The final fifteen verses of chapter 22 of Exodus have a wide variety of “headings” in translations. The NASB has “Sundry Laws” for all fifteen. The HCSB breaks them up into four sections. The ESV uses the heading “Laws About Social Justice”. One of my favorites, the NET, calls them “Moral and Ceremonial Laws”, which is similar to the NIV which heads them as “Social Responsibility”.
All that to say that these laws are not easy to group together cohesively. But they all speak from the heart of Yahweh. They are social in that they are about how we treat each other (including how we treat those who worship other gods). They are moral in that several of them are about consequences for being immoral, or amoral. But they address very different situations. For this morning, let’s look at the first one.
“If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.Exodus 22:16, 17 NASB
This one is clearly moral. It seems taken right from the pages of the stories of our society. It’s “high school” between “kids”. It’s the scandals of teachers and students. It’s workplace drama. It’s the “farmer’s daughter” stories. We have had such stories for generations, and, because we have this law in Scripture, the “story” has clearly been around thousands of years.
So, at it’s core, is the behavior of a man seducing a young (probably implying naive) virgin. The word for “seduces” is based on an interesting word. You can find the Strong’s entry here. The basic meaning is to open or make spacious. In a sense, this is the charlatan ‘opening the mind’ of their victim, especially as the word is used here. From other uses throughout Scripture we can see that it refers to the “simple” being misled because they don’t understand. Afterwards, they may, but it is often too late.
The clear implication is that this immoral person lies to get this girl to have sex with him. This happens on TV all the time, and we understand it’s wrong, but only in a sense, and we’re not offended, not any more. The man promises great things, paints a vivid beautiful picture of an impossible future, and the woman succumbs. In that culture, it was the oppression of a powerless innocent. In our culture, it is the actually the same. Ironically, what outraged those people was that someone would deceive such a one, and what outrages us is that someone is that gullible.
The perspective of our Creator is that such a person is powerless, not broken. The person needs to be protected, not criticized. It’s possible, and a possibility I like to entertain, that this naive victim reflects more of what Adam and Eve were like prior to being deceived themselves. If so, then this crime is truly demonic and devastating. Something innocent is lost forever.
But the victim aside, she is a victim, and now the circumstances need to dealt with. What to do with such a person who would do such a thing? In our day, such a person would be considered a “player”, going from one sexual conquest to another, leaving a wake of devastated lives behind him. Not an admirable person, one clearly after the quintessential “one-thing” that all guys are supposedly after. He is the worst example of men’s treatment of women, or nearly.
The answer from God is marriage. Such an arrangement protects the woman. And, such an arrangement means that the man is done doing this again. He has his wife, and he has paid dearly for her. And that’s another element, he can’t pay less for her because she’s no longer a virgin, he has to pay the full dowry. This protects the reputation of the woman as well.
But marriage then isn’t like marriage now. Then it was more of an arrangement between families than between individuals. To join two persons in marriage was also to join two families. That’s hard for us to imagine in our day. So, it could be that the father of the defiled woman does not want such an arrangement to the family of the vile deceiver. This also protects the woman from being forced into an abusive relationship and into an abusive family structure.
In such instances, where the father refuses to give his daughter to such a vile deceiver, the man must still pay the full bride-price for what he has done. But what about the woman? What is her future? She may still be able to marry, but it’s not certain. He future is unclear, but she does have her dowry. Perhaps that will be sufficient for her, but it is unlikely. It’s a horrible circumstance, devastating to family and the local society.
Yahweh protects those who cannot protect themselves. He takes up the cause of the fatherless, the widow, and the sojourner, those without status in society. This law seeks to accomplish this characteristic of our Creator. This isn’t the only law regarding this issue. In Deuteronomy 22:28, 29, we have another element, rape. In that instance, like this one, the man marries the woman, and it specifically states he cannot divorce her. She is protected from the ignominy of a rape victim. In a sense, this law would be about “statutory rape”, and the same rule (no divorce) would apply here.
Keep in mind that the perspective of Yahweh is to protect the powerless. Perhaps the best application for us is to be outraged when this happens, refuse to watch and support shows that depict it, and seek to protect those victims from such treatment. What can be done? Actually, it won’t be hard to find ways to support victims, and, more likely than not, you know a victim. Be outraged at the perpetrator, be supportive of the victim, and speak out against society’s acceptance of such behavior. I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus, our Savior, would do.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation