Is Deuteronomy Pro-Woman? Part 2



Having now looked at the Sabbath command between Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, I want to turn to women and Deuteronomy. This section in Daniel Block’s The Gospel According to Moses comes from the same chapter that dealt with the Sabbath commands.

Many find the OT laws troubling and oppressive since they come from a patriarchal culture. I have trouble figuring out the laws in their context too as I don’t know the cultural context of the time, or why a certain law was given. In Deuteronomy Moses is giving instructions to a new generation of Israelites. One of Moses’ aims was to prevent the abuse of power by Israel’s rulers: kings, judges, elders, and priests. But there is also a large concern for “those contexts that concern the relationship of a man with his family, particularly the women of the household” (159).

Block gives eleven examples of laws in Deuteronomy that give consideration to women. Many of these laws are strange to our ears, and so this section is an important one. I gave the first seven examples in Part One, and the next four in are found here in Part Two.

The Facts, Jack

  1. The Wife Falsely Accused of Lying About Her Virginity (22-13-21)
    • This section divides into two parts:
      1. A primary case involving a false accusation (vv 13-19)
      2. A counter-case where the charges prove to be true (20-21)
    • The former situation “goes to great lengths to protect a women from false accusations by an abusive husband who first turns against her and then trumps up and publicizes charges of immorality against her” (162).
      • Her parents are invited to come to her defense
      • There is a public hearing before the elders. If this man is wrong, all will know and he won’t get away with it.
      • “It invites the presentation of objective evidence to counter the false accusation” (162).
      • It’s an opportunity for the tables to turn on the accuser.
      • It calls for a public discipline of the man.
      • “It secures honor of the woman’s parents by forcing the man to pay compensation for having charged them with providing him with ‘damaged goods'” (162).
      • He cannot divorce the woman and is forced to provide for her a life of economic well-being (lest he divorce her and the Israelites have to provide for her, as in Point 1).
    • But wouldn’t divorce be better for the woman than having to live with such a man? This text assumes that the punishment will bring a rehabiliative effect on the husband.
    • Ideally…
      • The husband will assume his responsible role as husband and live out his days protecting providing for, and, hopefully, loving his wife.
      • The wife can rest assured that she will have care and security in this normal household.
      • The parents may keep the bride price and the fine, but “they can relax because their daughter is restored to a protective environment” (162).
  2. The Victims of Rape (22.23-29)
    • There are, again, two scenarios
      1. The rape of a virgin engaged to be married (vv23-27)
        • This provision assumes that if the rape is done in town, the woman would cry out for help (also, don’t imagine NYC as being their types of towns. Israelites were communal people and lived pretty close to each other in non-concrete reinforced houses). If she cried, someone would rescue her.
        • If the rape occurs in the country, and there is no one to hear her cry, “it gives her the benefit of the doubt and assumes her innocence” (163). The offender would be executed.
        • In this time, a non-virgin who wasn’t married was considered to be sexually promiscuous and would most likely end up not married. When a virgin was raped, it would not only dishonor her and her family, but it could end up meaning that she would not get married. Thus, she would have no provider and protector once her father passes away. This isn’t to say she couldn’t do any work herself, but it would be much more difficult.
      2. The rape of a virgin not engaged to be married (vv28-29)
        • Exodus 22.17 considers the man’s actions to be seductive, but the text here speaks of the man seizing her, lying with her, and being caught in the act. He has degraded her, and so he must pay the woman’s father 50 shekels. This payment is a bride price, and the woman then becomes his bride. This doesn’t not seem like a pleasant law for a woman who has just been violated. Yet there is more to it than this.
        • As in verse 22, the present text concerns the righteous response to forced sex involving a virgin. The regulation seems to assume thee father’s and daughter’s rights of first refusal provided for i nthe earlier text. The point here is that if the man pays the bride gift and if the father agrees to accept his as a son-in-law, the man must fulfill all the marital duties that come with the rights to sexual intercourse, and in doing so guarantee the security of the woman (164).

        • Being a communal people, the man and his “unfortunate” wife are not going to move far away and live just the two of them away from friends and family so that the new husband can remain as he is and live according to his own wishes. There are stipulations to being this woman’s husband, and her entire family, friends, and tribe will ensure that this man fulfills his duties as husband.
        • This law would also be a warning to those who are considering rape, and it would be a deterrent against it.
  3. The Divorced Woman (24.1-4)
    • The Issue: A man divorces a woman. She remarries another man. That man divorces her (or) that man dies. Her former husband cannot remarry her, for he has already forced “her to declare herself unclean” (166).
    • Basically, when the first husband divorces his wife, he must produce a document as legal proof for the divorce of the marriage. Without that document the husband could demand his wife back at any time (since, in theory, without the ‘proof’ document she would still be his). If she had been married during the divorce, the husband could accuse her of adultery. Thus, Moses says that a document must be made so that the husband can not abuse the wife in this way
  4.  The Levirate Marriage (25.5-10)
    • The main purpose of this marriage was “to secure the integrity of families and inherited estates, which were threatened when a married man died without having fathered an heir” (166). Thus, the widow would marry the man’s nearest unmarried male relative to make sure everything stayed within the family. But sometimes this near relative didn’t want to marry the widow. What should she do now?
      • The widow presents her complaint before the elders at the community gate.
      • The elders speak to the brother-in-law and allow him to speak for himself.
      • If he refuses to perform his duty the widow can perform a ritual and publicly humiliate him.
        • She removes the sandal from his foot and spit in his face.
        • She declares, “This is what shall be done to the man who will not build his brother’s house.”
      • The elders are to stand by the widow against the brother-in-law who doesn’t take his responsibilities seriously.


While there are many unjust situations and scenarios that we come across in the Bible and in our world today that we do not have an answer to, we do have a future to look forward to. There will come a day when Christ is united with his bride, the Church, and we live together in the new creation. All will be pleasing and perfect. But until then, we now look in a mirror dimly. We long for the day when the world will be set right, when we will see Jesus “face to face” (1 Cor 13.12). Until then we are to seek his example, both as a Husband (Eph 5.25-27), and as one who suffered unjustly (1 Peter 2.21-25).


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Author: Spencer

I put ice in my cereal. Make yourself at home and feel more than welcome to contact me.

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