The Scriptorium

Various Forms of Justice (3)

Giving what is due. Deuteronomy 25.5-10

A Holy Nation (4): Deuteronomy 24-26 (4)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 128.1, 2
Blessed is every one who fears the LORD,
Who walks in His ways.
When you eat the labor of your hands,
You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.

Psalm 128.1, 2

(Fountain: There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood)
How blessed are they who fear You, Lord, who walk within Your ways!
Rejoicing in Your bounteous Word, they prosper all their days!
They prosper all their days, they prosper all their days!
Rejoicing in Your bounteous Word, they prosper all their days!

Today’s Text: Deuteronomy 25.5-10

1. What are the conditions in which this statute would be invoked?

2. What kind of justice does this situation represent?

Here is another statute that seems strange to us, and which we no longer regard as essential for our time and place. Nevertheless, it holds an important principle of neighbor love that we ought to keep in mind.

For ancient Israel, preserving family identities, lineages, and heritages was a very great concern. This statute was designed to help reinforce that conviction. It represents both a form of obligatory justice – what the brother owed his dead brother and sister-in-law – as well as a form of retributive justice – the shame that would come on the brother who refused to comply. I see it as an elaboration of the ninth commandment about living truthfully with our neighbors, and perhaps the eighth commandment, regarding stealing what belongs rightfully to someone else.

We note that certain conditions had to be in effect to invoke this statute. A man died without a son, and his brother had been living with him and his wife (v. 5). The living brother owed his dead brother the continuity of lineage and property, since he had been living with them and benefiting from their hospitality. He also owes his sister-in-law the security of marriage within family and tribal bounds (v. 9).

If he refused, the retribution imposed on him was public shaming, as we read in verses 8-10. That was a real form of retribution, albeit a mild one.

Is there a lesson here about love and duty? The man may not have wanted to take the woman as his wife, but – at least in ancient Israel – it was regarded as his duty to do so. Performance of duty would have been an act of love. Failure of duty resulted in public shaming and an uncertain future for the woman.

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
A memorial is defined as serving to preserve remembrance, or something that keeps remembrance alive. In this passage we are told of the importance of perpetuating family lines. God is also telling us that people are important and remembering them after they have died is a kindness and a tribute. Each life is important and should be remembered by family and friends. We find Jesus expressing the same sentiment in Matthew 26.1-13. His disciples could not muster any emotion regarding His impending crucifixion. In fact, their response to the woman showing kindness to Him, by pouring costly oil upon His head, was, “Why this waste?” Yet Jesus, because He is Jesus, cared more about the woman’s feelings than His own. But He also wanted all of us to know that this woman’s love should be remembered in perpetuity. Always. A special act. A special person. So He said, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” “She has done what she could.” “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mk. 14.8; Matt. 25.23). Justice is accomplished when we say the same, and remember those who have gone before us, who served to carry on the lineage of Christ.


1. “Duty” sounds like such a cold, superficial notion. Is it?
2. Jesus did for that woman what God’s Law intended a brother-in-law to do for his deceased brother. Explain.

3. What can you do to carry on the legacy, lineage, and heritage of those faithful believers who have gone before you?

For this people, by the things that happened to them as a type, whether they recognized these types or not, were indeed prophetic of Christ, from whom Christ was to take flesh. Hence, in order that this race might be multiplied, the man who did not raise up seed in Israel was held accursed by sentence of the law. That is why holy women were animated by the pious desire of offspring rather than by desire.
Augustine (354-430), On the Good of Widowhood 7.10

Help me, Lord, to be faithful in all my duties before You, that I may…

Closing Prayer: Psalm 128.3-6
Pray for the families of your church, that they might know the rich blessings of God in every way.

Psalm 128.3-6

(Fountain: There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood)
Their homes with happy children bloom who fear Your holy Name;
their tables and their every room declare Your glorious fame!
Declare Your glorious fame, declare Your glorious fame!
Their tables and their every room declare Your glorious fame!

O Lord, from Zion send Your peace, and prosp’rous make our ways;
thus may Your blessings e’er increase upon us all our days!
Upon us all our days, upon us all our days!
Thus may Your blessings e’er increase upon all us all our days!

T. M. and Susie Moore

Listen to our summary of last week’s study in Deuteronomy by clicking here. You can download all the studies in the series by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Ancient Christian Commentary Series III, Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. ed. in collaboration with Ronnie J. Rombs, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). All quotations from John Calvin from John Calvin, Commentaries on The Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Order of A Harmony, Rev. Charles William Bingham M. A., tr. and ed. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1863. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore