Book of Deuteronomy Chapter Twenty-Three Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
The God Of Mercy
Verses 1-2: "No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord. 2 No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of his descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the Lord." As these words to Israel and to future humanity continue, it's important to remember that God, who gave these commands to Moses, often speaks in parables to our hearts, rather than merely instructing us in a classroom. The purpose of the male organ is to be part of a fruitful mechanism that brings new people into the world. Without it, humanity would no longer exist. Eunuchs were common in that region, which may well be the reference here. The woman is obviously essential and so is the family. Imperfect though we all are, God is doing a work of fruitfulness, of love in our hearts and lives, as we become one with Him and one with each other (John 17:22-23). Children coming into the world are like fruit produced by a healthy marriage. God here is presenting a parable of even more: Our lives are to produce the "fruit of the Spirit," including, "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (and) self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). We were formerly "cut off" from "the assembly of the Lord," but in Christ, we become legitimate and fruitful.
Verses 3-6: "No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the Lord, 4 because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. 5 Nevertheless, the Lord your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the Lord your God loves you. 6 You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days." This is a reference back to Numbers Chapters 22-24, where these tribes refused to help Israel and in fact, hired a false prophet named Balaam in an attempt to curse God's people, as also seen in Nehemiah 13:1-3. The amazing correllary to this is Ruth, a Moabitess, a widow, who became the wife of Boaz (Ruth 4:13), the mother of Obed, grandmother of Jesse, and the great grandmother of David, King of Israel. It's also interesting that the mother of Boaz was Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute from the city of Jericho. And then we find, in the genealogy of the Messiah, the Christ, in Matthew 1, that both of these women were carefully chosen to be ancestors of Jesus Christ. God is indeed a God of judgment, but He is also the God of mercy. Rahab and Ruth had simple faith in the Lord, and God was merciful to them.
Verses 7-8: "You shall not detest an Edomite, for he is your brother; you shall not detest an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land. 8 The sons of the third generation who are born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord." The Edomites were descended from Esau, the brother of Jacob, also called Israel. Esau had been murderously angry at Jacob, but he later forgave and embraced his brother. The Egyptians took in Jacob, his sons and their families. Later, Israel's residence in Egypt became slavery, but that was not the original intention of the Egyptians. God did judge the Egyptians when they tried to keep Israel in slavery, but He would spare them now. I attended a large Messianic Seder, some years ago, and observed as a table of Egyptians sent word to the moderator that they were "sorry" about what their ancestors had done to Israel. Our God is the God of mercy, who welcomes former enemies into the family of God.
Verse 9: "When you go out as an army against your enemies, you shall keep yourself from every evil thing." The phrase, "War is hell" is certainly accurate. We can think we are nice young people, but the horrors of war, whether between the police and gangs on the streets of a city, armies clashing in a foreign country, or a battle of wits in a family, will change us. And so when the battle begins, we need to pray to the God of mercy and listen to Him, who alone can keep us "from every evil thing."
Verses 10-11: "If there is among you any man who is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he must go outside the camp; he may not reenter the camp. 11 But it shall be when evening approaches, he shall bathe himself with water, and at sundown he may reenter the camp." The purpose of seed is that it will produce offspring "according to its kind," as glimpsed in places like Genesis 1:11,12,21, and 24. The men and women of this earth were to produce humanity, a people that initially, and for an unknown period of time, had no awareness of death because it did not exist. The "nocturnal emission" went counter to God's command to be "fruitful and multiply," and bring beings into the world who have the capacity to bear the "image" of God (Genesis 1:26). The transmission and reception of human seed has always been intended as a holy and sacred event, designed to bring many into this world who will "become children of God... those who believe in His name" (John 1:12).
Verses 12-14: "You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, 13 and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement. 14 Since the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you or He will turn away from you." When you think about who and what we are, it is strange that we are biological creatures, full of needs and faults. It is, of course, sound advice to separate ourselves from excrement, and yet the fact that we need to produce such a substance is odd. How we come into the world, our vulnerability to disease, and our inevitable death... We don't think too much about it because life and death is all around us—but it's strange. Indecency is so prevalent, and yet our very vulnerability, our weakness, shows us our need of God. We are to discover, to notice our low estate and trust in Him who loves us anyway.
Verses 15-16: "You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him." In Deuteronomy 22:1-4, we saw the Lord's command that if we find our neighbor's lost farm animal or property, we must restore it to him or her, even if our neighbor is our sworn enemy. But here, if his slave shows up on your doorstep, you are to keep and shelter that slave and care for them, just as you would for a son or daughter. Slavery has sadly been common since the beginning of time, but the mercy of these verses is like a rare jewel in a dung heap. God is merciful, and we reveal He is in us by sharing His mercy with those who need help.
Verses 17-18: "None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute. 18 You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of the Lord your God for any votive offering, for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God." Idolatry filled the land of Canaan, and a chief so-called "godess" worshiped by the people was Astarte, who was connected in their minds with fertility. Men and women prostituted themselves in temples worshiping Astarte and other false "gods." The "wages of a dog" referred to a male temple prostitute, who was called a "dog" in the culture of Canaan. Israel was entering that land, and God, through Moses, was warning them anew that the practices of Canaan were "an abomination to the Lord," and like a contagious disease to His people. Listen to the Lord as you go forward in life—let His mercy protect you.
Verses 19-20: "You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest. 20 You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countrymen you shall not charge interest, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess." Can you imagine borrowing interest-free money as often as you need it? Can you imagine somebody being willing to lend it to you under such terms? Almost everyone in business wants to make a profit, and here was God through Moses, telling them: Don't! Their profit would come from what we might call "foreign trade." If they traded with say, the Lebanese to the north or Syrians to the northeast, interest could be charged on negotiated terms. The later-in-time words of Jesus capture these verses beautifully and even extend them. He said, "Lend, expecting nothing in return" (Luke 6:35).
Verses 21-23: "When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the Lord your God will surely require it of you. 22 However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you. 23 You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God, what you have promised." When trouble comes, people often call out to the Lord with words like, "Lord, if You do this for me, I will give You (this or that)." Instead, just ask the Lord for help. It's not about negotiation, it's "prayer," and you don't have to make promises in order to get Him to do something—unless He CALLS you to promise whatever it is. Jesus later concluded in the context of Matthew 5:33-37, to simply "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your "No,' (be) "No." The Lord knows your need and part of that need is that we are to learn how to pray. Keep it simple and know that God is merciful to those who call upon Him.
Verses 24-25: "When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you are fully satisfied, but you shall not put any in your basket. 25 When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain." These days, if you enter your neighbor's vineyard or his field, you might encounter a sign that tells you about his gun and his dog in this manner: "Trespassers will be shot; survivors will be eaten." I actually saw that sign on a property in Arizona, in the USA, some years ago. But that's not to be the way it is for the Lord's faithful. If you and your family are hungry, we are to feed you, but if you take more than what is needed in order to make a profit selling it, that's theft and the Lord is not pleased. God is merciful, however, and we are to extend His mercy to those in need. As it says in 2 Corinthians 9:7, "God loves a cheerful giver."
God of mercy, I need You. I have strayed from Your commands, Your promises. Please forgive me. Help me, Lord, to be a person who is merciful to others, even as You have been merciful to me. I am Yours, Lord. In Jesus Name. Amen.