Tough Passages #13: No Hand, No Pity (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)

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.

The Verse

“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.

Deuteronomy 25:11-12, ESV

The Secular Response

If people were better Christians, we’d have a lot more handless people walking around.

Ivana Wynn,

Our Reply

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.

• • •

Next month, we’re looking at whether or not people with deformities can come before God.

Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture; we hope you stick with us. If this isn’t a satisfying answer to you, please comment below. I’d love to talk it out.

Want to write for Redeeming Culture? We would love to have you!

* 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.

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29 thoughts on “Tough Passages #13: No Hand, No Pity (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)

  1. Its real simple … Old Testament Law is very similar to Sharia Law … Both Islam and Christianity came from the same very small region on the planet so they are ‘Sister’ Religions …

  2. Why does this apply only to a woman? What if a man damages his opponent’s genitals? Would lex talionis require that he be injured in the same way?

  3. Theologians try to get God off the hook and make him look loving.The real question to ask is whether God wrote the bible with people’s help or ,did people write the bible with God’s help.Deut 25 ;11 is evidence to support the latter.In my opinion ,God didnt write this,Moses did and I think Moses wrote a lot of stuff ‘without’ God’s input.

  4. This all sounds so wierd.
    Must have been piles of chopped off hands lying around. The woman was only trying to help!
    I think the Old Testament can turn alot of people off!

  5. Yeah… I’m really not convinced. I think I’ll stick with the secular argument, but thank you for presenting your POV.

  6. Don’t worry, Your husband will be beat to death, but my law will take care of you as a widow. This is some mafia Peaky Blinder type stuff. Sorry we killed your husband, we will find work for your kid and give you a wage for the trouble.

  7. Your interpretation (defense) of this scripture makes me want to avoid all Christians forever. What a pathetic joke!

    • I’m sorry to hear that. And honestly, I don’t even know if I buy this explanation anymore. I’m still a Christian, but this doesn’t strike me as correct any longer.

  8. Wow. Actually wow.

    That’s how you talk your way around this particular one? Do you not find you are talking your way around lots of passages, because you obviously know the answer.. you are just trying to justify how you get there?

    Not expecting a sensible or thought through reply btw.

    • I’ll be honest…I don’t know if I buy this explanation anymore. This was my best attempt years ago, but I honestly don’t know anymore.

  9. Is it a matter of “Eve” like behavior, trying to control instead of trusting the Lord and her husband?

  10. Stop trying to twist scripture around to justify it. This is some conspiracy far-reacing attempts to make the Bible seem a fraction less insane.

  11. So… What if the husband kills the other man in the fight?

    What if the fight always had that purpose?

    The wife stop the fight, both man get to live, and one get injured in the genitals…

    Are you telling me that she deserves a punishment for not letting anyone die?

  12. It’s a lot simpler. This is tribal law that was meant for nomadic savages thousands of years ago. This law is about mutilating and disfiguring a woman for a mere gesture–a threaten to patriarchy. Your religion is barbaric, and fanatical Jews are just as bad as fanatical Muslims or fanatical Christians, or even fanatical Buddhists in some regions. Go fight your wars, impose your atavistic laws, and inflict your impotent rage amongst yourselves, and leave the rest of us alone. The world would be better off without you and you backwards religion.

    • I don’t even agree with my own explanation anymore, but your abusive reaction to me isn’t the best way to start a conversation. Want to try that again from the top?

  13. Those are some wild mental gymnastics you’ve assembled to justify some heinous “laws”. Your god is garbage.

  14. This is the stupidest apology I ever heard for stupid shit. Every sperm is sacred! What a mean, malicious broad to twist the balls of someone beating on her husband. I say give the ladies some knives and then he’d know for sure which guys were sterile. Go Jezebel! Go Delilah!

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