Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) transports me to a strange set of bedfellows, as the early Israelites, the Fundamentalist Mormons, and the 1960s Black Panthers and Nation of Islam adherents find some common ground. It is the ground of future hope, of legacy, of preserving one’s name and the purity of one’s community and family line. What do all these communities have in common? For one, they were all minority communities surrounded by perceived enemies, and they were seeking status and power in the midst of this uncomfortable setting. Add to this their idea that a good way to achieve power in their communities was through population growth. Put it all together and you get the strategy, aka The Principle as the plural marriage practitioners on HBO’s Big Love like to call it, the idea that the sisterhood’s primary role in the revolution is to bear young warriors.
The basic idea of Deuteronomy’s Levirate Marriage Code is that childless women who are widowed are then to go to the honeymoon suite with the brother of their deceased, so that the heritage of the dead spouse will be preserved, so that the life of his legacy will continue, so that his name will not be blotted out. The hope of resurrection life for the early Hebrews was in the hope of progeny, of continued life through one’s children, primarily through one’s sons. It also involved the hope of maintaining ethnic and family purity, seen in the restriction of marrying outside one’s family. Brothers who refused to do the deed were subject to public humiliation, as the women were given license to spit in his face and take off one of his sandals, so that his family would forever be saddled with the unsavory label, The House of Him Whose Sandal Was Pulled Off.
All these practices are so strange sounding to our contemporary mainstream ears. But then again, we are somewhat familiar with the longing for legacy, for making a name that will mean something in the future. As Robert Deniro’s Jack Byrnes told Ben Stiller’s Greg Focker: A man reaches a certain age when he realizes what’s truly important. Do you know what that is? . . .His legacy. Lest we forget, as Christians, we don’t have to bear warriors for the revolution in order to have an ensured legacy and hope for future life. Our hope is not in progeny or population growth, but in resurrection life. This is the real essence of Big Love. Our hope is not in ethnic purity, but purity of heart. Our other hope is that we never live to experience the next couple of verses after this passage: Deuteronomy 25:11-12.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.