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by Al Maxey

Issue #843 -- April 2, 2022
"Whatever your hand finds to do,
do it with all your might."

Ecclesiastes 9:10

Hands Off or Hand Off
High Cost of a Crotch Grab

There is a beloved children's hymn with which we are all familiar that contains the following stanza: "O be careful little hands what you do, O be careful little hands what you do, for the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little hands what you do." Other stanzas speak of one's eyes, ears, feet, and mouth. With regard to each of these body parts, the song encourages us to exercise great care lest any of these lead us into actions that are contrary to God's will. All aspects of our physical being may be used to God's glory, just as all aspects of our physical being may be misused to our shame, resulting in severe and even deadly consequences. Jesus, in a rather perplexing passage, cautioned His disciples, "If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off ... If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off ... If your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out" (Mark 9:43-47). Some have taken this text very literally, resulting in the maiming of their bodies.

I don't believe Jesus was suggesting that His disciples consider self-mutilation as a viable response to sin in their lives. Nor do I believe that when the apostle Paul said, "I buffet my body" (1 Corinthians 9:27), he meant that he regularly beat himself black-and-blue so as to achieve a higher degree of holiness. On the other hand, there are types of sinful behavior that can result in great harm to our physical bodies. Habitually drinking to excess (drunkenness) can lead to various bodily afflictions, and ultimately to death. There are acts of immorality (consorting with harlots, for example) whereby "a man sins against his own body" (1 Corinthians 6:18). In Romans chapter two, Paul speaks of some forms of immorality so deviant in nature that those who practice such acts have "dishonored, defiled, and degraded their bodies with one another" (Romans 1:24), and as a result of "committing such indecent acts, they received in their own persons the due penalty of their error" (vs. 27). Sinful behavior has some dire consequences associated with it, which makes it all the more important that we exercise great caution in how we conduct ourselves in this fallen world. If we continually consort with darkness, we will inevitably be consumed by it.

The physical consequences in the "here-and-now" of violating God's moral mandates, not to mention the spiritual consequences in the "here-after," can be quite severe. Throughout His dealings with mankind, God has always sought to steer men toward the light and away from the forces of darkness. At times, this steering is subtle, taking the form of gentle nudges; at other times it is more blunt, and can be rather brutal in nature. When we find examples of the latter in Scripture, especially within the OT writings, it often comes as quite a shock to us. We tend to have trouble processing the harshness of God's directives, and the penalties levied against those who violate them. Some of these biblical texts are so brutal, and so bizarre, in nature, that we find them virtually impossible to reconcile with our view of a loving, gracious, merciful God. Such texts, in fact, become challenges to our faith! I want to share with you one such passage consisting of only two verses, a text that I feel rather confident most of you have never read before; a text you never hear read from the pulpit or discussed in Bible classes. Indeed, most commentaries refuse to even comment on it. That passage is Deuteronomy 25:11-12.

"If two men, a man and his countryman, are
struggling together, and the wife of one comes
near to deliver her husband from the hand of
the one who is striking him, and she puts out
her hand and seizes his genitals, then you
shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity."

The above is the reading of the New American Standard Bible. Other versions read: "she taketh him by the secret parts" ... "she seizes the other man by his private parts" ... "she grabs hold of his testicles" ... "she grabs the attacker by the sex organs." Being removed from that place and culture by thousands of years (not to mention thousands of miles), it is difficult for us today to see this woman's actions as being sinful. In fact, in self-defense classes women are urged to strike, and strike quite forcefully, to that very area of any man who is attacking her, or of any man who may be attacking a defenseless person in her presence. In our society, this woman might be given a medal for doing the right thing! However, in this biblical text, her action is depicted as the wrong thing to do. Indeed, so wrong that her hand would be chopped off as her punishment! From our perspective today, this passage makes no sense at all. It even seems bizarre to us, which leaves us wondering: What on earth was God thinking here?!

As already noted, a great many Bible commentaries have little to say about this passage, if they even say anything at all. Adam Clarke (1762-1832), a British Methodist theologian, did not even acknowledge the presence of these two verses. In his famous six volume commentary on the whole Bible, he jumped from verse 10 to verse 13 [vol. 1, p. 803]. Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown did the very same thing in their massive work [Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 159]. So also did many others! Not being sure what to say, many theologians chose to say nothing at all. They simply ignored the text. Yet, those two verses are in the Bible, and one would assume they are there for a reason. Most commentators who do comment on this passage, tend to present this woman, who was trying to defend her husband, in a very negative light. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), a Nonconformist minister and author, who was born in Wales, wrote in his commentary that this woman's action "is confessedly scandalous to the highest degree. A woman could not do it unless she were perfectly lost to all virtue and honor" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. The Pulpit Commentary, which normally writes at length on most biblical texts, devoted barely a dozen sentences to this passage. It stated this was "a law of purity, which needs no exposition, but in its holy severity was fitted to check all tendency to lewd practices among the women of Israel" [vol. 3, p. 404]. This law, therefore, "granted no licence to women to pass beyond the bounds of decency in their approaches to the other sex" [ibid, p. 393]. The Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary stated that this "severe penalty" (chopping off the hand) "was imposed upon a shameless woman, who should willfully endanger or take away the power of offspring from a man" [e-Sword].

In that last phrase we begin to catch a glimpse of what the overriding concern was at that time and place in history. "The law arose from the desire to protect the reproductive organs and thus obviate anything that might prevent a man leaving descendants" [David Guzik, Enduring Word Bible Commentary, e-Sword]. The penalty was thus made quite severe "because of the great mischief she did to him, both to his person and posterity" [ibid]. Dr. John Gill (1697-1771), an English Baptist pastor and theologian, wrote, "This immodest action was done partly out of affection to her husband, to oblige his antagonist to let go his hold of him, and partly out of malice and revenge to him, to spoil him, and make him unfit for generation, and was therefore to be severely punished" [Exposition of the Bible, e-Sword]. One's genealogy and lineage, the preservation of one's family name through one's descendants, was extremely important to the ancient Jews. For both men and women, the ability to bring forth children was one of their highest priorities. Thus, they guarded against anything that might prevent that, and those who acted in such a way, whether intentional or not, that this ability was endangered faced some harsh penalties. Indeed, all that precedes our text in Deuteronomy 25 shares this focus. "When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. And it shall be that the first-born whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out from Israel" (vs. 5-6). This was known as "the Law of Levirate Marriage." John Darby (1800-1882), one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren, in his comments on this chapter in Deuteronomy, pointed out that the ideal in view was "that no family should perish from among the people" [e-Sword]. NOTE: For those who would like to read more about "Levirate Marriage," I recommend my following articles: "Pondering Polygamy: Seeking the Biblical Perspective" (Reflections #604) and "Whose Spouse Will She Be? The Eternal Marital State of the Woman who Outlived Seven Husbands" (Reflections #441).

Lest one think the Lord was just singling out women for punishment here, the laws against men interfering with the process of bringing forth descendants were also quite harsh. "And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise" (Exodus 21:22-25). As Dr. Charles Ellicott points out, "The law in this place (Deuteronomy 25:11-12) is the counterpart of that law (Exodus 21:22-25). Men must be protected as well as women" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 2, p. 68]. In the Exodus passage, one may have noticed that there was a provision for paying a fine for the harm caused. Although this was not stated in the Deuteronomy passage, that provision was later added by the Jewish religious leaders. "The severe sentence here prescribed was by the rabbins commuted into a fine of the value of the woman's hand" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 3, p. 393]. Thankfully, there is no example in the Bible of this punishment ever being carried out. Thus, the intent may well have been more preventative in nature than punitive. "The circumstance here cited would not be common, but is rather a case law, which would cover all such actions. Once again, the Deuteronomic law appears to be based on the use of law and punishment as a deterrent to crime" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 152]. Within these laws we see the great worth our Lord places upon life, and upon the whole reproductive process that brings that new life into the world. It is a worth we could only hope that the fallen world about us would come to appreciate far more than it does (please read my study titled "Aborting the Miracle of Life: Does Mankind Have That Right?" - Reflections #155).


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Readers' Reflections
NOTE: Differing views and understandings are always welcome here,
yet they do not necessarily reflect my own views and understandings.
They're opportunities for readers to voice what is on their hearts, with
a view toward greater dialogue among disciples with a Berean spirit.

From a Reader in West Virginia:

Greetings from WV. I hope this finds you and Shelly all well. Just be aware that I'm still keeping an eye on you (LOL). I always (still) enjoy and profit from your writings. My Bible class has shown an interest in studying from your book "From Ruin to Resurrection." Is it still available in print? If you have several copies there with you, would you send them to me and let me know what the cost is? I'd be happy to send you some "pesos."

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Al, I would appreciate receiving a copy of the article you mentioned titled "The Problem with Grace." Thanks for all the in-depth and well-balanced thought you provide each week through your Reflections.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, would you please send me a copy of the article "The Problem with Grace"? I was catching up on your articles tonight and your offer of that article caught my eye. I see so much pain and resentment in so many of my friends' and relatives' families, and I would love to hear that author's perspective. Thank you so much!

From a Reader in Florida:

My brother, I enjoy your writings very much, and I thought this recent one was fantastic ("Justified Refusal of Forgiveness: Do Believers Have the Right to Forgive Evil and Unrepentant Evildoers?" - Reflections #841). In it you quoted the psalmist, "...who will take a stand FOR me against the evildoers?" As a retired U.S. Army Special Ops guy, I struggle with "civilian" justifiable vengeance against blatant evildoers who are seemingly "untouchable" and far from the grasp of civil justice. Also, I would like to receive the brother's article on "The Problem with Grace."

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, in last week's Reflections ("Half-Shaved and Half-Naked: Assaulting King David's Ambassadors" - Reflections #842), it is interesting to note David's respect for Saul, or at least for "the Lord's anointed." He seemed to respect the position more so than the man, but nonetheless he felt any action taken against Saul by either him or his men would have been an insult to God Himself. Perhaps that is why David didn't launch a lethal response to the insult against himself. I guess the ambassadors in this biblical story were from New Jersey! We southern boys wouldn't have been all that embarrassed ... well, except for the beard! (LOL) Have a great day, brother.

From a Reader in Arizona:

Al, I heard the teacher in our Bible class this morning close the discussion by citing Philippians 1:6, saying that God began a good work in us at baptism, and baptism only. Now, my understanding from the context is that the good work Paul is referring to is the fellowship/partnership in the spreading of the gospel, and not one's initial response to God's loving call. Which brings me to my question: At what point in one's life does God begin to "work" in an individual to create faith within that person's heart? Thank you for all your previous responses to my many questions. God bless you, brother.

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