(Judg. 1:6) Isn’t this cruel and unusual?

CLAIM: It seems cruel that the men of Judah would “cut off his thumbs and big toes” (Judg. 1:6). Is this a case of cruel and unusual punishment?

RESPONSE: There are two ways to respond.

OPTION #1: This is recorded—not condoned. While God gave the land into the hands of Israel (Judg. 1:2), this doesn’t condone all of their actions (c.f. Josh. 7). Therefore, this is an example of description—not prescription. While Adoni-bezek thought God was repaying him (Judg. 1:7), this might not be true. It could merely be the ranting of a sadistic despot, who was rotting in capture.

OPTION #2: This is condoned, because this man was so guilty. Adoni-bezek had cut off the thumbs and toes of seventy other kings by his own admission (Judg. 1:7). Therefore, this man was far from innocent. Since priests needed both a thumb and big toe for ordination (Lev. 8:23-24), this disqualified the man from being a priest or a king, because many ancient Near Eastern kings usually held “a dual function”[1] as priest-kings. Therefore, this act maimed the man, but also implicitly took away his ability to regain power—either religiously or politically.

[1] Wolf, H. (1992). Judges. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel (Vol. 3, p. 386). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.