Q. Someone brought my attention to the following Scriptures as “evidence” that God is a cruel and unjust God. They claim Exodus 21: 7-10 says you can sell your daughter into slavery and allow her master to rape her, Exodus 22: 16-17 says you can rape a virgin but you must marry her and pay her father a dowry of virgins, and Leviticus 19: 20-22 says you can rape your female slave and be forgiven, but the slave must be punished.
Can you help me with these verses?
A. These are incorrect interpretations. It sounds like you’re talking with an unbeliever who is either purposely trying to distort the Scriptures and malign the character of God or at the very least is woefully ignorant about the fact that one purpose of the Law was to produce a righteous people among whom the Lord could live. Behavior standards were extremely high and violations were severely punished.
Moses, who lived among the people and was responsible for bringing God’s law to them said, “He (God) is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deut. 32:4). People who think otherwise either don’t want to believe Moses, or lack the knowledge to make an informed decision about God’s character.
There was no such thing as bankruptcy in ancient times. “Selling” children into servitude was the means by which families paid off their debt. It was an admission of failure and a public disgrace, and there were strict rules governing the treatment of these children. In Exodus 21:7-10 the subject is the master deciding to take such a servant to be his wife, and then deciding he doesn’t like her and changing his mind before they are actually married. He could not “sell” her to another but had to allow her to be redeemed (by her family). According to Jewish law there could be no intercourse prior to marriage, and there’s no indication in this verse that illicit intercourse had taken place.
In Exodus 22:16-17 we see the penalty for raping a woman was for the man to assume life long responsibility for her through marriage, including the payment of a dowry to her father. Women who were not virgins had a very difficult time finding a suitable husband, and this was the Lord’s way of protecting women from a life of destitution. The idea was if a man wanted to treat a woman as if she was his wife then he should agree to assume responsibility for her. Her father could choose to accept this responsibility, and if he did the man did not have to marry her, but would have to pay the dowry anyway. Men saved for years to accumulate a suitable dowry, and this could mean the man would never be able to afford a wife.
In Leviticus 19:20-22 the subject is a man having sex with a servant who is engaged to another man but not freed from her time of servitude. The word translated “punished” in verse 20 can also mean compensated, and involved a judicial inquiry to determine which meaning of the word was appropriate. The man had to bring a ram to the priest to be sacrificed as a guilt offering, which meant he had to endure the embarrassment of a public confession of his sin. Also, rams were valuable animals, essential to the growth of the man’s flock. Sacrificing one could have a lasting impact on the man’s income.