In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way. Last month, we looked at a rather unsavory law from Leviticus. But for our first post in 2017, we’ll be looking at a somewhat strangely specific law from Deuteronomy.
“When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.
The Secular Response
If people were better Christians, we’d have a lot more handless people walking around.
First, let’s dispense with the idea that this is something that could ever happen accidentally. While the ESV says “siezes,” and the KJV says “taketh,” the original Hebrew is much stronger: the word used actually has a connotation not just of grabbing someone, but of doing so in battle, with the intent of seriously injuring them.
So this isn’t just some accidental brush of the woman’s hand. This is a malicious strike intended to injure the man to the point where he cannot have children any longer.
But it goes further than that.
Remember all the way back in May, when we examined a verse about how men who were castrated weren’t allowed into the Temple? That law comes not too long before this one, so this one must be read in light of the one that came before it. The woman in this scenario isn’t just hoping the man she is fighting will be unable to have children anymore; She’s flat-out saying that she doesn’t want to worship with him in the Temple any longer. She’s saying that he deserves to be treated like a foreigner. “You don’t deserve to be a part of this nation.”
Let’s stop here and look at the verse again, just to get our feet back on solid ground.
In this situation, the woman comes upon her husband fighting another man in a public place. Furious, she decides that he’s not worthy of worshipping with the other Jews anymore, and she makes up her mind that she really wants to hurt this guy. Bad. She runs in to the battle, grabs the man in a very sensitive area, and squeezes. It’s starting to seem a little less innocuous, isn’t it?
Let’s go deeper, the verses immediately preceding this Tough Passage talk about the law God put into place to protect women in the case they were widowed. Again, we need to read this verse in light of that one; so maybe it’s referring to a case where the woman is trying to keep her husband from dying so that she doesn’t have to rely on God’s law; selfishly saying that she values her own comfort as worth more than the man’s standing before God, and that she doesn’t find God reliable enough to trust, even though He has proven Himself over and over again.
This particular law would be an outlier in the Torah law as the only infraction for which physical maiming was required. and even though there is some speculation that the ancient Hebrews would have understood (and the Lord intended) the penalty differently than you or I read it today*, it’s important to weigh the gravity of that choice: rely upon God in all your uncertainty, love Him whole-heartedly, and continue to love others as you love yourself. The consequences for not doing so are grave.
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Next month, we’re looking at whether or not people with deformities can come before God.
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* Some scholars say this means that she should pay a fine that would hurt her as much as the loss of her hand, or that it meant her palm was to be cut. In any case, there is no evidence that this punishment was ever carried out.