In Deuteronomy 25:9 (NASB) the loosing of the shoe appears to be a punishment for refusing to give descendents to the deceased brother

Then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house.

Then, in Ruth 4:7 (NASB) there's no real punishment involved

Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel.

What does "loose / pluck off his shoe" represent?


These two instances of the "sandal" actually suggest the same thing - the removal of the sandal was actually a recognition of the loss of property and inheritance rights. This was true whether it was done by the aggrieved widow or by the man himself.

There are several references to this in the OT such as Ps 60:8, 108:9. Note the comments of Benson:

Deuteronomy 25:9-10. Loose his shoe — As a sign of his resignation of all his right to the woman, and to her husband’s inheritance; for as the shoe was a sign of one’s power and right, (Psalm 60:8; Psalm 108:9,) so the parting with the shoe was a token of the alienation of such right; and as a note of infamy, to signify that by this disingenuous action he was unworthy to be among free men, and fit to be reduced to the condition of the meanest servants, who used to go barefoot, Isaiah 20:2; Isaiah 20:4. His name — That is, his person, and his posterity also. So it was a lasting blot.

The Cambridge commentary offers similar comments:

and strip his sandal from off his foot] ‘As one occupied land by treading on it, the shoe became the symbol of taking possession (Psalm 60:8; Psalm 108:9); when a man renounced property to another, he drew off and gave him his shoe. So among the ancient Germans the taking off of the shoe was a symbol for giving up property and heritable rights, and with the delivery of the shoe or the throwing of it away goods were conveyed to another. Similarly among Hindoos and Arabs, Burckhardt, Bed. 91’ (abridged from Knobel). Cp. the Bedawee form of divorce: ‘She was my slipper, I cast her off’ (W. R. Smith, Kinship, etc., 269). That the right was a duty, which should not be renounced, is marked by the woman’s drawing off the sandal, and spitting in the face of the recusant (Numbers 12:14, Job 30:10, Isaiah 50:6). Sandal, Heb. na‘al, Ar. na‘l.

See also the comments on Deut 25:9 from Barnes, and Matthew Poole.

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