Christian teens are asking us some tough questions and that’s how we like it! We started this series more than two years ago to help teenagers get answers to the questions that concern them most. If you are a Christian teen or the parent or teacher of Christian teens, we invite you to send questions to us.
We started looking at questions about Old Testament sexual laws in the last two parts of our series [Part One – Part Two]. Let’s look at the question again –
Odd laws concerning adultery, rape, and marrying captives (Deuteronomy 21:13-14 and 22:28-29):
There seems to be no admonishment to take into consideration a captive woman’s wishes when deciding to marry her; also, this seems to be an instance when divorce without reason is perfectly legal. Is this correct?
As for adultery and rape, I could not tell which the later passage was referring to. It being the Bible I would like to assume it means adultery (mutual consent) but without knowing any Hebrew I cannot tell for sure. Regardless it seems to be saying that adultery with an unengaged woman has no severe punishment, whereas gathering sticks on the Sabbath day is punishable by death (Numbers 15:32-35). Is this correct? If so, how is it Just?
We continue now with the last part of our answer.
You mentioned two portions of the Mosaic Law in your question, so let’s look at each one.
“She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you ‘hall set her free, but you certainly shall not sell her for money; you shall not treat her brutally, because you have humbled her … If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.’Deuteronomy 21:13-14 and 22:28-29
Your question from those verses is: ‘There seems to be no admonishment to take into consideration a captive woman’s wishes when deciding to marry her; also, this seems to be an instance when divorce without reason is perfectly legal. Is this correct?’
The context for this section of the Law begins in Deuteronomy 20 where God told Israel how to treat captives of war. Chapter 21 addresses a Hebrew soldier who saw a captive woman he would like to take for his wife.
Women were treated very badly in the ancient world and still are in many parts of the world today. They had little if any legal rights. It was even worse for a woman who was taken captive during war. They were often severely beaten and sexually abused.
What God did through His Law was elevate the importance of women. That included both Hebrew women and non-Hebrew women taken captive during war.
The Mosaic Law forbid a Hebrew soldier from taking a female captive as his wife immediately. He had to allow the woman to live in his house as a mourner for at least a month. Shaving of a woman’s head and putting off the clothes female captives wore before (or sometimes after) they were captured would have been part of that mourning process. She was allowed that time to mourn for her parents and her country. She would have also learned about Israel’s God and the importance of not worshipping the gods of her country. It would also have given the Hebrew soldier time to consider whether he really wanted to marry her. After her time of mourning, the Hebrew soldier was allowed to marry her.
That marriage elevated the woman from being a captive of war to being a member of the people of God. She was a Hebrew wife. That brought with it many privileges and responsibilities.
The next part of the Law concerned the Hebrew soldier no longer ‘delighting’ in his wife.
Remember what Jesus said in response to a question about divorce –
They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’ He said to them, ‘Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.Matthew 19:7-8
God allowed divorce, but it was not His original plan for married people.
In the case of the Hebrew soldier who married a captive of war and wanted to divorce her, he had to set her free. He could not sell her for money. He was also not allowed to treat her brutally. The captive bride was a full member of the people of God through marriage and was not to be mistreated. She had legal rights.
Think about that for a moment. A woman could go from being a captive of war to being a Hebrew wife and even set legally free if her Hebrew husband divorced her. God valued women thousands of years ago and continued to value women today.
Your next question comes from Numbers 15:32-35 –
Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.
Your question – ‘As for adultery and rape, I could not tell which the later passage was referring to. It being the Bible I would like to assume it means adultery (mutual consent) but without knowing any Hebrew I cannot tell for sure. Regardless it seems to be saying that adultery with an unengaged woman has no severe punishment, whereas gathering sticks on the Sabbath day is punishable by death (Numbers 15:32-35). Is this correct? If so, how is it Just?’
If you mean the verses in Deuteronomy 21, it addressed the issue of a Hebrew soldier wanting to marry a Gentile captive of war. We find the issues of adultery and rape addressed in other portions of the Law (e.g. Exodus 20, Leviticus 20, Deuteronomy 5). Moses addressed issues of sexual morality in Deuteronomy 22, which follows closely to passage we looked at in Deuteronomy 21.
Now, to the question about gathering sticks on the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is one of the prime Laws of God. It, along with the Law concerning not making a ‘carved image,’ include the most explanation in the Ten Commandments –
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.Exodus 20:8-11
The Sabbath rest played a significant role in the life of Israel and God’s dealing with His people. God gave the Israelites six days to ‘labor and do all your work.’ The Sabbath was a day of rest and no one was to work on that day. It was set apart for worship and rest from labor.
The penalty for not keeping the Sabbath Day was significant. God spoke to Moses about it again just before He finished giving the Law to him –
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.Exodus 31:12-18
God viewed any breaking of the Sabbath as ‘profaning’ the Law. That’s because disobedience attacked God’s ‘sanctifying’ (setting apart) of His people. The word ‘profane’ is chalal and means ‘to pierce, to bore’ and demonstrated the disobedient person’s disregard for what was important to God.
Anyone who ‘profaned’ the Sabbath would be killed and cut off from the people of Israel. That’s a serious penalty for a serious offense. The Sabbath was a ‘sign’ (oth – pledge) between God and His people ‘throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.’
As innocuous as gathering sticks might seem to us, that person had six other days of the week to do that work. Doing something like gathering sticks demonstrated their disregard for God and the importance of the ‘sign’ God had made between Himself and His people. Someone who would do something as unimportant as gathering sticks when they had six other days to do that was a sure sign that they were not interested in what God had said or was doing with His people.
As we bring this answer to a close, it’s important to remember that kings determined crimes and punishment for those crimes in ancient times. Interestingly, the ancient legal codes seem to have expanded on the commandment God gave to Noah and his sons.
The Mosaic Law is God’s expansion on the intent of His commandment to Noah. Which laws are better? God’s or humans? As we compare legal, social, economic and religious situations of antiquity, it appears God’s Laws demonstrated the intent of His words to Noah concerning the value of human life.
Ancient kings determined what was just and fair in their kingdoms. God does the same in His Kingdom. When comparing the issue of justice, I believe we can find good reason to see how the Mosaic Law was a just and fair code for the time.
I like how the Apostle Paul shared the importance of the Mosaic Law with the Galatians who were Gentiles.
What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.Galatians 3:19-25
The Law is a tutor (school master) “to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” What a blessing to live at this time with the understanding we have about Law and Grace –
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:17
Thank you for your questions! We hope these answers help.
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In the next part of our special series, Tough Questions From Christian Teens, we will answer this question —
Will God Save Everyone In The End?
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.