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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 25

Everett's Study Notes on the Holy ScripturesEverett's Study Notes

Verses 1-19

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 The Law of Wife Inheritance Deuteronomy 25:5-10 defines the regulations of the practice of wife inheritance to the Israelite. Tribes and nations have practiced the tradition of a man taking the wife of his dead brother for thousands of years; it was not unique to the Hebrew people. In this passage of Scripture, God places a law regarding “wife inheritance” into effect that allows the widow to be treated with respect and dignity, rather than the property of a man. In the following newspaper article, a Kenyan widow reveals how perverse the practice of “wife inheritance” can be in tribes and nations who do not serve God.

“If Mariam Salim had observed local tradition, she would, on the death of her husband, have been obliged to marry another member of his family, such as a brother-in-law or uncle. Had she conformed as other members of the Wanga sub-group of the Luhya tribe do, the man in question could have called on her at will for food and sex. But Salim, like a handful of other Kenyan women living with HIV, has turned her back on this custom because it contributes to the spread of the virus which she has carried since 1990. So-called wife inheritance is widespread in this part of western Kenya, on the shores of Lake Victoria , in an area where polygamy is the norm and 30 percent of the adult population is seropositive, according to official figures. ‘My husband was married to another woman, whose first husband died of AIDS. They all died. I am 34 and have six children. That is enough. The cycle has to stop. I do not want to bring death to somebody, I refuse to be inherited,’ Salim told AFP. Since 1997, her dead husband's family, which lives just a stone's throw away, in a Muslim community on the edge of Mumias town, have been giving her a hard time. ‘They say that if a widow is not inherited, her children grow up abnormal. She is blamed for anything that goes wrong in the family. They say she is cursed and they refuse to bury her when she dies,’ explained Salim, who makes a living selling cloth bought in Nairobi and by cultivating a small patch of ground. ‘It is worthless tradition. The man comes to see us and just wants to go to bed. But it is mainly AIDS that makes me refuse,’ she added. Even when they know a woman is HIV positive, brothers-in-law are undeterred, incredulous. ‘They do not believe me. They think I made it up so as not to be inherited,’ said Salim. Salim has got together with half a dozen like-minded widows who meet once a week at Mumias Roman Catholic hospital, under the aegis of the Society of Women Living with AIDS. Together these sellers of fruit and toiletries use a couple of sewing machines to put together a few clothes which they will sell to help pay their children's school fees. They all said they had not been inherited, although some admit to occasionally sleeping with a brother-in-law to regain access to their late husband's family. There is a cultural provision for those widows who refuse to give in: when she dies, the family will pay a man, often the village idiot, to have sex with her corpse so that she can be considered ‘inherited.’ Only then can she be properly buried. ‘That happens a lot,’ said Ann Wanalo, a social worker who helps local people living with HIV and tries to educate the population. The biggest hurdles to her fight against AIDS are superstition and scepticism. ‘People have not yet accepted the fact of AIDS, even though people are dying. If a woman refuses to be inherited, nobody will shake her hand,’ she explained. ‘The death certificate shows that the husband died of tuberculosis, diarrhoea, anaemia or other illnesses provoked by HIV, but it does not mention AIDS, so people think the women are lying, especially if they are not yet very thin,’ added the social worker. ‘Elders, chiefs, churchmen, doctors, they are not doing enough and people are dying in the villages. There are funerals all the time,’ she lamented.” [30]

[30] Mumias, “Kenya Widows Reject Forced Remarriage,” in The Monitor Newspaper, Kampala, Uganda, Wednesday, May 9, 2001, page 25.

Deuteronomy 25:9 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.

Deuteronomy 25:9 Comments - The custom of loosing a man’s shoe from off of his foot was a practiced by the near kinsman of Naomi when Boaz asked to take Ruth as his wife (Ruth 4:7-9). A natural question would be to ask why a shoe was used. Perhaps it was because this leather shoe carried a permanent and unique imprint of the owner's foot. Therefore, it served as a signature or fingerprint of that individual. The one given this sandal had proof that the shoe that he possesses once belonged to a particular individual.

Ruth 4:7-9, “Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour : and this was a testimony in Israel. Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee. So he drew off his shoe. And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech's, and all that was Chilion's and Mahlon's, of the hand of Naomi.”

Deuteronomy 25:19 Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it.

Deuteronomy 25:19 Comments - The command to utterly destroy the Amalekites was fulfilled in the days of King Saul (1 Samuel 15:3).

1 Samuel 15:3, “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

Bibliographical Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 25". Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghe/deuteronomy-25.html. 2013.
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