If 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 puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.
I paused to consider these verses. Not because I feel that they speak to me, but more because they perplex me. It seemed excessive to lop of some woman’s hand for trying to save her husband from a fight but accidentally grabbing the other man’s secrets, as the King James translates the word. So, I pursued it.
Most of the facts of the case are straightforward. Two men are struggling together, it is likely a physical altercation. One of these men is married and his wife wants to try to separate the men.
Having tried to part combatants before, I can say that I think it was a poor choice. It is much better, I think, to let people that have come to blows wear themselves out before trying to break things up. Most of their angry energy has been expended and I am less like to be cold-cocked while trying to inject some sanity. I am going to put aside the bad decision that begins this sequence and focus on the one that results in a punishment that feels, at first glance, disproportionate to the infraction.
Back to the facts of the case. The way this is described, it reads as though the wife’s purpose was to grab the man who is not her husband by the secrets (I find that euphemism hilarious). She did not reach out to stop the men, but rather reached out to grab the non-husband by the secrets.
Being roughly grabbed and pulled away from something by the genitals is sufficient justification in the minds of many men to do far worse than cut off hands. There is in men a visceral response to the thought of someone doing something to our genitals, even when the thing being done is voluntary. I had to be put all the way under to allow the doctor to complete a procedure in that area. We men can be protective of that anatomical region.
If that were not enough — and it really is not, though some men might argue that it is — the verb translated seizes, carries the additional possible meanings of to have or take or keep hold of, or to retain. There is a possible implication that the wife does not just grab the man who is not her husband by the genitals and pull him away from the fight, but that she retains her grasp on his genitals for some indefinite period of time.
So, to recap, two men are fighting and the wife of one of the men decides to get in the middle and break up the fight (which is a terrible decision, really) and deliberately chooses to separate the men by grabbing the genitals of the man to whom she is not married (which is an even worse decision). Apparently, there would have been no wrong done if she had (a) put her hand on just about any other part of their anatomy and tried to push them apart or (b) grabbed her husband’s genitals to lead him away from the fight. There are literally dozens of ways the wife could have chosen to try to break things up which would have resulted in everyone shrugging and telling the men they were probably being dumb to begin with, but she chooses the one way that would raise eyebrows.
I have been thinking, as I considered these verses, about the general public response to a politician’s fairly recently revealed comments about grabbing women by the genitals. His comment does imply that he is trying to assert any dominance or control, only that his position causes certain women to permit him to put his hand on their genitals. Based on the court of public opinion, losing his hand would be the least of this man’s worries. Likewise, I think that a woman who grabbed a man by the genitals would have been subject to harsher punishment than what is prescribed here. As with so many of the dictates in The Law, it seems that it tempered the extremes to which society is wont by prescribing a less severe punishment than might otherwise have been and also acts as a deterrent to future would-be offenders.
How does this apply to me? The first thing that comes to mind is that I need to be tempered; tamped down by God in some things. My response is often visceral and reactionary and will not serve the ends of justice or of seeing lives and relationships restored. God is in the business of restoration: restoring lives and relationships and on and on. As is said elsewhere in scripture, the anger of man will not accomplish the righteousness of God (James 1:20). My responses to things are at their best; at their most useful and helpful when they are checked by God and filtered through His grace.
Thank You, God, for tempering the punishments that might otherwise have come to us. You completed the ultimate act of tempering justice when You took our punishment on Yourself and allowed us to receive grace instead. Please work in my heart to create one that is tempered by grace and responds to things through the filter of Your mercy.