Read Deuteronomy 23
Exclusion From the Assembly
23 No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.
2 No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.
3 No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. 4 For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. 5 However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. 6 Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.
7 Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as foreigners in their country.8 The third generation of children born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord.
Uncleanness in the Camp
9 When you are encamped against your enemies, keep away from everything impure. 10 If one of your men is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, he is to go outside the camp and stay there. 11 But as evening approaches he is to wash himself, and at sunset he may return to the camp.
12 Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself.13 As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement. 14 For the Lordyour God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.
15 If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. 16 Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.
17 No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute. 18 You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the Lord your God to pay any vow, because the Lord your God detests them both.
19 Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.
21 If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin.22 But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. 23 Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth.
24 If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. 25 If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain.
Let’s just acknowledge that Deuteronomy 23 is not a pleasant chapter to read! It describes bodily functions and uncomfortable topics that we’d all prefer not to think about, much less read about in the Bible. So why did God put it here, and what are we supposed to learn from it?
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s remember the context of ancient Israel. These laws were designed to set Israel apart from other societies and to protect them from internal conflict. While some of these laws may seem unfair or unloving to us, they must be viewed through this lens to understand the principles God is teaching us.
In verses 1-14, two social settings are called out specifically: the assembly and the camp. Most scholars believe “the assembly” refers to the gathering for religious practice, similar to our practice of gathering for church. But for the Israelites, it was much more than once a week! The assembly would have been the epicenter of social life and community connections. Verses 1-7 bar some groups from the assembly and direct some groups to be welcomed. This may seem unloving to us, but the goal was to prevent the influence of foreign gods and practices of other beliefs from the fledgling nation of Israel. They were so easily influenced (as evidenced in Exodus 32) that God wanted to protect them from anything that could lead them away from Him as they developed their faith.
Verses 9-14 refer to appropriate behavior at camps during battle. These were traditionally pits of filth and perversion, focused on enjoying vices prior to battle and enjoying the spoils of war afterwards. But the Israelites’ camp was to be different: “For the Lord your God moves about in your camp…”
The principles of these laws still apply today. As Christians, we have been called to behave differently from the world. The world often promotes a “whatever you want to do, you deserve to do it” and an “every person for themselves” approach to life. But God calls His people to be different, and His laws are instructions for protection. We guard against influences that distract us from following God’s purposes, Jesus’ example, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We should care for those around us in a way that makes others want to know more about our faith. We should conduct ourselves as if God is walking beside us, because He is.
While specific conduct can be uncomfortable to talk about and may not be appropriate for “polite company,” God knows. He designed humans; Jesus lived as a human; and the Holy Spirit lives within Christians. He already knows what we think, say, and do. The specific examples in Deuteronomy 23 call for us to think, say, and behave differently, and God gives us these principles and His power to do that for our good and His glory.
- What influence from the world distracts you from following God’s purposes?
- What behavior or habit do you have that reflects the world’s values instead of God’s love?
- Confess these to God, ask for forgiveness and guidance to remove them from your life. Share this with your Life Group this week and ask for accountability.
Did You Know?
Pastor David Guzik (in his Enduring Word commentary) had this note about the instruction to not despise the Edomites:
“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.”
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