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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Deuteronomy 23

 

 

Introduction

The Covenant Stipulations, Covenant Making at Shechem, Blessings and Cursings (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 29:1).

In this section of Deuteronomy we first have a description of specific requirements that Yahweh laid down for His people. These make up the second part of the covenant stipulations for the covenant expressed in Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 29:1 and also for the covenant which makes up the whole book. They are found in chapters 12-26. As we have seen Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 4:44 provide the preamble and historical prologue for the overall covenant, followed by the general stipulations in chapters 5-11. There now, therefore, in 12-26 follow the detailed stipulations which complete the main body of the covenant. These also continue the second speech of Moses which began in Deuteronomy 5:1.

Overall in this speech Moses is concerned to connect with the people. It is to the people that his words are spoken rather than the priests so that much of the priestly legislation is simply assumed. Indeed it is remarkably absent in Deuteronomy except where it directly touches on the people. Anyone who read Deuteronomy on its own would wonder at the lack of cultic material it contained, and at how much the people were involved. It concentrates on their interests, and not those of the priests and Levites, while acknowledging the responsibility that they had towards both priests and Levites.

And even where the cultic legislation more specifically connects with the people, necessary detail is not given, simply because he was aware that they already had it in writing elsewhere. Their knowledge of it is assumed. Deuteronomy is building on a foundation already laid. In it Moses was more concerned to get over special aspects of the legislation as it was specifically affected by entry into the land, with the interests of the people especially in mind. The suggestion that it was later written in order to bring home a new law connected with the Temple does not fit in with the facts. Without the remainder of the covenant legislation in Exodus/Leviticus/Numbers to back it up, its presentation often does not make sense from a cultic point of view.

This is especially brought home by the fact that when he refers to their approach to God he speaks of it in terms of where they themselves stood or will stand when they do approach Him. They stand not on Sinai but in Horeb. They stand not in the Sanctuary but in ‘the place’, the site of the Sanctuary. That is why he emphasises Horeb, which included the area before the Mount, and not just Sinai itself (which he does not mention). And why he speaks of ‘the place’ which Yahweh chose, which includes where the Tabernacle is sited and where they gather together around the Tabernacle, and not of the Sanctuary itself. He wants them to feel that they have their full part in the whole.

These detailed stipulations in chapters 12-26 will then be followed by the details of the covenant ceremony to take place at the place which Yahweh has chosen at Shechem (Deuteronomy 27), followed by blessings and cursings to do with the observance or breach of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28).

V. FURTHER REGULATIONS (Chapters 22-25).

We have all heard sermons where the experienced preacher suddenly begins to roam far and wide, jumping swiftly from one subject to another in rapid succession, picking out information here and there, in order to present an overall picture. Sometimes there may seem to be no logic to it, but there usually is. And that is partly what Moses was doing here The regulations that follow may not seem to come in any discernible overall pattern, although Moses probably had one in his mind. But items are grouped together, or joined by key words and thoughts. Moses had a wide collection of laws from which he here extracted examples covering a wide range of circumstances so as to turn their thoughts back to Yahweh’s written Instruction. It was not intended to be comprehensive or detailed, but to convey an impression. (In the same way a similar lack of connections was found in many law codes).

While in some cases there is, and has been, a connection with the ten commandments, that is not sufficient to explain the miscellany of laws which we must now consider, although for such a connection see, for example, Deuteronomy 19:15-21 - ‘you shall not bear false witness’; Deuteronomy 21:1-9 - ‘you shall not murder’; Deuteronomy 21:18-21 ‘honour your father and your mother’; Deuteronomy 22:22-27 - ‘you shall not commit adultery’; Deuteronomy 23:24-25; Deuteronomy 24:7 (compare Deuteronomy 19:14) - ‘you shall not steal’. But we note that there is no mention anywhere of the Sabbath day, something which is quite remarkable if, as some think, parts of Deuteronomy were written later. It would have been seen as an obvious gap that had to be filled. But Moses may well have classed that as priestly regulation, which he rarely touches on in the speech. But these regulations which have the particular commandments in mind are found other regulations which do not obviously fit into the pattern, although attempts have been made to do it. Such attempts do, however, require a lot from the imagination.

From this point on therefore we have a miscellany of regulations which cap what has gone before. While certain connections are unquestionably at times discoverable there seem in some cases to be no particular pattern to them, apart from the important one of consideration for others, and a need to consider covenant regulations. The essence of the message was that they were to love their neighbours, and resident aliens, as themselves (Deuteronomy 10:19 compare Leviticus 19:18; Leviticus 19:34).

Chapter 23 Regulation Concerning Those Whom Yahweh Makes Welcome and Unwelcome (1-18): Regulations Concerning Honest Dealings (19-25).

Moses now came to the question as to whom in the future were to be welcome to become true Israelites with full rights in the community and who would not, and them went on to deal with the question of honest dealings.


Verses 1-8

Chapter 23 Regulation Concerning Those Whom Yahweh Makes Welcome and Unwelcome (1-18): Regulations Concerning Honest Dealings (19-25).

Moses now came to the question as to whom in the future were to be welcome to become true Israelites with full rights in the community and who would not, and them went on to deal with the question of honest dealings.

Exclusion From And Entry Into The Assembly Of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 23:1-8).

Having dealt with different aspects of concern for one another within the covenant details were now given of those who for various reasons were welcome or unwelcome within the full covenant. First Moses considered those who were seen as restricted from becoming full citizens by being enrolled in the assembly of Yahweh. This did not exclude them from a covenant relationship with Yahweh, for they could still worship and pray and offer sacrifices (see Numbers 15:14-16; Numbers 15:26 compare Leviticus 16:29; Leviticus 17:8; Leviticus 22:18). But they could not be seen as full members.

Behind this lies the fact that it was considered to be a great privilege to be a member of the assembly of Yahweh. The 'congregation of Yahweh' were regarded as 'holy, every one of them' (Numbers 16:3). They were seen as 'set apart' as Yahweh's. They were 'a holy nation, a kingdom of priests' (Exodus 19:6). Theirs was a unique privilege and they had to be seen to be a holy nation, at least outwardly. Even then those who were under twenty years of age were not seen as full members of the congregation. See Numbers 1:18; Numbers 26:2; Joshua 22:12; Judges 20:1 but compare 2 Chronicles 31:16; 2 Chronicles 31:18 where they were in some way accepted as connected with the congregation if they were over three years of age. In its pure form the congregation also probably excluded women as well for they could not be circumcised. See Numbers 1:2-3; Numbers 1:18 where 'the congregation' appears to refer to the men only. See also Joshua 22:12; Judges 20:1; Judges 21:5; Ezra 2:64. But again see 2 Chronicles 31:16; 2 Chronicles 31:18.

Certainly their women’s later position is blatantly brought out in that in Herod’s temple women were excluded from 'the court of Israel'. On the other hand they did have a special position of their own. They had the Court of the Women and were not limited to the court of the Gentiles.

So membership in the assembly of Yahweh was not granted easily to those not born within the covenant. It should be noted that the exemptions now mentioned evidence further that we are dealing with words of Moses. The exemptions were probably intended to cover all known likely applicants, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites and Egyptians, all described previously in the book as having current contact with Israel. It is quite likely that approaches were being made at this time by Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites who wanted to join up with Israel. This indicates the early date of this passage. The favourable view of Edom also indicates an early date. In contrast the prophets later castigated Edom which was then seen as a mortal enemy. Canaanites are excluded because the purpose is that they will not be alive to become members. Any others are ignored. They have not come within Israel’s purview. The non-mention of the class of other resident aliens and foreigners generally, often mentioned elsewhere, was probably an indication that they might be accepted on individual terms in terms of Exodus 12:48-49. They could never present the threat that neighbours could (see what follows).

The first part of the chapter deals with the purity of the assembly, and who was and who was not to be welcomed (Deuteronomy 23:1-8), the purity of the military camp and behaviour that was not welcomed (Deuteronomy 23:9-14), the welcoming of an escaped slave (Deuteronomy 23:15-16 - probably because Israel themselves had been escaped slaves from Egypt), and in contrast the non-welcome of prostitutes and practising homosexuals (Deuteronomy 23:17-18). In each case the question is of who can be Yahweh’s chosen ones. This is then followed by covenant matters such as not taking from the poor interest on loans (Deuteronomy 23:19-20), not taking from God was has been avowed to Him (Deuteronomy 23:21-23), and not taking from their neighbours what belongs to them. There was the presumption in the first case that the poor would have loans available to them, in the second that freewill offerings would be available for others to partake of, and in the third of the availability to all of ready meals from growing grapes and grain (Deuteronomy 23:24-25). The three are thus closely connected by the thought of honesty and provision.

The chapter uses ‘thou, thee’ throughout apart from Deuteronomy 23:4 a where the thought is of them as a multitude of people.

Regulations Concerning Who Can Enter the Assembly of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 23:1-9).

Analysis using the words of Moses:

a He who is wounded in the stones, or has his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the assembly of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 23:1).

b A foreigner of doubtful background (mamzer) shall not enter into the assembly of Yahweh, even to the tenth generation shall none of his enter into the assembly of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 23:2).

c An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of Yahweh, even to the tenth generation shall none belonging to them enter into the assembly of Yahweh for ever (Deuteronomy 23:3).

d Because they did not meet you with bread and with water in the way, when you came forth out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you (Deuteronomy 23:4).

d Nevertheless Yahweh your God would not listen to Balaam, but Yahweh your God turned the curse into a blessing to you, because Yahweh your God loves you (Deuteronomy 23:5).

c You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days for ever (Deuteronomy 23:6).

b You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land (Deuteronomy 23:7).

a The children of the third generation who are born to them shall enter into the assembly of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 23:8).

Note that in ‘a’ one who has been emasculated cannot enter the assembly of Yahweh, but in the parallel an Edomite or Egyptian of the third generation can enter he assembly of Yahweh. In ‘b’ a foreigner of doubtful background shall not enter the assembly of Yahweh, but in the parallel Edom and Egypt are not to be looked on as foreigners of doubtful background. In ‘c’ the Ammonite and Moabite cannot enter the assembly of Yahweh ‘for ever’, and in the parallel they are seen as so untrustworthy that no treaties must be made with them ‘for ever’. In ‘d’ they hired Balaam against Israel, and in the parallel Yahweh did not listen to Balaam.

The Mutilated Cannot Enter the Assembly of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 23:1).

As entry into the land became nearer it was important to guard against the practises of the land. There might be a temptation for Israelites to mutilate themselves as they learned what the Canaanite cult prostitutes had done, or were still doing, in unoccupied territory. Let them therefore recognise that to do that would be for them to ever disqualify them from being in the assembly of Israel. There would be no way back for they would be permanently blemished. For no one religiously mutilated could enter the assembly of Yahweh.

Deuteronomy 23:1

He who is wounded in the stones, or has his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the assembly of Yahweh.’

This in a curious way connects back to Deuteronomy 22:30 which spoke of ‘uncovering his father’s skirt’. Here a man’s private parts were ‘uncovered’. This probably indicates deliberate mutilation, and is possibly intended to contemptuously dismiss the whole of Canaan as religious rejects, with the mutilated person seen as representing Canaanite religion and its adherents. These descriptions could well have been basically representing Canaanite religious rites which were an abomination to Yahweh and were seen as representative of Canaanite religion, which included the castration of male religious prostitutes. There would thus be total exclusion for Canaanites from the assembly of Israel, consonant with the fact that they were to be destroyed. (Even then Rahab was welcomed in - Joshua 6:25. God’s grace always has its exceptions).

But as mentioned above any copycat tactics by Israelites would have the same effect for them as well. Such practises would exclude anyone from the assembly of Yahweh. They were making themselves into Canaanites.

Those mentioned here would necessarily be prevented from circumcision because of their previous past ritual act which was also thus seen as excluding them for ever. In the case of the Canaanites it was because they bore on them the permanent mark of some other deity. In the case of the Israelite it might indicate excessive but mistaken religious fervour. But that would not excuse them. Yahweh demanded wholesomeness and perfection, not mutilation (compare Deuteronomy 14:1). To so mutilate themselves would exclude them from the assembly. We do not know whether exclusion of eunuchs was intended here, or not. Eunuchs would later be perfectly acceptable (Isaiah 56:3-4). It probably does not refer to men mutilated by accident.

There is no mention of the exclusion of their descendants because speaking literally they would be unable to father children. But the intention was also in the case of the Canaanites that there would be no descendants. Any descendants of non-Canaanites to whom this referred would not, however, themselves necessarily be mutilated.

Some, however, see the significance of this as referring to the non-functioning of a man’s lifegiving potential. Thus the point would be that the man could no longer ‘go forth and multiply’. He was therefore seen as blemished and not ‘fitted’ to be a part of the assembly of Israel, the holy people, although it would not necessarily prevent him from being within the covenant and able to worship Yahweh. But he would not be able to be an acting priest. It was in that view a ritual matter rather than a personal one indicating the perfection of Yahweh as the source of life.

The ‘assembly of Yahweh’ was Israel as gathered at the central Sanctuary with the main emphasis on the adult males (compare Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 5:22; Deuteronomy 9:10; Deuteronomy 10:4; Deuteronomy 18:16). These basically constituted ‘Israel’ with their households coming under their ‘umbrella’. It would exclude resident aliens who had not fully submitted to the covenant (those who had submitted would be seen as full members - compare the principle in Exodus 12:48). To enter into the assembly of Yahweh indicated obtaining full, unrestricted membership, with all its rights and privileges.

Deuteronomy 23:2

A bastard shall not enter into the assembly of Yahweh, even to the tenth generation shall none of his enter into the assembly of Yahweh.’

It is an open question what was meant by ‘a bastard’ (mamzer). The English translation give the impression of clarity but not the Hebrew (to us). The word is only used twice in the Old Testament and in its other use refers to ‘a mongrel people’ dwelling in Ashdod having replaced the true people (Zechariah 9:6). It could therefore mean a ‘foreigner’ but in a contemptuous sense, a foreigner of doubtful background. Notice how in the analysis it contrasts with Edomites and Egyptians, the former ‘brothers’ and the latter those who welcomed them as resident aliens.

It has been seen as referring to the product of an incestuous relationship (compare Deuteronomy 22:30) or the product of a forbidden marriage (compare Deuteronomy 7:3) or a half-breed, especially if connected with those otherwise forbidden (for racism was otherwise unknown), or the children of cult prostitutes (by relating mamzer to manzer which means ‘consecrated’). Theoretically at least a bastard as we know it could rarely be born in Israel for adulterers were put to death, and those who engaged in sex outside marriage were compulsorily married. Thus true bastards would be rare. It is not possible for us to be certain who was really in mind.

The exclusion ‘to the tenth generation’ puts them on a parallel with Ammonites and Moabites and excludes their descendants from full membership in Israel in the foreseeable future. The phrase could indicate ‘many generations’ as something thrust into the distant future, or it may mean ‘for ever’ (Deuteronomy 23:3).

Deuteronomy 23:3-5

An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of Yahweh, even to the tenth generation shall none belonging to them enter into the assembly of Yahweh for ever, because they did not meet you (ye) with bread and with water in the way, when you (ye) came forth out of Egypt, and because they hired against you (thee) Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you (thee). Nevertheless Yahweh your God would not listen to Balaam, but Yahweh your God turned the curse into a blessing to you, because Yahweh your God loves you.’

The exclusion of Ammonites and Moabites was on the basis of their unsuitability as evidenced by their actions. Ammonites were included with Moabites because they were brother nations and often acted as one (compare Judges 3:12-13; Judges 11:12-28 especially 17, 18, 25). What one did the other did. Thus they were lumped together as hiring Balaam, even though in Numbers no mention is made of the Ammonites. But they had continually demonstrated their enmity towards Israel by their attitude. They had refused hospitality to a refugee nation who were related to them, in the time of need, they had hired a false prophet against them, and they had sought for them to be cursed. They were thus untrustworthy. Even from a practical point of view they were not the kind of people that should be introduced into the inner counsels of Israel.

The reasons mentioned must not be minimised. To refuse hospitality was repugnant in the Ancient Near East. It was to brand someone as an enemy or an outcast. This thus demonstrated deep enmity. The hiring of Balaam was an even deeper display of enmity. The purpose had been to put Israel under a permanent curse. They wanted to be rid of them for ever. It was only due to Yahweh’s love for Israel that that curse was turned into a blessing.

The idea is that this demonstrated that they were so untrustworthy that while individuals might be allowed within the covenant and to worship Yahweh, none could ever in the foreseeable future become full members of the assembly. For they would never be able to show themselves as sufficiently detached from the attitude of their nations. Part of their disqualification might also arise from the fact that they were seen as descended from an incestuous union of Lot with his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38), so that they were seen as permanently blemished. The contrast with Edom as ‘your brother’ may hint at this. It should, however, be noted that their womenfolk could be absorbed into Israel on marriage to an Israelite, as witness Ruth the ancestress of David (Ruth 4:21-22) whose children were welcomed into the assembly of Israel.

“Even to the tenth generation -- for ever.” ‘Ten’ regularly means ‘many’ (compare Genesis 31:7). Thus this may mean for the foreseeable future until some great event occurs that makes it possible, possibly the coming of Shiloh? - see Genesis 49:10. ‘For ever’ means a similar thing, ‘unto the ages’, that is into the distant future. Moab and Ammon were clearly seen as a deceitful and wild people and totally untrustworthy.

Deuteronomy 23:6

You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days for ever.’

This is not as harsh as it sounds. Its meaning is that they are not to establish peace treaties with either nation. To ‘seek their peace and prosperity’ was a traditional way by which entering into such treaties was described. The ban was signifying that there was something so unstable in the characters of the nations that they were never to be trusted in a treaty. Their curse returned on their own heads. This would confirm that the problem therefore lay in their basic attitude.

Deuteronomy 23:7

You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land.’

In contrast were the Edomites and the Egyptians, the former because they were a genuine brother nation, the latter because in contrast with the Moabites and the Ammonites they had welcomed Israel to live among them at their time of need. Thus whenever they wished to enter the assembly of Israel this was possible after completing a probationary period which established their genuineness.

“Shall not abhor.” Abhorrence had in mind what was contrary to God. It was the opposite of ‘covenant love’. They were not to be looked on as of such a nature that they were utterly unable to be received by Yahweh. Later this position would be partly reversed in the case of Edom because they would criminally take advantage of Judah’s misfortunes (Obadiah; Amos 1:11-12; Ezekiel 35:5; 2 Chronicles 28:17; Psalms 137:7). They took possession of lands in the south. It rebounded on them, for in the end these were joined by refugees from the destruction of Edom and were later (under John Hyrcanus) actually forced then to be circumcised and become Jews at the point of the sword, being gradually absorbed into God’s people.

The prophets would later prophesy that one day large numbers of Egyptians would turn to Yahweh (Isaiah 19:18-25; Isaiah 45:14), something which became a reality through the preaching of the early church so that Alexandria became a major centre of Christianity in its early days.

Deuteronomy 23:8

The children of the third generation who are born to them shall enter into the assembly of Yahweh.’

Thus when it came to Edomites and Egyptians the father and his son would be probationers, but the grandson would receive welcome as a full member, so the wait would not be too long. It may be asked why they had to be put on probation, whereas other resident aliens could be welcomed almost immediately. The answer lies in the circumstances. Being neighbours they could seek to ‘convert’ in large numbers, and by this means plant spies in the assembly in readiness for a coup. This was hopefully to be prevented by the period of probation during which the genuineness of their motives could be proved. And while the son might follow his father in such a plan, the grandson, brought up as an Israelite, would see himself as such.

Behind these stipulations lies an important lesson. It is that while we must forgive people, and always welcome them, we must ever be sensibly aware of their frailties. The Christian ‘forgets’ in that he never again holds a repented of sin against someone, but he is still wise enough to recognise other people’s basic failings.


Verses 9-14

Keeping The Military Camp Ritually Clean (Deuteronomy 23:9-14).

Having established the purity of the assembly of Israel Moses now moved on to the question of the purity of the military camp of Israel. If they desired Yahweh to be with them in their midst they must preserve the purity of the camp.

Analysis using the words of Moses:

a When you go forth in camp against your enemies, then you shall keep yourself from every evil thing (Deuteronomy 23:9).

b If there is among you any man, who is not clean by reason of that which chances him by night, then shall he go abroad out of the camp, he shall not come within the camp, but it shall be, when evening comes on, he shall bathe himself in water; and when the sun is down, he shall come within the camp (Deuteronomy 23:10-11).

b You shall have a place also outside the camp, to which you shall go forth abroad, and you shall have a shovel (or peg) among your weapons, and it shall be, when you sit down abroad, you shall dig with it, and shall turn back and cover what comes from you (Deuteronomy 23:12-13).

a For Yahweh your God walks (or ‘marches’) in the midst of your camp, to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you; therefore shall your camp be holy, that He may not see an unclean thing in you, and turn away from you (Deuteronomy 23:14).

Note that in ‘a’ they must keep themselves from every evil thing when in their camp, and in the parallel this is because Yahweh walks in the camp. In ‘b’ we have described how to treat uncleanness caused by emissions, and in the parallel how to deal with other emissions.

Deuteronomy 23:9

When you (thou) go forth in camp against your enemies, then you shall keep yourself from every evil thing.’

When proceeding against the enemy it was necessary to keep ritually clean (compare 1 Samuel 21:4-5). The examples given are directly relevant to the camp but the implication is that they should avoid all uncleanness in every way. The general principle having been stated, some of the detail is then spelled out.

Deuteronomy 23:10-11

If there is among you any man, who is not clean by reason of that which chances him by night, then shall he go abroad out of the camp, he shall not come within the camp, but it shall be, when evening comes on, he shall bathe himself in water; and when the sun is down, he shall come within the camp.’

What ‘chances a man by night’ is a euphemism for wet dreams and other discharges (compare Leviticus 15:16). This rendered a man ‘unclean’ until the evening. The washing with water was preparatory to the period of waiting which would result in his becoming clean. It was not the water that cleansed but the waiting outside the camp. The water probably removed his earthiness so that he could meet with Yahweh in his period of waiting. Yahweh would be there, for He was not excluded from outside the camp, except in His symbolised presence. This is a military camp. When in the ‘camp of Israel’ (that of the whole people, not the military camp) he would wait within his tent, but then he was not sharing it in such close vicinity with others. Soldiers would often be huddled together. It may suggest that the military camp must be kept especially holy.

These discharges might include the soldier ‘wetting himself’ or even ‘disgracing himself’, whether because he was frightened, or simply out of laziness. Either way he would be given time to think about the matter by his exclusion from the camp. He would be no longer welcome until he was ‘clean’. The following verses would be an indication of what they were really expected to do in such circumstances.

Deuteronomy 23:12-13

You shall have a place also outside the camp, to which you shall go forth abroad, and you shall have a shovel (or peg) among your weapons, and it shall be, when you sit down abroad, you shall dig with it, and shall turn back and cover what comes from you.’

This might suggest that there was a camp for the soldiers, the official camp, within a wider camp which would include the latrines, both of which would be under guard, but the latter of which would be seen as ‘outside the camp’. Soldiers on active service would not want to be wandering alone away from the camp. The point, however, here is that the soldier who wished to relieve himself should leave the main camp to go to the latrine area, either with a shovel or peg which each soldier probably carried in his pack, or with a shovel kept in a prominent place for general use, dig a hole, relieve himself, and then cover it over. This would keep the main camp holy and would be of great hygienic benefit. It would also emphasise the need to avoid lewd or disgusting behaviour.

Deuteronomy 23:14

For Yahweh your God walks (or ‘marches’) in the midst of your camp, to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you; therefore shall your camp be holy, that he may not see an unclean thing in you, and turn away from you.’

This was necessary because Yahweh their God walked in the midst of their camp. Yahweh was with them (possibly, but not necessarily, indicated by the presence of the Ark). It is an open question whether the Ark was regularly taken into battle. Compare for this Numbers 10:35-36, but there the tabernacle was being taken down; Judges 20:27, where it was in the main camp of Israel in a civil war where Yahweh’s law was being defended; 1 Samuel 4:3-9, but that arose from special circumstances of defeat. It is thus a disputed question. But unquestionably He was seen as ‘on the march’ with them and as there to deliver them from all their enemies, (compare the same word for ‘march, go before, walk’ in Exodus 23:23; Exodus 33:14; Leviticus 26:12). Thus whenever a soldier relieved himself it reminded Him that Yahweh was with them in the camp, for that was why the camp had to be kept holy. No ‘nakedness of a thing’ must be found in it, nothing connected with the waste products of the private parts. If they disregarded this demand for the maintenance of the holiness of the camp then Yahweh would turn away from them and they would not be victorious.

There is unquestionably here the requirement that the people of God be clean and hygienic in their habits, even though the reason for it is a religious one.


Verse 15-16

Other Aspects Of Attitude and Behaviour (Deuteronomy 23:15-25).

Analysis in the words of Moses:

a You shall not deliver to his master a slave who is escaped from his master to you, he shall dwell with you, in the midst of you, in the place which he shall choose within one of your gates, where it pleases him best. You shall not oppress him.

b There shall be no cult prostitute (holy one) of the daughters of Israel, neither shall there be a cult sodomite (holy one) of the sons of Israel.

c You shall not bring the hire of a prostitute, or the wages of a dog, into the house of Yahweh your God for any vow, for even both these are an abomination to Yahweh your God

d You shall not lend on interest to your brother; interest of silver, interest of victuals, interest of anything that is lent on interest

d To a foreigner you may lend on interest, but to your brother you shall not lend on interest, that Yahweh your God may bless you in all that you put your hand to, in the land to which you go in to possess it.

c When you shall vow a vow to Yahweh your God, you shall not be slack to pay it, for Yahweh your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin in you. But if you shall forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in you

b What is gone out of your lips you shall observe and do; according as you have vowed to Yahweh your God, a freewill-offering, which you have promised with your mouth.

a When you come into your neighbour’s vineyard, then you may eat of grapes your fill at your own pleasure, but you shall not put any in your vessel. When you come into your neighbour’s standing grain, then you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not move a sickle to your neighbour’s standing grain. (This command is based on the principle that the land is Yahweh’s. He is the master and Israel were His servants (Deuteronomy 32:36; Leviticus 25:55), and thus Yahweh could make for the land what provisions He would).

Note that in ‘a’ a slave who escapes from a foreign master (and is now in someone else’s land) must be welcomed. He may live where he chooses among them and must not be oppressed. In the parallel someone who is in someone else’s field may partake of what is in it as long as he only takes what is necessary at the time in order to satisfy his hunger (he must thus not be disapproved of). And this was based on the fact of Yahweh’s ownership of the land, and the fact that He was the master and Israel His ‘slaves’. Compare Isaiah 1:3). It was also based on the fact that they had been slaves to a cruel foreign master in Egypt and must therefore now show compassion (compare Deuteronomy 24:22). In ‘b’ ‘holy ones’ in terms of prostitutes both male and female are forbidden in Israel, and in the parallel men and women shall be truly holy by observing their vows. In ‘c’ the wages of male and female prostitutes are not to be accepted for a vow, and in the parallel a truly made vow must be performed in timely fashion. In ‘d’ it is forbidden to lend on interest to a brother, but in the parallel such lending to foreigners is allowed.

Escaped Slaves Shall Not Be Forced To Return To Their Masters (Deuteronomy 23:15-16).

This would apparently refer to slaves who escaped from another country. The point was almost certainly that Israel themselves were in a sense escaped slaves and should therefore treat other escaped slaves well and not return them to their place of origin. Rather they must be welcomed. This would forbid extradition clauses which were a feature of some treaties.

Deuteronomy 23:15-16

You shall not deliver to his master a slave who is escaped from his master to you, he shall dwell with you, in the midst of you, in the place which he shall choose within one of your gates, where it pleases him best. You shall not oppress him.’

An escaped slave who came among them must be free to choose where he would live. This fact is emphasised. He was to be a totally free man. Note the threefold emphasis so common in Deuteronomy, ‘in the midst of you (as one of you), in the place which he shall choose within your gates, where it pleases him best.’ He would probably also be welcome into the assembly of Israel if he was willing to commit himself to the covenant.

“In the place which he shall choose.” It can hardly be a coincidence that this phrase was used. Thus the freedom of the escaped slave is compared with the freedom of Yahweh to choose His own place. He was under Yahweh’s special care.


Verse 17

Both Male And Female Prostitution Forbidden In Israel (Deuteronomy 23:17).

In contrast with the welcome given to the escaped slave are the unwelcome Israelite male and female prostitutes.

Deuteronomy 23:17

There shall be no cult prostitute (holy one) of the daughters of Israel, neither shall there be a cult sodomite (holy one) of the sons of Israel.’

Prostitution was to be totally forbidden in Israel among their own people. Neither male nor female native cult prostitutes were to be allowed, nor indeed any prostitutes. There must be no aping the ways of foreign nations. The Canaanites had a multiplicity of cult prostitutes, (they are mentioned in Ugaritic texts of temple personnel) as did other nations. The danger of copycat prostitution may well be in mind


Verse 18

Their Unclean Money Not To Be Accepted in the House of God (Deuteronomy 23:18).

The comparison here was of not allowing anything unclean in the place where Yahweh dwelt (Deuteronomy 23:10-13).

Deuteronomy 23:18

You shall not bring the hire of a prostitute, or the wages of a dog, into the house of Yahweh your God for any vow, for even both these are an abomination to Yahweh your God.’

Any attempt to bring money into the Sanctuary which was earned by prostitution (a word which more indicates general prostitution), in respect of a vow, was to be absolutely rejected. The ‘dog’ may well signify a male prostitute (such a use is known in external literature). Both male and female prostitutes were an abomination to Yahweh. This would presumably in context refer to foreign prostitutes as Israelite prostitutes have just been forbidden, although it may simply be underlining the actual ban. To introduce their hire would be to condone their profession, while they were actually an abomination to Yahweh.

However, the reference to a dog may have a real dog in mind, possibly a sheep dog or one used for security purposes rather than the semi-wild dogs that hung around outside the camp acting as scavengers. It would then indicate that to introduce a dog’s earnings was all one with introducing a dog (which was a ritually unclean animal) itself. This too was an abomination.


Verses 19-23

Covenant Matters and Honest Dealings (Deuteronomy 23:19-25).

The section on what should be welcomed and what should not was then followed by the approach to covenant responsibilities fulfilled out of honest goodness; such as not taking from the poor interest on loans (Deuteronomy 23:19-20), not taking from God was has been avowed to Him (Deuteronomy 23:21-23), and not taking from their neighbours what belongs to them (Deuteronomy 23:24-25). Honesty was required in all their affairs. There is the presumption in the first that the poor will have loans made available to them, in the second that freewill offerings will be made available for others to partake of, and in the third of the making available to all of ‘ready meals’ from growing grapes and grain (Deuteronomy 23:24-25). The three are thus closely connected by the thought of honesty of purpose and a readiness to provide.

Lending On Interest Allowable Only To Foreigners (Deuteronomy 23:19-20).

Lending by one Israelite to another on interest was not to be allowed. Such borrowing would normally be by those in desperate straits, for it was to be an agricultural society. To add interest would be to make such a person’s situation worse. The debt must not be added to in this way. (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36-37). But it covered all such loans. This regulation is unique in the Ancient Near East.

Deuteronomy 23:19

You shall not lend on interest to your brother; interest of silver, interest of victuals, interest of anything that is lent on interest,’

The principle of not charging interest (or any extra payment) applied to all lending whether of silver or of goods or of food. Such were to be lent freely out of gratitude to Yahweh (compare Deuteronomy 15:1-11). This did not necessarily indicate extortionate interest, although interest was usually very high in those days, it signified anything that would increase the debt. The helping hand must not be accompanied by the grasping fist. Any loan was to be an expression of love to Yahweh. Such an offering was acceptable to Yahweh.

Deuteronomy 23:20

To a foreigner you may lend on interest, but to your brother you shall not lend on interest, that Yahweh your God may bless you in all that you put your hand to, in the land to which you go in to possess it.’

It was permissible to lend on interest to foreigners, demonstrating that there was nothing inherently wrong in lending on interest. In that case it would be commercial. The point was that advantage should not be taken of a fellow-Israelite’s hard luck. But they had no such covenant responsibility towards foreigners, and the foreigners would mainly be merchants and traders (which did not, however, justify extortionate interest rates). Then Yahweh their God would bless them in all that they put their hand to in the land ‘which they were entering in order to possess it’. They would from this see how Yahweh was the great lender, He was ‘giving’ them the land, they must behave in the same way towards the poor, and Yahweh Himself would then reward them.

Vows To Yahweh Must Be Honoured But Are Not Demanded.

Deuteronomy 23:21

When you shall vow a vow to Yahweh your God, you shall not be slack to pay it, for Yahweh your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin in you.’

To make a vow to Yahweh was a serious matter. Once made there should be no hesitation about fulfilling it. There was provision for those who made unauthorised vows, for example a rash vow by a young woman or a wife (Numbers 30:4-5; Numbers 30:8 etc.). Apart from this Yahweh would expect the vow to be fulfilled, and not to fulfil it would be a breach of the covenant.

Deuteronomy 23:22

But if you shall forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in you.’

However, it is made quite clear that vows were not demanded. They were totally a matter of freewill and love for Yahweh. There was no breach of covenant for the one who never made a vow.

Deuteronomy 23:23

What is gone out of your lips you shall observe and do; according as you have vowed to Yahweh your God, a freewill-offering, which you have promised with your mouth.’

However, once a vow of a freewill offering had been made, it was expected that it would be fulfilled. Note how the vow is seen as connected with and accompanied by a freewill offering, a ‘peace/wellbeing offering’. Apart from anything else a good number of people would benefit from the freewill offering, from which a feast would be prepared for family and friends, not to overlook Levites (Deuteronomy 12:6; Deuteronomy 12:17; Leviticus 7:16-20; Leviticus 22:21-22; Leviticus 23:38; Numbers 15:3; Numbers 29:39). What was promised with the lips, and came from the mouth, must be observed (compare Numbers 30:2). A man could not get credit to himself by his vow, and then change his mind afterwards.

One of the prime requirements for those who would enter Yahweh’s presence was that having given their word they fulfilled it, even to their own cost (Psalms 15:4), an attitude we could do well to heed.


Verse 24

Food May Be Picked From A Neighbour’s Property To Be Eaten By Hand (Deuteronomy 23:24).

Further provision was made here for the poor, but it also applied to any who were feeling hungry and looked for the means at hand to satisfy it, especially when travelling. For the land was Yahweh’s and He may order as He would. He was the Master and Israel His slaves (Deuteronomy 32:36; Leviticus 25:55; Isaiah 1:3). Furthermore this goes along with Deuteronomy 24:20-22 where they must leave gleanings because they had escaped a cruel foreign master in Egypt. Thus the master/slave relationship is very much in mind here.

Deuteronomy 23:24

When you come into your neighbour’s vineyard, then you may eat of grapes your fill at your own pleasure, but you shall not put any in your vessel.’

The principle was simple. If they were in a vineyard belonging to an Israelite (a ‘neighbour’) they could eat as many grapes as they wished. However, they were not to take any away in a vessel or any other similar thing. The idea was not that everyone should raid the vineyards when they were hungry. The point was that no restriction was put on someone passing through as long as they only ate what they then required.

Deuteronomy 23:25

When you come into your neighbour’s standing grain, then you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not move a sickle to your neighbour’s standing grain.’

The same applied to standing grain (not harvested grain). They could pluck ears with their hand and eat their fill. But they must not cut any down with a sharp tool. Thus none need go hungry, but this was not to be an excuse for theft or taking wrong advantage of a neighbour’s generosity. Compare Mark 2:23-28 and parallels.

Both these examples are based on Yahweh’s ownership of the land, and position with regard to Israel. He has the right to make these demands because the land and all it produces is in the end His. He is the master and owns the land and those who ‘rent’ the land are His servants so that He may do as He will. (Leviticus 25:55; Deuteronomy 32:36. This is precisely also the relationship in which Pharaoh stood to the Egyptians, compare Genesis 47:20). And yet they too will benefit for it is Yahweh who makes the land fruitful.

There is a lesson here for us all on neighbourly sharing and being generous, especially to have-nots, as we recognise in a similar way that what we have also fully belongs to Him, and we should use it as he chooses.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 23:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/deuteronomy-23.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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