God is not silent about rape.
The Harvey Weinsteins of the world may believe they can keep it quiet because of their power and wealth. The survivor may believe she cannot speak out in safety or security.
But God hears it all. And He is not silent about rape.
The Bible neither covers up nor ignores sexual assault. In fact, biblical law shows how the Lord takes up the cause of the victim and the vulnerable. There is one passage in particular, Deuteronomy 22:23-27, that safeguarded women who had been violated from being unjustly blamed or not believed. In ancient Israel, these laws established a pattern, an ethical framework by which God’s people could discern specific situations. And like all of God’s laws, they reveal the heart and character of the Lawgiver.
Found in the City: A Consensual Encounter
“If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.” (Deut 22:23-24)
The woman is presumed guilty because of two factors: the location and the language. Given the encounter’s public location, the law assumes that help was nearby and that an attack would not have occurred beyond the reach of rescue. 
Next, the language. There are three key verbs in this law. The first is acm, (matsa’) meaning “attain to; [or] find.” The Hebrew Bible uses acm to describe how Joseph found his brothers at Dothan (Gen 37:17), or how Saul found young women to ask where the prophet Samuel was (1 Sam 9:11). In itself, that a man found a betrothed virgin in a city does not necessarily denote the use of force. The second verb in this law is hn[ (anah) which in this form, means to “oppress” or “humiliate.” In this context, the verb carries the idea of humiliating the woman, and is often translated “to violate.” Whether or not hn[ signifies violence or rape is determined by the term’s context rather than solely by its presence. Lyn Bechtel, notes that the presence of hn[ reflects the social shame associated with any sexual intercourse that violated a marital, familial, or social obligation, but not necessarily rape. The final verb in this law, bkv (shakab; vv. 23, 25), means “to lie down” and, in this context, refers to sexual intercourse. In itself, bkv does not necessarily indicate rape. bkv also appears earlier in verse 22, as well as in Leviticus 15:18 and 24, and throughout Leviticus 20, all of which describe consensual acts. bkv does not necessarily indicate violence and allows for the possibility of the woman’s complicity. Given her betrothal, betrothed to another man, she was already considered another man’s wife. Thus, her encounter was equivalent to adultery (Deut 22:22).
Attacked in the Field: A Violent Crime
“But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.” (Deut 22:25-27)
This law presumes the woman was innocent, also based on the location and the language. Unlike the woman in the city, she is isolated and help was nowhere within earshot. This law uses the Hebrew verb, qzx, (chazaq) which, in this form, can mean to seize or grasp, or “catch with violence.” qzx can refer to the violent overpowering of another and, in the context of this text, clearly denotes rape. Other appearances of qzx in the Hiphil stem also signify violent force, such as Deuteronomy 25:11-12. The two accounts of rape in the Bible that occurred after the law was given – The Unnamed Concubine in Judges 19, and Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 – both include the verb qzx.
Biblical law recognized rape as a violent crime against a woman. Deuteronomy acknowledged that she was overpowered. In fact, this passage considers rape on par with murder. Michael Fishbane explains: “Like the victim of homicide who is forcibly overcome in a premeditated hostile act, a woman raped in the field is also a victim of force and premeditated hostility. Such a victim cannot, therefore, be considered a consenting party to the act.” The attackers crime is a capital offense. He alone is held guilty. The victim is considered blameless, because she did not consent.
And consent is the key factor here. When I hear from women who have been assaulted, many share how they froze when it happened. They were shocked. They couldn’t move. They couldn’t scream. And they couldn’t even understand why. In the aftermath, they wonder if they did something wrong. I believe this passage of Scripture comes to their defense. The issue was not how the woman expressed her lack of consent. The issue is that she was unwilling. And therefore, God said she was innocent.
There’s one more thing about this law that rivals our modern Western culture. This woman was believed on the basis of her testimony. Biblical law sides with the woman and defends her innocence, despite the lack of witnesses. The woman’s testimony was enough to charge her assailant with the crime. This law not only found her blameless, but also permitted no inference that she was at fault for the attack. In other words, the problem was not that she had done something to be assaulted; the problem was that a man assaulted her. Essentially, if you’ll forgive the anachronism, no one asked her what she was wearing!
Speaking Out Against Sexual Assault: Our Responsibility
For the Israelite woman who was raped, this text ensured that she was heard. She was believed. These laws created an environment in which a survivor of assault already knew that she would be safe and protected by the community. In our own communities, this should reinforce our own responsibility to believe the woman who speaks out about rape.
After analyzing reported cases of sexual assault over a 10-year period, a 2010 study found that between 2% and 10% of accusations were false. Yet, even this fails to represent the rarity of false accusations, since it only includes reported cases. When we consider that only about 28 percent of all sexual assaults are reported, then statistically, the number of false accusations is at minimum .056 percent and most 2.8 percent. This same study also found that many victims of sexual violence did not report the crime because they quote “did not think anything would be done about it.” Biblical law sets a different precedent. If the woman simply revealed what had happened to her against her will, she was guaranteed justice. Her word was enough.
The severity of sexual assault in God’s Law compels us to hear, protect, and defend the dignity of every woman, especially the one who breaks her silence about rape.
God is not silent about rape. He speaks on behalf of the woman who has been sexually assaulted. He protected the survivor from being shamed or shunned. He defended the innocent and heard her cry for justice.
And so must we.
Editor’s Note: This originally published at Biblical Woman
Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 294-95. Biale explains: “Had she been unwilling the betrothed virgin would have called out and would have been at least noticed (the fact of rape thus recognized), if not rescued.”
Francis Brown, Samuel R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament [BDB] (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), s.v. “acm.” acm also has this meaning in vv. 25, 27, and 28.
Caryn Reeder, “Wives and Daughters: Women, Sex, and Violence in Biblical Tradition,” Ex Auditu 28 (2012): 133.
Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament [HALOT] vol. 2, ed. and trans. M. E. J. Richardson (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), s.v. “hnc.” Cf Gen 15:13, 16:6, 31:50; Ex 1:11, 22:21; Deut 26:6 for instances in which hnc means “oppress” and Deut 21:14 for the instance in which hnc means “humiliate.”
The English Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, Revised Standard Version each translate hn[ in Deut 22:24 as “violate.” Further, hn[ is also used in Deut 22:29, which, as this dissertation will contend, does not describe a sexual assault, but rather a degradation.
Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, HALOT, vol. 2, s.v. “hn[ .” The pericopes in which hn[ appears in the Piel stem include the rape of Tamar (2 Sam 13:12, 14, 22, 32), which also includes the verb qzx; the rape of the Unnamed Concubine (Judg 19:24, 20:5), which also includes the verb qzx; and Jeremiah’s lament over Jerusalem’s violent overthrow (Lam 5:11). Only one pericope does not adhere to this pattern: the violation of Dinah (Gen 34:2). However, it must be noted that whether or not Dinah was forcibly raped is a debated aspect of this narrative. See Lyn M. Bechtel, “What If Dinah Is Not Raped? (Genesis 34),” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 62 (1994): 19-36; S. R. Driver, The Book of Genesis: With Introduction and Notes (London: Methuen & Co., 1926), 303. Driver translates hn[ as “humbled,” noting that Shechem “dishonored” Dinah. In reference to this use of hn[, Driver also cites Deut 22:24, 29.
Lyn M. Bechtel, “What If Dinah Is Not Raped? (Genesis 34),” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 62 (1994): 24 (19-36). Bechtel also claims that instances in which hn[ follows bkv do not constitute rape (cf, Deut 22:28-29).
BDB, s.v. “bkv.”
Wright, Deuteronomy, 244.
Koehler and Baumgartner, HALOT, vol. 1, s.v. “qzx.” This action that is amplified by the verb’s root meaning (i.e., seize or grasp with strength, or make/become strong [against])
BDB, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, s.v. “qzx.”
Merrill, Deuteronomy, 305. This point is also noted in Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, 295.
qzx in the Hiphil stem appears in Deuteronomy 25:11-12, which describes a woman who, in an attempt to help her brawling husband, seizes the genitals of the man with whom her husband is fighting. This verb is also used to describe David’s attack and seizure of a lion or a bear that had taken one of his lambs (1 Sam 17:35) and the battle in which David’s men seized their opponents and stabbed them (2 Sam 2:16). Perhaps most notably, qzx in the Hiphil stem appears in the narrative describing Tamar’s sexual assault (2 Sam 13:11). Incidentally, the 2 Samuel 13 passage does not use the terms bkv (v. 23-24) and fpt (v. 28-29) to describe the rape.
Concerning the Unnamed Concubine (Judg 19), qzx appears in reference to the Levite, perhaps a device employed by the narrator to convey his guilt. And, describing the rape of Tamar, qzx ((2 Sam 13:11, 14) appears twice, conveying the incident’s forceful nature. In light of this, one may reasonably conclude that subsequent biblical narrators understood this contextual use of qzx to mean sexual violence, and therefore, coercion.
Fishbane, 249-50. Craigie: “As in a murder case, the woman was an unwilling victim of an attack; she suffered as a result of that attack, but was in no sense culpable.” Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, 295.
In the interest of space, I won’t address Deut 22:28-29 here, except to say that the Hebrew describes an entirely different scenario than a sexual assault. Most of our English translations mistakenly say verses 28-29 depict a rape. The Hebrew tells a different story. See chapter 5 of my dissertation, “Old Testament Laws Concerning Particular Female Personhood and Their Implications for Women’s Dignity.” (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, 2016).
David Lisak, Lori Gardinier, Sarah C. Nicksa, and Ashley M. Cote, “False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases,” Violence Against Women 16, no. 12 (2010): 1318, accessed April 23, 2016, http://www.icdv.idaho.gov/conference/handouts/False-Allegations.pdf.
David Cantor, et al. “Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct,” 21 September 2015 (Rockville, MD: Westat, 2015), iv, accessed April 24, 2016, https://www.aau.edu/uploadedFiles/AAU_Publications/AAU_Reports/Sexual_Assault_Campus_Survey/AAU_Campus_Climate_Survey_12_14_15.pdf.