And She Shall Be His Wife Because He Has Humbled Her

From time to time I have pondered the problem of shotgun marriages [1], and as we wound up looking at the relationship between marriage alliances and the restrictions of divorce.  As we will shortly see, this connection is not as uncommon as one might think.  We might wish to look at the idea of what sort of marriage alliances that more ordinary people than kings and priests would make, but when we do, we find ourselves confronted over and over again with explicit statements that in certain circumstances divorce is forbidden.  As this is puzzling, and as it relates to our subject of the context of God’s law on the relationships between husband and wives, we will examine a few of these contexts to see the patterns of behavior that led God to deny divorce as a means of escape.

The first of these situations is that of a shotgun marriage.  We find two passages in the law relating to this specific case.  The first is in Exodus 22:16-17, which reads:  “If a man lies with a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife.  If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins.”  The second is in Deuteronomy 22:29:  “If a man finds a young woman who is not a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.”

There are some who think of this as an example of rape, but what seems to be the case is more of a clandestine, hidden relationship that is discovered, perhaps when the girl gets pregnant, perhaps when someone comes in on them or catches them sneaking around.  In this situation the young man foolish enough to engage in such behavior is fined 50 shekels, which was a hefty fine, and the father got to decide whether or not to make a marriage alliance with the family of the young man.  The dilemma was a serious one, as engaging in a clandestine relationship rather than openly courting someone and seeking honorable marriage does not speak highly of one’s sense of honor would normally argue against accepting such a person as a son-in-law, but on the other hand in the case where someone would otherwise be a single mother it might be thought that such a situation would be a strong disincentive for other people to offer to marry her, as it remains even now.

Regardless of whether or not the father accepted his daughter’s paramour as a son-in-law or not, the man had to pay, and pay heavily.  For a wealthy family, fifty shekels might not seem to be a huge amount.  It bears reminder, though, that the cost was sufficient to pay for a slave during the time of the Assyrian conquest or for the entirety of the temple mount during the time of King David (see, for example 2 Samuel 24:24), and if one had that sort of money it would likely not be considered well-spent if it was paying off angry fathers of deflowered virgins.  If you could choose between paying for the entire temple mount of Jerusalem or paying off one angry father with the same amount of money, the choice would not be a hard one to make.  Land makes the better investment than angry fathers, any day.  At any rate, that was the fine, and if the father did accept his daughter’s choice of a partner despite the less than ideal circumstances, the man was strictly forbidden from divorcing her at all.

This is important to note, because it meant that contracting such a marriage meant that someone had to support a wife for the rest of their lives.  There was no getting out of a shotgun marriage in biblical times, no certificate of divorce under those circumstances.  If you humbled a young woman and took advantage of someone’s lack of moral sensitivity, the price was being shackled to them for life.  It is likely that many people would have regretted such matters later in life, perhaps on both sides, but that is the way the law worked.  While in the past the prohibition on divorce would have protected a woman from being cast off  and left without support, a disastrous fate in the ancient world where unmarried women had few honorable options to support themselves aside from grinding agricultural or domestic labor, in the contemporary age such a standard would likely protect a husband from having to spend his entire life paying for an angry ex-wife and decades of child support after she leaves him high and dry.  At different eras of history different sides need more protection from God’s law than at other times.  At any rate, though, we see that this particular law included both a marriage alliance, albeit a reluctant one, and also a restriction in divorce.  This is a pattern we will continue to see as we look at other biblical laws relating to the ties that result from marriage.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Love & Marriage, Maternal Lines, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to And She Shall Be His Wife Because He Has Humbled Her

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