Then you shall cut off her hand, your eye shall not pity her.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Leviticus 24:19-20. The act in question was probably not rare in the times and countries for which the Law of Moses was designed. It is of course to be understood that the act was willful, and that the prescribed punishment would be inflicted according to the sentence of the judges.
Thine eye shall not pity her, which thou wilt be very apt to do, because of the infirmity of her sex, and the urgency of the occasion, this being done for the necessary preservation of her husband. Matthew 5:30; though the Jewish writers interpret this not of actual cutting off the hand, but of paying a valuable consideration, a price put upon it; so Jarchi; and Aben Ezra compares it with the law of retaliation, "eye for eye", Exodus 21:24; which they commonly understand of paying a price for the both, &c. lost; and who adds, if she does not redeem her hand (i.e. by a price) it must be cut off:
thine eye shall not pity her; on account of the tenderness of her sex, or because of the plausible excuse that might be made for her action, being done hastily and in a passion, and out of affection to her husband; but these considerations were to have no place with the magistrate, who was to order the punishment inflicted, either in the strict literal sense, or by paying a sum of money.Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)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;
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