Studies in Sonship, part 6: The “Law of the Brother-in-law”
May 04, 2012
We left off last time as we began to introduce the concept of “Levirate marriage.” There are a couple of examples of this in the Bible. One is a negative example and the other is a positive example. You could call it “the law of the brother-in-law.”
Genesis 38:6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar.
7 And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.
8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.
9 And Onan knew that the seed [offspring, son(s)] should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.
10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.
Here Judah’s firstborn son, Er, died before he had any sons himself. There was no one to carry on the family line for Judah’s firstborn son. Keil and Delitzsch’s commentary tells us that this custom of what we are calling the law of the brother-in-law is found in different forms among the Persians, the Indians, and other nations of Asia and Africa. And remember, this is all prior to the giving of the law on Mount Sinai.
So Onan refuses to carry on the family name on behalf of his brother, Er. It is quite likely that Onan foresaw that if he succeeded in producing a son for his brother through Tamar, that the greater portion of the family wealth of Judah would then not go to himself, but to that firstborn son of Er’s widow, Tamar. So he took advantage of the physical pleasure with Tamar, but did not conclude the deal, so to speak.
We should note that the word marry in verse 8 is not same as elsewhere. Usually, we don’t find the word marry but rather the expression “to take to wife.” The word marry here has the special meaning of performing the duty of a brother-in-law…. Although, I must say, that based on the example of Boaz and Ruth, which is the positive example, that the brother-in-law can marry the widow and they can be husband and wife in every sense of the word, as Boaz and Ruth were.
I will not take the time to look at that story here since I gave an hour and a half video Bible lecture on that subject some years ago. It is available from us on DVD. Ask for D-102, Ruth, the Israelite – by Dr. James W. Bruggeman. Enclose $12 + $4 shipping. (Presently, not available in our online store, but you can send a donation through PayPal and an email directly to us to order it, if you wish.)
I also want to point out in this passage, that in verse 8, the term “raise up seed” is the equivalent of saying “to beget sons.” So the word seed means sons, or offspring, or children or descendants. That is something we want tuck away in our mind and remember for the studies to come. Now let us go to Deuteronomy, chapter 25, and look at the law of the brother-in-law.
Deuteronomy 25:5 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.
6 And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.
There, in verse 6, we are given the purpose of this institution: to perpetuate the family name in the nation.
7 And if the man like not to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband’s brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother.
8 Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her;
9 Then shall his brother’s wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother’s house.
10 And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.
Obviously, under the Mosaic law, the penalty for refusing to follow the law of the brother-in-law was simply disgrace and shame. But Onan got the death penalty. However, we do not know what else Onan might have done to warrant being slain “by the Lord” when he refused to perform the duty of the brother-in-law.
By the way, did you know that “Onan” is the brand name of one of the most common or largest manufacturers of electrical generators? …Which I find quite ironic, since Onan in the Bible refused to become a generator of a family line for his brother, Er. Consequently, Onan died (or perhaps was killed by Tamar—we are not told how the LORD slew him). I wonder what that “coincidence” says about electricity as a source of generative power. Do you think our Father has something better planned for us in terms of energy in the future? I do. Think Tesla and zero point energy! I want to leave you with a couple of related thoughts.
Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
I don’t know how many times I have heard it said that a woman does not have “seed.” Now let us bring 1 Samuel, chapter 2, into the picture. This is the story of where Elkanah and his wife, Hannah, had given their son, Samuel, to the service of the Lord under the tutelage of the priest Eli. In turn, Eli blesses them, and here is what he says:
1 Samuel 2:20 And Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, The LORD give thee seed of this woman for the loan which is lent to the LORD. And they went unto their own home.
Of course, we all understand that women do not produce the seed, in the sense of the sperm. A woman produces the eggs; the man produces the sperm. But in both of these cases—Genesis 3 and here in 1 Samuel— the word seed is not referring to the physical sperm, but it is a figurative turn referring to offspring or descendants or sons.
Of course, the pre-eminent “son of the woman” referred to in Genesis 3 is Jesus Christ himself. And now for the final point in this introduction to biblical sonship. In Isaiah, chapter 53, we find the famous passage usually titled “The Suffering Servant,” descriptive of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 53:8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Jesus never married and he died on the cross before he had any offspring, didn’t He? Those who becomes the “sons of God” will also be the brothers of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Scripture says: “and he was not ashamed to call them brethren.” Do you suppose that the law of the brother-in-law will be in effect here? In that light, consider this:
Isaiah 62:5 For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.
You see, I believe that the sons of God will have the privilege of generating spiritual offspring along with, and on behalf of their elder brother Jesus. As you can see, this opens up a whole new area of study. For we have the bride… and a bridegroom. Some Christians will be part of the bride company and others will be part of the bridegroom company. Both are great blessings, but wouldn’t you like to be among the firstborn sons of God and part of the bridegroom company? I would. God speed the day! This concludes merely the introduction in our studies in sonship. More to come soon.
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