“If a man has sexual relations with a woman who is a slave intended for another man, and she has neither been redeemed nor given her freedom, there is to be an investigation. They are not to be put to death, because she was not free. In reparation he is to bring a ram as a guilt offering for himself to the entrance of the tent of meeting. The cohen will make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before Adonai for the sin he committed, and he will be forgiven for the sin he committed.”-Leviticus 19:20-22
Leviticus 19:20-22 is an interesting set of verses because it gives us a true glimpse into what ancient Israelite society was like back in the 14th century BC.
What’s also interesting to note is that these particular verses have ascended to the status of being one of the 613 Laws of Torah.
Because of this, I think it’s safe to assume that the scenario presented in these verses occurred quite frequently.
Given the huge differences between Hebrew culture at that time and our modern Western culture, I think most folks have difficulty understanding what’s really going on here.
In simple, plain English, here’s what’s happening:
These verses are telling us that a man is not to have sex with a slave girl if she has already been promised to another man.
In this situation, the “slave girl” is a Hebrew owned by a Hebrew man.
In fact, most of the slave girls owned by Israelites were Israelite girls.
And it was perfectly lawful for a father to sell his daughter into what we would term “bond-servitude” today.
This ordinance was established way back in Exodus.
“If a man sells his daughter as a slave,
she is not to go free like the men-slaves.
If her master married her
but decides she no longer pleases him,
then he is to allow her to be redeemed.
He is not allowed to sell her to a foreign people,
because he has treated her unfairly.
If he has her marry his son,
then he is to treat her like a daughter.
If he marries another wife,
he is not to reduce her food,
clothing or marital rights.
If he fails to provide her with these three things,
she is to be given her freedom
without having to pay anything.”
Under what circumstances would a father be forced to sell his daughter or daughters?
The most common reasons were poverty or debt.
I understand a situation like this is quite offensive to our modern sensibilities and probably brings up images of some poor slave girl in chains tied to a stake every evening to prevent her from running away.
Or maybe mental pictures of the slave girl being starved, beaten or being used as a sexual toy by the man who owns her are popping up into our minds.
However, that was NOT the case, as the law insisted that a female bond servant be well treated.
So the situation we have is a young Hebrew girl (really a child by our standards) being sold to a Hebrew man.
When the girl reached marrying age, which was around 15 years old in those days, her owner was obligated to make one of the following choices…
…marry her himself,
…give her to his son for marriage,
…allow her to be redeemed.
Let’s take a look at the third option of redemption.
According to the social dictates of the time, if a man seeking a wife wanted to marry a particular slave girl, the slave owner was obligated to “sell” her to him at a “redemption” price.
What would happen is that the man interested in a certain slave girl for his wife would bargain with the slave owner over the redemption price.
Once an agreement was reached, the slave girl legally became the future wife of the man who had just redeemed her.
However, he didn’t get to have her right away because a lengthy period of time normally passed before the future husband was able to save up enough money to buy the girl.
During this time, although the slave girl had been sold, she continued to live with her slave owner.
Until her future husband paid the redemption price, she remained an unmarried girl and a slave.
So everything was set.
An agreement had been reached between the owner of a slave girl and her future husband for an agreed upon redemption price.
However, there was one issue that could throw a serious monkey wrench into this nice and peaceful hunky dory situation, and it is this issue that is specifically being addressed in Leviticus 19:21-22.
If another man came along and had sex with the slave girl, we now had a serious problem.
The girl was now damaged goods because her virginity had been taken from her by a man not betrothed to be her husband.
In those days, a woman’s virginity was her most prized possession.
The future husband had entered into an agreement to pay big money for a girl he was fully expecting to be a virgin.
And if it turns out, she wasn’t a virgin, there’s no way he was going to take her to be his wife now.
He would have called the whole deal off with the slave owner.
Hence, the slave girl’s owner would have been out of a lot of money he was expecting to come in.
So how does a HOLY God decide to deal with this situation?
Let’s take a look at verse 20.
“If a man has sexual relations with a woman who is a slave intended for another man, and she has neither been redeemed nor given her freedom, there is to be an investigation.”-Leviticus 19:20
Note the red word “investigation” that I bolded and underlined.
Other Bibles may say “punishment” or “inquiry” or “inquisition” or something of the sort.
I’m going to argue that all of those translation choices are not accurate.
I believe the end of verse 20 should say, “there is to be an INDEMNITY“.
The original Hebrew word here is BIKKORET and for many centuries Hebrew scholars have suspected that translating this Hebrew word into “iniquity”, “investigation”, or “punishment” was missing the mark quite considerably.
The reason is because within the Hebrew cultural context of what we’re studying none of those words really make any sense.
And recently, scholarship has made great progress in its study of cognates connected to the Hebrew language.
A cognate means that a word in one language is related to a word in another tongue.
If we can be confident of the meaning of a certain word in an older and related language, we can be pretty sure that its cognate in a sister language carries the same meaning.
Well, it just so turns out that a cognate has been discovered for BIKKORET.
Many language scholars now know that many Hebrew words have originated from the Akkadian language.
And in Akkadian we have found the word BAQARU.
And do you know what this word means?
It means “to make good on a claim” or “to indemnify”.
Scholarly opinion is pretty much unanimous that BIKKORET is the Hebrew cognate of BAQARU.
So what’s really going on in this story is that the man who seduced and had sex with the slave girl who been sold to another man is now legally required to pay the full-agreed price that had been negotiated between the slave owner and the future husband who decided to pull out of the deal because the slave girl is no longer a virgin.
It’s important to note that the emphasis on this story is how the slave owner has been wronged more than the future husband.
This is because the slave owner would have lost all the money owed him for his slave girl.
That’s why the seducer had to pay reparations to the slave owner and NOT the future husband.
The future husband was simply out of luck, he had just lost his fiancé and now had to start from square one to find another wife.
However, things weren’t over for the sly seducer who had bedded down with the slave girl who was promised to another man.
Verse 21 tells us that the seducer had make a sacrifice at the Altar.
And can you guess what kind of sacrifice?
That’s right, he had to make an ASHAM or “reparation offering“ (what most Bibles call a “guilt offering”).
The seducer had not only damaged the property of the slave owner, but he had transgressed against YHVH by breaking a command.
And keep in mind that the ASHAM was a pretty expensive sacrifice.
That’s quite a price to pay for not being able to properly contain one’s lust.
The seducer pays the slave owner, he pays God (via the ASHAM sacrifice), and on top of that he doesn’t even get to keep the girl he seduced.
If he decided he wanted the girl, he would have to come up with more money for the bride price in addition to the penalty he paid to the slave owner.
Now the biggest takeaway (and the sharpest contrast to our modern Western culture) I’m getting from all this is just how prized a woman’s virginity was in those days.
In fact, the whole basis of Leviticus 19:20-22 is predicated on just how priceless and valuable a woman’s virginity was.
I know I’ve said in a previous post that you will not find a commandment forbidding premarital sex, but having said that, I must admit this story is pretty strong evidence that God would want us (as His ideal) to keep sex HOLY and confined to the marriage bed.