Tough Passages: Deuteronomy 25: 11, 12

Our God is a God of truth. To be more like Him, we must learn to like truth – or so I think. So, I’m making a list of Bible verses that make my heart pound and my eyes water, verses I have no idea what to do with. I’ll read them and re-read them, try to find some context and pray about them. I know that God will help.

Deuteronomy 25:11, 12: If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them come to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. You shall show her no pity.

Step 1: Make notes and questions:

  1. Was the woman’s action deliberate or accidental? Does that matter in the execution?
  2. What exactly was the implication of her action? Why does this matter? I do not think that women were not allowed to touch their husband’s private parts at all – partly because I can think of certain situations in which that may be desirable. Was it only in public?
  3. Why Did God specifically instruct them not to pity her? It seems to suggest that they might have pitied her in which case it would seem that they had a higher tolerance for her action than God which would argue against this being a cultural thing (e.g. “men did not like their wives touching their private parts in public and so made this law” or something like that).
  4. If they people may have tolerated it, then it would seem that God is the one who has a problem with her action and not the people.
  5. It says, “…and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts…” Who does ‘him’ refer to? Previously, I’ve assumed that it was the husband and the whole thing seemed to be a shame matter but what if it was her husband’s assailant that she was seizing? That would cast a different light on the issue. She may be attacking him to save her husband in which case this law could be about improper methods of defense.
  6. As for the punishment, “…cut off her hand. Show her no pity”. Assuming that this really was a serious offense, how just is the punishment? I can make no argument against punishments such as this and it does not scream against my moral sensibilities in the same way as the idea that the woman is being punished for no crime at all but someone else might have a problem with it.
  7. Why such a punishment, anyway? I have a vague idea what capital punishments are meant to suggest. Punishments could also involve fines, beating or retaliation. But why maim her specifically? I don’t suppose she could have been whipped. I suppose it may be that maiming her is a punishment that is suitably harsh but is not as bad as the death penalty.

Step 2: Read a commentary or other source on issue and note findings.

Commentary: New Interpreters Bible

Notes:

  1. This is the only prescription of mutilation as a legal punishment in the OT laws.
  2. My commentary suggests that the woman’s action could have prevented the man from bearing children – a horrible fate, it would seem which may have bothered the community enough to institute such a law but I am yet to see why it would be of such concern to God. However, this would explain the harshness of the prescribed punishment

Step 3: Look for examples of God’s love and care for his community

  1. God obviously cared enough about the welfare of the men in the community and their ability to procreate (If my commentary is right) – even if they were violent men.

Step 4: Play the skeptic. Use the passage to argue against God

This is an example of the cruelty of the OT laws.  A woman grabs the private part of a man in the community and is maimed in retaliation even though her intentions were noble (saving her husband).

Step 5: Answer the skeptic

The motives behind an action do not determine its morality. If her action was wrong (as the lawmaker seems to believe), then she should be punished regardless of her motives.

Step 6: Summarize

There isn’t even really much to say about this. The woman has done something which may or may not be wrong depending on the reasons behind the judgment and a suitable punishment is handed her. I don’t know why I was so scared of this before. This six-step process is so much fun! I still have one question that has not been answered to my satisfaction, though. Why was the woman’s action considered wrong? I want some answers, not speculation like the NIB provides.

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Tracy

I’m Tracy

29 thoughts on “Tough Passages: Deuteronomy 25: 11, 12”

  1. I don’t have an answer for you but myself am puzzled by this verse. I found your post trying to research what commentators have said. I don’t feel closer to an answer yet. I wonder why is this verse here? Was this a common problem? Have you checked to see if this verse is contained in the most reliable manuscripts? Could it be added commentary by a scribe?

  2. Completely warped and better off left in the dark ages. Her husband gets attacked so she goes for the attackers balls. Husband cuts her hand off. Ungrateful misogynistic bastard.

      1. It’s not that it’s too difficult to understand what you wrote. It is just painful to my heart and soul to read all of the mental gymnastics that have to be performed for that old book to maintain any credibility. You seem like an intelligent person. Drop the religious baggage.

  3. I pondered this verse over and over and over and finally I think this is my commentary. I think the verse is talking about her husbands privates and if not I need to ponder more. Anyway, the wife was trying to “rescue” her husband from a fight between two men, and in doing so grabbed( figuretively took away) his manhood. Her hand is to be cut off (maybe also figurtively) because she is not allowing her husband to be what he is suppossed to be, and she is trying to have the lead in his business.

    1. I’m reading the NLT and my version says, “If two Israelite men are fighting and the wife of one tries to rescue her husband by grabbing the testicles of the other man, her hand must be cut off without pity.” So it was the other man, not her husband that she grabbed.

      1. I pity the surgeon (a woman) who “grabbed my testicles” while performing the bi-lateral orchiectomy (castration) that was required after an accident. She not only grabbed them, she cut them off. The OT is full of this nonsensical stuff. Best ignore it.

  4. Perhaps Israel’s seed was vital so that all things could fall into place. remember that God is the Alpha and the Omega so therefore, he can manipulate the future and has control over all things. The future held that Jesus Christ would die for the sins of mankind so in preserving the seed of Israel we have the lineage of Christ happen in the way it did. Imagine if a woman did crush a just one man’s testicles and prevented him from children. How many people would never have been born?

  5. My mother tongue is not english and it’s late at night so I might not wright properly but wat to comment: this wan is not being punished for grabbing her husband’s testicles but her husband attacker’s.
    It’s not her husband who will punish her but the judges, elders or priests who always weighted the evidence and made a trial.
    The law of God is just and the justice required eye for an eye. If someone did something bad the punishment was the same.
    In this case she was going against this man’s capability of having children. So the punishment should be make her sterile. But this was unfair to her husband. Because he also wouldn’t have children. So for mercy she should be cutted her hand instead.
    The law was not made because God wanted punishments. The law was made so the people knowing the law wouldn’t breake it causing damaged to other people.
    It’s difficult for our modern overprotective and indulgent society understand spiritual laws and God’s justice because men are away from the kingdom of God. And immerse on sin.
    But God’s mercy is bigger that He sent Jesus to pay the price of our sin and gave us amnesty! So we don’t need to be punished for our sins eben we deserved death due to the laws of the kingdom.
    We are now so accostumed to hear about the grace that we forgot about justice.

    1. I need to quote what you said, about modern society not understanding spiritual laws/justice. It’s so true!
      I’m really not understanding the thumbs down on this comment

  6. Thank God for this post. I was looking for an explanation of this verse. My answer to YOUR question is: Because Gods judgment is righteous. “We aren’t supposed to worry about “why” is this wrong, because the Lord our God already answered to it being wrong, and His judgment is righteous.”
    I also suggest reading from the King James Bible. It’s the most accurate translation of the pure and Holy Word of God. You should study the differences if you don’t believe me.
    GOD BLESS YOU BROTHER IN CHRIST. PRAISE GOD. AMEN.

    1. I disagree here. Seeking the truth and trying to understand it is not wrong. God clearly instructs us to search for wisdom the same way we would search for silver and gold . Deuteronomy 25:11 is a difficult verse because it doesn’t seem just to punish a woman for protecting her husband. It’s verses such as these that make me wonder if some of these laws came from man or God.

      1. Agreed, This verse has quickly become one of the most challenging in the Bible for me. For some reason on Sunday morning, we don’t sing of the God of Justice who cuts off hands of wives trying to protect their husbands. It is deeply unsettling that God views (or past-tense ‘viewed’) maiming a woman as just. Perhaps it is so, but that certainly drives a bit of a wedge between the loving relationship of Jesus and humans if God also wants to chop us up for our sins. It’s as though the defenders of this verse are not really thinking through the immense physical and psychological horror the woman would go through to try and save her husband, then be drug in public and have her arm cut off. As Christian’s we simply lose credibility to try and argue that the loving and merciful action was to cut off her arm, rather than God saying “Hey, you love your husband, you tried to save him from that criminal attacker. Good on you, tough luck for that other guys balls”

      2. P.S. this verse is also interesting in the context of the self-defense conversations that pop up in US culture, especially around gun-control issues. The idea of protecting your family with lethal force is embraced by many Americans, especially many conservative Christians, as the Godly thing to do. So why this verse?!

  7. Concerning verse 11-12, if we back away to get a broader view, how is it that a man is in a place that he must engage in a physical fight with another man? We must assume that this man has some issues in his life that are out of order. If his wife is so bold enough to come to her husband’s aid in a physical fight then I would propose that she has already come to his rescue in other matters previously. In other words, godly order is not in place in this man’s home. I think that this verse speaks directly against passivity in a man’s life. It also speaks to the role of a wife, not as the protector or leader but as the help mate. I don’t know about other guys but I would not let my wife ever get involved in a physical fight unless our home were to be attacked by men who threatened our family but I do not think this text is referring to a situation like that.

  8. My thoughts on this passage are that what is wrong is that the woman touched another man. Period. A serious offense. If a part of your body causes you to sin, cut it off. Since man and wife are one body, and her hand has caused a sin, regardless of intensions, it must be cut off by the husband. In other words, its better for a woman to allow her husband to die honorably than to touch another man and dishonor her husband. Did anyone else think along this line? Remember this is the OT. We are now offered a new contract that is less harsh.

  9. seems to me, if a woman seduces her husbands tormentor in order to protect her husband, her hand gets cut off.

    1. I don’t think seduction is at all what’s even suggested here. I read an article that said the word used actually meant palm of the hand. This could suggest that perhaps she received a ‘milder’ sentence as in being slashed instead of having the whole hand removed.

  10. I think part of the problem here is we are taking this ‘private parts’ grabbing out of context.
    Let’s take those two verses and add back in the verses that were before 11 and 12.

    Below is everything from 25:1 through 12. Now seriously, how can anybody actually read this nonsense and not see it is some kind of garbage written thousands of years ago by people without any “GOD” presence except what was fictionalized in their own minds? It is great to have books like this that capture some long lost history to show how backwards humans used to be, but totally incredible that people of today can read these things and actually believe a real “GOD” had anything at all to do with the writing of the books. We should be able to look back on these writings and be thankful that we have come a long way in 2,000 years. I really hope that 2,000 years from now people will be looking back on the writings of today totally amazed that people once thought there was something “HOLY” in these ancient pathetic writings.

    “25 When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. 2 If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves, 3 but the judge must not impose more than forty lashes. If the guilty party is flogged more than that, your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your eyes.

    4 Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.

    5 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. 6 The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.

    7 However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” 8 Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” 9 his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” 10 That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.

    11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.”

  11. Deuteronomy is thought to be the word of God as directly handed down to Moses. To look at one or two verses like Deut. 25:11-12 without also seeing the rest of the context of Deuteronomy does not seem right. Let’s look at some other parts of Deuteronomy.

    “17 Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. 18 When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. 19 When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

    In 17-19 God is commanding that an entire ethnic group must be wiped off the face of the earth; he is commanding genocide. The Amalekites are actually mentioned many times in various parts of the bible over a span of hundreds of years. It appears that any group that opposes the Jewish faith are Amalekites, and should be wiped off the earth. In each place the Amalekites are mentioned, God is commanding that they be wiped off the earth; sometimes even specifically saying all the men, women, and children must be killed. For reference, just search on Amalekites, or read the “War against the Amalekites” section here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amalek

    Deuteronomy 5:7-21 has in it the 10 commandments. One of those is remembered as “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image”. Ok, but what’s the full text?

    “8 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

    So basically if you bow in front of a statue or painting of Mary or of Jesus on the cross or anything similar, you are committing a sin so grievous that God will not only take it out on you but also your children, grand children, great grand children, etc. But if you love God and follow the commandments, then you are guaranteeing the love of God for all your descendants for thousands of years.

    In many places in the Bible we see this; the actions of a man determine not only his fate in the eyes of God but the fate of all his children, their children, etc. It also seems that it only matters what a man does as far as generations of love or punishment goes. The man’s actions determine the fate of all his ancestors, but his wife’s actions don’t. I guess the good thing is that takes away any question about what happens when the husband is the ancestor of a man that God punished but the wife is the ancestor of a man that God loved — the family is to be punished because love/punishment is carried on the man’s side. Makes sense.

  12. Your trying to look at this in a positive light is complete frivolous. People need to stop making excuses for the fucked up passages in the bible. It is clearly stupid to punish a wife for saving her husbands no matter on what grounds, if she sees he about to die an reaches out to save him. This is why I can’t deal w religious people . U will fight hard to accept the most fucked up things out of the bible. Smh

  13. This passage demonstrates keenly how the old testament is just as brutal and barbaric as Islam. And this passage should demonstrate to anyone with common sense that the old testament was written by men, not by a divine authority. I mean seriously are you suggesting the creator of the universe commanded the Jews to cut off the hands of a female testicle grabber? For starters it’s absurd and barbaric. And morally it’s reprehensible, whether you read it figuratively or literally. As a society we need to reject this violent document along with the Koran which motivates suicide bombers to kill ‘infidels’.

    1. Lex talionis (“eye for an eye”) requires the punishment for a crime to match the severity of the original offense. It is quite obvious that numerous Biblical crimes do not exactly match their punishments.

      There are two key questions:
      (1) Is the woman grabbing a man’s testicles or is she castrating him?
      (2) Is the punishment amputation or idiomatically paying money out of her palm?

      I don’t know the historical answer, but the punishment would have fit the crime. How do I know this? Because the context tells me that. This passage is a guideline for the magistrate to rule on punishments for crimes.

      The overall sense is that the default reaction would be to let her get away with the crime, since the admonition against pity is to not to go easy on her. Self-defense and gender are not to be used to lessen the penalty. Now why would a magistrate have to be specifically instructed to enact a punishment if this was such a barbaric oppressive culture?

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