Saturday Jun 04, 2022

Deuteronomy 25:11-19 - Self defense, just weights and measures, judgment on the Amalekites

     In Deuteronomy 25:11-19, Moses addresses the punishment of a woman who damages another man’s genitals while defending her husband in a fight (Deut 25:11-12), God’s requirement to adhere to standard weights and measures (Deut 25:13-16), and the future command to destroy the Amalekites as divine judgment for their sin of attacking Israel when they were weak and vulnerable (Deut 25:17-19).

Justice for Unfair Fighting

     In the previous section, Moses addressed the shameful behavior of a brother who would not fulfill his levirate duties (Deut 25:5-10), and here addresses the shameful behavior of a wife toward another man. In this current scenario, Moses said, “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 puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, 12 then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity” (Deut 25:11-12). Naturally, a wife defending her husband would be considered an honorable act; however, in this context, the end does not justify the means, as her action may do more than merely rescue her husband, as she may permanently prevent the man from being able reproduce children. Furthermore, to grab a Jewish man’s genitals might be viewed as a disregard for the sign of the Abrahamic covenant (which was male circumcision), and therefore a disregard for the God of the covenant.[1] Clough states this practice was “a common tactic used by women in the Ancient Near East.”[2] However, though common in pagan cultures, Moses here prohibits this practice. The wife could help defend her husband, but this practice was not permissible, and if implemented, required the woman’s hand that was used in defending her husband to be cut off.

     Cutting off the woman’s hand appears to be an application of lex talionis, or the law of retaliation, which meant the punishment was not to exceed the crime (cf., Ex 21:23-25; Lev 24:19-20). However, because a woman is biologically different than a man, the application of this law served as an example (i.e., a case law) of how to apply lex talionis in odd situations. Peter Craigie states:

  • "It should be noted, finally, that the punishment prescribed for this violation of the law is an extension of the lex talionis; for obvious reasons, given the different sexes of the persons involved in the incident, the lex talionis could not be applied literally. It may be that this very particular piece of casuistic law is intended as an example of how lex talionis was able to be interpreted when it could not be applied literally."[3]

     This is the fourth and final time in Deuteronomy that Moses set forth a directive in which an offender was not to be shown pity when punishment was rendered for a particular crime. The previous examples include showing no pity when executing a relative who promoted idolatry (Deut 13:6-9), a murderer (Deut 19:11-13), and a false witness who accused another of murder (Deut 19:16-21).

Just Weights and Measures

     Moses now moves into economic matters pertaining to the just use of weights and measures. Moses states, “You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a large and a small. 14 You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. 15 You shall have a full and just weight; you shall have a full and just measure, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Deut 25:13-15). Using unjust weights and measures would be a violation of the command not to covet (Deut 5:21) as well as the command not to steal (Deut 5:19). This command assumes a national standard for weights and measures to be used in ancient Israel. Victor Matthews states, “Commerce in a society without coined money is dependent on standard weights and measures. Examples of stone and metal weights, marked with specific symbols designating weight values, have been found in Egyptian tombs as well as at several sites in Israel and Mesopotamia.”[4] Using different weights and measures was a form of thievery, as a businessperson would use a heavier weight or larger measure when purchasing items, thus obtaining more for the businessperson, and then a lighter weight and smaller measure when selling to the purchaser, thus giving less to the customer. Jack Deere states, “The Israelites were to be totally honest in their business dealings. They could well afford to be so since it was ultimately the Lord who would withhold or give prosperity to them. Thus, honesty in business was a way of proclaiming one’s faith in the Lord’s ability to support him and give him long life.”[5] Here was blessing that came from God to those who abided by His moral standards.

     God was personally concerned with all matters in society. His laws provided moral standards pertaining to marriage, raising children, agriculture, caring for the poor, the judiciary, military, and economics. To disregard one aspect of God’s law would negatively impact other areas. In this case, unjust weights and measures would unfairly enrich the businessperson while injuring the average citizen by depriving him/her of food resources or other goods. Moses declares, “For everyone who does these things, everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deut 25:16). This shows that theology matters, as the Israelite businessperson who walked with God and was obedient to His Word would naturally be honest in economic dealings with others. Unfortunately, at certain times in their history, Israel businessmen failed to adhere to this law, and the prophets spoke out against them for their crimes that hurt others (Amos 8:4-6; Prov 11:1; 16:11; 20:10, 23).  

Just Retribution for the Amalekites for their Cruel Hostility

     Moses then shifted to address a matter pertaining to an event 40 years earlier when Israel was coming out of Egypt. Moses said, “Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, 18 how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God” (Deut 25:17-18). Eugene Merrill states:

  • "The Amalekites, whom the Old Testament traces back to Eliphaz, son of Esau, and his concubine Timna (Gen 36:12), lived in the Arabian deserts east and south of the Dead Sea (Gen 36:16; Num 13:29; 14:25). They were a fierce nomadic people, hostile to Israel as their flagrant attack on the weak and elderly of the Exodus wanderers makes clear (Ex 17:8–16). Because of this cowardly act, the Lord placed them under his judgment (Ex 17:14), promising to bring them to utter ruin (Num 24:20)."[6]

     Apparently, the Amalekites had attacked weak and vulnerable Israelites, the stragglers who had difficulty keeping up, and this when they were “faint and weary.” Here was a cowardly attack on those who were vulnerable. Daniel Block states:

  • "The Amalekites committed barbaric and cowardly atrocities. Fearing to engage the Israelites in a frontal attack, they let the Israelites pass by; then, when they were famished and weary, they attacked powerless stragglers at the rear. These probably involved the weak and the sick, who could not keep up with the main camp and proved easy targets for marauders."[7]

     To say that Amalek “did not fear God” meant he had no regard for God’s people. Moses then said, “Therefore, it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget” (Deut 25:19). The two directives in this section were: 1) remember what Amalek did to Israel at a time when they were weak, and 2) execute future judgment upon the Amalekites by destroying them altogether. Biblically, there were times when God Himself executed punishment on others (see Gen 11:1-8; 19:24-25), but at other times He expected His people to serve as His instrument of righteous judgment upon the wicked (Ex 32:19-28; Rom 13:1-4). Jack Deere states:

  • "Two specific battles with the Amalekites were mentioned in the Pentateuch (Ex 17:8–16; Num 14:39–45), but Deuteronomy 25:17–19 seems to indicate a series of hostilities that are not mentioned elsewhere. The unprovoked attacking of the weak, sick, and helpless Israelites lagging behind evidenced the cruelty and cowardice of the Amalekites as well as their lack of fear of Israel’s God. Since the Amalekites had shown no mercy to Israel, they were to receive none. Israel was to blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. More than 400 years later David defeated the Amalekites (2 Sam. 1:1), but they were not completely wiped out till about another 300 years later in Hezekiah’s day (1 Chron. 4:41–43). The strong command Do not forget! is the last of nine such commands in Deuteronomy (cf. comments on Deut. 4:9)."[8]

     The Amalekites displayed a longstanding hostility toward Israel and caused them problems for many centuries. Amalekite hostility can be seen during the time of the Judges (Judg 6:3; 10:12), King Saul (1 Sam 15:6-8), and King David (1 Sam 30:1-17). Eventually, they were finally destroyed in the time of Hezekiah (1 Ch 4:41-43).

Present Application

     Israel was a theocracy, one kingdom under God, who was their Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isa 33:22). In Deuteronomy 25:13-16, we learn that God directed His people to have integrity and to live honestly in their business dealings with others. God was concerned about metrology, which is the science of measurement, most commonly with weights, volume, and distance. Having an agreed upon universal standard allowed a free market to operate with integrity, as each person could know that what they were buying, or selling, was a true measurement.[9]

     Israel being a theocracy, meant that an Israelite could not separate the learning of the law from the practicing of the law within the context of a theological relationship with the Lord of the law. Various aspects of God’s law touched on matters familial, agricultural, social, judicial, martial, religious, and financial. In this way, we learn there was no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. To be walking properly with the Lord meant knowing His directives and conforming one’s life to those directives. God’s directives form the standard for righteous conduct. Without a fixed standard for values, morals become arbitrary and unstable. Holding to God’s moral standards meant one would follow ethical business practices, being honest in buying and selling, adhering to just weights and measures.

     In ancient Israel, God cared about the economic practices of His people, saying, “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. 36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt. 37 You shall thus observe all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them; I am the LORD” (Lev 19:35-37). Solomon wrote in Proverbs, “A just balance and scales belong to the LORD; all the weights of the bag are His concern” (Prov 16:11). John Kitchen writes, “God is intimately involved in establishing what justice in the business world looks like. The standard of ethics for business is divinely established! Unethical business practices are not only in defiance of the king, but of God Himself. There is more to be considered in business than mere pragmatics.”[10]

     Furthermore, God disapproved of false weights and measures, saying, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight” (Prov 11:1), and “Differing weights and differing measures, both of them are abominable to the LORD” (Prov 20:10), and “Differing weights are an abomination to the LORD, and a false scale is not good” (Prov 20:23). Three times in Proverbs it is declared that a false balance or differing weights are an abomination to the Lord. John Kitchen writes:

  • "An abomination is an attitude or action that is repugnant to the Lord and which He cannot endure. Because God loathes these things, they come under His judgment. Other things listed as ‘an abomination’ to the Lord include idolatry (Deut 7:25), homosexuality and other sexual perversions (Lev 18:22–30; 20:13), human sacrifice (Deut 12:31), occult activity (Deut 18:9–14), ritual prostitution (1 Kings 14:23f), and sacrificing unclean or defective animals (Deut 14:3–8; 17:1)."[11]

     Those who reject God inwardly will be inclined to defraud others outwardly. Unfortunately, Israel later turned away from the Lord and declined morally, and their business practices reflected their spiritual state. Having dethroned God from their lives and rejected His moral standards, they enthroned their own sinful desires which flowed into their business dealings. Later prophets, who served as prosecuting attorneys for the Lord, brought charges against Israelites because of their corrupt business practices (Amos 8:4-6, Mic 6:10-11), which added to the eventual destruction of the nation.

     It should be remembered that people may use weights in business dealings, but “the LORD weighs the hearts” of everyone (Prov 21:2; cf., Prov 24:12); and He desires “righteousness and justice” from His people (Prov 21:3). Honesty and generosity should be the hallmark of God’s people, especially those who lead in business.


[1] Remember, God’s covenant with Abraham came with the sign of circumcision (Gen 17:11), which pictured God’s supernatural involvement in producing a promised heir, as Abraham could not produce an heir on his own. This was also true for the virgin Mary, who bore the baby Jesus, the Messiah, by means of supernatural procreation (Luke 1:30-35).

[2] Charles Clough, Lecture notes on Deuteronomy 25:11-19 Calibrated Social Standards as a Restraint on Coveting, (2011), p. 2.

[3] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 316.

[4] Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Dt 25:13–16.

[5] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 307.

[6] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 331.

[7] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 592–593.

[8] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 1, 307.

[9] In the United States, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is the governmental department responsible for regulating weights and measures in business. For a helpful video, watch the following:

[10] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2006), 357.

[11] Ibid., 239.

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