Biblical Principle #255: Israel’s Justice for Rape

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Under the Law of Moses, God prescribed Israel’s just penalty for situations involving rape.


GOD prescribed different judgments upon the Israelites for cases of rape depending upon whether the female who was raped was engaged to be married.

If the Woman Was Betrothed

25 But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces her and lies with her, then you shall kill only the man who lay with her. 26 But you shall do nothing to the young woman; there is in the young woman no sin deserving of death; for just as when a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, even so is this matter. 27 For he found her in the countryside, and the betrothed young woman cried out, but there was no one to come to her aid.

Deuteronomy 22:25-27 OSB

If the Woman Was Not Betrothed

28 “If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty silver two-drachma coins, and she shall be his wife, because he humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 OSB

Many people today might perceive the woman having to marry her rapist as cruel or inhumane. This judgment was meant, not as a harm to the rape victim, but rather as a protection for her. Note that the text does not say that the woman had no choice in the situation.

In ancient Israel, as in many cultures, women were often treated as secondary to men. Women were generally homemakers and mothers.

Such a large percentage of human survival and well-being depended upon the successful exertion of targeted physical strength. For these and other reasons, culturally, most men desired a large family, especially sons, with whom they could distribute and increase their family’s output of physical labor, and, hopefully, prosperity.

Therefore, in addition to the normal sexual desires a young man would possess, the Israelite man would have desired a wife who would bear them many children.

Israelite men also felt it important to marry a woman who was pure—a virgin. Israelite men desired to marry a virgin for many reasons, not the least of which was that this protected them from any unknowns and risks associated with someone who has previously had sex.

An unmarried woman who was no longer a virgin had a much more difficult time providing for herself.

A virgin woman who was engaged to be married who was raped (and therefore no longer a virgin) was less likely to complete her marriage, therefore a severe penalty needed to be in place.

A virgin woman who was raped, even though she wasn’t betrothed, was no longer as “attractive” as a future marriage partner in their culture, because she was wasn’t a virgin thanks to her rapist. Therefore, if the woman wished it, at least, the man who robbed her of her virginity (and stole her future) had to provide for her by marrying her and was not allowed to divorce her. This was GOD’s means of loving that woman and providing for her. It was not a punishment for her.

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