The Sex Trade and the Bible
A cranky atheist has been leaving comments on a post from back in 2008. He took me to task for asking him why he, an atheist, cares about the Islamic sex trade. (Yes, I know it is weird. You'll have to read the post). Rather than answering me, he laid down a challenge:
why do you, a Biblical literalist, care about drugs and sex slavery? Drugs are not forbidden in the Bible, and sex slavery is permitted, and in fact, mandated, as long as God's people do it to God's non-people. Exodus 21 says you can sell your daughters into slavery, and in those days owners always had sex with their female slaves, as the slavery laws and many stories (Abraham x Hagar) make clear, so if you're pressed for cash, sell little Hadassah into sex slavery, says Exodus 21. And in Numbers 31, Moses is positively furious with the Israelites for not killing the non-virgin Midianites and making sex slaves of the vigins [sic]
He then provided me with a list of passages that supposedly prove God not only sanctioned sex slavery, but even ordered the rape of women in some cases. Those passages include:
[Deut. 20:10–15; Deut. 21:10–14; Num. 31:1–47; Isaiah 13:16; Judges 5:30; Judges 21:10–14 ... Ex. 21:2–8; Ex. 21:20–21; Deut. 20:10–15; Lev. 25:44–46; Isaiah 14:1-2].
He then offered this closing remark: So how can you, a Biblical literalist, logically oppose sex slavery, when God's people are ordered to do it to God's non-people?
Knowing I have many readers who perhaps encounter biblio-skeptics among their co-workers and family who throw out the sex-slavery allegation, It may be helpful to put together a response. I don't expect my atheist challenger will be persuaded by my answers. I predict he will give me some clever excuses to explain them away so as to keep on suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
To begin, there are a number of facts we need to consider.
1) Atheists and scriptural critics will regularly pretend to have a great knowledge of the biblical text. They will often string together all kinds of Bible verses like they themselves are a fundamentalist revival preacher. It is easy to become intimidated by the sheer volume of their citations because they give the appearance they know what they are talking about. This expertise, in reality, is a facade. The vast number of them come from religious backgrounds in which they were exposed to a shallow reading of scripture or never taught it in a meaningful fashion. That is why they cherry pick the ones favoring their opposition.
2) Of those atheists who were saturated in the study of Scripture, say for example Bart Ehrman or John Dominic Crossan, their criticisms of problematic passages of the Bible are spun and twisted so as to exaggerate the supposed difficulty under consideration. For instance, the allegation that God sanctions sex slavery and commanded rape of innocent people. Their goal with distorting the Bible in this fashion has nothing to do with uncovering the genuine meaning of the text, but is more for the purpose of fueling their continuing rage against their creator and to paint God as a monster unworthy of our worship.
3) It is a fact that slavery is recorded in Scripture. However, to equate the indentured servitude regulated in the books of Moses with the cruel harshness of human trafficking and slavery found in virtually every human society throughout the history of the world shows a severe lack of historical perspective. I would even say an intentionally self imposed intellectual blindness. It is also equally ridiculous to anachronistically read the struggle Western society had with slavery in the 18th and 19th century that eventually resulted in the American Civil War back into the Bible as if the slavery spoken of in the pages of Scripture is the exact same thing.
4) It is also true some men spoken of in the Bible had concubines. That is to say, a man had more than one wife, or practiced polygamy. The primary purpose for such an arrangement (apart from monarchs who gathered wives for political purposes) was to maintain the family name through the birth of a male heir. If the favored wife, the first wife the husband married, was unable to give birth, he would seek out a surrogate to produce male offspring. This is the case with Elkanah, Hannah, and Peninnah (1 Samuel 1-2). Hannah was unable to conceive, so Peninnah was taken as a wife to produce children.
These arrangements were not sanctioned by the Lord at all, but were the efforts of men to take matters into their own hands as it were. This is seen in the example the atheist challenger notes with Abraham and Hagar. Sarah gave Hagar her handmaid to Abraham so that he could produce the promised heir. Such an action mocked God's promise to Abraham, and was a blatant display of fleshly reasoning. His actions were not rape, as is supposed by the atheist critic, because Hagar already had a relationship with Abraham's family and remained 14 years with them until Sarah ran her off (Genesis 16).
With those comments in mind, let us consider the passages offered by our atheist antagonist. Of the ones he lists, maybe five of them pose any significant difficulty for a Bible believing Christian. I have outlined them according to importance of the challenge.
7 And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8 "If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. 9 "And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. 10 "If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. 11 "And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.
I wrote on Exodus 21 in an earlier post from this year that can be found HERE. I recommend the reader to consider it in order to have a more detailed study of this passage. Suffice it to say for our purposes now, this passage in Exodus is not sanctioning the selling of a daughter into sexual slavery. To describe the text in such a manner reveals an ignorant bias. This is a description of indentured servitude: a family in debt who has a daughter capable of work who will then contract with another family in order for her to be used to pay off debt. This is clear from the overall context that begins in 21:1.
As happens with many of these arrangements, the man of the other family either falls in love with the girl and wishes to marry her, or maybe wants to have her be arranged for marriage to one of his sons. The text is providing detailed instructions on how this arrangement is to be made and the regulations that help safe guard the girl's purity in the situation so that she won't be taken advantage of as a maidservant. Rather than sanctioning the sex trade, the text is prevent such from happening.
Numbers 31 is long so I won't cite it in the entirety. This chapter is a problematic one for a Bible believing Christian because it records the destruction of the Midianites by Israel's armies during the wilderness wanderings. It is not all that different from the record of 1 Samuel 15 where the Amalekites are utterly destroyed. When the secular talk media discusses acts of Jihad by Islamic radicals against non-Muslims, biblio-critics are quick to appeal to places like Numbers 31 to make comparisons between Islamic and Judeo-Christian views of God. If God commanded death to innocent unbelievers in the OT like the Midianites and the Amalekites, how then can the God of the Bible be any different than Allah of the Qu'ran? Of course, those nations destroyed by Israel were far from "innocent" victims, as if Israel, in a blood lust fury, chopped down villages of peace loving, poetry reading gardeners and their sweet families.
Often these passages are lifted from their contexts in which they provide a clearer understanding of the events leading up to the destruction of the nation. In the case of the Midianites, the context of their dealings with Israel begin in Numbers 22 where they are said to have joined forces with the Moabites to fight against them (22:4). They hired Balaam to curse Israel, who fails to level that curse, but instead leads Israel to sin against God by having them led into spiritual harlotry by Moabite and Midianite women (Num. 25). This act of sin aroused God's anger against Israel and the Lord judged them with a plague that struck down 24,000 people (25:8). As a result of this wickedness, God commands Israel to go to war with the Midianites (25:6-8). This judgment against them is recorded in Numbers 31.
The difficult passage, then, is Moses' words to the captains of the army who brought back all the women of the Midianites as captives,
14 But Moses was angry with the officers of the army, with the captains over thousands and captains over hundreds, who had come from the battle. 15 And Moses said to them: "Have you kept all the women alive? 16 "Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD. 17 "Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately. 18 "But keep alive for yourselves all the young girls who have not known a man intimately.In this act, the women that led Israel into wickedness would be slain. The death of the male children would insure the extermination of the Midianites as a people and keep them from ever again seducing Israel to sin. Only the young girls who were virgins would be allowed to live and assimilated into the nation of Israel. Our politically correct sensibilities bristle at such a description, but the death of the Midianites was not commanded capriciously for the sake of heartless cruelty. God was bringing swift and deserving punishment upon a wicked nation that reveled in their sin against God and his holy people.
The accusation of sex slavery and forced rape is raised against the comment of verse 18, "But keep alive for yourselves all the young girls who have not known a man intimately." But nothing in this passage implies such a villainous act took place. Just that those girls were kept alive. Nothing is recorded as to what happened to them, though it is assumed they were eventually married off among the people of Israel. However, because men can act sinfully in such cases, God gave regulations regarding women taking into captivity because of war and that brings us to the next set of passages.
Deuteronomy 20:10-15 and 21:10-14
These passages describe a similar situation: a city being taken in war and the women (presumably young girls never married) being captured. Only Deuteronomy 21:10-14 is relevant to our discussion here:
10 When you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers them into your hand, and you take them captive, 11 "and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, 12 "then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. 13 "She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 "And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free, but you certainly shall not sell her for money; you shall not treat her brutally, because you have humbled her.
The situation describes a solider or some other man of Israel wanting to marry a girl taken into captivity due to war. But rather than God allowing the man to do with her whatever the man pleases, note how commandments are laid down to protect the girl. She basically is made plain: trimmed nails, changed into new clothes, and shaves her head. Hence, those outward things a man would have seen to have caused him to desire her are removed. She is to mourn a full month for her family. After that period, if the man still likes her, he can marry her. However, if he has no delight in her, meaning, after the month she no longer appeals to him, she is to be set free. Notice also how the man is forbidden to sell her for money and to treat her brutally, which would mean, rape her or make her into a sex slave. So, rather than sanctioning such atrocities as the atheist alleges, God provides a way for the girl to be protected by law.
Judges 21:10-14, 20, 21
20 Therefore they instructed the children of Benjamin, saying, "Go, lie in wait in the vineyards, 21 "and watch; and just when the daughters of Shiloh come out to perform their dances, then come out from the vineyards, and every man catch a wife for himself from the daughters of Shiloh; then go to the land of Benjamin.
This last passage for our consideration has to do with the tribes of Israel going to war against the tribe of Benjamin for an act of wickedness that took place in their territory as outlined in Judges 19. Though the Lord directed in leading Israel's military machine against Benjamin (Judges 20:18), God did not direct the tribes in counseling them to kidnap women for the remaining men of Benjamin in order to preserve their lineage in Israel as described in 21:20-21. Those were acts sanctioned solely by the elders of Israel, and thus reflected the theme of Judges, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
The remaining passages raised by the atheists taken from Isaiah have nothing really to do with God sanctioning rape or the sex trade, but are prophetic descriptions of what will happen to the wicked Babylonians when they are given over to their enemies as a sign of God's judgment against them. What they did to other nations, pillage and rape, will happen to them.
So to answer the atheist's charge, how can you believe the Bible when God sanctioned sex trading and rape?, God never did, and contrary to his accusations, the Bible never does either.