The law of levirate marriage. The law on this subject is not unique to the Jews, but is found (see Genesis 38:8) in all essential respects the same among various Oriental nations, ancient and modern. The rules in these verses, like those upon divorce, do but incorporate existing immemorial usages, and introduce various wise and politic limitations and mitigations of them. The root of the obligation here imposed upon the brother of the deceased husband lies in the primitive idea of childlessness being a great calamity (compare Genesis 16:4; and note), and extinction of name and family one of the greatest that could happen (compare Deuteronomy 9:14; Psalm 109:12-15). To avert this the ordinary rules as to intermarriage are in the case in question (compare Leviticus 18:16) set aside. The obligation was onerous (compare Rth 4:6 ), and might be repugnant; and it is accordingly considerably reduced and restricted by Moses. The duty is recognized as one of affection for the memory of the deceased; it is not one which could be enforced at law. That it continued down to the Christian era is apparent from the question on this point put to Jesus by the Sadducees (see the marginal references).
No child - literally, “no son.” The existence of a daughter would clearly suffice. The daughter would inherit the name and property of the father; compare Numbers 27:1-11.
Loose his shoe from off his foot - In token of taking from the unwilling brother all right over the wife and property of the deceased. Planting the foot on a thing was an usual symbol of lordship and of taking possession (compare Genesis 13:17; Joshua 10:24), and loosing the shoe and handing it to another in like manner signified a renunciation and transfer of right and title (compare Rth 4:7-8 ; Psalm 60:8, and Psalm 108:9). The widow here is directed herself, as the party slighted and injured, to deprive her brother-law of his shoe, and spit in his face (compare Numbers 12:14). The action was intended to aggravate the disgrace conceived to attach to the conduct of the man.
The house - Equivalent to “the house of the barefooted one.” To go barefoot was a sign of the most abject condition; compare 2 Samuel 15:30.