Rayna’s jaw dropped, the colour drained from her face, and the beautiful innocent brown eyes filled with tears. The seven-year-old had been happily playing with her friends near the town gates of Adullum. It was market day and they had come to visit relatives, buy supplies, sell their produce and catch up on the gossip. Her siblings at home with their grandparents, Rayna relished in the responsibility of being a ‘big girl’. Suddenly, however, this long anticipated day turned sour, Rayna’s idyllic world irreparably shattered.
Rayna’s family consisted of her parents, sisters, baby brother, grandparents and her beloved Aunt Kezia, the wife of Rayna’s father’s elder brother. They all lived and worked on the family property, which had been theirs for several generations now. The only dark spot on her happy childhood was the recent death of her Uncle Ben, an invalid as long as Rayna could remember.
After they had observed the required period of grieving, Grandfather had insisted that Aunt Kezia move in with Rayna’s family. This arrangement pleased Rayna, even though her parents’ faces darkened and their voices grew harsh. Yet Rayna was sure that her parents, in time, would come to love Aunt Kezia as she did.
Today, though, that had become impossible. Rayna’s sweet aunt had also been at the town gates, where the judge listened to the complaints of the people. A deep voice called her father’s name, at which point Rayna scurried between the throng of legs to see what was happening.
The judge, in great solemnity, turned to Rayna’s father. “Dan, son of Gideon, is it true that you have refused to take your sister-in-law as your wife, in order to bear children who will carry the name and inheritance of your deceased brother, Benaniah?”
The silence was deafening, and despite his stammered mumbled response, Rayna could hear every word. “Ben never worked the land – he was always too sick. It is my toil that provides for us all. The land should go to MY family. I have not taken Kezia as my wife. It is not fair to ask it of me.”
The judge motioned Rayna’s father to remove his sandal. In a grave voice, he proclaimed the verdict. “By his own admission, this man’s sin is as heinous as that of Onan* who was struck dead by God. Yet in God’s mercy, the Law states that our brother Dan should only suffer shame, in order that he may yet come to repentance and do what is right.”
The judge took the proffered sandal and gave it to Kezia. Rayna watched in horror as her usually gentle aunt, eyes now fiery and with great vehemence, spat in the face of Rayna’s father. He stood silently, his proud head hung low, his broad shoulders hunched in shame. Kezia took the worn, dusty sandal of a man who simply wanted to provide for his own, and whacked him across the cheek, screaming in fury, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.”
The crowd finally dissipated, leaving Rayna huddled by the pillars of the great gate, sobbing bitterly. As the people passed by, she heard them comment in disdain, “That’s the daughter of the unsandaled one.” Finally her mother came, and gathering the girl into her arms, gently wiped the dirty tear-streaked face.
“Rayna, it has to be this way. Your Aunt Kezia wanted children who would be considered your uncle’s. Her son would inherit the land, not your brother. The land is everything, and without it, we are nothing.”
The years went by, and Rayna’s life passed one lonely day at a time. Aunt Kezia had apparently gone to her hometown where she lived with her brother’s family, a bitter lonely woman. When Rayna’s parents and siblings would travel to distant towns to trade with people who knew nothing of their history, Rayna stayed at home, sick to the stomach at the thought of meeting others.
God’s law regarding the widows of childless elder sons grossly disadvantaged Rayna’s family. Her simple country father just wanted to provide for his own. However, in his refusal to trust and obey God’s law, the fabric of Rayna’s world was torn apart. The family gained the land but lost so much more. God’s laws are good and today He still calls us to disregard personal profit, trusting only in Him.
* The sordid story of Onan and his family is found in Genesis 38.
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