Chapter 23

DEUTERONOMY CHAPTER 23

Exclusion and Inclusion

        • If a man’s testicles have been crushed or his penis cut off, he is not allowed to enter the Lord’s assembly.

        • Guzik writes, “This refers to those emasculated by either birth defect, accident, or by deliberate emasculation.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Emasculation, associated with certain pagan rituals and customs was abhorrent to the Lord (cp. Isaiah 56:3-4).”

        • Guzik further notes that there is debate as to whether the reference in this passage to the “the Lord’s assembly” refers to the whole nation of Israel gathering before the Lord to worship or only a gathering of elders and officers. He writes:

          • When we read this term, it usually refers to the nation gathered before the LORD in worship, such as when they were gathered at Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 5:22, 9:10, 10:4, and 18:16). But it doesn’t always have this sense. Deuteronomy 31:30 refers to all the congregation of Israel, while Deuteronomy 31:28 makes it clear that “all the congregation” was gathered through all the elders of your tribes, and your officers. So, in some contexts, the congregation can refer to elders and officers. It may very well be that these exclusions from the assembly of the LORD are exclusions not from the religious life of Israel, but from the political life of the nation.”

        • Guzik then provides citations from Poole, Trapp, and Clarke supporting the latter position:

          • Poole suggests that the idea of the assembly of the LORD is the leadership, or the rulers of Israel. These people were barred not from the religious life of Israel, but from the political life of the nation. Trapp agrees, saying on shall not enter the assembly of the LORD: ‘Shall not go in and out before the people as a public officer.’ Clarke adds, ‘If by entering into the congregation be meant the bearing a civil office among the people, such as magistrate, judge, &c., then the reason of the law is very plain.’”

        • Why would these individuals be excluded from a gathering of leadership?

          • HCSB writes, “This apparent discrimination is based on the principle that a physical defect is analogous to spiritual imperfection (cp. Leviticus 21:16-23).”

          • Guzik notes the significance of the fact that this particular defect is reproductive, “Eunuchs were excluded because God’s covenant with Israel was vitally connected with the idea of the seed, and emasculation is a “crime” against the seed of man. Additionally, most eunuchs were made to be so in pagan ceremonies where they were dedicated to pagan gods.”

          • Expounding upon Guzik’s last point, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible gives additional information regarding eunuchs in the surrounding nations such as Assyria, “Eunuchs were normally made, not born. At an early age a child was castrated or their testicles were crushed. Captives from war or persons given in tribute were the main source for eunuchs.”

        • If an individual was born illegitimately, neither he nor any of his descendants may enter the Lord’s assembly- not even after 10 generations have passed.

        • How do we define “illegitimately” in this passage? Guzik writes, “It is difficult to define exactly what is meant by the term of illegitimate birth. Some later Jewish writers defined this as someone who was born of an incestuous relationship between Jews; others said it refers to those born of mixed marriages between the people of Israel and their pagan neighbors (as in Nehemiah 13:23).”

          • HCSB notes, “The exclusion of an illegitimate child from the assembly is related to the previous instructions having to do with irregular sexual matters. The denial of full fellowship has nothing to do with the personal spirituality of the individual; it is the community as a whole that is in view. The prohibition illustrates the uncompromising standards of the Lord affecting how, and under what conditions, persons may enter His presence…”

        • No Moabite or Ammonite may ever be allowed to enter the Lord’s assembly- not even after 10 generations have passed. This is for two reasons: they didn’t come to meet you with food and water when you were on your journey out of Egypt; and they hired Balaam (Beor from Pethor’s son) in Aram-naharaim to curse you. But the Lord wouldn’t listen to Balaam and turned what he had intended as a curse into a blessing for you because He loves you. Don’t ever seek peace with them or promote their prosperity as long as you live.

          • Who were the Moabites and Ammonites? The NLT Illustrated Study Bible explains that these nations were descendants of Lot by his incestuous daughters:

          • The Moabites were descended from Moab, the son of Lot and his oldest daughter.”

          • The Ammonites traced their ancestry to Ammon, son of the younger daughter of Lot (Genesis 19:38).”

          • The HCSB adds, “Ammonites and Moabites were barred from the assembly of the Lord because they had failed to provide Israel needed supplies en route to Canaan, and had also tried to curse Israel. Their refusal was especially odious because Ammon and Moab were related to Abraham through Lot (cp. Genesis 19:30-38). Additionally they were children of incest and so fell into the category of the previous verse. The case of Ruth, a Moabite, raises an issue, especially since she became the great-grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus. God sovereignly allows for exceptions to general principles, much as Rahab was an exception in the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 6:25). But the exclusion in Deuteronomy 23:3 is from ‘the Lord’s assembly,’ not the community in general, and there is no record that Ruth attended any of the annual festival gatherings.”

        • Don’t despise an Edomite because they are your relatives. Don’t despise an Egyptian because you lived as foreigners in their land. A third generation Edomite or Egyptian is allowed to enter the Lord’s assembly.

        • Guzik writes, “The Edomites were ethnically related to Israel, because Israel’s (Jacob’s) brother Esau was the father of the Edomite peoples. Therefore, Israel was commanded to not abhor an Edomite. Interestingly, one of the most famous Edomites in history was abhorred by Israel – Herod the Great. Many of his spectacular building projects in Judea were intended to not only glorify his own name, but to win the favor of the Jews who despised him as an Edomite.”

Cleanliness of the Camp

        • When you go to war and you have set up camp against your enemies, be careful to avoid anything impure.

        • Guzik explains that this would essentially be avoiding anything that would render you ceremonially unclean, “God commanded ceremonial cleanliness among the army of Israel.”

        • If any man becomes ceremonially unclean because of a bodily emission overnight, he is not allowed to be inside the camp. He must stay outside of the camp all day. When evening is drawing near he must bathe with water, then he come back inside the camp at sunset.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Although they might have been unintentional or involuntary, these discharges rendered a man ceremonially unclean (see Leviticus 15:16-18).”

        • You must have a designated area to go to relieve yourselves located outside of the camp, and you must carry a digging tool when you go to relieve yourself there so that you can bury your excrement.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Defecation is a normal bodily function, but it brought ritual impurity and therefore violated God’s holiness. It would have been disgusting and shameful to have an open latrine outside the camp, let alone within it.”

        • Guzik adds an interesting side note, “Some ancient rabbis taught that the holy city of Jerusalem should be considered ‘the camp of the LORD.’ Under this reasoning, one had to go outside the camp to relieve one’s self. However, for many people, the trip outside the large “camp” of Israel (the city of Jerusalem) was longer than what would be permitted on the Sabbath. Therefore, as a practical matter, the rabbis prohibited a Jew from relieving themselves on the Sabbath day.”

        • You must do this because the Lord your God walks throughout your camp to protect you and give you victory over your enemies, so your camp must be holy. He must not see anything shameful among you or He will turn away from you.

Fugitive Slaves

        • If a slave who has escaped from his master comes to you, don’t return him to his master. Instead, let him live among you and don’t mistreat him.

        • HCSB writes, “The OT never explicitly condemns slavery, but neither does it sanction it or justify it. Nevertheless, this directive ameliorates (improves) the slave’s condition in a manner unknown elsewhere in the ancient Near East.”

          • The NIV Cultural Study Bible highlights the stark contrast between Israel and her neighboring nations in this respect, “…Israel, in contrast to the rest of the ancient Near East, was to provide refuge for a fugitive slave…Harboring a runaway slave was a capital offense in Babylonia (the Code of Hammurapi, Laws 15-20). Treaties between Hatti and Egypt and Hatti and Amurru mandate the mutual extradition of slaves. If the policy was not followed, the treaty was considered broken. In treaties from Alalakh, fugitive slaves had to be returned to the land of their owner(s). If the elders of a city or country where slaves were found misrepresented the situation and harbored a fugitive slave, there hands were cut off and a fine of 6,000 shekels exacted.”

Cult Prostitution Forbidden

        • No Israelite, either male or female, is to be a cult prostitute. Also, do not bring wages earned by a prostitute, either male or female, into the house of the Lord your God to fulfill any vow because both are detestable to Him.

        • There are two different terms used to describe a female versus a male prostitute. Guzik notes that the female prostitutes are referred to as “ritual harlots” while the male prostitutes are referred to as “perverted ones.”

        • On the male rendering, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The Hebrew word (literally a dog) was a derogatory term for homosexual men, who often took part in Canaanite religious ceremonies.”

        • Guzik adds, “Later, in the reigns of Asa (1 Kings 15:12) and Josiah (2 Kings 23:7) we are told that the perverted persons (male prostitutes) were expelled from Israel. This means that for some period of time before they were expelled, they were allowed to practice their ‘holy prostitution,’ which was an abomination to the LORD your God.”

        • Some individuals use this passage to claim that homosexual acts are not actually condemned by the Bible- that the only condemnation issued is in reference to homosexual acts committed within the context of pagan worship or rituals. However:

            • HCSB commentary affirms that this particular passage is “not a blanket condemnation of prostitution or homosexuality…but a prohibition of the kinds of perverse sexual activities that were common in Canaanite rituals.” However, the same source notes that blanket prohibitions against both prostitution and homosexuality are found elsewhere in Scripture citing Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

Interest on Loans

        • Don’t charge interest on loans that you make to a fellow Israelite (loans of food, money, or anything else interest can be charged on) so that the Lord your God may bless you in anything you do in the land you are about to enter into and possess. However, you may charge interest on loans you make to foreigners.

        • HCSB notes, “The law clearly allows for treating Israelites differently from foreigners in financial matters. Israelites may not exact interest on loans from their fellow Israelites, but may levy it against others. Discrimination of this kind illustrates at least two themes: (1) Members of the covenant community must not profit from one another’s distress. (2) Being a member of that community entails certain privileges.”

Keeping Vows

        • If you make a vow to the Lord your God, don’t procrastinate in keeping it because He expects you to fulfill it promptly. Otherwise they will be counted against you as a sin. However, it is not a sin to refrain from making vows. But once you have voluntarily made a vow, be careful to fulfill it because you have made a promise to the Lord your God.

Neighbors Crops

        • When you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you can eat your fill of grapes. However, you must not bring a container to gather grapes in to take away with you. When you go into your neighbor’s grain field, you can pick heads of grain to eat. However, you may not harvest your neighbor’s grain with a sickle.

        • Guzik writes, “The idea is that, as one traveled they had the right to pick off a few grapes or heads of grain to eat along the way. It wasn’t the right to harvest from your neighbor’s fields, but to provide for your own immediate needs. This is the law Jesus and His disciples were operating under when they plucked heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands (Luke 6:1-5). They were accused by the Pharisees of breaking the Sabbath, but not of stealing grain, because the Pharisees knew this law in the book of Deuteronomy.”