Answer to Deuteronomy 23:1-8
by Peter Salemi
Many critics of the church of God claim that if the Law is to be obeyed then shouldn’t the church exclude people with certain physical deformities or people born out of wedlock to enter the congregation (church)?
Deuteronomy 23:1-8 states, “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.
“A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.
“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:
“Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee.
“Nevertheless the LORD thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the LORD thy God loved thee.
“Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever.
“Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land.
“The children that are begotten of them shall enter into the congregation of the LORD in their third generation.”
If the law is not done away, then should the church obey this law? This law is to be obeyed, but this law is not meant for the church, or the religious ceremonies of any kind, but for the government of the nation of Israel!
“The Congregation of the LORD”?
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 (, , , and ). But it doesn’t always have this sense.
refers to , while makes it clear that “all the congregation” was gathered through . So, in some contexts, can refer to and are exclusions not from the religious life of Israel, but from the political life of the nation.
Poole suggests that the idea of 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:
“Shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; which phrase cannot be understood so that they might not come into the church, or holy assemblies, to worship God, to pray, or hear, &c., because proselytes of any nation, being admitted to common church privileges, no less than the Jews, (as is evident from Ex 12:48 Lev 22:18 Num 9:14 15:15) it were absurd to think that any of the Israelites, for such a natural or involuntary defect, should be shut out from all God’s ordinances; nor so that they were to be put out of the muster-roll of God’s people, or to lose the privileges common to all Israelites, to wit, the benefit of the year of release or jubilee, which it is not probable the Israelites were to forfeit merely for this unculpable imperfection; but either,
“1. That they should not be incorporated into the body of Israel by marriage; for so this phrase may seem to have been understood by the whole congregation of Israel, Neh 13:1-3 23-25; although at that time the government was in part in the hands of such persons as are here mentioned, Deut 23:3, or of their children, seeing it is apparent from Ezra 10 that many priests and Levites and other officers and rulers of Israel were married to strange women, whose issue are by this law excluded from all share in the government, and for that, among other reasons, Nehemiah separated them from Israel by virtue of the law here following. Or,
“2. That they should not be admitted to honours and offices either in the church or commonwealth of Israel; and so the congregation of the Lord doth not here signify, as commonly it doth, the body of the people, but the society of the elders or rulers of the people, who, as they represent the whole congregation, and act in their name, and for their service and good, so they are sometimes called by the name of the congregation, as Num 35:12, 24, 25 Josh 20:6,9 1Ki_8:5, compared with Deu 23:1-3; and 1Chron13:1,2,4; 29:1,10,20, compared with 1Chron 28:1; 29:6; and of the congregation of God, as it is in the Hebrew of Ps 82:1. Howsoever, seeing they are oft called the congregation, they may very well be called in a special manner the congregation of the Lord, because they were appointed by God, and act in his name and stead, and for his work and service, and did also oft assemble near the tabernacle, where God was eminently present. Add to this, that the Hebrew word kahal generally signifies a congregation or company of men met together; and therefore this cannot so conveniently be meant of all the body of the people, which could never meet in one place, but of the chief rulers, which frequently did so. Nor is it strange that eunuchs are excluded from government, partly because such persons are commonly observed to want that courage which is necessary for a governor, Ex 18:21; and partly because as such persons ordinarily were despicable, so the office and authority in their hands was likely to be exposed to the same contempt.” (Poole’s Commentary, emphasis added).
Trapp also comments, “Shall not go in and out before the people as a public officer. Since such should be drained from the dregs, and sifted from the brans of the vulgar: they should be eminent and eximious persons, higher than the rest, as Saul, by the head and shoulders.” (Trapp Commentary)
Clarke adds, “If by entering the congregation be meant the bearing a civil office among the people, such as magistrate, judge, etc., then the reason of the law is very plain; no man with any such personal defect as might render him contemptible in the sight of others should bear rule among the people, lest the contempt felt for his personal defects might be transferred to his important office, and thus his authority be disregarded. The general meaning of these words is, simply, that the persons here designated should not be so incorporated with the Jews as to partake of their civil privileges.” (Clarkes Commentary, emphasis added).
Gill’s Commentary sums it up and adds the reasons why, “…which is to be understood not of the sanctuary of the Lord, or of being refused admittance into the church of God, and to join in religious rites, and partake of sacred ordinances, which all Israelites, and strangers that were proselytes, had a right unto; such might bring their offerings, keep the passover, &c. Ex 12:48 nor of the commonwealth of Israel, as if unfit to be members of civil society; it cannot be thought that such defects should abridge them of their civil rights and privileges: but by the congregation is to be understood the elders, judges, and representatives of the people, that met together in some one place to execute judgment; see Num 35:12, into which such persons were not to be admitted; either because disgraceful and dishonourable, or because of the influence such defects have on their minds, they thereby becoming effeminate, irresolute, and wanting courage, as well as in opposition to the customs and usages of the Heathens, with whom it was common to admit such persons to civil offices; hence the word eunuch is sometimes used for an officer, Gen 37:36 and elsewhere; the Jews (g) restrain this law to marriage, but unnecessarily.” (sources; (f) Hilchot lssure Biah, c. 16. sect. 8. (g) Targum Jon. in loc. Misn. Yebamot, c. 8. sect. 2, 4, 5, 6. Maimon. Moreh Nevochim, par. 3. c. 49, emphasis added). So plainly this law is not meant for the church, or the religious ceremonies of any kind. People who believe this, their interpretation would make the bible contradict; but letting the bible interpret itself, there is no contradiction. In Isaiah 56 we see "Eunuchs" and "strangers" keeping the "Sabbaths" the religious ceremonies of God; and that they will be allowed to enter God's "Holy Mountain." This law in Deuteronomy 23 is just a vetting system for a person to go into public office and has nothing to do with the worship of God!
“If the phrase ‘assembly of the Lord’ in Deuteronomy 23:1 carries that technical meaning, as seems to be the case, then the groups are only excluded from taking part in the governing of the nation; their influence was limited.” (Article by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez; Is the law in Deuteronomy 23:1-4 abolished in Isaiah 56:3-8? Biblical Research Institute, emphasis added).
This explains also what it means when a Sabbath breaker was to be put to death that, "all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp." (Numbers 15:35). Do you really need millions of people to stone one man? No! It meant the governing body, the civil and legal officers. Also, in other scriptures, the bible says that only the government can put people to death (see Ex 21:22; Rom 13:1-4).
Today in our modern world we also do this as well. We always have vetted people who want to be in political office to see whether their beliefs will influence the way they will judge and make decisions when it comes time to do so. Employers do it all the time when hiring someone for a job.
Why do you think God says about the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites and the Egyptians that they cannot enter until “their third generation,” or “tenth generations.” By that time the old alliances, influences, and hatreds would be long gone and it would not influence their decisions in judgement. These gentiles would have to assimilate into the the nation of Israel and adopt the custom culture and religion, so that, “… the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself” (Lev 19:34). Then they are qualified to be judges and officers of the nation of Israel.
This is why God wants them to participate in the religious practices of Israel so they can assimilate and be part of the nation. We see gentiles partake in the feasts, the sacrifices etc…Learning this will ensure the right kind of judgement if they become part of the government of Israel.
So this law really has nothing to do with the church of God, but the government of the land. This is a great law that all governments should put in place to ensure peace, and avoid civil strife in any nation.
If you wish to donate to the BICOG Please click here