Deuteronomy - 25:5

5 If brothers dwell together, and one of them die, and have no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside to a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her to him as wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her.

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Explanation and meaning of Deuteronomy 25:5.

Differing Translations

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If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her.
When brethren dwell together, and one of them dieth without children, the wife of the deceased shall not marry to another: but his brother shall take her, and raise up seed for his brother:
If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no son, the wife of the dead shall not marry a stranger abroad: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him as wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her.
If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no son, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her.
'When brethren dwell together, and one of them hath died, and hath no son, the wife of the dead is not without to a strange man; her husband's brother doth go in unto her, and hath taken her to him for a wife, and doth perform the duty of her husband's brother;
If brothers are living together and one of them, at his death, has no son, the wife of the dead man is not to be married outside the family to another man: let her husband's brother go in to her and make her his wife, doing as it is right for a brother-in-law to do.
If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not be married abroad unto one not of his kin; her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her.
When brothers are living together, and one of them dies without children, the wife of the deceased shall not marry another. Instead, his brother shall take her, and he shall raise up offspring for his brother.
Quum habitaverint fratres pariter, et mortuus fuerit unus ex ipsis, nec fuerit ei filius, non abnubet uxor mortui viro extraneo: cognatus ejus ingredietur ad eam, et capiet eam sibi in uxorem, et affinitatem contrahet cum ea.

*Minor differences ignored. Grouped by changes, with first version listed as example.

Historical Commentaries

Scholarly Analysis and Interpretation.

If brethren dwell together, and one of them die. This law has some similarity with that which permits a betrothed person to return to the wife, whom he has not yet taken; since the object of both is to preserve to every man what he possesses, so that he may not be obliged to leave it to strangers, but that he may have heirs begotten of his own body: for, when a son succeeds to the father, whom he represents, there seems to be hardly any change made. Hence, too, it is manifest how greatly pleasing to God it is that no one should be deprived of his property, since He makes a provision even for the dying, that what they could not resign to others without regret and annoyance, should be preserved to their offspring. Unless, therefore, his kinsman should obviate the dead man's childlessness, this inhumanity is accounted a kind of theft. For, since to be childless was a curse of God, it was a consolation in this condition to hope for a borrowed offspring, that the name might not be altogether extinct. Since we now understand the intention of the law, we must also observe that the word brethren does not mean actual brothers, but cousins, and other kinsmen, whose marriage with the widows of their relative would not have been incestuous; otherwise God would contradict Himself. But these two things are quite compatible, that no one should uncover the nakedness of his brother, and yet that a widow should not marry out of her husband's family, until she had raised up seed to him from some relation. In fact, Boaz did not marry Ruth because he was the brother of her deceased husband, but only his near kinsman. If any should object that it is not probable that other kinsmen should dwell together, I reply that this passage is improperly supposed to refer to actual living together, as if they dwelt in the same house, but that the precept is merely addressed to relations, whose near residence rendered it convenient to take the widows to their own homes; for, if any lived far away, liberty was accorded to both to seek the fulfillment of the provision elsewhere. Surely it is not probable that God would have authorized an incestuous marriage, which He had before expressed His abomination of. Nor can it be doubted, as I have above stated, but that the like necessity was imposed upon the woman of offering herself to the kinsman of her former husband; and although there was harshness in this, still she seemed to owe this much to his memory, that she should willingly raise up seed to the deceased; yet, if any one think differently, I will not contend the point with him. If, however, she were not obliged to do so, it was absurd that she should voluntarily obtrude herself: nor was there any other reason why she should bring to trial the kinsman, from whom she had suffered a repulse, except that she might acquire the liberty of marrying into another family. Yet it is not probable that he was to be condemned to an ignominious punishment, without being admitted to make his defense, because sometimes just reasons for refusal might be alleged. This disgrace, therefore, was only a penalty for inhumanity or avarice. By giving up his shoe, he renounced his right of relationship, and gave it up to another: for, by behaving so unkindly towards the dead, he became unworthy of reaping any of the advantages of his relationship.

The law of levirate marriage. The law on this subject is not unique to the Jews, but is found (see Genesis 38:8) in all essential respects the same among various Oriental nations, ancient and modern. The rules in these verses, like those upon divorce, do but incorporate existing immemorial usages, and introduce various wise and politic limitations and mitigations of them. The root of the obligation here imposed upon the brother of the deceased husband lies in the primitive idea of childlessness being a great calamity (compare Genesis 16:4; and note), and extinction of name and family one of the greatest that could happen (compare Deuteronomy 9:14; Psalm 109:12-15). To avert this the ordinary rules as to intermarriage are in the case in question (compare Leviticus 18:16) set aside. The obligation was onerous (compare Ruth 4:6), and might be repugnant; and it is accordingly considerably reduced and restricted by Moses. The duty is recognized as one of affection for the memory of the deceased; it is not one which could be enforced at law. That it continued down to the Christian era is apparent from the question on this point put to Jesus by the Sadducees (see the marginal references).

No child - literally, "no son." The existence of a daughter would clearly suffice. The daughter would inherit the name and property of the father; compare Numbers 27:1-11.

If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her (d) husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her.
(d) Because the Hebrew word does not signify the natural brother, and the word that signifies a brother, is taken also for a kinsman: it seems that it does not mean that the natural brother should marry his brothers wife, but some other kindred that was in the degree that might marry.

If brethren dwell together,.... Not only in the same country, province, town, or city, but in the same house; such who had been from their youth brought up together in their father's house, and now one of them being married, as the case put supposes, they that were unmarried might live with him, and especially if the father was dead; and so may except such as were abroad, and in foreign countries, or at such a distance that this law coals not well be observed by them; though the Targum of Jonathan, and so Jarchi, interpret it of their being united in an inheritance, all by virtue of relation having a claim to their father's inheritance; so that it mattered not where they dwelt, it is the relation that is regarded, and their right of inheritance; and the above Targum describes them as brethren on the father's side, and so Jarchi says excepts his brother on the mother's side; for brethren by the mother's side, in case of inheritance, and the marrying of a brother's wife, were not reckoned brethren, as Maimonides (h) observes; who adds, that there is no brotherhood but on the father's side. Some think that when there were no brethren in a strict and proper sense, the near kinsmen, sometimes called brethren, were to do the office here enjoined, and which they conclude from the case of Boaz and Ruth; but Aben Ezra contradicts this, and says that instance is no proof of it, it respecting another affair, not marriage, but redemption; and says that brethren, absolutely and strictly speaking are here meant; which is agreeably to their tradition (i):
and one of them die, and have no child: son, or daughter, son's son, or daughter's son, or daughter's daughter, as Jarchi notes; if there were either of these, children or grandchildren, of either sex, there was no obligation to marry a brother's wife; so, in the case put to Christ, there was no issue, the person was childless, Matthew 22:24,
the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger; by whom is meant not a Gentile, or a proselyte of the gate, or of righteousness, but any Israelite whatever, that was not of her husband's family; she might not marry out of the family; that is, she was refused by all, the design of the law being to secure inheritances, and continue them in families to which they belonged:
her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife; that is, supposing him to be unmarried, and this is indeed supposed in the first clause of the text, by dwelling with his brother; for had he been married, he would have dwelt with his wife and family apart; besides, if this law obliged a married man to marry his brother's wife, polygamy would be required and established by a law of God, which was never otherwise than permitted. This is to be understood of the eldest brother, as Jarchi, who is in an unmarried state; so it is said in the Misnah (k),"the command is upon the eldest to marry his brother's wife; if he will not, they go to all the brethren; if they will not, they return to the eldest; and say to him, upon thee is the commandment, either allow the shoe to be plucked off, or marry;''and such a course we find was taken among the Jews in our Lord's time, Matthew 22:25,
and perform the duty of an husband's brother to her; cohabit together as man and wife, in order to raise up seed to his brother, and perform all the offices and duties of an husband to a wife; but the marriage solemnity was not to take place when it was agreed to, until three months or ninety days had passed from the death of the brother, that it might be known whether she was with child or no by her husband, and in such a case this law had no force; so runs the Jewish canon (l)"a brother's wife may not pluck off the shoe, nor be married, until three months;''that is, after her husband's death.
(h) Hilchot Yebum Vechalitzah, c, 1, sect, 7. (i) Misn. Yebamot, c. 4. sect. 5. (k) Yebamot, c. 4. sect. 5. (l) Ib. sect. 10.

The custom here regulated seems to have been in the Jewish law in order to keep inheritances distinct; now it is unlawful.

the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother . . . shall take her to him to wife--This usage existed before the age of Moses (Genesis 38:8). But the Mosaic law rendered the custom obligatory (Matthew 22:25) on younger brothers, or the nearest kinsman, to marry the widow (Ruth 4:4), by associating the natural desire of perpetuating a brother's name with the preservation of property in the Hebrew families and tribes. If the younger brother declined to comply with the law, the widow brought her claim before the authorities of the place at a public assembly (the gate of the city); and he having declared his refusal, she was ordered to loose the thong of his shoe--a sign of degradation--following up that act by spitting on the ground-- the strongest expression of ignominy and contempt among Eastern people. The shoe was kept by the magistrate as an evidence of the transaction, and the parties separated.

On Levirate Marriages. - Deuteronomy 25:5, Deuteronomy 25:6. If brothers lived together, and one of them died childless, the wife of the deceased was not to be married outside (i.e., away from the family) to a strange man (one not belonging to her kindred); her brother-in-law was to come to her and take her for his wife, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her. יבּם, denom. from יבם, a brother-in-law, husband's brother, lit., to act the brother-in-law, i.e., perform the duty of a brother-in-law, which consisted in his marrying his deceased brother's widow, and begetting a son of children with her, the first-born of whom was "to stand upon the name of his deceased brother," i.e., be placed in the family of the deceased, and be recognised as the heir of his property, that his name (the name of the man who had died childless) might not be wiped out or vanish out of Israel. The provision, "without having a son" (ben), has been correctly interpreted by the lxx, Vulg., Josephus (Ant. iv. 8, 23), and the Rabbins, as signifying childless (having no seed, Matthew 22:25); for if the deceased had simply a daughter, according to Numbers 27:4., the perpetuation of his house and name was to be ensured through her. The obligation of a brother-in-law's marriage only existed in cases where the brothers had lived together, i.e., in one and the same place, not necessarily in one house or with a common domestic establishment and home (vid., Genesis 13:6; Genesis 36:7). - This custom of a brother-in-law's (Levirate) marriage, which is met with in different nations, and as an old traditional custom among the Israelites (see at Genesis 38:8.), had its natural roots in the desire inherent in man, who is formed for immortality, and connected with the hitherto undeveloped belief in an eternal life, to secure a continued personal existence for himself and immorality for his name, through the perpetuation of his family and in the life of the son who took his place. This desire was not suppressed in Israel by divine revelation, but rather increased, inasmuch as the promises given to the patriarchs were bound up with the preservation and propagation of their seed and name. The promise given to Abraham for his seed would of necessity not only raise the begetting of children in the religious views of the Israelites into the work desired by God and well-pleasing to Him, but would also give this significance to the traditional custom of preserving the name and family by the substitution of a marriage of duty, that they would thereby secure to themselves and their family a share in the blessing of promise. Moses therefore recognised this custom as perfectly justifiable; but he sought to restrain it within such limits, that it should not present any impediment to the sanctification of marriage aimed at by the law. He took away the compulsory character, which it hitherto possessed, by prescribing in Deuteronomy 25:7., that if the surviving brother refused to marry his widowed sister-in-law, she was to bring the matter into the gate before the elders of the town (vid., Deuteronomy 21:19), i.e., before the magistrates; and if the brother-in-law still persisted in his refusal, she was to take his shoe from off his foot and spit in his face, with these words: "So let it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house."
The taking off of the shoe was an ancient custom in Israel, adopted, according to Ruth 4:7, in cases of redemption and exchange, for the purpose of confirming commercial transactions. The usage arose from the fact, that when any one took possession of landed property he did so by treading upon the soil, and asserting his right of possession by standing upon it in his shoes. In this way the taking off of the shoe and handing it to another became a symbol of the renunciation of a man's position and property, - a symbol which was also common among the Indians and the ancient Germans (see my Archologie, ii. p. 66). But the custom was an ignominious one in such a case as this, when the shoe was publicly taken off the foot of the brother-in-law by the widow whom he refused to marry. He was thus deprived of the position which he ought to have occupied in relation to her and to his deceased brother, or to his paternal house; and the disgrace involved in this was still further heightened by the fact that his sister-in-law spat in his face. This is the meaning of the words (cf. Numbers 12:14), and not merely spit on the ground before his eyes, as Saalschtz and others as well as the Talmudists (tr. Jebam. xii. 6) render it, for the purpose of diminishing the disgrace. "Build up his brother's house," i.e., lay the foundation of a family or posterity for him (cf. Genesis 16:2). - In addition to this, the unwilling brother-in-law was to receive a name of ridicule in Israel: "House of the shoe taken off" (הנּעל חלוּץ, taken off as to his shoe; cf. Ewald, 288, b.), i.e., of the barefooted man, equivalent to "the miserable fellow;" for it was only in miserable circumstances that the Hebrews went barefoot (vid., Isaiah 20:2-3;

Together - In the same town, or at least country. For if the next brother had removed his habitation into remote parts, on were carried thither into captivity, then the wife of the dead had her liberty to marry the next kinsman that lived in the same place with her. One - Any of them, for the words are general, and the reason of the law was to keep up the distinction of tribes and families, that so the Messiah might be discovered by the family from which he was appointed to proceed; and also of inheritances, which were divided among all the brethren, the first - born having only a double portion. A stranger - To one of another family.

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