The Old Testament is replete with sexual violence, which is not so different from The Game of Thrones or the news. Thankfully, organizations like the International Justice Mission are opening our eyes to the global reality of sex trafficking of women and children. There are numerous national and local organizations providing information and resources on sexual violence and exploitation of women and children.
The Old Testament writers didn’t skim over the reality of sexual violence.
Consider Abraham, the second name mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1:1-2). When he moves to Egypt to avoid a famine (Genesis 12:10-20), he orders Sarah to pretend she is his sister, so no one will kill him to take her.
As a result, “she was taken (Genesis 12:15)”- words that imply sexual activity – by Pharaoh into his harem. To thank Abraham for sharing his “sister,” Pharaoh rewarded him with livestock and servants. (A similar event takes place in Genesis 20.) God called Abraham to be a blessing, but in both cases the only person “blessed” was Abraham. Sarah is betrayed, while Abraham gets richer.
If we gloss over the details when telling these stories, we miss some of their importance.
We see ancient examples of a modern reality: People in power – including those who profess faith in God – can use their power to exploit the vulnerable. The Bible does not gloss over this painful reality.
The consequences of sexual exploitation are severe, but God’s grace is even greater. God works in and through all people: even those guilty of heinous sins, as the genealogy of Jesus shows.
For Christians, our identity comes from our unity with Christ in his suffering, death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-7). We can trust that Jesus, in winning the victory over sin and death, gives us the victory over all the sins committed by us and against us.
I realize these words may ring hollow in the ears of victims of sexual violence. I cannot identity with that painful experience. However, I have experienced God’s grace that meets us where we are, heals us gradually and brings meaning to our pain.