We all have an instinctive revulsion of the wanton destruction of one of us by the hand of another. But why? If the victim is not one of our family or close relations, how is it that we feel the evil of his loss? How are we – the victim and I – connected? Where does our sense that his taking is evil come from?
This piece is an exploration of a recent “revelation” I’ve been considering that points to a much more profound loss than the loss of just this one person.
The Hebrew Bible is full of stories in which a wife is left childless at the death of her husband. The social practice in such a situation was defined by the rule of yibbum (Deut 25:6) – the requirement for the nearest kinsman of the deceased to marry the widow to honor and provide for the perpetuation of the line of the deceased relative’s name, i.e. to produce offspring that would be considered his progeny.
We can speculate as to why this was the social norm in the Ancient Near East[i]. But it was. The concept of the perpetuation of one’s “name” through the fulfillment of producing “his” progeny was commonly accepted.
The Story of Ruth
“Ruth” is a book in the Hebrew Bible. Ruth is not the only person in the Hebrew Bible subject to the kinsman-redeemer/levirate marriage edict, but she is perhaps the most revered of those who were.
Ruth was a Moabitess who married one of the (Jewish) sons of Elimelech, a man who had emigrated from Israel in response to a famine. Shortly thereafter, Elimelech dies. Not only that but so do his sons, one of which is Ruth’s husband.
So this leaves Naomi, Elimelech’s wife, and her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Oprah, all widows. Naomi decides to return to her native Bethlehem, and Ruth pledges her undying devotion to Naomi and to stay with her and care for her in their new home. Oprah elects to stay in Moab.
Upon their return to Bethlehem, Naomi settles near her deceased husband’s uncle, Boaz, a prosperous landowner. Boaz observes Ruth caring for Naomi and commends her for her faithfulness.
Naomi, on behalf of Ruth, plans an encounter between Ruth and Boas in which she will petition Boaz to marry her under the law of yippum – the kinsman-redeemer law of Deut 25:5-6:
 “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.  And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.
Boaz, despite his earlier reticence to extend mercy to Ruth, accepts her proposal and marries her, leading to the birth of Obed, and from Obed Jesse, and from Jesse, David, King of Israel.
What’s This Got to Do With Murder?
Well, nothing. Yet. The point so far is that widely disparate cultures in the Ancient Near East all shared a social principle that the Israelites called yippum – the benefaction of the kinsman-redeemer in redeeming the line of progeny that otherwise would have issued from a deceased “brother”. My thesis is that this practice was common because God wanted it to be.
If so, why? My thesis is that God wants as many as possible to be exposed to His Creation and His person – His love – His redemption to Himself.
I have written elsewhere about the notion of God’s comprehensive plan identifying all possible (“prospective”) people who might ever come into existence. If one of them comes into existence but, for whatever reason, dies before procreating, then an entire line of prospective humanity is cut off. And their loss is God’s loss. There are fewer people for Him to embrace and enter into communion with.
So it makes perfect sense that God would promote the social practice of what was known in Israel as “Levirate Marriage”, or simply the principle of the kinsman-redeemer, as a method of producing more people for Him to bless.
So what would God think of murder? Obviously, He’s opposed to it, as the sixth commandment makes clear.
Why? For the reason identified above: He wants as many of His prospective people as possible to come into being and, themselves, procreate. The moral issue appears to be that the taking of a life deprives God of a line of prospective humanity with whom He desires to enter into relationship. It’s wrong because it deprives this good from happening.
In this framework, what should we think about abortion? What should we think about the tens of thousands of lives extinguished annually that otherwise would have created more of God’s humanity? In a very real sense, we’re stealing from God through this practice. And this theft is not transitory or incidental. We’re removing humans from existence with Him permanently.
What He elects to do with the souls of those aborted we can only speculate. But we must acknowledge that their life experience with Him has been forever curtailed. And this is the abomination.
[i] Several ancient near-eastern cultures maintained variations of this same “kinsman-redeemer” practice. The Legal Status of Barren Wives in the Ancient Near East | CBE (cbeinternational.org)