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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 23

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Deuteronomy 23:0


Those Excluded from the CongregationMiscellaneous Laws (Deuteronomy 21:1-14)Exclusion From the Lord's PeopleAdultery and Fornication (Deuteronomy 22:22-1)
Deuteronomy 22:28-1
Deuteronomy 23:1Deuteronomy 23:1Deuteronomy 23:1Participation in Public Worship
Deuteronomy 23:2Deuteronomy 23:2Deuteronomy 23:2Deuteronomy 23:2-7
Deuteronomy 23:3-8Deuteronomy 23:3-6Deuteronomy 23:3-6
Deuteronomy 23:7-8Deuteronomy 23:7-8
Deuteronomy 23:8-9
Cleanliness of the Camp Site Keeping the Military Camp CleanHygiene in Camp
Deuteronomy 23:9-14Deuteronomy 23:9Deuteronomy 23:9-11
Deuteronomy 23:10-11 Deuteronomy 23:10-12
Deuteronomy 23:12-14Deuteronomy 23:12-14
Deuteronomy 23:13-15
Miscellaneous LawsLaws Dealing with Humanitarian and Religious Obligations (Deuteronomy 23:15-19)Various LawsMiscellaneous
Deuteronomy 23:15-16Deuteronomy 23:15-16Deuteronomy 23:15-16
Deuteronomy 23:16-17
Deuteronomy 23:17-18Deuteronomy 23:17-18Deuteronomy 23:17-18
Deuteronomy 23:18-19
Deuteronomy 23:19-20Deuteronomy 23:19-20Deuteronomy 23:19-20
Deuteronomy 23:20-21
Deuteronomy 23:21-23Deuteronomy 23:21-23Deuteronomy 23:21-23
Deuteronomy 23:22-24
Deuteronomy 23:24-25Deuteronomy 23:24Deuteronomy 23:24-25
Deuteronomy 23:25 23:25-26
[follows MT numbering]

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four modern translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 23:1-6 1”No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD. 2No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of his descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the LORD. 3No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the LORD, 4because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. 5Nevertheless, the LORD your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loves you. 6You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days.”

Deuteronomy 23:1 “emasculated” This English word translated two Hebrew terms:

1. “by crushing” - BDB 194

2. “to wound or bruise” - BDB 822, KB 954, Qal PASSIVE PARTICIPLE

This refers to (1) a male's testicles being removed or (2) the severing of the spermatic cord (possibly by crushing).

“or has his male organ cut off” This refers to a severed penis (BDB 1050, “a place of pouring fluid”). This would be another way of describing a eunuch (cf. Matthew 19:12). These two damaged males are the first in a series of those who are excluded from attendance at the assemblies of Israel (i.e., events at the tabernacle). Their exclusion is symbolic of the purity and wholeness of God's people seen as a kingdom of priests (cf. Exodus 19:6 and Leviticus 21:17-23; Leviticus 22:17-25). Later in the OT many of these excluded ones are included (e.g., Ruth the Moabitess and the eunuch of Isaiah 56:3-5 and Acts 8:26-40).

It is also possible that this practice of damaging a male's sexual potential was part of Canaanite practices. Many of the seemingly unusual prohibitions in the Mosaic legislation were directed at a total break with Canaanite society and worship practices.

“shall enter” This VERB (BDB 97, KB 112) is used several times in this chapter:

1. “enter,” Deuteronomy 23:1, Deuteronomy 23:2(twice), 3(twice), 8, 11(twice), 20, 24, 25

2. “bring in,” Deuteronomy 23:18

Most usages relate to:

1. people who may not enter (or attend tabernacle events) the congregation of Israel:

a. damaged males

b. illegitimate persons or their descendants

c. Ammonites, Moabites, or their descendants

2. people who may enter:

a. Edomites

b. Egyptians

3. people who must leave the camp of Israel for a period of time:

a. males with nocturnal emissions

b. all Israelites to relieve themselves

“the assembly of the LORD” The phrase “assembly of the LORD” is used of the gathered covenant people of YHWH for worship beginning at Mt. Horeb/Sinai:

Deuteronomy 23:1. Exodus 12:6, “the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel”

Deuteronomy 23:2. Leviticus 16:17, “all the assembly of Israel”

Deuteronomy 23:3. Numbers 16:3, “all the congregation,” “the assembly of the LORD”

Deuteronomy 23:4. Numbers 20:4, “the LORD's assembly”

Deuteronomy 23:5. Deuteronomy 5:22, “all your assembly”

6. Deuteronomy 9:10; Deuteronomy 10:4; Deuteronomy 18:16, “on the day of assembly”

7. Deuteronomy 23:1, Deuteronomy 23:2, Deuteronomy 23:3, Deuteronomy 23:8, “assembly of the LORD”

8. Deuteronomy 31:30, “all the assembly of Israel”

9. Joshua 8:33, “the people of Israel”

This phrase represents:

1. worshiping Israel

a. Mt. Sinai/Horeb

b. the tabernacle

2. The Jewish Study Bible, p. 418, based on Judges 20:2, asserts that it refers to a leadership council or governing body (cf. Numbers 16:3; Numbers 20:4)

These excluded ones still have the legal rights of “resident aliens” spelled out in Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 19:9-10, Leviticus 19:33-34; Leviticus 23:22; Deuteronomy 1:16; Deuteronomy 5:14; Deuteronomy 27:19.

The Septuagint translated the Hebrew term qahal (BDB 874) as ekklesia, from which we get the English word, “church.” Jesus and the NT authors chose this term to communicate that the New Covenant people of God are to be identified as an extension of the Old Covenant people of God (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-38; Galatians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6).

Deuteronomy 23:2 “illegitimate birth” This (BDB 561) is defined as either (1) a child conceived out of wedlock; (2) an incident of incest (cf. Leviticus 18:6-18); or (3) a child of a mixed marriage (Jewish and pagan, cf. Ezra 9:2; Nehemiah 13:23-25; Zechariah 9:6). The Hebrew word best fits option #2.

Deuteronomy 23:2, Deuteronomy 23:3 “the tenth generation” Note the parallel structure in the phrase, “shall (not) ever enter” in Deuteronomy 23:2 and 3. The number ten is idiomatic for completeness or forever (see Special Topic at Deuteronomy 4:40).


Deuteronomy 23:3 “No Ammonite or Moabite” These nations were the result of incest mentioned in Deuteronomy 23:2. Some rabbis say that Genesis 19:30-38 (nations from Lot's incestuous relations with his daughters) shows that this applies only to the men, thereby getting around Ruth's being a Moabite and a progenitor of King David. However, beyond incest, the other specific reasons for their being rejected is spelled out in Deuteronomy 23:4-6.

Deuteronomy 23:4 “Balaam” This prophet was not a descendant of Abraham, but knew YHWH, as did Melchizedek and Job, who were also not descendants of Abraham. Balaam's story is recounted in Numbers 22-24.

Deuteronomy 23:5 “because the LORD your God loves you” This is a recurrent theme in Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 1:4:37, “He loved your fathers”

Deuteronomy 2:7-8, “the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers:

Deuteronomy 3:12-13, “He will love you and bless you and multiply you” (if obedient)

Deuteronomy 4:10:15, “Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them”

Deuteronomy 5:33:3, “He loves the people(s)”

YHWH's actions are based on His choice, not Israel's goodness (cf. Deuteronomy 7:7-8). He chose Abraham to choose a world (see Special Topic: YHWH's ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN at Deuteronomy 4:6).

Deuteronomy 23:6 “their peace or their prosperity” This may be a reference to (1) treaties or alliances (e.g., Ezra 9:12) or (2) prayers on their behalf (e.g., Jeremiah 14:11).

Verses 7-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 23:7-8 7”You shall not detest an Edomite, for he is your brother; you shall not detest an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land. 8The sons of the third generation who are born to them may enter the assembly of the LORD.”

Deuteronomy 23:7 “detest” This VERB (BDB 1073, KB 1765, Piel IMPERFECT, used twice) means “abhor,” from the NOUN “abomination” (e.g., Deuteronomy 7:26). See Special Topic: ABOMINATIONS.

“Edomite, for he is your brother” Rashi says the difference between Deuteronomy 23:3 and 7 is that those countries listed in Deuteronomy 23:3 caused Israel to sin (cf. Genesis 36:0). The nation of Edom is descended from Jacob's brother Esau (cf. Genesis 25:24-26; Genesis 36:1).

Deuteronomy 23:8 “The sons of the third generation” The wait was possibly due to the time necessary to fully integrate with Israeli society and worship practices.

Verse 9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 23:9 9”When you go out as an army against your enemies, you shall keep yourself from every evil thing.

Deuteronomy 23:9 Israel was involved in “holy war” (cf. chapter 20). YHWH fought for them, but they must remain “ceremonially” pure for YHWH's presence to remain with them (cf. Deuteronomy 23:14; Joshua 5:13-15).

Verses 10-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 23:10-11 10”If there is among you any man who is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he must go outside the camp; he may not reenter the camp. 11But it shall be when evening approaches, he shall bathe himself with water, and at sundown he may reenter the camp.”

Deuteronomy 23:10 “a nocturnal emission” The Hebrew is “a happening or event at night” (BDB 899 CONSTRUCT 538). It could include other types of bodily fluids such as urination and diarrhea, etc. Any leakage of bodily fluids makes one ceremonially unclean (cf. Leviticus 15:0). Remember, this has to do with ceremonial cleanliness, not sin.

Deuteronomy 23:11 “sundown” Israel starts a new day at sundown, following the pattern in Genesis 1:0.

Verses 12-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 23:12-14 12”You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, 13and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement. 14Since the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you or He will turn away from you.”

Deuteronomy 23:12 “a place” Hebrew has the term “hand” (BDB 388), which possibly referred to a marker to designate a general area for the purpose of excrement (BDB 844).

Deuteronomy 23:13

NASB“a spade” NKJV“an implement” NRSV, NJB“a trowel” TEV“a stick”

The Hebrew term (BDB 450) refers to some type of digging instrument. Whether it was a military weapon used for two purposes or a separate item such as a tent peg carried for this one purpose is uncertain.

NASB“tools” NKJV, TEV, NJB“equipment” NRSV“utensils”

The term's (BDB 24) meaning is uncertain. The Arabic means “possessions,” while the Aramaic means “weapons.” In context it seems to be a military weapon which was also used as a digging tool involved in the ceremonial and hygiene covering of excrement. It is used only here in the entire OT.

Deuteronomy 23:14 “the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp” This is a possible reference to the Levites carrying the Ark of the Covenant (cf. Exodus 25:10-22), which took the place of the shekinah cloud (e.g., Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 14:19-20; Exodus 16:10; Exodus 19:9, Exodus 19:16; Leviticus 16:2, Leviticus 16:13) as the symbol of the divine Presence after Israel crossed the Jordan. The rabbis later took this verse literally and ruled that no manure could be used in the gardens in the city of Jerusalem.

“anything indecent” This is a CONSTRUCT of “word” (BDB 182 IV, #6) with “nakedness” (BDB 788, #2, cf. Deuteronomy 24:1). In this context it refers to ceremonial cleanness related to bodily fluids (cf. Leviticus 15:0). It seems to be a way to teach Israel that YHWH's presence and power with them must be matched by their “holiness” and constant vigil.

Verses 15-16

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 23:15-16 15”You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him.”

Deuteronomy 23:15 “You shall not hand over to his master a slave” The central interpretive question is the nationality of a slave and of his master. To whom does this exactly refer? This must refer to a foreign slave or a foreign slave-master (or both). This does clearly show Israel's understanding that a slave is more than an animated tool. YHWH allows servitude under certain restrictions and limits, but He also cares for the powerless, helpless, and vulnerable!

Deuteronomy 23:16 Notice the repeated freedoms YHWH demands for the escaped foreign slave:

1. “live in your midst” - BDB 442, KB 444

2. “the place which he shall choose” - BDB 103, KB 119, Qal IMPERFECT

3. “where it pleases him” - BDB 373 II

4. “you shall not mistreat him” - BDB 413, KB 416, Hiphil IMPERFECT

What freedom and protection! All other ancient Near Eastern law codes demanded the return (and with it probable death) of runaway slaves. The Mosaic covenant focuses on the rights and protection of the weak, powerless, socially ostracized, and poor. The catch phrase is “the widow, the orphan, and the alien” (cf. Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 24:17, Deuteronomy 24:19; Deuteronomy 26:12, Deuteronomy 26:13; Deuteronomy 27:19).

Verses 17-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 23:17-18 17”None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute. 18You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God for any votive offering, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God.”

Deuteronomy 23:17 “cult prostitute” This is a feminine term “holy one” (BDB 873 I). It shows the presence of cultic prostitution in Canaan (cf. Exodus 34:15-16; 2 Kings 23:7). However, there is little hard archaeological evidence of this in Canaan (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 1124, #6). If there was cultic prostitution and these abominations developed also within Israeli society, it makes them all the more evil (cf. Hosea 4:11-14; Luke 12:48).

“cult prostitute” This is a masculine term “holy one” (BDB 873 I). In this period a male prostitute is called “a dog” (cf. Deuteronomy 23:18).

Deuteronomy 23:18 “the hire of a harlot” This is a different word from Deuteronomy 23:17 (cf. Hosea 9:1). This is the common term for a fertility worship partner (BDB 1072). There is some debate whether the terms for cult prostitution in Deuteronomy 23:17 are parallel to this term of Deuteronomy 23:18 or if Deuteronomy 23:18 refers to non-cultic prostitution (BDB 1072). In many texts there is a distinction, but here the parallelism seems purposeful. The wages charged are attempted to be given back to the deity (cf. Micah 1:7). YHWH refuses all revenue from sexual fees!

“the wages of a dog” This is the fee charged by a male prostitute. YHWH rejects all fertility worship and its income!

Verses 19-20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 23:19-20 19”You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest. 20You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countrymen you shall not charge interest, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess.”

Deuteronomy 23:19 “You shall not charge interest” The Hebrew is literally “something bitten off” (BDB 675). This is also discussed in Exodus 22:25 and Leviticus 25:35-37.

Deuteronomy 23:20 There was a different set of guidelines between covenant partners and Gentiles (BDB 648, cf. Deuteronomy 14:21; Deuteronomy 15:3).

“so that the LORD your God may bless you in all that you undertake” Notice YHWH's blessing, which was meant to be a sign which attracted the world to Him, was conditioned on Israel's covenant obedience. The old covenant, like the new covenant, was grace-based, but performance to the covenant obligations was expected between God and His people because God wants to reflect His character through His people to a spiritually lost and needy world. New Covenant salvation is absolutely free in the finished work of Christ, but it too has conditions and expectations (i.e., repentance, faith, obedience, perseverance). The goal of knowing God is living in His revealed will and character. See Special Topic: YHWH's ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN.

It is interesting that several of these “blessing texts” occur in the context of Israel helping the poor and needy (e.g., Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 24:19).

Verses 21-23

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 23:21-23 21”When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the LORD your God will surely require it of you. 22However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you. 23You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God, what you have promised.”

Deuteronomy 23:21 “a vow” The laws on vows (BDB 623, KB 674, Qal IMPERFECT, cf. Deuteronomy 12:11, Deuteronomy 12:17) are discussed in Leviticus 27:0 and Numbers 30:0 (Nazarite vows are described in Numbers 6:0). It was a promise made to YHWH based on certain events and circumstances.

This phrase has:

1. a negated Piel IMPERFECT of BDB 29, KB 24

2. a Piel INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT of BDB 1023, KB 1532

If you make a vow, fulfill it in a timely manner!

“shall not delay to pay it” The rabbis later interpreted this time as “not past three festivals” (i.e., one year).

“will surely require it of you” This phrase is emphatic (INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERFECT VERB of the same root, BDB 205, KB 233). YHWH takes vows in His name seriously (cf. Ecclesiastes 5:1-7).

Deuteronomy 23:22-23 This shows the wisdom of not making rash vows (e.g., Judges 11:0). This does show the Hebrews' view of the power and importance of the spoken word (e.g., Genesis 1:0; Isaiah 55:11; John 1:1). YHWH takes what we say in His name seriously (cf. Exodus 20:7, ie. marriage vow and other promises made in His name; [ie. “from your lips”]). Words have consequences (cf. Leviticus 27:0; Romans 10:13).

Verse 24

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 23:24 24”When you enter your neighbor's vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you are fully satisfied, but you shall not put any in your basket.

Deuteronomy 23:24-25 “you” This refers to the needy of the land, the orphan, the widow, the alien, and the poor. This was part of the law of gleaning. It is mentioned in several texts (cf. Leviticus 19:9-10; Leviticus 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:21; Judges 8:2; Judges 20:45; Ruth 2:0; Isaiah 17:6; Isaiah 24:13; Jeremiah 6:9; Jeremiah 49:9; Micah 7:1). It shows both God's care for the poor and His ownership of the harvest.

Deuteronomy 23:24 “until you are fully satisfied” This is a combination of “according to your desire” (BDB 659) and “your fill” (BDB 959, cf. Exodus 16:3; Leviticus 25:19; Ruth 2:18; Psalms 78:25; Proverbs 13:25). It speaks, not of eating enough just to get by, but of eating all you want. What a marvelous provision for the poor, needy, and alien passing by. There is also no limit of how many times one can return.

Verse 25

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Deuteronomy 23:25 25”When you enter your neighbor's standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor's standing grain.”

Deuteronomy 23:25 Verses 24 and 25 both show that the needy can eat all they want, but they cannot take any of the crop away with them for later consumption or sale (e.g., Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5). YHWH cares for both the poor and the rights of the farmers.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why would God exclude anyone who wanted to be a part of His people from being so?

2. Why did God make a distinction between certain countries?

3. How is ritual cleanliness related to sin in the OT?

4. How do Deuteronomy 23:24-25 balance property owners' rights with the poor and needy?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 23". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/deuteronomy-23.html. 2021.
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