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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 23

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


Moses proceeded in this chapter to give instructions regarding the purity and sanctification of the corporate Israel, their official “congregation,” “giving directions for the exclusion of certain persons from it, and the reception of others into it (Deuteronomy 23:1-8), and for the purity of the camp in time of war (Deuteronomy 23:9-14), as to the reception of foreign slaves into the land, and the removal of licentious persons out of it (Deuteronomy 23:15-18), and as to certain duties of citizenship.”(F1)

Verses 1-8

“He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the assembly of Jehovah. “A bastard shall not enter into the assembly of Jehovah, even to the tenth generation shall none of his enter into the assembly of Jehovah. “An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of Jehovah; even to the tenth generation shall none belonging to them enter into the assembly of Jehovah forever: 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 from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee. Nevertheless Jehovah thy God would not hearken to Balaam; but Jehovah thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because Jehovah thy God loved thee. Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days forever. “Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a sojourner in his land. The children of the third generation that are born unto them shall enter into the assembly of Jehovah.”

Concerning the laws in this chapter, Watts declared, that, “They have been reworked in the preachy style of the editor.”(F2) This of course is incorrect. There is no “editor” of Deuteronomy. It is amusing to this student that critical scholars pretend to know everything, except the names of any of those editors and redactors they are always talking about! The “preachy” characteristics of Deuteronomy are exactly what should be expected from a long address like this delivered by one of the greatest preachers of all time.

The exclusion of eunuchs from the official assembly of Israel was given in Deuteronomy 23:1 here, and the reasons are not clear to us. It could be that the widespread use of eunuchs in the pagan religions of the times lay behind this prohibition. That God never excluded eunuchs from the eternal hope of true religion is certain; because Isaiah foretold that the day would come when God would give unto eunuchs a name better than that of sons and of daughters and “an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:6). The conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8) stands as an epic fulfillment of this. See Leviticus 21:17-24.

“Bastard” (Deuteronomy 23:2). Technically, any person born out of wedlock, but Cook stated that persons “born of incest or adultery” were also included in this category.(F3) Also, persons excluded for ten generations were, in fact, perpetually excluded, as indicated by the last word “forever” in Deuteronomy 23:3. “Ten is the number of perfection and completeness”(F4) and should be understood as meaning “forever” or “always.”

Regarding the Ammonites and Moabites whose descendants, along with bastards, were forbidden to enter the assembly of Jehovah, we reject the distortions of the critical scholars who place the rise of the Ammonites in times long after Moses, consequently affirming that the mention of the Ammonites here “is not of equal antiquity with the mention of the Moabites, being a later explanation.”(F5) Any person familiar with Genesis 19 must be aware of the fact that the Ammonites and the Moabites originated simultaneously in the incest of Lot with his daughters and that, therefore, there is no reason whatever to make the rise of the Ammonites a later historical development. The error of the critics here is based on the fact that the Bible does NOT specifically mention the Ammonites during the passage of Israel through Trans-Jordan. Very well, but they are specifically mentioned here! And, as we have already pointed out a hundred times in this series, “When the sacred writings refer to events already mentioned, there is almost always the inclusion of additional information. So it is here; and this is a far more acceptable understanding of Deuteronomy 23:3 than the radical splitting of the verse in two, dating the parts from different historical periods.

It is of the greatest interest that this prohibition of the Ammonites and Moabites from the assembly of Jehovah “forever,” did not prohibit the intermarriage of Israelite men with Moabite women or Ammonite women, as exemplified by Boaz who stands in the ancestry of Jesus. He married Ruth, the Moabitess.

“Ruth’s mother, Naomi, according to Jewish tradition was an Ammonite.”(F6) This was not a reciprocal privilege, however, for Moabite and Ammonite men were NOT permitted to marry JEWISH women.

This exclusion of Moabites and Ammonites was discerned by Jamieson as a hedge against the possibility that these prolific peoples might amalgamate with the tribes east of Jordan and through the sheer weight of their numbers become a dominating force in Israel.(F7)

All of the exclusions here should be understood as necessary to the times and peoples in which these rules applied, and, as Ackland said, “This admixture of exclusion and concession would eventually give place to a gospel which says, `Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely!’“(F8)

Kline pointed out that the danger of viewing these verses (Deuteronomy 23:3-8) as primarily concerned with racial or ethnic factors was prevented by the rules concerning Egyptians and other foreigners, making it clear that, “Mercy and morality were the vital principles of covenant administration.”(F9)

The rules in Deuteronomy 23:7-8, regarding Edomites and Egyptians made provision for relaxing any ban against them in the third generation. “Israel was to keep the bond of kindred sacred in the case of Edomites (`he is thy brother’), and not to forget in the case of the Egyptians the benefits derived from their sojourn in their land.”(F10)

Verses 9-14

“When thou goest forth in camp against thine enemies, then thou shalt keep thee from every evil thing. If there be among you any man, that is not clean by reason of that which chanceth him by night, then shall he go abroad out of the camp, he shall not come within the camp: but it shall be, when evening cometh on, he shall bathe himself in water; and when the sun is gone down, he shall come within the camp. Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad: and thou shalt have a paddle among thy weapons; and it shall be when thou sittest down abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee: for Jehovah thy God walketh in the midst of the camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore, shall thy camp be holy, that he may not see an unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee.”

Even nature itself teaches the type of sanitary behavior legislated here. A dog and other animals will cover bodily excrement or at least attempt to do so. That sanitation was one of the motives behind this instruction appears to us as certain. We reject the notion proposed by Scott that, “Where was the danger of the exposed excrement being found by the enemy and used magically”(F11) against Israel. In the first place, no such danger existed, and, even if there had been a fear of such a thing in Israel, one cannot conceive of God’s being concerned about it. There is no mention of any such purpose in the divine instructions found here. Keil was correct in pointing out that, “There was nothing shameful in the excrement itself, but the want of reverence, which the people would display through not removing it, would offend the Lord and drive him out of the camp.”(F12)

Verses 15-18

“Thou shalt not deliver unto his master a servant that is escaped from his master unto thee: he shall dwell with thee, in the midst of thee, in the place which he shall choose within one of thy gates, where it pleaseth him best: thou shalt not oppress him. “There shall be no prostitute of the daughters of Israel, neither shall there be a sodomite of the sons of Israel Thou shalt not bring the hire of a harlot, or the wages of a dog, into the house of Jehovah thy God for any vow: for even both these are an abomination unto Jehovah thy God.”

The directions against returning a runaway slave to his pagan master contrast sharply with the requirement that the slave (property) of a Hebrew brother would not be so protected but returned to his master. The presumption here was that Hebrew masters were superior in their treatment of slaves and servants. “The different attitude of the pagans in this matter is illustrated by the Code of Hammurabi, which decrees the death penalty to anyone harboring a runaway slave.”(F13)

“Prostitute… sodomite” (Deuteronomy 23:17). The words here in Hebrew are [~qedeshah] (feminine) and [~qedesh] (masculine).(F14) These were the so-called “sacred” prostitutes attached to all ancient pagan temples, which alleged houses of worship were nothing more than legally-commissioned brothels of the worst kind. The very numbers engaged in such immorality speak eloquently of the extent of this evil, there being no less than a thousand [~qedeshah] attached to the temple of Aphrodite Pan Demos (Sex for Everybody) on the top of the Acro Corinthus adjacent to the city of Corinth.

A further quotation from Oberst which he attributed to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia is as follows:

“The [~qedeshah] was one of a consecrated class, and as such was a concrete expression and agent of the most insidious and powerful influence and system menacing the purity and permanence of the religion of Jehovah. The system deified the reproductive organs and forces of nature, and its devotees worshipped their idol symbols in grossly licentious rites and orgies. The temple prostitute was invested with sanctity as a member of the religious caste. The Canaanite sanctuaries were gigantic brothels, legalized under the sanctions of religion.”(F15)

Furthermore, it was not merely inside the pagan temples that these [~qedeshah] carried on their business. They wore distinctive uniforms and were free to go anywhere they pleased, as evidenced by the case of Tamar who disguised herself as a [~qedeshah] upon the occasion of Judah’s adultery with her. These women, of course, were the most successful evangelists of pagan religions, being also, at the same time, its principal appeal, focused upon the basic instincts and appetites of the flesh. Collectively, they were an evil force of nearly incredible magnitude.

Even more contemptible were the [~qedesh], the sodomites, called “dogs” in Deuteronomy 23:18. “Dog is here an opprobrious name for a male sacred prostitute ([~qedesh]).”(F16) Their unnatural vice was the sin that surpassed God’s mercy and resulted in the overthrow of the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom gave the name that throughout history has identified their sin - sodomy. These depraved human beings are mentioned in Revelation 22:15, where the prophet declared of the Eternal City, “Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers, etc.” (Revelation 22:15). To us it seems nearly incredible that Satan has been able within our own generation to revive this horrible perversion and to force some element of public recognition of it as a “life style”!

“The hire of a harlot, or the wages of a dog” (Deuteronomy 23:18). Such money was forbidden to be brought into “the house of Jehovah.” The hire of a whore is what the [~qedeshah] was paid for giving herself up, and the price of a dog is not the price paid for the sale of a dog, but it is a figurative expression used to denote the gains of the [~qedesh].(F17)

“The house of Jehovah” (Deuteronomy 23:18). This is an important expression because it has been falsely utilized by critics to make it appear that this is a reference to Solomon’s temple and therefore evidence of a late date for Deuteronomy, but as McGarvey pointed out: “House of Jehovah” is mentioned for the first time in Exodus 23:19 before the tabernacle had been erected. The command that includes this expression concerned the firstfruits, but there were no firstfruits until after Israel entered Canaan. Moses received the same verbatim commandment regarding the “house of Jehovah” (Exodus 34:26) along with instructions on erecting the Tent of Meeting. Then Moses knew that the “house of Jehovah” was therefore necessarily understood to be the tent of meeting. Therefore, for 480 years after the exodus, until Solomon built his temple, the “house of Jehovah” to which Israel throughout those centuries brought their firstfruits was none other than the Tent of Meeting.(F18)

Before leaving these verses, however, we should be aware that it is still sinful to bring tainted money into the church as an offering to God. If the price of whoredom and sodomy were forbidden as offerings to God in the ancient system, how could it be thought proper today for the fruits of gambling, vice, and many other sinful pursuits to be acceptable as gifts to churches? We agree with Oberst that, “It would be just like robbing a bank to make a contribution to a church’s building fund!”(F19) “All lotteries and games of chance (such as Bingo) at church functions are questionable means of undergirding the spread of Christ’s gospel.”(F20) We go much further and declare that such open gambling sponsored by some churches is outrageously hypocritical and sinful!

Verses 19-20

“Thou shalt not lend upon interest to thy brother; interest of money, interest of victuals, interest of anything that is lent upon interest. Unto a foreigner thou mayest lend upon interest; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon interest, that Jehovah thy God may bless thee in all that thou puttest thy hand unto, in the land whither thou goes in to possess it.”

See further comment on this under Exodus 22:25. This permission for Israel to loan money to foreigners definitely made the Jewish people the bankers of the human race. During the Middle Ages, when Jews, through prejudice, were forbidden to own land, they naturally turned to the banking industry, resulting in the buildup of great financial barons such as the Rothschilds and others.

The thinking behind this was that a Jew should aid his poor or needy brother with an interest-free loan, or by an outright gift.

Verses 21-25

“When thou shalt vow a vow unto Jehovah thy God, thou shalt not be slack to pay it: for Jehovah thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow it shall be no sin in thee. That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt observe and do; according as thou hast vowed unto Jehovah thy God, a freewill-offering, which thou hast promised with thy mouth. “When thou comest into thy neighbor’s vineyard, then thou mayest eat of grapes thy fill at thine own pleasure; but thou shalt not put any in thy vessel. When thou comest into thy neighbor’s standing grain, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thy hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbor’s standing grain.”

The thrust of Deuteronomy 23:21-22 is directed toward the dependability of what a man “says” with his mouth. Truthfulness, candor, honesty, and dependability result when this legislation is heeded.

The last two verses here are of great interest because, when our Lord Jesus Christ and his disciples walked through the standing grainfields and plucked a few heads to eat, the Pharisees accused them of “breaking” the sabbath! The type of legalistic “doodling” so dear to the Pharisaical mind is clearly discernible in such a charge. Were the disciples actually “threshing wheat”? Of course not. It would have been as reasonable to charge them with irrigating land in case they knocked off a little dew early in the morning! (See our comments on the N.T. incident related to this under Matthew 12:1 ff, and Luke 6:1 ff.)

We are fortunate enough to have the explanation of just how the Pharisees managed to nullify this law by their specious reasoning:

Jewish commentators limited the application of the role in Deuteronomy 23:24-25 to “harvest laborers,” making it analogous to Deuteronomy 25:4, where it is forbidden to muzzle the ox that treadeth out the grain! But there is no reason to limit the natural interpretation of this precept. Like the law of the gleaner (Deuteronomy 24:10-22), it is prompted by a spirit of generosity toward wayfarers and poor persons.(F21)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 23". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-23.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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