Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Deuteronomy 21:10–14

Deuteronomy 21:10–14: Rules for marrying a captured woman


I talked a bit, in Deuteronomy 20, about the fact that it’s just taken for granted that the Israelites are going to be going to war; it’s a fact of life that wars happen, and they’ll be fighting some. It was also mentioned that the Israelites, when fighting nations that are far away, are allowed to take captives. So if an Israelite man is attracted to a captured foreign woman, is he allowed to marry her? This passage answers that question, and lays some ground rules.

First of all, yes, Israelite men are allowed to marry women that they have captured. In such a case, the woman is to be given a full month to mourn for her parents—who, one would assume, would have been killed in the war—and then the Israelite man will be allowed to marry her. (Verse 12 says that the woman is also to have her head shaved and her nails trimmed; I’m not sure if this is part of the mourning process, or if this is some form of “purification,” before she becomes an Israelite woman.)

If, after marrying her, the Israelite man is not “pleased with her” (verse 14), he is to let her go free. Verse 14 says that by doing so the man is “dishonouring” the woman, so he is not to sell her, or treat her as a slave.


This is the type of passage that I have a hard time with, because I would have preferred for the LORD to tell the Israelites “don’t take captives,” or, better yet, “don’t have wars.” But He didn’t.

However, if I put myself in the mindset that wars are going to happen, and the Israelites are going to take captives, then I find these very humane rules. “Humane” in the sense that God is putting the needs of the captured women on equal terms with those of the Israelite men. I’m sure the tendency would have been for the Israelites to say that these women are not Israelites, and therefore inferior, but God is trying to ensure that they are treated well, under the circumstances.

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