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Modern Protest—Missing Perspective

Deuteronomy 21:11-13
“… and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. … And she shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to … be her husband, and she shall be your wife.”

This subjugation rule that stings our modern, Western sensitivities and perhaps incites us to leap up from our armchairs in revolt for these women’s rights (and by the way, it’s Christianity that gave women those rights in the first place), that makes us decry these crude, ancient days when even godly men could snatch up a prisoner of war and exploit her loss as his gain, is also the novel exception in a world where conquered, husbandless women did not routinely receive compassion of any sort. The juxtaposition between this Mosaic Law and the law of lawless men needs to be understood, even if only glimpsed at cautiously. Generally, when conquering soldiers saw a beautiful woman whose husband had been slain and who couldn’t defend herself, who had no potential left in her buried commonwealth, do you know of any given law that prevented him from doing whatever he pleased? What Magna Carta protected the sanctity of conquered women in that predicament? Mark it down: there’s one thing worse than a woman being treated as property, and that’s being treated as plunder.

So, let’s take a deep breath here, friend. Perhaps put down your picket signs for a minute and reflect on the historical context of Deuteronomy 21. The ancient world was not the modern, Western world—it couldn’t be. Advancement in this moral sense came slowly, stage by stage, step by step, word of God by word of God; and though Deuteronomy 20 is a far cry from an American Bill of Rights or a Constitution, it nevertheless remains an historical leap forward for women’s welfare. The very fact that Moses commands lustful conquering men to wait thirty-one days before consummating a marriage, forcing them to give captive women time and space and freedom to mourn their former life and emotionally prepare for their new one is a truly remarkable mercy from God in the melee of men.