Deuteronomy 25:5-10 – Levirate Marriage
SummaryThe obligations are required of the brother of a husband who dies childless.
This practice of levirate marriage, though unique to Deuteronomy, is not unique to Israel; it was common throughout the ancient Near East. It simply states that if a married man dies childless, his brother must marry his widow and father a child who will be considered the son of the deceased man (vv. 5-6). Not to do so was considered a grave offense that resulted in stigmatization (vv. 7-10). This legislation was required to provide for the widow, keep land and other matters of inheritance within the family, and to ensure that the deceased person's name and clan will continue. Genesis 38:8 and Ruth 4:5-6 are variants of this legislation.
Problems with the incest legislation of Leviticus 18:16; 20:21 that prohibits sexual congress with one's sister-in-law have led some to claim that "brother" in this context may refer to the deceased husband's nearest male relative, whether that person is an uncle, a cousin, or a brother. It is better to see the special circumstances surrounding the levirate marriage as an exception to the prohibitions in Leviticus.