Did God Permit Rape in War?

01 Dec
Women POW

from Google Images

Some seem to believe that God allowed male Israelites to rape foreign women during times of war. Is this so? No, it is not, and that point of view is the result of taking phrases out of their context in the Bible![1] Raping women prisoners of war in other ANE cultures was common, but it was forbidden in Israel. Nevertheless, some Biblical critics conclude that certain Old Testament passages concerning warfare depict Israelite men raping women POWs, and claim this is permitted by God through the Law of Moses.

Warfare is not and perhaps never was the ideal event for any society. Yet, when it occurred new problems developed that one didn’t have before. For example, what does the victor do with the defeated survivors? Different ANE cultures had different solutions. Ancient empires like Assyria and Babylon took the defeated peoples captive and repopulated their homelands with past defeated peoples who grew up under the victor’s rule and would now be friendly toward the Assyrians or Babylonians. Ancient Israel handled the problem differently. If certain walled cities of their enemies refused to make peace with Israel, she was to kill the males, but take the women and children captive (cf. Deuteronomy 20:10-15). They would presumably become the servants (slaves) of the conquering Israelites. Notice that nothing is said about rape, and no reference to sexual intercourse is made in the text.

However, in the next chapter this is not true. Notice:

When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her. (Deuteronomy 21:10-14 NASB)

The captives in Deuteronomy 21:10 are the women and children in Deuteronomy 20:14. The event of chapter 21 is an example of case law. That is, in the event that one of the captives pleases the male who took them. It is not the case for every female whom he captured. The Scripture concerns one man and one woman. Some critics presume that because the text says the Israelite has “a desire for her” (the woman POW) that he already has raped her, but this isn’t so. At least the Hebrew cannot be made to indicate that he raped her. The Hebrew word (H2836) means to love, be attached to, or long for.[2] The word is used eleven times in the Old Testament, and never used for raping a woman.[3] It is used in Genesis 34:8 of Shechem longing for Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, after he had seduced her. Yet, even if a similar circumstance is presumed in the case of Deuteronomy 21:11, as is the position of Biblical scholar Matthew Poole, the end would be to marry the woman (v.11). However, I don’t believe Poole is correct in this case. He argues that it is possible a seduction had occurred, because in the event that the Israelite divorces her, he may not sell her as a slave but sets her free, because he has humbled her, presumably taking authority from Deuteronomy 22:29. Yet, in that verse the man who seduced the maid may not divorce her all the days of his life, and the Mosaic Law was supposed to be the law of the land for both the Israelite and for foreigners living in Israel (Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 15:16).

I believe that the humbling of the woman takes place in that she has no real choice, unless that choice was given her by her captor. She is a POW. It is one thing to be a servant / slave of the victor in war, and quite another to become his wife and later discarded. She would be treated among her own people as someone who gave herself to the enemy. She has been humiliated, and the Bible says she must be given her freedom to do and go wherever she pleases.

I conclude that the Law of Moses protected even women who were taken prisoners of war. If the Israelite truly loved the POW, her position as his wife would be much better than his servant /salve in his household. In other ANE societies the plight of women POWs was not so affirming, and Deuteronomy 22:10-14 is an example of case law governing POWs.


[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

[2] See Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew Definitions.

[3] Genesis 34:8; Exodus 38:17, 28; Deuteronomy 7:7, 10:15; 21:11; 1King 9:19; 2Chronicles 8:6; Psalm 91:14; Isaiah 38:17.

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 1, 2015 in apologetics


Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: