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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 23

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 9-18

7. Laws arising from the seventh commandment 22:9-23:18

The seventh commandment is, "You shall not commit adultery" (Deuteronomy 5:18). Adultery involves mixing people in a way that they should not mix. The Israelites need to keep things properly apart separate.

"Known elsewhere in the ancient Near East as the ’Great Sin,’ adultery epitomizes all that impurity means, whether in family, social, political, or religious life." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 299.]


B. An exposition of selected covenant laws Chs. 12-25

Moses’ continuing homiletical exposition of the Law of Israel that follows explains reasons for the covenant laws that arose from the Ten Commandments. This address concludes with directions for celebrating and confirming the covenant (Deuteronomy 26:1-15). The section contains a mixture of laws previously revealed to the Israelites and other laws not previously revealed in the code given at Sinai (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:19). This is instruction preached rather than codified as comprehensive legislation.

"The specific laws in this section were given to help the people subordinate every area of their lives to the LORD, and to help them eradicate whatever might threaten that pure devotion." [Note: Deere, p. 283.]

"Placement of the instruction about worship at the sanctuary in first position indicates clearly its priority for Deuteronomy, which assumes that the starting point for the proper, full, and exclusive love of the Lord (the primary demand of the first and second commandments and the Shema) is found in the way Israel carries out the activities of worship." [Note: Miller, p. 129.]

There is an obvious general movement from laws dealing with Israel’s religious life (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17) to those affecting her civil life (Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 22:8) and finally to those touching personal life (Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 26:15).

Two insightful writers suggested the following outlines for these chapters. [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, pp. 218-331; and Stephen A. Kaufman, "The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law," MAARAV 1 (1978-79):105-58.]

1Deuteronomy 12:1-31ch. 12Fidelity
2Deuteronomy 12:32 to Deuteronomy 13:18ch. 12Worship
3Deuteronomy 14:1-21Deuteronomy 13:1 to Deuteronomy 14:27Name of God
4Deuteronomy 14:22 to Deuteronomy 16:17Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 16:17Sabbath
5Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Authority
6Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Murder
7Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:18Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:19Adultery
8Deuteronomy 23:19 to Deuteronomy 24:7Deuteronomy 23:20 to Deuteronomy 24:7Theft
9Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4False witness
10Deuteronomy 25:5-19Deuteronomy 25:5-16Coveting

". . . the entire second discourse of Moses (Deuteronomy 5-26) is a single literary unit that convincingly demonstrates that the moral law informs the statutes, judgments . . . and commands of God." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 129.]

In contrast with the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20-23), the Deuteronomic Code, as some scholars prefer to call this section (chs. 12-26), is a popular exposition rather than a formal legal code. Its purpose was to explain to the generation entering the land all the laws that needed clarification, emphasis, and application, in view of Israel’s imminent entrance into Canaan. These laws reflect a centralized, monarchical society.

The value of this section of Scripture to the Christian today lies primarily in its revelation of the heart, mind, and will of God. The modern student of these chapters should look for this kind of insight here. This is the revelatory value of the Law.

Verses 1-8

Public worship 23:1-8

In the preceding chapter Moses explained the proper types of marital union. In this chapter he set forth the proper types of union of individuals with the covenant community.

This section of verses (Deuteronomy 23:1-8) deals with people who were not born in Israel but wished to worship with full members of the nation.

"The ’assembly’ (qahal) refers here to the formal gathering of the Lord’s people as a community at festival occasions and other times of public worship and not to the nation of Israel as such. This is clear from the occurrence of the verb ’enter’ (bo’) throughout the passage (Deuteronomy 23:1-3; Deuteronomy 23:8), a verb that suggests participation with the assembly and not initial introduction or conversion to it." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 307. Cf. Craigie, The Book . . ., p. 296; and Kalland, p. 140.]

God apparently excluded eunuchs (Deuteronomy 23:1) because lack of wholeness symbolized lack of holiness. Likewise God excluded an illegitimate child-probably one born out of incest, adultery, or the union of an Israelite and a Canaanite (Deuteronomy 23:2; cf. Zechariah 9:6). [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:413-14.] This restriction would have discouraged Israelites from marrying Canaanites since their children could not participate in public worship, and public worship events were the most important ones in Israel. The illegitimate child category may have included the offspring of Canaanite temple prostitutes. [Note: Payne, p. 130.] "To the tenth generation" (Deuteronomy 23:2-3) means forever. [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:414.]

"One was an Israelite and therefore a member of the covenant community by birth. Only by some act of his own will could he lose that privilege. On the other hand, Israelite birth did not automatically qualify one for full participation in community worship, the very point of Deuteronomy 23:1-2." [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 308.]

The Israelites were to admit no Ammonite or Moabite into public worship (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). The Ammonites and Moabites were descendants of Lot through his incestuous relationship with his daughters ("illegitimate birth," Deuteronomy 23:2; cf. Genesis 19:30-38). Evidently Ammonites, Moabites, and any other people could become members of the nation of Israel by becoming proselytes to Yahwism (cf. Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19; Exodus 12:38; Ruth 4:10; 1 Samuel 22:3-4). Evidently they were excluded, however, from the public worship of Israel.

The main reason for the exclusion of the Ammonites and Moabites was the extreme hostility that these nations demonstrated toward Israel when Israel was approaching the Promised Land. Evidently Ammon participated with Moab in resisting Israel’s passage, in seeking to curse the Israelites with Balaam’s assistance, and or in corrupting the Israelites through sacred prostitution (Numbers 22-25). God treated the Edomites and Egyptians less severely. The great-grandchildren of people from these nations could become worshippers with the Israelites (Deuteronomy 23:7-8). The rationale again lay in Israel’s relationships to these two nations in her history. Even though not all these people could participate in Israel’s public worship, they could, of course, trust in Israel’s God and experience personal salvation. Many individuals who were not even members of the covenant community enjoyed personal salvation (e.g., Melchizedek, Job, the widow of Zarephath, the "God-fearers" among the Gentiles in Jesus’ day, et al.).

"Disbarment from the assembly was not synonymous with exclusion from the covenant community itself as the one example of Ruth the Moabite makes clear. . . . There can be no doubt that Ruth was welcomed among the people of the Lord as one of their own though presumably never with access to the assembly." [Note: Ibid., p. 309.]

Another possibility is that the Israelites did not enforce this law and that she did participate in public worship. From these verses we learn that God’s people should be careful about whom they allow to worship with themselves and admit to full privileges among themselves (cf. Romans 16:17-18).

Verses 9-14

Personal hygiene 23:9-14

Various practices, most of which we have discussed previously, rendered the Israelite encampment ceremonially unclean. The laws in these verses applied to Israel after she entered the land and, specifically, while her armies engaged in battle. The connection with the seventh commandment is that which is unseemly, especially in the area of sexual associations.

The Israelites were evidently to regard human waste products as unnatural and therefore unclean. The Mosaic Law considered unclean everything that proceeded out of the human body. Perhaps this taught the Israelites that there is nothing good in man (total depravity).

"There was nothing shameful in the excrement itself [Deuteronomy 23:14]; 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 of Israel." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:413.]

The Israelites were to acknowledge God’s presence among them by keeping their camp free of human refuse. This would hallow His name as He walked among them.

". . . much of the information found in the [ancient] Egyptian medical texts was medically hazardous. For example donkey feces were used for the treatment of splinters, which probably increased the incidence of tetanus because of tetanus spores present in feces. Crocodile feces were used for birth control. In contrast Moses wrote that God instructed the Israelites to cover their excrement because it was ’unclean’ (Deuteronomy 23:12-13). At no time did Moses resort to adding the popular medical techniques of his day, though he was ’educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians’ (Acts 7:22), which certainly included their medical wisdom." [Note: Fawver and Overstreet, p. 275.]

God’s people should conduct themselves in view of God’s presence among them (cf. Ephesians 5:3-4).

Verses 15-16

The treatment of the disadvantaged 23:15-16

Slaves from other nations who fled to Israel for refuge should receive permanent asylum. God’s people were to show compassion to the oppressed and were not to join with oppressors (cf. Hebrews 13:3; Galatians 6:2). This law clarified a proper association.

Verses 17-18

Cultic personnel 23:17-18

Israelites were not to become or to dedicate their children as cult prostitutes, as the Canaanites did. They were not to offer to God money earned by prostitution to pay for a vow to Him either. The "dog" (Deuteronomy 23:18) was a male sanctuary prostitute (cf. Revelation 22:15). Such men were common in Canaanite religion. [Note: Thompson, p. 242; Payne, p. 132.] The Hebrew terms used here to describe cult prostitutes (qedesa and qades) set them off from regular Israelites who practiced prostitution (zonah and keleb). Obviously any type of prostitution violated the spirit if not the letter of the seventh commandment.

God’s people should not rationalize immoral behavior by thinking that it will result in the greater glory of God (cf. Romans 6:1-2; Acts 5).

8. Laws arising from the eighth commandment 23:19-24:7

The eighth commandment is, "You shall not steal" (Deuteronomy 5:19). All these laws have some connection with respecting the possessions of others.

"Respect was to be shown to all those dignified by the status of covenant servant to the Lord. This section of stipulations was designed to guarantee this sanctity of the theocratic citizen by regulations which assured peace, prosperity, and liberty within the covenant commitment to all God’s people, but especially to those classes whose welfare was jeopardized by various circumstances." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 187.]

Verses 19-20

Lending with interest 23:19-20

The Israelites could charge interest when they made loans to non-Israelites, but they were not to charge their brethren interest (Deuteronomy 23:19-20; cf. Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-37).

". . . the evidence shows that ancient rates of interest were exorbitant." [Note: Payne, p. 132.]

God’s people should be especially gracious with their needy brethren (cf. Galatians 6:10).

Verses 21-23

Making vows 23:21-23

Vows to God were voluntary, but the Lord wanted His people to keep them after they made them (Deuteronomy 23:21-23). Failure to do so amounted to stealing from God.

God’s people should follow through with their commitments (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9-10).

Verses 24-25

Eating standing crops 23:24-25

God permitted traveling Israelites to glean the grapes and wheat from fields they passed through, but they were not to harvest their neighbors’ crops (Deuteronomy 23:24-25; cf. Matthew 12:1; Mark 2:23; Luke 6:1). Harvesting them would amount to stealing them. Here is another way in which the Israelites were to love their neighbors as themselves.

God’s people should be gracious toward the needy and should not abuse the graciousness of their brethren (cf. Hebrews 13:5; 1 Timothy 6:8).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 23". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/deuteronomy-23.html. 2012.
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