility of divorce (thereby protecting the young woman who has become vulnerable through the action). With this second requirement, Deuteronomy goes beyond the regulation in Exodus, possibly reflecting greater sensitivity to the impact of the event upon the young woman.
B. (:29) The Consequences
1. Punitive Fine
“then the man who lay with her
shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver,”
Earl Kalland: By contrast the price of a slave was 30 shekels.
Daniel Block: Because he has deflowered and degraded the woman, he must pay the father of the woman fifty shekels. Unlike verse 19, this payment is not considered a fine but the bride price, since upon its payment she becomes his wife in a marriage from which there is to be no divorce as long as they live (cf. v. 19). . .
However, if we translate the verb wenātan modally, “and he may pay,” rather than as an imperative, “he shall pay” (NIV), the tone changes significantly. If her father accepts the bride price and agrees to accept the man as a son-in-law, then the man must fulfill all the marital duties that go with sexual intercourse.
Eugene Merrill: In fact, the compensation for this loss was the fifty shekels of silver assessed as a penalty by the court (v. 29). This was half the amount demanded of the man who misrepresented his wife’s virginity (v. 19), for she already was married and would never have commanded any additional bride price whereas the girl in the present situation not only would have afforded her father fifty shekels of compensation for her humiliation but most certainly the normal bride price in addition.
2. Permanent Marriage
“and she shall become his wife because he has violated her;
he cannot divorce her all his days.”
Michael Grisanti: The primary question raised in this passage is its relationship to Exodus 22:16–17 [15–16], which deals with a man who has “seduced” and had sexual relations with an unbetrothed woman. There the man must pay the bridal gift (mōhar) to her father and marry her. The father, however, has the option of refusing the marriage (but still receiving the bridal gift). Various scholars have suggested that the father may do the same in the present scenario (McConville, 342; Merrill, Deuteronomy, 306). But since Deuteronomy 22 does not repeat the clause allowing the refusal of the marriage and since the passage does prohibit the man from ever divorcing the woman, the option of refusal does not appear to be available to the father in the present context.
V. (:30) CASE #5 – DEALING WITH IMPROPER SEXUAL RELATIONS WITH A STEP-MOTHER
“A man shall not take his father’s wife
so that he shall not uncover his father’s skirt.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: The last regulation in the series (v. 30) imagines a situation in which a man has had more than one wife. It is not stated whether the man has died or whether he has divorced the woman in question; in either case, the man is no longer part of the scene (i.e., this is not a case of adultery). The woman whom the son is not to marry is not his mother (i.e., this is not a case of incest, at least not biologically, but a marriage regulation; cf. Lev 18:7–8; 20:11), but a former wife of his father. Since men could marry women over a considerable period of time, it is not impossible that the woman may have been close to the son’s age, possibly even younger. And yet, the passage prohibits such a marriage.
Eugene Merrill: The same euphemism occurs elsewhere to refer to dishonorable attitudes or actions, especially of a sexual nature (Deut 27:20; Ruth 3:9; cf. Gen 9:20-24). The act smacks of filial insubordination, of a direct challenge to the commandment that one honor his father and his mother.
Warren Wiersbe: This sin was among those condemned on Mount Ebal (Deut. 27:20). Apparently this was the sin of the man in the Corinthian church who needed to be disciplined (1 Cor. 5).