Immodesty, Dishonesty, and Perversity

11 “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, 12 then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.

13 “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. 14 You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. 15 A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 16 For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God.

17 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.– Deuteronomy 25:11-19 ESV

As has been the case throughout this section of Deuteronomy, verses 11-19 of chapter 25 contain additional regulations that appear to have no rhyme or reason to them. Not only do they seem to lack any common thread of logic, at least one of them deals with what would appear to be a highly unlikely scenario and a heavy-handed form of punishment (excuse the pun).

Moses brings up the case of a dispute between two men. In Hebrew, the phrase describes “a man and his brother.” So, it is unclear as to whether this involves two sons of the same mother or two Israelites. But in either case, the scenario Moses paints involves a conflict between two men that has resulted in the throwing of punches. In other words, the dispute has gone from verbal to physical. Now, this would not have been a rare occurrence in Israel. Men will be men, and anger has a way of getting out of hand. But Moses introduces another actor to the drama whose actions complicate the scene and require the divine regulation that follows. The point of the passage is not the bare-knuckles brawl between the two men, but the indelicate behavior of one of their wives. Moses describes her involvement this way: “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” (Deuteronomy 25:11 ESV).

Now, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out what is going on here. And many of the modern translations of the Scriptures provide much more specific wording to get the point across: “genitals” (NASB, NRSV, TEV); “sex organs” (NCV); “testicles” (NLT). Suffice it to say, the woman’s efforts to aid her husband involve what would have to be considered as immodest and indecent behavior. While we might want to say that the heat of the moment provides ample justification for her actions, Moses obviously disagrees. He provides no excuse for the woman’s behavior, demanding instead that her hand be cut off as punishment for her actions.

It would appear that the fight involves a non-life-threatening confrontation. One man is beating another. There are no swords drawn. Death is not imminent or even intended. But the woman, in an attempt to come to the aid of her husband, commits an act of indecency that could actually result in permanent physical harm to her husband’s adversary. By grabbing the man’s genitals, she would likely incapacitate him, giving her husband the upper hand in the fight, but she also risks doing irreparable damage to the man’s reproductive capacities. And this seems to be the point of the passage and the reason behind the severe punishment demanded by Moses.

Her response would not only be considered indecent and improper, but it would also be deemed an excessive form of retribution. It is interesting to consider the lex talionis or laws concerning retaliation.  They are found throughout the Pentateuch:

…if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. – Exodus 21:23-25 ESV

If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. – Leviticus 24:19-20 ESV

Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. – Deuteronomy 19:21 ESV

It would appear that Moses is citing a case where the woman’s actions did not result in permanent damage to the man’s genitals. If it had, according to the lex talionis, the law of retribution, her husband would have to suffer a similar fate. But since the wife was the one guilty of committing the crime, she would be the one to suffer the punishment. And, in this case, Moses prescribes the punishment as the cutting off of her hand. There is no tit-for-tat retribution involved. Which seems to suggest that her actions had no long-term or permanent impact. But she would suffer the consequences of her actions nonetheless. She had intended to do harm and her actions could have had serious repurcusions that left a man incapable of having children. This was a serious crime in God’s eyes, and it came with serious consequences.

And, as he seems prone to do, Moses suddenly shifts his attention to less dramatic matters, focusing his attention on dishonesty. He mentions the use of different measures. This is a reference to the scales used in buying and selling. Since Israel was predominantly an agrarian society, when produce was sold, it was placed on one side of the scale and the form of payment was placed on the other. A bag of wheat equaled a certain amount of coin. So, if you had two different forms of measurement, it essentially meant you had false scales and an intent to cheat the one with whom you were conducting business. The prophet, Micah, records the words of God concerning those who would do such a thing.

Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales
    and with a bag of deceitful weights? – Micah 6:8 ESV

And the book of Proverbs provides further insight into God’s perspective on dishonesty in business.

The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.
 – Proverbs 11:1 NLT

And God had provided the Israelites with His laws concerning the matter.

“Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight, or volume. Your scales and weights must be accurate. Your containers for measuring dry materials or liquids must be accurate. I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” – Leviticus 19:35-36 NLT

Accuracy and honesty are important to God. He is a just and righteous God who expects His people to treat one another with love and respect. To cheat someone is nothing less than an outward display of hate for them. It is to rob them of what they are rightfully due. And, in cheating someone, you are setting yourself up as god, establishing your own rules and establishing your will as greater than God’s. But Moses makes it painfully clear that “all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 25:16 ESV).

Finally, Moses brings up God’s commands concerning Israel’s relationship with the Amalakites. In the book of Exodus, there is a story describing Israel’s first encounter with these people. They appeared on the scene at a place called Rephidim, launching an unprovoked attack on the Israelites. While Joshua did battle with the Amalakites, Moses stood on a nearby hill, holding up the staff of God as a symbol of God’s presence and power. As long as he held the staff aloft, the Israelites prevailed. But as the battle raged on, his arms grew weary and Aaron and Hur were required to assist him in keeping the staff aloft. Eventually, the forces of Israel prevailed and God made a pronouncement concerning the Amalakites.

“Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” – Exodus 17:14-16 ESV

Now, Moses is reminding the Israelites that they were to fulfill God’s will concerning the Amalakites. There were to be no compromises or concessions made. God had decreed that the Amalakites were to be blotted out and He fully expected His people to carry out His wishes.

Hundreds of years later, when Saul had been appointed the first king of Israel, God reiterated His will that the Amalakites be wiped out.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” – 1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV

But Saul failed to obey God’s command.

But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. – 1 Samuel 15:9 ESV

And as a result of Saul’s disobedience, God rejected him as king. This man had chosen to partially obey, making compromises and concessions that were unacceptable to God. And Samuel, the prophet of God, delivered the following indictment against Saul.

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has also rejected you from being king.” – 1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV

Saul had chosen to act perversely. According to dictionary.com, someone who acts perversly is “willfully determined or disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired.” He did not do what God had told him to do. But God considers obedience far better than sacrifice. As Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Our Invisible God.

Then the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written to the king’s satraps and to the governors over all the provinces and to the officials of all the peoples, to every province in its own script and every people in its own language. It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king’s signet ring. Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the document was to be issued as a decree in every province by proclamation to all the peoples to be ready for that day. The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel. And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion. – Esther 3:12-15 ESV

What began as one man’s act of civil disobedience has suddenly escalated into a royal edict officially sanctioning genocide. Through the casting of lots, a date had been selected on which the total annihilation of the Jewish people would take place. The fateful day was  less than a year away, on the 13th day of the month of Adar. Now it was just a matter of letting the rest of the kingdom know what Haman and the king had determined to do to the Mordecai and every other Jew who lived in the lands of the Persians – “all Jews—young and old, including women and children—must be killed, slaughtered, and annihilated on a single day” (Esther 3:13 NLT). This devastating news was to be disseminated via mail. Couriers carried the king’s decree to the far reaches of the kingdom, providing the cold-hearteds detail in clinical-like language. And as a somewhat sadistic form of incentive, the news was relayed that “The property of the Jews would be given to those who killed them” (Esther 3:13b NLT).

This was not going to be a case of the royal army waging war on the Jews. King Ahasuerus was not sending his troops to do this dirty deed. He was assigning the job to all the people in the land. This was going to be an empire-wide, community-based affair. Everyone was expected to do their part. And just so there was no confusion as to what the expected outcome was to be, the edict carried very precise terms. They were expected to “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate ” all the Jews. Isn’t it interesting to note that this was basically the same instructions that had been given to King Saul of Israel when God told him to wipe out the Amalakites.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” – 1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV

Saul had been clear instructions as to what to do, but he failed to follow through on God’s command. Now, years later, the tables were turned and Haman, an Amalakite, was ordering the complete destruction of the Jews – every man, woman, and child. Saul’s failure to obey was going to come back and haunt the Israelites, in a major way. In a single day, the entire Hebrew population of Persia was to be wiped out and their goods plundered. It was to be an empire-wide, mass extinction of an entire people group. All because one man had his pride hurt.

And while the couriers carried this dark news throughout the realm, Haman and the king “sat down to drink.” They celebrated their joint accomplishment with a drink or two, and most likely toasted their lightning-like response to this threat to the kingdom. The amazing thing is that the date set for this slaughter to take place was nearly a year away. Why was it so necessary to get the news out so quickly? Why was Haman so driven to have this edict disseminated in record time? It would appear that he simply wanted to make Mordecai and the Jews discover the news as soon as possible in order to prolong their agony and force them to live with a sense of dread for as long as he could. We are told that as news of the king’s edict spread, it threw the city of Susa into a state of confusion. People couldn’t believe what they were hearing. The Jews had not been a problem. What was prompting the king to issue a decree of this magnitude and why were they being required to play a part in the murder of innocent men, women and children?

In verse 12, we read, “the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month (NIssan), and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written.” This is significant because the Jews were to begin their celebration of Passover on the 15th day of Nissan. So just two days prior to their annual festival of Passover, the Jews were to receive the devastating news that they were to be wiped out. The irony of this would not have gone unnoticed. Passover was a celebration of God’s miraculous protection of the people of Israel when the death angel passed over the homes of all those who had sprinkled the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts and lentils of their homes (Exodus 12:7). As part of the Passover celebration, they would have selected their own lamb on the 10th day of Nissan, the very same day that Haman had cast lots to determine a day for the mass slaughter of the Jews.

The timing of all of this is far from coincidental. There is something far greater going on behind the scenes. If you look carefully you can begin to see the puzzle pieces coming together and forming an increasingly clearer image. Esther’s rise to prominence. Haman’s promotion. Mordecai’s place at the gate of the king’s palace. His discovery of the plot to kill the king. And his refusal to bow down to Haman. The seemingly random alignment of the dates. And on top of all that, the fact that he was a Jew and Haman was an Amalakite. These are not mere cases of coincidence. They are subtle insights into God’s invisible, yet undeniable role in the affairs of men. While Haman and the king celebrated, the citizens of Susa wrestled with confusion and anxiety. And the Jews were left to wonder where their God had gone. Yet the hidden story is that God was far from absent. As in the days of Moses and the Exodus, God was about to rescue His people. Just when everything looked hopeless, God was going to show himself fully in control and completely worthy of His people’s trust.

The Danger of Disobedience.

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?” And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. – Esther 3:1-6 ESV

Mordecai has just foiled an assassination plot and helped save the life of the king. And while Mordecai’s efforts earned him a place in the official chronicles of the king, that was all the recognition he received. And yet, another individual, new to our story, was about to receive a huge promotion that would create a major conflict for Mordecai and Esther. The man’s name is Haman and the important, but often neglected part of the story is his heritage. He is an Agagite. Like Esther and Mordecai, he is not a native Persian. He is an outsider who has made his way to the Persian empire, most likely as the result of their conquest of his land. What is significant is that Haman is an Agagite, a descendant of Agag, the Amalakite. The Amalakites carried out an unprovoked attack on the Israelites during their days in the wilderness. Joshua and the people of Israel defeated them in battle and God pronounced a curse on the Amalakies. “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14 ESV).

Years later, long after Israel had settled in the land of Canaan and Saul had become their king, God sent word to King Saul through Samuel, the prophet. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV). Saul did as the Lord had commanded him, but he did not obey fully.

And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. – 1 Samuel 15:7-9 ESV

Saul had spared King Agag and kept the best of the spoil, disobeying the direct orders of God. And he would be removed as the king of Israel for his disobedience. What makes all of this so important to the story of Esther is that she and Mordecai are both descendants of Saul and Haman, the newly promoted, second-highest official in the land, is a direct descendant of Agag. This long-standing conflict was about to be relived, all because one man refused to do what God had called him to do. His one act of disobedience and compromise was going to have long-term implications.

And the story makes it clear that Mordecai was well aware of Haman’s heritage, because it tells us “all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage” (Esther 3:2 ESV). Mordecai could not bring himself to pay homage to an enemy of his people. And when the king’s servants asked him why he was taking such a huge risk by not bowing down to Haman as the king had commanded, he simply informed them that he was a Jew. This news is reported to the king. It is interesting to note that when two officials of the king had plotted to assassinate him, it was Mordecai who made the news known to the king. Now, two officials are reporting Mordecai’s insubordination to Haman, unknowingly placing him in a very dangerous situation.

When Haman finds out about Mordecai’s refusal to bow down before him, his reaction is swift and over-the-top. Rather than take out his anger on Mordecai, he determines to destroy each and every Jew in the kingdom of the Persians. The long-standing hatred between the Amalakites and the Hebrews rises to the surface once more. And King Saul’s refusal to obey the command of God would come back to haunt the Jewish people. Haman would use his newfound power to not only settle a personal score between himself and Mordecai, but to wipe out all memory of the Jews from the land of the Persians. What is hiding just under the surface of this story is the role that disobedience plays in our lives. The whole reason Mordecai and Esther are even living in Persia is because of the disobedience of the people of Judah. They had refused to listen to the prophets of God who had been sent by God to call them to repentance for their unfaithfulness and disobedience, and to warn them about their coming destruction. But they had refused to listen to God’ warnings and were ultimately defeated by the Babylonians and taken captive. Likewise, the whole reason Haman even existed was because King Saul had refused to obey the word of God and completely destroy the Amalakites from the face of the earth. Haman was nothing more than the residual effect of Saul’s disobedience. Failure to do the will of God always has ramifications. Disobedience to God always has dire consequences. And Mordecai and Esther were going to learn a first-hand lesson in just how how dangerous disobedience could be.