Deuteronomy Chapter 23  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Deuteronomy 23
Deu 23:1

“may not enter into the assembly of Yahweh.” “The assembly of Yahweh” was the voting members of the Israelite community. God is invested in the future, and a man who cannot have children is likely to be concerned for himself and his generation and not the future generations, so he is not allowed to vote in the assembly.

Deu 23:2

“A son born from a forbidden union is not to enter the assembly of Yahweh; even to the tenth generation.” The Hebrew text says more literally, “A forbidden union one,” but voting members of the assembly were all men, thus the translation, “a son.” A forbidden union would be adultery or incest. It may seem harsh to forbid a man born of adultery from voting in the assembly of Israel, but such a person is likely to be much less inclined to strictly keep the Law of Moses because they look on their own situation and want to make allowances for it. The idea of the tenth generation is that memories were long in biblical times and generations were short, it was common for girls to give birth by age 16, so the stain of an adulterous birth would be remembered and affect the family for many generations. Some scholars believe that ten generations is just an idiomatic way of saying “forever,” based on the way it is used in the next verse, Deuteronomy 23:3.

Deu 23:3

“An Ammonite or a Moabite is not to enter the assembly of Yahweh.” The reason that Moabites and Ammonites were forbidden from entering the voting congregation of Israel is due to the fact that those nations were hostile to Israel when Israel came out of Egypt, and they ended up being defeated in battle. Feelings are strong in the biblical culture and last a long time, so there was a very good chance that a Moabite or Ammonite would harbor prejudices against Israel that would hurt Israel at some point. Some commentators think that the prohibition of Moabites and Ammonites entering the congregation of Israel applied only to Ammonite or Moabite males, not females. This would better explain how an Israelite man, Boaz, married Ruth (see also Ruth 1:4).

“even to the tenth generation...forever.” It seems that in this context “the tenth generation” was a cultural way of saying “forever,” which becomes clear when we see the way the verse ends and also when we compare it with Deuteronomy 23:6.

Deu 23:4

“they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia to curse you.” The record is in Numbers 22:1-21. Also, Balaam came back to the area and was killed in the Israelite conquest of Midian. He had coached the women of Midian on how to entice the men of Israel into pagan worship (Num. 31:8, 16).

Deu 23:5(top)
Deu 23:6(top)
Deu 23:7(top)
Deu 23:8

“The sons of the third generation who are born to them may enter into the assembly of Yahweh.” Because of the blessings of God upon Israel when they were being obedient to God, and because of the righteous laws that obedient Israelites lived by, and because the Israelite culture was kind and did not have things such as human sacrifice, Israel always had people from other cultures living among them (note the mixed multitude of people who came out of Egypt with Israel; Exod. 12:38). Also, foreigners were allowed to become circumcised and join with Israel in things such as keeping the Feasts of Yahweh (cp. Exod. 12:48). So foreigners from certain countries who lived for generations in Israel and were circumcised were allowed to join the assembly of Israel. Thus not all the people of Israel were pure descendants of Jacob even though over time it surely happened that descendants of foreigners who joined with Israel would intermarry with genetic Israelites (note Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah the Hittite).

Deu 23:9(top)
Deu 23:10

“because of what happens to him by night.” That is, because of a nocturnal emission of semen, which made a person ritually unclean for the day and until he performed the cleansing ritual. The man was not to go back into the camp until he was ritually clean. The idea behind this was the fact that God was holy and would not dwell among people who were not clean. God was invisibly among the people in the army camp of Israel, blessing and protecting them, but if they allowed sin and uncleanness in the camp then God would leave and they would be defeated by their enemies. Any emission of semen made the man unclean, and if he had sex with a woman she was unclean too (Lev. 15:16-18).

Deu 23:11

“sunset.” This could be translated “evening,” but since the word “evening” was used to describe both the early evening of about 3 p.m., and the later evening around sunset, the word “sunset” is both accurate and more precise.

Deu 23:12

“a place outside the camp.” People had bowel movements outside the camp and buried their poop, which kept the camp much more sanitary and liveable. This was true of the Israelite army when they went to fight and true of the Israelite tent camp as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. One of the things that set the Israelites apart from other nations was that they had sanitary laws such as this one that kept human waste outside of where people lived and the children played, and this kept the Israelite people much more healthy than other nations generally were. The people knew nothing of germs or what actually caused disease, so God did not try to explain that. Instead, He said that He walked in the camp among the people, and being a holy God, He did not want to encounter any human waste—we might go so far as to say that God did not want to step in any poop (Deut. 23:14). This made sense to the Israelites, who understood that Yahweh occasionally took on human form to better fellowship with his creation (see commentaries on Acts 7:55 and Gen. 18:1). God walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8), and He said He walked in the camp of Israel, so the people kept their camp clean for Him. Today we know about germs, bacteria, viruses and such and understand much more about how disease spreads and why proper sanitation is important to a healthy society, so just like the Israelites of thousands of years ago we put sanitation laws in place.

Deu 23:13(top)
Deu 23:14(top)
Deu 23:15

“Do not deliver to his lord a slave who has escaped from his lord to you.” The wording of Deuteronomy 23:16-17 seems to be such that it is referring to a runaway slave from a foreign nation who is running to Israel for asylum. Virtually every country in the ancient Near East had extradition treaties such that runaway slaves would not be harbored but would be returned to their owners. However, Israel was not to return such runaway slaves but allow them to live in Israel. It is likely that this is an outward expression of the holiness and mercy of God, who showed His characteristics through His law as it was lived out by His people.

“lord.” The word “lord” in this verse is a grammatical plural, “lords” but it is referring to one lord and is translated that way in the versions. It sometimes happens in Hebrew that a singular word like “lord” is pluralized, and that is done for different reasons, although the reasons may not be immediately apparent.

Deu 23:16(top)
Deu 23:17

“no cult-prostitutes.” Verses such as Deuteronomy 23:17 are one of the reasons that so many modern nations make prostitution illegal. God did not want there to be cult-prostitutes or even prostitutes (Lev. 19:29) in Israel. A major reason for that was that it damaged the value of the family unit, which God designed to be the center and stability of human society. Also, cult-prostitutes in particular made the worship of pagan gods more attractive to men, who were often drawn to the sex (cp. Num. 25:1-3).

Deu 23:18

“the wages of a dog.” The fact that male prostitues had anal intercourse and were entered from the back like dogs have sex with one dog on the back of the other led to male prostitutes being referred to as “dogs” (cp. Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament). This verse is not about an actual dog, although there are some scholars who think that it is. The wages of “the two of these,” the wages of both the male and female prostitute, were an abomination to Yahweh and were not to be given as an offering to Him. Money made in ungodly ways is unacceptable to God, just as prayers prayed by people engaged in ungodly activities are not acceptable to God (see commentary on Amos 5:22).

Deu 23:19

“your brother.” Here meaning fellow Israelite; this is made clear by the next verse (see Deut. 23:19-20).

“interest on money that you lend, interest on food, or interest on anything.” Israelites were not to charge interest on anything they loaned to a fellow Israelite, period. No interest on money, food, or anything else. The underlying reason is that all Israel was part of a covenant community that was promised the blessing of God if they obeyed God. So, if anybody needed anything it must be some sort of crisis, and to loan with interest in a crisis rather than freely helping out in the crisis only makes the matter worse and does not help the collective community be strong in the things of God. Also, not freely lending to help a fellow Israelite in a time of need is to deny that we have what we have only because of the blessing of God. Especially in an agricultural community, the saying is true that, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Sadly, this regulation was not followed by many in Israel, and it was common for wealthy people to lend with interest. However, Jeremiah told God that he did not (Jer. 15:10). This command in Deuteronomy 23:19 was stated earlier in the Torah (cp. Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:35-38).

Israelites were allowed to charge interest to non-Israelites, however (Deut. 23:20).

Deu 23:20

“to a foreigner you may charge interest, but to your brother you must not charge interest.” This verse became a pivotal part of the debate about money in Europe in the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages the Church stated that a Christian could not charge interest to another Christian based on this verse, so nations set up banks and lending institutions run by Jews, who could then charge interest to Christians. In that way, wealthy Christians and institutions avoided the rule established by the Chuch and continued to charge interest through their Jewish intermediaries, and the Jews became the bankers and money lenders throughout Europe and became wealthy themselves. It was the wealth and power of the Jews in charge of the money that was often one of the reasons the Christians hated them, and Jews became the primary bankers and associated with various activities having to do with money for centuries.

This verse does bring up a moral issue for Christians who want to make money by making loans with interest. If we are really interested in having a strong Christian community instead of being individually wealthy, we should apply this verse to Christians, but, as occurred in the Middle Ages, that is difficult to do, in part because the Christian community is not as homogenous and distinct as the Jewish community was.

Deu 23:21

“require, yes, require.” Vows to God are serious, and God expects people to follow through with what they vow. He emphasizes that point by the figure of speech polyptoton, doubling the verb “require.” [For more on polyptoton, see commentary on Gen. 2:16]. Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 says a very similar thing to what is said about vows in Deuteronomy.

“counted as a sin to you.” If a person vows a vow to God but then does not pay it, his vow was a lie, and lying is a sin. Also, generally in those times a legitimate vow was much more formal than just making a statement into the air. It would begin with a statement into the air, but would often be formalized with some kind of sacrifice or offering to God making it clear to everyone that if God does what I am asking, then I will do (whatever his vow is) in return. So although the stated vow may have been private, a vow with a sacrifice or offering was not.

Deu 23:22

“it will not be a sin.” It is never a sin not to vow, so if you are considering making a vow, consider it carefully. If you vow, you are required to fulfill the vow.

Deu 23:23(top)
Deu 23:24

“When you come into your neighbor’s vineyard.” Although the Law allowed for someone to go into the crops of their neighbor, it is obviously just as a matter of passing through, and the law was mainly meant for travelers, who might not be able to carry all the provisions they needed for the journey. This law is not saying that you did not have to plant your own crops because you could just go eat from your neighbor’s crops. This is an example where the Law had to be applied in a common-sense manner.

“your soul.” Many versions have something like “appetite” or “desire,” and in this context these are legitimate translations of nephesh, ”soul.”

Deu 23:25

“pluck the ears with your hand.” A person walking through a grain field may eat some grain as he walks, but he is not to actually harvest the grain; it was planted and cared for by someone else. God allows travelers to eat as they travel because God says that if Israel will take care of one another that He will bless the yield of the crops and there will be plenty for everyone. Also, the farmers are to have care and concern for fellow Israelites as they travel and be concerned that they are not hungry and weak from lack of food.


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