Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Not Having a Child With Your Brother's Wife

Suggested Reading: Genesis 38:1-10

There is an odd story in the Old Testament that I have pondered since I was a child. The story is located in Genesis, during a section that tells us about Jacob's twelve sons and how they conducted themselves. Judah had two grown sons. One of them married but died without children. According to the Old Testament laws of levirite marriage, his brother, Onan, was supposed to marry the dead brother's wife and have a child with her that would then be considered the child of the dead brother. But Onan was not willing to have a child who would not be his own heir. So whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he spilled the semen on the ground. This prevented her from having a child who would belong to his brother (Genesis 38:9, NLT).

I've often wondered what the moral of the story was, what exactly was the rationale for Levirite marriage (the Old Testament does explain it to a degree), and how in the world a story about a man who refused to have a child for his brother applies to people who don't practice Levirite marriage. But this last time I read the passage, I noticed something I've never caught before. Something that was so obvious you almost don't consider it. Read that verse again. So whenever he had intercourse with his brother's wife... Now, if Onan wasn't going to have children for his brother, wouldn't it have been simpler to just not sleep with the woman?

But Onan was like most of us. He was willing to use the law for his own benefit (pleasure through his brother's wife) but he didn't want the law to apply when it demanded something he didn't want to give. How often do we insist on following the letter of the law in church business meetings or in local elections or in our community when it benefits us, only to turn around and take the law much less seriously when it requires something of us? We like a progressive tax code when we get money from it but when we have money taken from us, it's suddenly not so appealing. We think codes of conduct are great for those other people who need them because they have to behave the way we want. But when following those codes is inconvenient for us, the codes suddenly become just a suggestion. "No cutting in line" is the law of the land when it keeps us from having to wait longer but just a guideline when the rule makes us wait longer.

Do you use rules differently based on whether they benefit or hinder you? Are you legalistic when the rules keep other people in line but "under grace" when those same rules suddenly apply to you?  Being children of God means we live consistent, holy lives. Hypocrites only like rules when they benefit themselves. Let's avoid the hypocrisy.

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