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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 23

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



Neither eunuchs, bastards, Moabites, nor Ammonites, are to be admitted into the congregation: uncleanness to be avoided in the camp: Harlots are not to be allowed in Israel: Usury is forbidden.

Before Christ 1451.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. Shall not enter into the congregation This law is directed against the infamous practice of making eunuchs: such persons were not to be deemed Israelites, nor have their names entered in the public register, and consequently were not to be accounted members of the Jewish community. See Selden de Jure N. & G. lib. 5: cap. 14 and Nehemiah 13:1-3, compared with 23, 24, 25. Eunuchs were so much abhorred by some of the pagans, that Lucian, in Eunucho, tells us, they were not only excluded from the schools of the philosophers, but from their lustrations, their holy offices, and all common meetings. It should, however, be observed, that paganism, in some places, recommended this practice; the priests of Cybele, the mother of the gods in particular, were all of this class. Casaubon observes upon Athenaeus, that some heathens anciently put such a mark of infamy upon bastards, mentioned in the next verse, as to prohibit both males and females from coming to their sacred offices.

Verse 2

Ver. 2. A bastard shall not enter, &c.— Some render these words, a foreigner or an alien. See Spenc. p. 105. But Mr. Locke observes, upon the original word ממזר mamzer, that it is his opinion, with Maimonides, that the mamzer here spoken of, is one who cometh of any of the nakedness, i.e. incestuous or unlawful intercourses, forbidden in Leviticus 18:0. See Zechariah 9:6. Houbigant is of the same opinion with Mr. Locke. "They who translate it, a stranger," says he, "when they add the condition; unless he become a proselyte, which Moses does not add, entirely change the sentence: for they assume, that if the stranger become a proselyte, he shall by this means enter into the congregation of the Lord; whereas Moses positively enjoins concerning ממזר mamzer, that he shall not be admitted into the congregation of the Lord, even to the tenth generation; which signifies the same as never, as is evident from the next verse: ten and tenth are taken for an indefinite number. So Jacob said to Laban, thou hast changed my hire these ten times, i.e. very frequently. Moreover, to enter into the congregation of the Lord, was the same as to be made citizens among the Romans, or to be esteemed in the same rank with the citizens themselves; i.e. in a civil, not religious capacity: for it is not forbidden that Ammonites or Moabites should be received, who turned to the religion of the Israelites; but a community of civil privileges is interdicted them, lest the twelve tribes should be mixed with them. The reason of this law was, evidently, to deter people from such unlawful commerce as would leave an indelible blot on their posterity."

Verse 4

Ver. 4. Because they met you not with bread and water It was a piece of ancient hospitality, to give strangers in their travels refreshment of bread and water; that is, of meat and drink. The Israelites, therefore, might well expect this civility from the Ammonites and Moabites, not only as fellow-creatures, but as their kindred people; and further still, on account of the respect which they had shewed them. See chap. Deuteronomy 2:19.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. Thou shalt not seek their peace All that is here forbidden is, the entering into public confederacies and alliances with them; notwithstanding which prohibition, they were bound to treat those people according to the rule of common justice and humanity. The words may be considered as a declaration of the inflexible resolution of these two nations to maintain idolatry, and to keep up the same hostile spirit towards the Hebrews, which their ancestors had begun; otherwise, if they had publicly renounced their idolatry, and courted the favour of the Israelites, this law would have been abrogated of course, the reasons for which it was made then ceasing.

Verses 7-8

Ver. 7, 8. Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite—an Egyptian The first, the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, were thereby more than neighbours; they were the brethren of the Israelites: and as to the Egyptians, though they at length cruelly oppressed the Jewish nation, yet were their ancestors at first very hospitably received by them; the memory of which benefit God would not permit them to lose. The children begotten of them were to enter into the congregation in the third generation. Though neither the father nor the son could be incorporated into the Jewish community, the grandchild might; for, according to the Rabbis, the grandchildren are the third generation. See Selden de Jure N. & G. lib. 5: cap. 14.

Note; (1.) Near relations, though they may have treated us unnaturally, must be regarded by us with affection still. (2.) The unkindness that we may have received must not cancel our grateful acknowledgment for former favours; we must forget the one, and remember the other.

Verse 9

Ver. 9. When the host goeth forth against thine enemies, &c.— As the Israelites were to commence a war against the Canaanites, the success of which depended immediately upon the miraculous assistance of God, Moses ordains, that, in so delicate and dangerous a conjuncture, they should be especially careful to avoid all that excess which is but too common in armies. The rule, however, is to be observed at all times. Grotius quotes from Agathias a sentence very like this: "Injustice, and neglect of God's service, are ever to be avoided as most pernicious, but especially in a time of war, and when men are about to give battle;" which the same historian proves by the examples of Darius, Xerxes, and the Athenians in Sicily. See Prolegom. ad Hist. de Jure B. & P.

Verse 13

Ver. 13. Thou shalt have a paddle, &c.— See Fuller's Miscellanea Sacra, lib. 6: cap. 5. The Turks, we are told, still use the same cleanliness in their camp. In all the intercourses of life, there cannot be too great a regard to natural decency, whereto this law has an immediate reference, as well as to health, to the awefulness of God's presence, to charity and friendship, lest it should be an offence to any one: and besides, this outward discipline conveyed a moral instruction; warning them, if God was thus careful for external decency, how much more so would he be for that which is internal.

Note; 1. They who provoke God by their sins, can with little reason expect a blessing on their arms. 2. Cleanliness is next to godliness: a slut or a sloven is ever a slothful person; and neglect of decency and neatness, is not only want of sense, but want of grace. 3. The cleanliness of a camp is most conducive to the health of the army. 4. We should be ashamed to do an indecent thing to offend one another; how much more to do a wicked thing to offend God!

Verse 15

Ver. 15. Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant, &c.— i.e. A foreign servant, says Houbigant, not one of the Jewish nation; for it is not added, the servant of thy brother, or of thy neighbour: besides, Moses addresses the whole nation, as appears from the words, in one of thy gates [or cities:] so that there is little doubt, that the meaning of the law is, to appoint an asylum for foreign servants; either because the neighbouring nations would not restore the Israelitish servants who should fly to them, or because it concerned not the Israelites to judge those who were without.

Verses 19-20

Ver. 19, 20. Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother, &c.— i.e. To an Israelite. See Exodus 22:25. But though they might not lend to Israelites, they are allowed to do so to strangers; for, as nothing was more reasonable, than that their neighbours the Sidonians, Tyrians, Egyptians, and others, who made great gain by merchandise, should not borrow money of the Israelites for nothing; so was it no less reasonable, that the Israelites themselves, whose chief profit was by husbandry, and breeding of cattle, should have money lent them freely by one another without interest, their land not being a country of traffic, whereby money might be improved, as in other countries. See Grotius on Luke 6:35. A benediction, as usual, is added to the performance of this law; which, being made principally for the benefit of the poorer Israelites, as appears from Exo 22:25 and Lev 25:36 is to be estimated among those duties of charity to which many promises of spiritual and temporal blessings are annexed. To this purpose Philo, in his Treatise of Humanity, says well, "The law forbids an Israelite to take usury of his brother; as thus, neither were the poor liable to be involved in inextricable straits, by being obliged to give back more than they received, nor did the lender lose his gain; for he received a valuable equivalent in the possession of those honours, and that internal applause, which generosity, good-nature, and greatness of mind, bestow." Mr. Harrington, in his Oceana, p. 245, infers from this passage, "first, that usury (by which he means lawful interest) in itself is not unlawful; and, secondly, that usury in Israel was no otherwise forbidden, than as it might come to overthrow the balance or foundation of the government: for when a lot, in general, amounted not perhaps to four acres, a man who should have had one thousand pounds in his purse, could not have regarded such a lot, in comparison of his money; and he that should have been half so much in debt, would have been quite eaten up."

Verses 24-25

Ver. 24, 25. When thou comest into thy neighbour's vine-yard, &c.— The rabbis understand this law in favour of poor labourers, who were hired to work in vineyards in the time of the vintage: for, if the very oxen were not to be muzzled whilst they trod out the corn, how much less ought the labourer to be debarred from eating of the fruits about which he laboured! There seems, however, no reason for restricting this indulgence to husbandmen; it may justly be enlarged to all travellers in the highway, whether Israelites or others, who had occasion to pass by a vineyard or field, and needed a refreshment. The disciples of our Saviour made use of this common right. See Matthew 12:1; Matthew 12:50.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 23". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/deuteronomy-23.html. 1801-1803.
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