Torah texts: Exodus 21:7-11 with Leviticus 19:20-22
Gospel texts: Matthew 1:20 seq. with 1 Corinthian 7:25 seq.
The law of betrothed women immediately follows the law of the bondservant in the ordinances of practical living that follow the exalted passage that contains the ten commandments. A parallel text in the Torah to Exodus 21:7-11 is Leviticus 19:20-22.
The Exodus 21 passage deals with a father’s right to “sell” his daughter (betroth her) to a master; the expectation is that she will be taken by the master as his wife or given to his son as his son’s wife. This is the financial and living security of the woman into her future beyond the care of her father.
The first Gospel text cited above (Matthew 1:20 seq.) shows this law operative in the life of Joseph and his betrothed wife Mary who is still in her virginity while betrothed to Joseph. The second Gospel text cited above (1 Corinthians 7:25 seq.) concerns a similar circumstance with the additional insight into the husband who has not yet taken his betrothed wife unto himself in the consummation of the marriage. He owes her the duties of sustenance even if he has not yet taken her conjugally. Paul sees this is an unusual circumstance (if the man keeps her in a state of suspension indefinitely) and gives his counsel in the absence of a direct Torah prescription for that condition.
In the first Torah passage, if the master or the master’s son does not fulfill the pledge of love involved in the betrothal, then the betrothed woman is to be perpetually cared for with food, clothing and conjugal performance. This strained type of marital relationship is mirrored in the life of unloved Leah and her husband Jacob—she was not the favored wife yet she had right to the conjugal duty of Jacob to her, and through this right she built the house of Israel with a daughter and six sons—including the kingly tribe of Judah. Eventually, however, it was with Leah that Jacob was buried at Machpelah, a testament of his respect for her, and no doubt to his later-life mature love for her.
If the betrothed woman is not treated with fundamental respect and kindness as measured by her three rights, then she is free to go out of the abusive house of betrothal free of charge and be married to another man who respects her, wants her and will treat her with the kindnesses owed to an honorable wife.
The Leviticus passage has to do with the case of a betrothed slave woman (“bondwoman”) who has had sexual relations with a man other than her betrothed husband. Because she has not been freed, she is to be “investigated” (STONE), or “scourged” (KJV) but not executed (“made a public example”). The man who has violated her is to be (additionally?) punished by sacrificing one of his studs among the flock—a ram. This is a very severe penalty in an agrarian society. After the sacrifice of the ram, the man is forgiven, for the sin rests upon his head; the scourging of the woman is her penalty, but forgiveness passes to her sacrificially as well (by implication). The sin is the sin of them both. The forgiveness is granted to them both.
The Torah is very intricate in its dealings with human relations.
It can be seen from these passages why Joseph was very troubled when Mary became obviously pregnant. This was indicative of infidelity to her marriage bond of betrothal. It was only when God made him know that she was the virgin of prophecy (Isaiah 7:14 with Genesis 3:15) that Joseph was able to accept her as his wife. She was not guilty of infidelity but was the bondmaid of God Who, through her pure womb, brought forth the promised Redeemer. Also, Joseph did not perform normative conjugal duty with her until she had given birth to Jesus, her (their) firstborn son. Jesus was the Firstborn of Joseph by adoption. This fact passed to Jesus the legal title to the throne of David since Joseph was in the Kingly line of succession.
From all of this we can see that God has a direct interest in the matters of marriage between a man and a woman. It is God who gives us our children; it is we who exercise the rights, the duties and the privileges that produce that gift.
From the law of betrothal, we also see that the Promise made to us in Messiah is secure to us, because God is faithful and cannot lie—God is not a wicked master! Because of our betrothal to Messiah as His Bride we have inherited all things through the Only Begotten Son of the Father. What an awesome gift!