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Respect for the Sanctity of Others

If brothers live together and one of them dies without having a son, the dead man’s wife must not remarry someone outside the family. Instead, her late husband’s brother must go to her, marry her,[a] and perform the duty of a brother-in-law.[b] Then[c] the first son[d] she bears will continue the name of the dead brother, thus preventing his name from being blotted out of Israel. But if the man does not want to marry his brother’s widow, then she[e] must go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to preserve his brother’s name in Israel; he is unwilling to perform the duty of a brother-in-law to me!” Then the elders of his city must summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying, “I don’t want to marry her,” then his sister-in-law must approach him in view of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, and spit in his face.[f] She will then respond, “Thus may it be done to any man who does not maintain his brother’s family line!”[g] 10 His family name will be referred to[h] in Israel as “the family[i] of the one whose sandal was removed.”[j]

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  1. Deuteronomy 25:5 tn Heb “take her as wife”; NRSV “taking her in marriage.”
  2. Deuteronomy 25:5 sn This is the so-called “levirate” custom (from the Latin term levir, “brother-in-law”), an ancient provision whereby a man who died without male descendants to carry on his name could have a son by proxy, that is, through a surviving brother who would marry his widow and whose first son would then be attributed to the brother who had died. This is the only reference to this practice in an OT legal text but it is illustrated in the story of Judah and his sons (Gen 38) and possibly in the account of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 2:8; 3:12; 4:6).
  3. Deuteronomy 25:6 tn Heb “and it will be that.”
  4. Deuteronomy 25:6 tn Heb “the firstborn.” This refers to the oldest male child.
  5. Deuteronomy 25:7 tn Heb “want to take his sister-in-law, then his sister in law.” In the second instance the pronoun (“she”) has been used in the translation to avoid redundancy.
  6. Deuteronomy 25:9 sn The removal of the sandal was likely symbolic of the relinquishment by the man of any claim to his dead brother’s estate since the sandal was associated with the soil or land (cf. Ruth 4:7-8). Spitting in the face was a sign of utmost disgust or disdain, an emotion the rejected widow would feel toward her uncooperative brother-in-law (cf. Num 12:14; Lev 15:8). See W. Bailey, NIDOTTE 2:544.
  7. Deuteronomy 25:9 tn Heb “build the house of his brother”; TEV “refuses to give his brother a descendant”; NLT “refuses to raise up a son for his brother.”
  8. Deuteronomy 25:10 tn Heb “called,” i.e., “known as.”
  9. Deuteronomy 25:10 tn Heb “house.”
  10. Deuteronomy 25:10 tn Cf. NIV, NCV “The Family of the Unsandaled.”