Biblical Studies Biblical Theology

Is Deuteronomy Pro-Woman? Part One


Having now looked at the Sabbath command between Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, I want to turn to women and Deuteronomy. This section in Daniel Block’s The Gospel According to Moses comes from the same chapter that dealt with the Sabbath commands. Many find the OT laws troubling and oppressive since they come from a patriarchal culture. I have trouble figuring out the laws in their context too as I don’t know the cultural context of the time, or why a certain law was given. In Deuteronomy Moses is giving instructions to a new generation of Israelites. They were the children of those who were rescued out of Egypt, and they will soon enter the Promised Land (which happens in Joshua).

One reason Moses gave this second address was because

“male head of households [unlike Christ in Eph 5.25-27] are prone to exercise their authority in the interests of their own honor and status. One of the primary functions of the Decalogue  is to restrain the potential abuse of power by the heads of households” (159).

One of Moses’ aims was to prevent the abuse of power by Israel’s rulers: kings, judges, elders, and priests. But on the “grassroots level” (as Americans would say), there is also a large concern for “those contexts that concern the relationship of a man with his family, particularly the women of the household” (159).

Block gives eleven examples of laws in Deuteronomy that give consideration to women. Many of these laws are strange to our ears, and so this section is an important one. I give the first seven examples in Part One here, and the next four in Part Two.

The Facts, Jack

  1. The Concern for Widows (10.17-18)
    • Deuteronomy shows a large concern for those marginalized in the community. They are those who are vulnerable because they do not have a father or a husband, ones who would provide food and security. Beginning in 10.18 and nine more times in Deuteronomy, Moses declares a responsibility for the Israelites, and the heads of household, to seek out the well-being of the orphan, widow, and foreigner.
  2. Invitations to Participate in Worship (12.12)
    • Unlike the segregation that would happen in Herod’s temple in the New Testament, women were invited to worship YHWH at the sanctuary (12.12, 18; 16.11, 14; 31.12).
  3. The Manumission of Female (Indentured) Slaves (15.12)
    • While Exodus 21.2-11 speaks only about male slaves, Deuteronomy 15.12 speaks about both males and females.
  4. Military Exemption for New Husbands (20.7)
    • When it comes to war, there were a few reasons men wouldn’t have to join and fight: if they had a newly constructed house, a newly planted vineyard, if they were afraid, or if they had just married. This isn’t just in the interest of the man, but in the woman too. She would want to enjoy their new marriage too! Verse 7 says, “Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her.” Part of the issue here would be protecting her from another man.
  5. The Captive Bride (21.10-14)
    • This text, strange as it is to our minds, is at least trying to squelch the “potential for male abuse of women in such contexts” (161). It is an “appeal to Israelites to be charitable in their treatment of foreign women, who, through no fault of their own, are forced to become a part of the Israelite community” (161).
  6. The Second-Ranked Wife (21.15-17)
    • “Bigamous and polygamous marriages provided fertile soil for the mistreatment of women” (161). The text here assumes that one of the wives will become the favored wife (just think of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah) which means her son will be favored too (just like Jacob, Joseph, and Benjamin, two sons who came from Rachel, the favored wife of Jacob). This provision secures the well-being of the son of the not-loved-as-much wife, which will provide a means for the son to live and help his mother when she is in her old age.
  7. The Mother of a Rebellious Child (21.18-21)
    • While the text starts off with a man having “a stubborn and rebellious son,” the mother is included in the authority and discipline of the rebellious son.


While there are many unjust situations and scenarios that we come across in the Bible and in our world today that we do not have an answer to, we do have a future to look forward to. There will come a day when Christ is united with his bride, the Church, and we live together in the new creation. All will be pleasing and perfect. But until then, we now look in a mirror dimly. We long for the day when the world will be set right, when we will see Jesus “face to face” (1 Cor 13.12). Until then we are to seek his example, both as a Husband (Eph 5.25-27), and as one who suffered unjustly (1 Peter 2.21-25).


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