The laws in this section have the design of fostering purity and fidelity in the relation of the sexes, and also of protecting the female against the malice of sated lust and the violence of brutal lust.
Divine care for sexual honor.
In these, as in so many of the precepts of this book, we find civil precepts invested with religious sanctions. Nothing is more important for the honorable maintenance of social life, than that both men and women should honor each other's sex as well as their own. Those that do otherwise are an abomination to the Lord their God. There are five or six different cases supposed in the verses referred to at the heading of this Homily:
Such sins would have been thought nothing of among the Canaanites. God would have his people lifted up above them. Hence it is needful that they should be specifically named, and that the people should be solemnly told of the odiousness of these sins in God's sight, that thus they might become odious also in their eyes. While all will feel that such subjects need great wisdom in handling them, yet undue reticence thereon may work direful harm. Many need to be told with great plainness of speech, "He that breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him." Our theme is—" Sexual dishonor odious in the sight of God ." The following lines of thought suggest themselves.
I. God has made our nature, in every part thereof, for himself.
II. In making man, male and female, God has opened up to each wondrous possibilities of love, of holiness, of usefulness, by each rendering to the other due honor in accordance with Divine Law.
III. By as much as the joy and culture are great when God's sexual laws are obeyed, by so much are the misery and debasement great when they are disobeyed.
IV. He who trifles with himself or with others in regard to the holiest of all human relations, will find that sins of impurity nip his nature in the bud, embitter life beyond all power of expression, and render true greatness altogether impossible. One sin will drag the whole man after it. Hence our Lord's solemn warnings in Matthew 5:29 , Matthew 5:30 ; Mark 9:43 , Mark 9:45 , Mark 9:47 . Hence—
V. We should look upon God's order in nature with devout and reverent regard.
The Mosaic Law is strict and stern in its requirement of purity in all that pertains to the marriage relation. Its strictness, however, is united with a fine sense of justice, and its shield is, as usual, extended for the protection of the innocent.
I. THE DEFAMED WIFE . ( Deuteronomy 22:13-19 .) No act can be conceived more cruel or dastardly than that of a man who groundlessly assails his wife's character, accusing her of ante-nuptial unchastity. As the matter was one proof of which was not directly possible, and the man's word was all that could be adduced on his side, the Law threw the onus of clearing herself upon the woman through her parents, and indicated the mode of doing so. The "forty stripes save one" was a punishment not too heavy for this sort of false accusation.
II. THE UNCHASTE WIFE . ( Deuteronomy 22:20-24 .) Three cases are distinguished, each punishable with death.
1. A woman found to be unchaste at time of marriage ( Deuteronomy 22:20 , Deuteronomy 22:21 ).
2. Adultery after marriage ( Deuteronomy 22:22 ).
3. A betrothed woman ravished with her implied consent ( Deuteronomy 22:23 , Deuteronomy 22:24 ).
In the last two cases, the partner in guilt dies also. In the first, he only escapes, because he is unknown. Yet that unknown seducer, the cause of the woman's fall—a fall which shame subsequently tempted her to conceal—was not lost to the eye of him who sees secret crime, and will repay it. Little do such seducers think of the life-long shame and sin and misery to which they may be dooming the unfortunate victims of their wiles. God knows it, and will bring them to account. The severe penalties attached to conjugal unfaithfulness place in a startling light the gravity of the offence in the Divine esteem, and form a striking contrast to the light tone adopted about such matters in society.
III. THE WOMAN RAVISHED . ( Deuteronomy 22:25-29 .) The cases specified are those of rape.
1. If the woman was betrothed, and could not save herself, she was to be held innocent, but her violator was to be punished with death.
2. If she was not betrothed, the man who had injured her was heavily fined, and was compelled to take her to wife, with no right of subsequent divorce. Possibly our own law might fitly imitate that of Deuteronomy 22:29 .—J.O.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Expedients to secure purity.
We have here various wise expedients to control the licentiousness of the people, and secure, so far as possible, social purity.
I. DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER WAS SEVERELY PUNISHED . A husband could not, with impunity, defame a newly married wife; for should there be proof forthcoming that his charge was false, he was to be publicly chastised, to pay a fine of one hundred shekels of silver to his father-in-law, whoso good name and peace he had threatened, and to be bound to his wife all his days.
II. WHOREDOM WAS MADE A CAPITAL CRIME . If the charge made against his wife prove true, then she is to be stoned to death for her sin. Immorality was really treason towards the Divine King, it was incompatible with his kingdom, and so was put into the category of capital crimes. The morale of the theocracy was really higher in idea than that of any other kingdom then or now existing.
III. ADULTERY WAS ALSO A CRIME FOR WHICH BOTH OFFENDERS MUST SUFFER DEATH . Here the two parties are criminals against the theocracy, and such a flagrant crime cannot be tolerated within it. The morality is severe and wholesome.
IV. ADULTERY COMMITTED WITH A BETROTHED DAMSEL IS TREATED JUST AS ADULTERY WITH A MARRIED WOMAN , FOR SHE IS AS GOOD AS MARRIED . Both parties in this case also must pay the penalty of death. Such severe measures were the wisest expedients in the end.
V. IN CASE OF ADVANTAGE BEING TAKEN OF A BETROTHED DAMSEL , THE RUFFIAN IS TO PAY THE PENALTY OF DEATH . If the taking away of life is justly punished with death, so should the murder of virtue. As a rule, our laws are too lenient towards ruffians that ruin women. Were a few of them sent to the gallows it would be no more than they deserve.
VI. IN CASE OF A VIRGIN THAT IS NOT BETROTHED , THE MAN WHO TAKES ADVANTAGE OF HER IS COMPELLED TO MARRY HER , AND TO PAY TO HER FATHER A SUBSTANTIAL FINE . The case thus dealt with is different from the preceding. It proceeds upon inquiry. The man is not carried by his passion into an act of great wrong towards one whom he can never hope to have as his wife, which was the last case; but he takes the case into his own hand, where no previous betrothal bars the way. He can make reparation, and he is compelled to do so. Again we say that our laws would be greatly improved if a spice of the severity of the Jewish law went to make the cowardly ruffians who disgrace society suffer more severely for their deeds.
VII. INCEST WAS FORBIDDEN . There is no mincing of matters, since all these abominations abounded among the Canaanites, and must be checked in Israel.
VIII. PURITY IS THUS SEEN TO BE GOD 'S AIM . "Be ye holy; for I am holy," is God's direction. We must be as " chaste virgins" presented unto Christ. The social purity of Israel was only to reflect their spiritual purity as towards God. Our own lesson in these regulations is clear. We must not even in the slightest thought prove unfaithful to our Savior and Lord. He is the Husband of the Church, and requires a faithful wife.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
Slander, unchastity, and fraud.
No blame can lie against the Scriptures because they legislate on such detestable matters. The blame must lie at the door of depraved humanity, which perpetrates such deeds and makes Divine legislation necessary. The obscenity appertains to the vices, only praise belongs to the remedy.
I. A WOMAN 'S CHASTITY IS HER MAIN DOWRY FOR LIFE . If she possess not this virtue, she is worse than worthless; she is a plague and a pest—a moral dunghill. Apart from chastity, she can fill no proper place in society. Her true function is ended. She is only a discredit to the human name. Her light is dense darkness. The streams of life are polluted. The fountain of bliss is corrupted at its source. Rottenness is at the core of society. No language can exaggerate the evil.
II. SLANDER AGAINST A WIFE 'S CHASTITY IS THE BLACKEST OF SINS . In proportion to the vileness of the sin and the severity of the penalty, is the baseness and guilt of the man who makes the accusation falsely. This is a climax of sins of speech, which nothing can surpass. Slander of any sort is heinous sin, and slander against an intimate friend is more heinous yet; but slander against one's wife—and against her chastity—is most heinous of all. Fines and scourging are lenient punishment for such a monster.
III. THE PENALTIES OF SIN ARE IN PROPORTION TO INJURY DONE . On the principle laid down in a previous law, the penalty for false accusation was fixed according to the nature of the deed falsely alleged to be done. In this case, the slanderer well deserved such a result. But then the injured wife would be injured all the more. In the dread penalty imposed on him, she would have to share. Hence, for her sake, the husband's life is spared. To calculate all the effects produced by one act of sin is impossible to the finite mind of man; yet (unless pardon, full and complete, be enjoyed) in proportion to these perpetuated effects will be the penalty meted out to the sinner. We may well "stand in awe."—D.