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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Deuteronomy 23

Verses 1-25

CRITICAL NOTES.—From the sanctification of domestic relations, to which laws of marriage and chastity in the previous chapter pointed, Moses now proceeds to legislate for the purity of the congregation and the camp.

Deuteronomy 23:1-5.23.8. Rights of Citizenship in Israel. Forbidden to the mutilated in his sexual member (Deuteronomy 23:1). Mutilation practised among Gentiles, but unnatural in those made in God’s image and chosen to be God’s people (Leviticus 22:24). Bastard (Deuteronomy 23:2). Offspring of incest and adultery, yen.—collective bodies of contemporaries (cf. Genesis 15:16; Exodus 1:6); tenth complete number used in highest sense, and signifies an indefinite period. Ammonites and Moabites excluded. Perhaps reference to their incestuous origin (Genesis 19:30-1.19.38). But they both combined against Israel without provocation; hired Balaam to curse, and brought upon themselves perpetual rejection (cf. Numbers 24:9; Numbers 22:5-4.22.6). Seek (Deuteronomy 23:6). Invite them to friendship, nor care for their welfare (Ezra 9:12; Jeremiah 29:7). Edomites and Egyptians had opposed (Numbers 20:18; Exodus 20:5), but Israel were to be friendly with them and not forget former hospitality. Third gen. (Deuteronomy 23:8), i.e. the great grandchildren who had lived strangers in Israel might be incorporated.

Deuteronomy 23:9-5.23.14. Parity of the camp must be preserved in war. Wicked thing states in Deuteronomy 23:10-5.23.13 uncleanness of body; theft, violence, and sins common to life in camps (Joshua 6:10; Joshua 6:18). Then follow sanitary regulations to secure cleanliness of person and habits. The necessities of nature provided for outside the camp (Deuteronomy 23:12-5.23.13). Walk. Fit for God’s presence. Unclean thing. “Nakedness of anything”—nothing to be ashamed of; no want of reverence in not removing evil must be displayed.

Deuteronomy 23:15-5.23.18. Toleration and non-toleration. A slave running away from the tyranny of his master, not to be given up, but to dwell in the land (Deuteronomy 23:15-5.23.16). Prostitutes, male and female, descended from Israel not to be tolerated, i.e., not allowed to give themselves up to prostitution as religious worship (Deuteronomy 23:17-5.23.18). Dog is figurative (cf. Revelation 22:15) and equivalent to the “Sodomite” of the verse preceding (cf. Micah 1:7; Bar. 6:43). Speak. Com.

Deuteronomy 23:19-5.23.25. Theocratic rights of citizenship. Of a brother (i.e., countryman) an Israelite was not to take interest for money, food, or any goods lent to him. Stranger, not Israelites (cf. Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36-3.25.37). Vows fulfilled without delay (cf. Exodus 22:29; Numbers 30:2; Ecclesiastes 5:4-21.5.5.) For general law of vows (cf. Leviticus 27:0). Hanger might be satisfied in vineyards and cornfields of a neighbour, bat nothing to be carried away in a vessel. Pluck (Deuteronomy 23:25 cf. Matthew 12:1; Luke 6:1). Bight to pluck still recognised among Arabs.

EXCLUDED FROM THE CONGREGATION.—Deuteronomy 23:1-5.23.5

Everyone belonging to God’s people or devoted to God’s service should be as perfect as possible. “Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God” (Leviticus 21:16-3.21.21). Five classes are mentioned as unfit to enter the congregation of the Lord.

I. Mutilated persons are excluded (Deuteronomy 23:1). Two kinds are specified.

1. Eunuchs. An ancient practice for priests of many heathen gods, especially of the Syrian goddess, to be eunuchs, and for parents in various ways to mutilate their children and train them for the service of the great. God’s service requires soundness and purity. Sacrifices must be free from defect and blemish. Individuals in whom the Divine image was wilfully defaced were not qualified for office and association with God’s people.

2. Bastards. Such spring from an order not natural and divine. Whether heathens or strangers, often styled harlots (Isaiah 23:17-23.23.18); or born before wedlock a stigma is attached to discourage disgraceful habits. These prohibitions literally and symbolically were suited for the Jewish Church—had reference only to its outward constitution, and passed away when the kingdom of God was established.

II Special nations are excluded (Deuteronomy 23:3). Ammon and Moab were for ever excluded.

1. They neglected duty. As allies or neighbouring states they brought no victuals into the camp, for which Israel would have paid them.

2. They were hostile in proceedings. Without provocation they opposed Israel and hired Balaam to curse them. The unmerciful will be excluded from the kingdom (Matthew 21:41-40.21.46). There can never be any “peace” or “prosperity” to enemies of God. A curse falls upon all who injure God’s people, and they will forfeit His favour for ever. Balaam had to confess, “Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee” (Numbers 24:9).

HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Deuteronomy 23:1; Deuteronomy 2:1. The privilege of intercourse with God and His people. “Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest and causest to approach unto Thee.”

2. The purity required for enjoyment of this privilege. The wrath of man is made to praise God (Psalms 36:10) All that are sinful and impure are excluded from heaven. There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth (Revelation 21:27).

Deuteronomy 23:4. Neglect. Its guilt and danger.

Deuteronomy 23:4-5.23.6. Benevolence towards God’s ancient people. I. The duty of benevolence is general.

1. It is a duty.
2. It is a duty absolutely indispensable to our acceptance with God. II. Our special obligation to exercise it towards God’s ancient people.
1. We are more indebted to them than to any other people under heaven.
2. The very blessings which we enjoy were taken from them that they might be transferred to us.
3. This very transfer of their blessings has been made to us for the express purpose that He might dispense them to that bereaved people in the hour of their necessity. III. The more particular obligations which we have to exercise towards them at this time. Observe—
1. The interest now felt in the Christian world for their restoration to God.
2. The stir which prevails among the Jews themselves.
3. The earnests which God has given us in the actual commission of some.
4. The general voice of prophecy.—

C. Simeon, M. A.

Deuteronomy 23:6. As God takes notice of the least courtesy showed to His people, even to a cup of water, to requite it, so He doth of the least discourtesy, even to a frown or a frump, to revenge it.—Trapp.

THE CURSE TURNED INTO A BLESSING.—Deuteronomy 23:5

A divine law governs events which can never be changed. God can “curse the blessings of the wicked” (Malachi 2:2), or turn their curse into blessings as here. Apply to other things—

1. In persecution. Often overruled for the triumph of God’s people and the spread of God’s cause. “The more I seek to blot out the name of Christ, the more legible it becomes; and whatever of Christ I thought to eradicate takes deeper root, and rises the higher in the hearts and lives of men.—Diocletian.

2. In labour. What this would have been without sin we know not. The ground is “cursed” and we toil in the “sweat of the face” (Genesis 3:17-1.3.19.) But the curse is blessed to physical health in the vigour and development of the body, to intellectual enjoyment, in the rest and recreation of mind, to the good of society, by promoting its interests and satisfying its wants. “Labour is the salt of life.”

3. In affliction, which checks sin, weans from the world, brings to God, prepares and disciplines for future life. As fire refines gold, so affliction purifies men. Many can say, “chastisements are blessings in disguise; it is good for me that I have been afflicted.”

4. In sin. This greatest curse, which brought death into both worlds, is made the occasion of the greatest blessing. God, in his infinite wisdom, redeems from sin and death; in Jesus Christ displays His love and magnifies His grace in the salvation of the sinner. “This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.”

THE EDOMITE AND THE EGYPTIAN.—Deuteronomy 23:7-5.23.8

Edomites refused permission for Israel to pass through the land, yet they were related to them by kindred, and must not be abhorred. “He is thy brother.” In Egypt Israel were oppressed, yet in that land they had received benefits, and descendants in the third generation of both peoples might be naturalised. Learn—

I. That the tie of kindred must be respected. God has bound men in different social ties, and such ties should ever be held most sacred. “If there be not a religious element in the relations of men,” says Carlyle, “such relations are miserable and doomed to ruin.”

1. In the family. Husbands and wives, sisters and brothers must love another.

2. In the neighbourhood he must feel the claims of others. Nothing can destroy this relationship. “There is a law of neighbourhood which does not leave a man perfectly master on his own ground.”—Burke.

3. In the country. Our native country makes its impress on our character as its accent on our tongue. We must love and pray for our country.

II. That hospitality must not be forgotten. Israel had found a home in Egypt and received many gifts in coming out. Edom was not very friendly, but they had furnished Israel with victuals in their march. For these things they must be rewarded.

1. Time must not obliterate remembrance of kindness. Years had passed, but Israel must not forget their obligation. Gratitude must prompt generosity for special favours. “One good turn deserves another.”

2. Circumstances must not obliterate remembrance of kindness. Israel had grown more prosperous and more powerful, but they were forbidden to revenge or “pay back an old grudge.” No changes of time or place must alter disposition to do right. Our ill treatment in the past must “provoke to love,” not to rancour, resentment and wrath. “See that none render evil for evil unto any map, but ever follow that which is good.”

The shade by which my life was crossed,
Which makes a desert in the mind,
Has made me kindly with my kind.

—Tennyson.

THE SANCTITY OF THE CAMP.—Deuteronomy 23:9-5.23.14

Sanitary rules of great importance are given here. Simple, well adapted to the climate, and enforced by the highest motives.

I. Cleanliness must be enforced. This part of the ceremonial law was constantly enforced. In private and in public it is a religious duty; in war or in the camp special evils result from its neglect. “In thy fìlthiness is lewdness” (Ezekiel 24:13).

II. Wickedness must be avoided. “Keep thee from every wicked thing.” Theft and violence are incident to camp life. Morals and religion are often relaxed in time of war. Outward cleanliness was only symbolic of that holiness for which God was training His people. “Dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

III. Purity is essential to success. “To deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee” (Deuteronomy 23:14). Sin paralyses, frustrates and hinders all effort. In spiritual warfare, conquests are won by prayer and purity. Holiness is invincible “when the host goeth forth against the enemy.”

GOD’S PRESENCE AN ARGUMENT FOR MORAL PURITY.—Deuteronomy 23:12-5.23.14

If the presence of some earthly prince would put us on our guard and make us careful not to offend, how earnest should we be to put away every “unclean thing when” God walketh in the midst of the camp.”

I. In daily life. Outwardly “wash and be clean” in person and habits; inwardly in heart, character and conduct. “Outward cleanliness is inward purity,” says the Talmud.

II. In the domestic circle. This was no mere typical cleanliness, but such as pertained to the person and dwelling of every Israelite, and which the Creator’s laws of health require from all classes and ranks. It is a part of the system of the God of law, order and beauty. Dirty homes are repulsive and unhealthy—injurious to morals and social life. “Cleanse your persons and dwellings, else I shall never believe that you have cleansed your souls,” said John Wesley.

III. In the Christian Church. God is specially in “the camp” of believers to work for deliverance and progress. The standard of piety must not be lowered. Every soldier must be holy and consistent, and the interests of the church constantly guarded. The Great King demands a clean camp and a purified army, that he may dwell there. “Thy camp shall be holy, that He see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee.”

HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Deuteronomy 23:9. Keep thee. Walk accurately, as carrying thy life in thy hand; for “the sword devoureth one as well as another” (2 Samuel 2:25); it spares neither lord nor losel. Every soldier, therefore, should be a saint, ready pressed to meet the Lord, Who hath said, “I will be sanctified in all them that draw near unto Me” (Leviticus 10:3).—Trapp.

The soldier’s bearing.

1. The nature of this injunction. The true soldier of Israel to be honourable, self-controlled, chivalrous.
2. The reason of it. That Israel might be respected for character as well as courage. That by their virtues and successes God, their Lawgiver, might be honoured.
3. The application of it. Character of soldiers of Christ. Right methods for lawful ends.—Bio. Museum.

Deuteronomy 23:13. Unclean thing. The charge to be clean.

1. From moral pollution (Deuteronomy 23:9).

2. From ceremonial pollution.

3. From natural pollution (Deuteronomy 23:12-5.23.14).—Mt. Henry. Hereby God taught His people holy conversation, that they should keep themselves from iniquity as David did (Psalms 18:23)—that is, from such sins as either by their constitution, calling, company or custom, they are most prone to.—Trapp.

Deuteronomy 23:14. Conditions of victory.

1. Purity of character.
2. The presence of God.

3. Rectitude of purpose. Then the enemy will be like the Egyptians. “Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the Lord fighteth for them” (Exodus 14:25).

SPECIAL LAWS.—Deuteronomy 23:15-5.23.18

Israel were to be a terror to tyrants, a refuge for afflicted people and a representative of God. They were to protect the oppressed, but to sanction no whoredom.

I. Fugitive slaves were allowed asylum. The reference is not to idolaters, but to slaves who fled from a foreign country and from harsh treatment from an unjust master.

1. They were protected from oppression. “Thou shalt not deliver him unto his master.” In Greece and Rome slaves were pursued by their masters, and if caught were branded with a red-hot iron. But a refugee was free, as in Britain now, the moment he sets his foot upon the soil. They were permitted to settle at pleasure. Not merely protected but encouraged to reside where it was best for him, or where he might choose. Lawless power must be checked. The interests of men must be felt when their fortunes are committed to our care.

II. Prostitutes were prohibited from their calling. Males and females were devoted to the service of Ashtaroth, visited cities, wandered as mendicants in country villages and enticed the people to abominable crimes.

1. Persons were forbidden to profess. “There shall be no whore (sodomitess) of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel,” attachés to the worship of God and reproaches to the people of God.

2. Their sinful gains were rejected at the altar. The profits of prostitution must not be given into the treasury. They were scandalous hire, the price of a dog, an “abomination to the Lord,” and must not be “brought into the house of the Lord.” We cannot honour God with our substance unless secured by righteous means.” God not only looks at what we give, but how we got it.” “I hate robbery for burnt-offering.”

“He will be found impartially severe,
Too just to wink, or speak the guilty clear.”

Cowper.

CIVIL RIGHTS.—Deuteronomy 23:19-5.23.25

Here is not only a plea for liberty and a check to lewdness, but a law of usury and of vows, and a right to appease hunger.

I. A right to borrow without interest. From a stranger interest might be allowed. Commerce must be carried on and capital invested. It is a legal act, and often a mutual benefit, to borrow and pay favour for the loan. But from an Israelite no interest must be taken. Kindly feeling must be cherished. “He is thy brother” (Deuteronomy 23:20.) They might lend money, seed, or food among themselves; but covetousness be checked, separation from other nations must be preserved, and God must be acknowledged. “That the Lord thy God may bless thee.”

II. A right of discretion in making a vow. None were compelled to vow. “If thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee.” But having made a vow, it must be faithfully performed. “Thou shalt not slack to pay it.” It is sacred in character, binding in force, and ought always to be made with timely caution (Numbers 30:2). “Better is it that thou shouldest not vow than that thou shouldest vow and not pay” (Ecclesiastes 5:5).

III. A right to refresh themselves in cornfields or vineyards. Labourers in the vintage, or travellers in the cornfield, had an interest in the fruit of the land.

1. Hunger might be appeased. Provision was thus made for the poor. Nature’s products are given to satisfy human wants. Jewish “poor laws” permitted neighbours to pluck the fruit of the proprietor’s fields. “Thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand” (Deuteronomy 23:25).

2. Dishonesty must not be practised. The sickle must not be put into the standing corn, nor a grape carried away in a vessel. “Thou mayest take for necessity, not for superfluity,” says Trapp. Kindness must not be abused. We must not censure men, nor insist upon compensation for trifles. Be generous. Remember “the kindness and philanthropy of God our Saviour towards man” (Titus 3:4).

HOMILETIC HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Deuteronomy 23:17-5.23.18. Dedication of unholy gains. Many public prostitutes dedicated to their gods a part of their impure earnings, or were kept in the temple to support abominable worship. Such offerings—

1. A reproach to their dignity. They were Israelites, the people of God. “No such thing ought to be done in Israel.”

2. An offence to their God. Holiness becomes the house of worship of God. The wages of licentiousness pollute the altar. “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 15:8; Proverbs 15:21; Proverbs 15:27).

Deuteronomy 23:19-5.23.20. Usury.

1. Lend cheerfully, without extortion or oppression.

2. Lend with a view to please God, whose favour will rest upon them in domestic, social and national life. “That the Lord thy God may bless thee in all thou settest thine hand to in the land” (Deuteronomy 23:20).

Deuteronomy 23:21-5.23.23. Vows.

1. Rule in making them. a. Voluntary. A self imposed obligation. b. Cautiously. “Be not rash with thy mouth, to cause thy flesh to sin” (Ecclesiastes 5:6).

2. Rule in paying them. a. Instantly. As the best proof of sincerity. “Defer not to pay it.” b. Cheerfully. “God loveth a cheerful giver.” That which is gone out of the lips cannot be recalled, but performed solemnly, punctually, and fully.

Deuteronomy 23:24-5.23.25. Varied Rights.

1. The rights of travellers to eat.
2. The rights of property which must not be infringed.
3. The rights of God to claim possessions and legislate for their use. “The world is mine and the fulness thereof.”

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 23

Deuteronomy 23:1-5.23.6. Defects. Deplorable is the degradation of our nature.—South.

“Trait not yourself; but, your defects to know,
Make use of every friend and every foe.”—

Pope.

Deuteronomy 23:5. Curse. Human curses are ofttimes more an honour than a disgrace.—Dr. Thomas.

Deuteronomy 23:7-5.23.8. Not abhor. Let former kindnesses be remembered, and past injuries be forgotten.—Wordsworth.

“Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods!
Draw near them then in being merciful:
Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge.”—

Shakespeare.

Deuteronomy 23:10-5.23.14. Clean. I have more than once expressed my conviction—that the humanizing influence of habits of cleanliness has never been sufficiently acted on. A clean, fresh, and well-ordered house exercises a moral, no less than a physical influence. Nor is it difficult to trace a connection between cleanliness and the formation of habits of respect for property, for the laws in general, and even for those higher duties and obligations the obserservance of which no laws can enforce.—Dr. S. Smith.

Deuteronomy 23:15-5.23.16. Servant. St. Baron, before his conversion to Christianity, caused one of his slaves to be severely beaten and then sold. After his conversion, he could not rest till he had induced this slave to cause his imprisonment, where he deplored constantly his crime against his human and Christian brother.—ILL. Paul and Onesimus.

Deuteronomy 23:17-5.23.18. Price. Religious profession was, at first, a conflict—a sacrifice: now it is become a trade.—R. Cecil.

“Look to thy actions well:
For churches either are oar heaven or hell.”—

G. Herbert.

Deuteronomy 23:19-5.23.20. Usury. Commerce flourishes by circumstances, precarious, contingent, transitory, almost as liable to change as the winds and waves that waft it to our shores.—Cotton.

Deuteronomy 23:21-5.23.23. Vows. When you have promised to do any good office, the right of the thing promised hath, before the God of Truth, passed over from you to another; consequently, you will esteem yourself obliged to stand to the performance of your word, though it may be to your own prejudice.—Venn.

Deuteronomy 23:24-5.23.25.—A lady on her journey in India rested on her palanquin beneath the shade of some banyan trees, while her bearers kindled a fire, and her servant began his cooking preparations. Close by was a garden of gourds and other Indian vegetables, and the lady was surprised to see her servant coolly walk into this garden, gather first one kind of vegetable after another, till his hands were full, when he went to the fire and began cutting them up. His mistress called him, told him not to forget to pay for all he had taken, for the owners would come and water the plants. The man smiled and said they would not require payment. The lady tried to explain that it was stealing to take away the property of another without paying for it. He smiled again and with truthful expression replied in broken English, “That no stealing, ma’am: that one custom in my country. Travelling this way take what we want, but no carry away.” The owners of the garden soon afterwards appeared, the servant told them in his native tongue, how his mistress accused him of stealing, on which they were all amused. This had evidently been the habit of their country from time immemorial, and they had no desire to change, but were contented to do as their fathers had done before them.—Biblical Treasury.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 23". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/deuteronomy-23.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.