Biblical Principle #276: Israelite Childless Lineage Custom

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The Law of Moses included instructions for how to carry on the lineage of a deceased childless Israelite.


5 “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and dwell with her. 6 Then it shall be, the firstborn son she bears shall be named by the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. 7 But if the man does not want to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate to the elders, and say, ‘My husband’s brother does not want to raise up the name of his brother in Israel; my husband’s brother did not wish to do so.’ 8 Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him. But if he stands firm and says, ‘I do not want to take her,’ 9 then his brother’s wife shall come before the elders, remove his brother’s sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and answer and say, ‘So they shall do to the man who will not build up his brother’s house.’ 10 And his name shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal removed.’

Deuteronomy 25:5-10

Generally speaking, GOD’s will was that each Israelite family’s lineage be preserved through their sons. Therefore, He provided a way for an Israelite who died without a son to not lose their place in the family history, through a substitution from their brother.

(Remember that the land ownership and all debts were reset periodically, as we have previously established. Therefore, retaining family lineage throughout the generations was critical to Israel as this was how they proved their right to specific property within the land.)

GOD also foreknew that not every brother-in-law would want to marry their sister-in-law or be willing to maintain their brother’s name. People are imperfect and some people are evil. Sometimes a person’s name is even repulsive to the community.

The point is that GOD knew there needed to be a way out of not fulfilling this obligation when the brother didn’t want to go through with it.

But GOD also made that way rather humiliating to the brother who would not fulfill the duty, by allowing his sister-in-law to spit in his face in public.

Even still, there are situations where momentary humiliation can be far better than years of difficulty and regret.

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2 responses to “Biblical Principle #276: Israelite Childless Lineage Custom”

  1. George Tillmon Avatar
    George Tillmon

    This principle does not apply in this day and age. Right?

    1. Tim Harris Avatar

      Correct, in that there is no repeat instruction in the new covenant for earthly brothers-in-law to marry and bear children by sisters-in-law.

      And yet, when we consider the shadows and substances between the old and new covenants, there is an argument for a sense in which there is a new covenant application. But I can’t give that away here! The entire point of including these Principles from the Law of Moses is that they somehow impact the later Bible story and, ultimately, our lives. The future revelation of how these building blocks connect is the joy I get for writing these earlier posts, and hopefully the joy you get for joining me on the journey. Oh the suspense! LOL 🙂

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