DEUTERONOMY CHAPTER 23
Who are to be excluded from the congregation, Deuteronomy 23:1-6. An Edomite and Egyptian not to be abhorred, and why, Deuteronomy 23:7,8. No uncleanness to be in the camp, Deuteronomy 23:9-14. No filthiness, Deuteronomy 23:17. No abominable sacrifice must be, Deuteronomy 23:18. No usury, but to strangers, Deuteronomy 23:19,20. Vows must be kept, Deuteronomy 23:21-23. The liberty that was lawful in their neighbour’s field or vineyard, Deuteronomy 23:24,25.
Heb. wounded by compression, or attrition, or contusion, to wit, of the stones, which was the course the Gentiles took with infants to make them eunuchs. And these eunuchs and bastards, Deuteronomy 23:2, seem to be not only those of other nations, as some understand it, without any foundation for such restriction, but also of the Israelites; the reason of this law being the same in all, to wit, that God would bring into disgrace those heathenish practices of making eunuchs, and getting bastards, which doubtless he would especially do among his own people. 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 Exodus 12:48 Leviticus 22:18 Numbers 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, Nehemiah 13:1-3 23-25; although at that time the government was in part in the hands of such persons as are here mentioned, Deuteronomy 23:3, or of their children, seeing it is apparent from Ezr 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 Numbers 35:12 24 25 Jos 20:6,9 1 Kings 8:5, compared with Deuteronomy 23:1-3; and 1 Chronicles 13:1,2,4 29:1,10,20, compared with 1 Chronicles 28:1 29:6; and of the congregation of God, as it is in the Hebrew of Psalms 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, Exodus 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.
A bastard; so the word is commonly rendered, and so it notes a person base-born, or born in fornication or adultery, or by incestuous or any prohibited mixtures of man and woman.
1. This law seems harsh, and too severe for the innocent bastard.
Answ. 1. It was only an exclusion from government, which was a tolerable burden.
2. It was a necessary caution to prevent and brand the sin of uncleanness, to which the Jews were more than ordinarily prone.
Object. 2. Pharez and Jephthah were both bastards, yet advanced to great honour and authority.
Answ. God gives laws to us, and not to himself; and, therefore he might, when he saw fit, confer what favour or power he pleased upon any such person, as he did to these. But some add, that the Hebrew word mamzer signifies not every bastard, but a bastard born of any strange woman, as the word may seem to intimate, and as such persons generally seem to have been, because of that special provision, that there should be no whore of the daughters of Israel, as it is here below, Deuteronomy 23:17.
To his tenth generation; or, his tenth generation, as it is in the Hebrew, and so in the following verses.
This may be understood either,
1. Of the males only, or the children of such fathers, as interpreters commonly take it. Or rather,
2. Of females also, or of all that were born either of such fathers or mothers, as may be gathered from Ezr 10 Ne 13, where the children of strange wives were separated from Israel no less than the children of strange fathers. And it is an allowed maxim, that the birth follows the belly. And whereas the children of Rahab and Ruth are produced to the contrary, it may be said as it was before, that these were extraordinary instances, and that God when he pleased might exempt any particular person of them from this curse, though the Israelites might not do so.
For ever; so it seems to note the immutability and perpetuity of this law, that it should be inviolably observed in all succeeding ages, and not dispensed with for any merit in the persons, or any pretence whatsoever. But why then should this clause be added only here, seeing the foregoing laws are as inviolable as this? It seems therefore to extend the duration of this exclusion of them from the congregation of the Lord beyond what was said at first, and to be added by way of aggravation, even to their tenth generation shall they not enter—yea, even for ever, i.e. they shall never enter, as it is expressed, without any mention of the tenth generation, Nehemiah 13:1, that they shall not come into the congregation of God for ever.
They met you not, as the manner of those times was to wait and provide for strangers and travellers; see Genesis 14:17 18:2,3 19:1,2 Jud 19:17-21; which was the more necessary, because in those times and countries there were no such public houses of entertainment, as now there are among us. Their fault then was unmercifulness to strangers and pilgrims, and afflicted persons, which was aggravated both by their relation to the Israelites, as being the children of Lot, and by the special kindness of God and of the Israelites to them, in not fighting against them, as they had just occasion to do, and as they did by others, Deu 2.
Quest. How doth this agree with Deuteronomy 2:28,29, where the Moabites which dwell in Ar are said to have sold them meat and drink?
Answ. 1. It is one thing voluntarily to meet them, and kindly to relieve them with bread and water, which they are here denied to have done, and a quite differing thing to sell them bread and water when they are upon their very borders, and their own interest forced them to do so.
2. It may seem that it was only those Moabites that dwelt in Ar did so, as is said Deuteronomy 2:29, and that all the rest of the people neglected or refused to do it; and therefore the sin being so general and national, no wonder if the punishment be so too.
3. These and the following words, both here and Nehemiah 13:1, are to be taken distributively; and this first member of the verse belongs to the Ammonites, who did not
meet them with bread, &c., and the latter part to the Moabites, who, together with the Midianites, but not with the Ammonites, hired Balaam, &c.
i.e. Forced Balaam to bless thee, who was hired and inclined to curse thee, if possibly he could.
i.e. Make no contracts, either by marriages, or leagues, or commerce with them, but rather shalt constantly keep a jealous eye over them, as enemies who will watch every opportunity to insnare or disturb thee. This counsel was now the more necessary, because a great part of the Israelites lived beyond Jordan in the borders of those people, and therefore God sets up this wall of partition betwixt them, as well knowing the mischief of bad neighbours, and Israel’s proneness to receive infection from them. Each particular Israelite is not hereby forbidden to perform any office of humanity to them, but the body of the nation are forbidden all friendly and familiar conversation with them.
An Edomite; the children of Edom; only the Amalekites are excepted by God’s particular order, and upon special reason, Deuteronomy 25:17-19.
Thy brother, by Esau, Jacob’s brother.
Thou wast a stranger in his land, and didst receive habitation, protection, and provision from them a long time, which kindness thou must not forget for their following persecution. It is ordinary with great men and others, that one injury or offence blots out the remembrance of twenty courtesies; but God doth not deal so with us, nor will he have us to deal so with others, but commands us to overlook and forget injuries, and to remember kindnesses.
Supposing their grandfather or great grandfather turned proselyte, and the children continue in that faith received by such ancestors.
Then especially take heed, because that is a time and state of confusion and licentiousness, when, as one said, the laws of God and man cannot be heard for the noise of arms; and because the success of thy arms and enterprises depends upon God’s blessing, which wicked men have no reason to expect; and because thou dost then carry thy life in thy hand, and therefore hast need to be well prepared for death and judgment.
Of which uncleanness see Leviticus 15:4,16,17; or by uncleanness of any like kind; one kind being here, as oft, put for all.
He shall go out of the camp.
Quest. Why doth this uncleanness oblige a man to go out of the camp, when it did not oblige him to such a removal, Le 15?
Answ. 1. It is not unreasonable if they were obliged to greater strictness and purity when they were undertaking so difficult and dangerous a work.
2. There is a manifest reason of the difference, because in their houses they had private chambers, where they could in such cases keep themselves from converse with others; whereas in the camp their conveniencies were so small, and their occasions of action so many, that it was very hard for his fellow soldiers that continued with him in the same tent, or part of the camp, to avoid the touching of him, which yet was infectious, Leviticus 15:7,22.
To wit, to ease thyself, as it follows, Deuteronomy 23:13.
A paddle; the nature of which may be known from the use, which here follows.
Cover that which cometh from thee; partly, to prevent the annoyance of ourselves or others; partly, to preserve and exercise modesty and natural honesty; and principally, that by such outward rites they might be inured to the greater reverence of the Divine Majesty, and the greater caution to avoid all real and moral uncleanness, especially now when it was most necessary so to do.
In the midst of thy camp; either because the ark was commonly present with them, or at least some of the holy instruments, which were pledges of God’s presence; or because God had promised to go forth with them when they engaged in a just and necessary war.
This is not to be understood universally, as if all servants that flee from their masters, though without any sufficient cause or colour of justice, might be detained from them by any person to whom they fled for refuge, for this is apparently contrary to all the laws of religion, and justice, and charity, and would open a door to infinite disorders and mischiefs; but it is to be understood,
1. Of the servants of strangers, because it follows, Deuteronomy 23:16, he shall dwell with thee, even among you, which shows that he had dwelt with and belonged to another people.
2. Of such as belonged to the Canaanites, or other neighbouring nations, because if he had lived in remote countries, it is not probable that he would flee so far to avoid his master, or that his master would follow him so far to recover him. And for the Canaanites this sentence was most just, because both they and theirs were all forfeited to God and to Israel, and whatsoever they enjoyed was by special indulgence. And for the other neighbours it may seem just also, partly, because some of them were within the larger limits of the land belonging to Israel by God’s grant or deed of gift, Genesis 15:18 Joshua 1:4; partly, because by their hostile carriages they had given Israel a right to much more of theirs than a few servants that might possibly run away from their masters; and especially, because both masters and servants of these and other nations are unquestionably at the dispose of the Lord their Maker and sovereign Ruler.
3. Of such as upon inquiry appear to have been unjustly oppressed by their masters, as is implied by that phrase of his, making an escape, which supposeth a deliverance from danger or vexation. Now it is not strange nor unjust, if the great God, who hates all tyranny, and styles himself the refuge of the oppressed, doth interpose his authority, and help to rescue such persons from their cruel masters, who otherwise would be too strong for them.
4. Of such as came to them out of a desire to embrace the true religion, which possibly his master perceiving endeavoured by force to restrain him from, as it may be probably thought from his choosing and liking to live among the Israelites, expressed Deuteronomy 23:16. Now if this great and supreme Master, to whom all other masters are but servants, and they and theirs are absolutely in his power, shall receive and protect one that gives up himself to his service against the will of the under-master, who in this case rebels against his sovereign Lord, what shadow is there of injustice in the case?
Taking advantage from his low and afflicted condition to be unreasonable or injurious to him.
No common prostitute, such, as were tolerated and encouraged by the Gentiles, and used even in their religious worship.
Of the daughters of Israel; not that such practices were allowed to the strangers among them, as is evident from many scriptures and reasons, but that it was in a peculiar manner, and upon special reasons, forbidden to them, as being much more odious in them than in strangers; though the words may be rendered among the daughters, and so in the following clause, among the sons, for the Hebrew mem is sometimes used in that sense, as Numbers 22:22 Psalms 31:12, and so it notes that none of that sort should be permitted among them, whether Jews or strangers.
A sodomite; who defileth or suffereth himself to be defiled with mankind. See Genesis 19:5 Leviticus 18:12 1 Kings 14:24 22:46 Romans 1:27.
This is opposed to the practice of the Gentiles, who allowed both such persons and their oblations they made out of their wicked and infamous gains; and some of them kept lewd women, who prostituted themselves in the temples, and to the honour of their false gods, and offered part of their profit to them. See Micah 1:7; /APC Baruch 6:43; Herodotus in the end of his first book, and Strabo in his eighth book. The price of a dog; either,
1. Properly; the dog being a vile and contemptible creature in those eastern parts, 1 Samuel 17:43 24:14 2 Samuel 3:8 Ecclesiastes 9:4, and unclean by God’s designation, which yet should have been redeemed by virtue of that law. Numbers 18:15, had it not been for this prohibition. And this may be here prohibited, either,
1. That by this one instance, put for all others of the like kind, they might be taught not to offer to God what cost them nothing, or was worth nothing. Or,
2. To bring contempt upon the creature, which divers of the Gentiles offered up to their gods, and the Egyptians worshipped as gods. Or,
3. That by comparing whores and dogs together, and equalling the prices of them, he might expose whores to the highest disgrace and infamy. Or,
II. Metaphorically, as that word is oft used in Scripture, as 1 Samuel 24:14 Psalms 22:16,20 Isa 56:10,11 Mt 7:6 Philippians 3:2; and particularly it is used for unclean or filthy persons, 2 Peter 2:22 Revelation 22:15; as Horace also calls whores bitches; which name doth most properly agree to them in respect of that impudence, and filthiness, and insatiableness, for which both of them are branded. And this sense may seem most proper in this place, because it agrees with all the other expressions; and as the hire of a whore answers to the whore, Deuteronomy 23:17, so the price of a dog may seem to answer to the sodomite, Deuteronomy 23:17, and so all concerned the same thing, whereas the price of a dog, properly so called, may seem to be quite incongruous, and foreign to the place. It is true which is objected, that lawgivers use to deliver their laws in proper, and not in metaphorical terms, to prevent mistake and ambiguity; but there seems to be no great danger of mistake here, where the metaphor is so clearly explained and determined by so many words joined with it. For any vow; and much less in other sacrifices, which being of a higher nature, and prescribed by God, must needs require more exactness than those which depended much upon a man’s will and choice, as vows and free-will offerings did. Both these, i.e. the whore and the dog, and therefore the price of either of them cannot be acceptable. And this may seem to favour the latter opinion, that the dog is here taken metaphorically rather than properly, because there is no mention in the law (save in this place which is in question) of any abominableness of a dog unto God, more than of an ass, or any other unclean creature; but how abominable sodomites are to God is sufficiently evident from other scriptures, and from undeniable reasons.
i.e. So as to receive thy principal money or thing left with such increase or improvement of it, as was usual and allowed among the Gentiles. But whether all usury be unlawful to Christians is too great a question to be determined in a work of this nature. See Exodus 22:25 Deuteronomy 15:3 Psalms 15:5 Nehemiah 5:2 Luke 6:34.
Unto a stranger, i.e. to a person of any other nation, for so that word is generally used, and therefore they who restrain it to the cursed Canaanitish nations seem to do so without any solid or sufficient grounds. And though the word
brother is ofttimes used in a general sense for every man, yet I think I may affirm that wheresoever the words brother and stranger are opposed in the Jewish law, the brother signifies the Israelite only, and the stranger signifies any person of what nation or religion soever, whether proselyted to the Jewish religion or not, and so it seems to be meant here. And the reason why usury is permitted to a stranger, not to an Israelite, may seem to be this, because the Israelites generally employed themselves in the management of land and cattle, and therefore could not make any advantage of borrowed money to balance the use they should pay for it; and consequently it may be presumed that they would not borrow money upon use, but for want and poverty, and in that case, and principally for that reason, usury seems to be forbidden to them, as may be thought from Leviticus 25:35,36. But the strangers made use of their money in way of trade and traffic with the Israelites, which was more gainful, and could much better bear the burden of usury, and reap advantage from money so borrowed; and these strangers here spoken of are supposed to be competently rich, and not poor, as may plainly appear by comparing this place with Leviticus 25:35,36, where they are no less forbidden to take usury of a stranger than of a brother, in case of poverty.
Thou shalt not slack to pay it, to wit, if the matter of it be lawful, and in thy own power. See Numbers 30:2. Not slack or delay, because delays may make thee both unable to pay it, and unwilling too, the sense of one’s obligation growing every day weaker than other, &c.
It would be sin in thee, i.e. it would be laid to thy charge as a sin, and bring judgment upon thee.
A free-will offering; which though thou didst freely make, yet being made, thou art no longer free, but obliged to perform it.
Thou mayest eat grapes thy fill; which was allowed in those parts, because of the great plenty and fruitfulness of vines there.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Deuteronomy 23". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany