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Verse Deuteronomy 22:28 says:

First, let’s examine the verse:

If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, grabs her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lies with her will give fifty shekels of silver to the father of the girl, and she will become his wife.

Because he raped her, he will not be allowed to divorce her as long as he lives. This is an early example of rape legislation.

It is important to remember that women were viewed very differently in ancient times than they are today. In general, they were not considered to have “personality” or fundamental rights in any real sense and were considered to be possessions very much like slaves.

In essence, they were property that a father could sell to a man who would use it for procreation. The woman’s will was never taken into account to any great extent. In the ancient world, generally when a woman was raped and impregnated, she became part of a permanent underclass consigned to perpetual poverty, unable to obtain the support of a husband. Unable to earn money otherwise, they often became prostitutes out of sheer desperation.

Deuteronomy attempts to address this problem through an interesting variation on the idea of “you break it, you buy it”. In essence, if a man rapes a woman, then he becomes financially responsible for her and her child. Of course, this only applies if he was caught in the act, but it is still a step up from nothing.

As with much of the above law, this should be understood not as moral guidance but rather as a matter of social pragmatism. The Bible does not mean to condone rape, but rather to address the problem of the permanent underclass.

Deuteronomy sets forth several different types of welfare to see that the poor and the sick are provided for, which is one of the most remarkable things about it. When I read the passage, I see humanity taking an early step towards justice. As was always the case, it was deeply flawed, but it was simply the first step on a long journey that is far from over.

From the standpoint of the practical value of God’s instruction in Deuteronomy 22:28-29, it is easy to see. A man has sexual relations with a young woman who is not engaged to anyone. There is no force involved, and it is not rape. But her action has been discovered. Now, who in the land of Israel would want to marry a young woman who has not kept herself pure? Man cannot turn away from his sin.

He has put the young woman in a very difficult situation of life, in which there would be few (or no) other men who would want to marry her. As it was often the case that women would have an extremely difficult time financially without the help of a husband, this would be even more devastating for the young woman.

God holds both parties responsible, and commands them to marry and stay together, both suffering the shame and overcoming the difficulties that have been caused.

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