The spirit of all the precepts given here and in the previous chapter is instructive. God deigns to take note of all these things. He also teaches His people sensitivity, courtesy, respect for others, tenderness. They are feelings that repel the roughness and drive the hardness out of the peoples’ hearts.
1 - 2 The Emasculated and the Illegitimate Child
1 “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD. 2 No 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.
In verses 1-14 we see two names for the people of God:
1. the assembly of the LORD (verses 1-8, six times) and
2. the camp (verses 9-14, six times).
With the “assembly of the LORD” is meant the meetings of God’s people; the “camp” is about fighting and being able to do so. Both are connected with God’s presence in the midst of His people. It is about the assembly of God, not our own. If we understand this properly, it will save us from seeking what we like. We then will also want to guard the holiness of that place.
Not ”enter the assembly of the LORD” seems to refer to the meetings of God’s people to honor Him. Four categories are excluded from participation in the religious meetings of Israel. This exclusion should prevent any member of the people from entering into a relationship with any of the persons mentioned.
In the case of an emasculated person, external intervention was made in the God-created nature of the reproduction of life. These are those whom the Lord Jesus speaks of, when He speaks of “eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men” (Mt 19:12). Such an act is contrary to the character of God’s people. Therefore, such a person may not be accepted as a member of God’s people.
[NB This prohibition also gives food for thought when it comes to modern means and techniques to prevent conceiving children without any medical necessity.]
The eunuch mentioned in Acts 8 is an example of the grace that goes beyond the law (Acts 8:26-39). The word “eunuch” (Acts 8:27) is literally “emasculated”, which is castration. Yet he is introduced into the blessing of God. Grace gives that way because grace in the work of Christ nullifies the previous state (cf. Isa 56:3-5).
The holiness of God never disables the grace of God, by which obstacles can be removed. Without the commandment being invalidated, all people can be brought into the church of God. Grace never nullifies God’s holiness, but maintains it completely. Grace unlocks a way in which God’s holiness is fulfilled. That way was opened by the Lord Jesus on the cross.
The emasculated can also be seen as someone who confesses with his lips that he is a Christian, but his life does not show it. There can be no fruit with ‘an emasculated’. He has no connection with the vine (Jn 15:4). Superficially, it is often difficult to determine whether someone is ‘emasculated’ or not.
An illegitimate child or mongrel person is someone who has been conceived in fornication. The word is found one other time in the Old Testament in Zechariah chapter 9: “And a mongrel race will dwell in Ashdod” (Zec 9:6). The time period “the tenth generation” does not mean that the eleventh generation can be part of it. This expression should be understood as an always enduring matter. Thus the Lord Jesus says that forgiveness must be accorded up to “seventy times seven” times (Mt 18:22). That is also in the sense of always.
In a spiritual sense, illegitimate children are people who do not participate in the discipline of God, because God does not know them as sons (Heb 12:8). They seem to belong to God’s people, but that is only to the eye. Inwardly there is no life from God.
3 - 8 Who May Not Enter the Assembly
3 No 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, 4 because 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. 5 Nevertheless, 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. 6 You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days. 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. 8 The sons of the third generation who are born to them may enter the assembly of the LORD.
Apart from given individuals, certain peoples are also not allowed to join God’s chosen population. The Ammonite and Moabite have a distinct connection with God’s people, but in the course of their history they have proven averse to God’s people. On the one hand they refused the people of God the food they had asked for, and on the other they sought to curse the people of God.
As in the previous verses, there is a prohibition on the entering into the people of God of members of these peoples up to the tenth generation. That this is a prohibition forever is evident from the application of this law by Nehemiah (Neh 13:1). By the time of Nehemiah, we are in excess of ten generations.
God not only reminds His people of the evil treatment these nations have perpetrated, but that He has turned the curse into a blessing. The reason for this is that He loves them. So, they have not missed any good thing from the refusals faced and the hatred directed their way. On the contrary, it gave God the opportunity to assure them of His love.
In the same way, we may view the conduct that some so-called kindred people sometimes show toward the believers. Those who truly belong to the Lord will face the rejection and hatred of nominal Christians. Ammon and Moab are of Israelite family stock. There is an evident connection with God’s people. We can think of people who grew up in a religious family, but then turned away and even tried to bring curse upon God’s people.
That notwithstanding, in these peoples there are persons who, despite the prohibition, are introduced into God’s people. Ruth, the Moabitess, is a good example of this. She is an object of grace, who changes her state, without compromising holiness.
Edom and Egypt never shared the blessing of God’s people. Edom is about as close a natural relatives as there can be to the people of God. With Ammon and Moab this relationship is further away. They are the children of Lot, the nephew of Abraham and therefore family of Jacob - the ancestor of God’s people. Edom is a brother in the flesh. “Esau (that is Edom)” (Gen 36:1), is Jacob’s twin brother.
Edom is always the irreconcilable enemy of Israel. This can clearly be seen in the book of Obadiah (Oba 1:1-21), which is entirely devoted to Edom and his attitude toward Israel. The prophet leaves no doubt that Edom’s judgement will be made complete. But that is only after Edom has shown his perseverance in hatred toward his brother throughout his history. God will not seal the fate of a man or a people until He has tried all means to convert a people or a person. When there is no hope of conversion, He exercises His righteous judgment. Here it is not so far, and the door of grace still lies open for Edom.
Egypt represents the people of the world, of whom we are included. Egyptians can enter, not because of their former connection or a friendly act, but because of the sacrifice of Christ - His death and resurrection. The harsh treatment that the people had endured in Egypt is not mentioned here. Only the good things they experienced there are recalled here. We can think of the early days, when Joseph was viceroy of Egypt (Genesis 42-50).
Grandchildren are allowed to enter the people of God. The third generation does not mean the third generation after the promulgation of this law. It is counted from the time that someone from these nations yields to the true religion and serves the true God. Their sons are the second generation and their grandchildren are the third generation. The grandchildren are given part in the religious and social privileges of God’s people. They have recognized standing and can enter into various unions, including marriage, without hindrance.
9 - 14 Cleanness of the Camp
9 “When you go out as an army against your enemies, you shall keep yourself from every evil thing. 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. 11 But it shall be when evening approaches, he shall bathe himself with water, and at sundown he may reenter the camp. 12 “You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, 13 and 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. 14 Since 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.
This is about battle, not the battle itself, but preparation and equipment. Every admission of evil, even the slightest, reduces the power to fight. The power to fight lies in the presence of the LORD in their midst. When the army goes out, He goes out along with them. That is a powerful consolation, but also a matter of great seriousness. We see here that God cares about everyday things that have a negative impact on our spiritual strength, for these are “the little foxes that are ruining the vineyards” (Song 2:15).
Moses mentions two forms by which a warrior can become unclean: by a nocturnal emission, the so-called ‘wet dream’, and by fecal matter. The warrior can’t help these two things. No blame is on him. He is not liable for them, because they belong to man’s natural existence.
These are indeed things that make someone unclean, but they are not forms of uncleanness that arise from the will of man. We can regard them as everyday matters. It’s about what we call little things, about which we don’t tend to dwell upon or fuss over too much. Yet they are forms of impurity. In order that we may remain aware that God cannot tolerate any form of impurity in His presence, Moses gives instructions for these matters.
15 - 16 Mercy Toward an Escaped Slave
15 “You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He 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.
It is about a slave from a foreign land, not a countryman. The land of God is a place of refuge for such persons. David deals in this way with the Egyptian young man who fell into his hands. This boy is the slave of an Amalekite man whom David takes care of (1Sam 30:11-15).
The assembly should be a place of warm welcome, safety and freedom of movement for people who have escaped from their hard master. The Israelites know from experience the meaning of service under a hard master, and what it means to be made free from it.
Nevertheless, it must not be a flight to avoid a just sentence. Paul does send Onesimus back (Phlm 1:10-12) and the Angel of the LORD commands Hagar to go back to Sarah (Gen 16:9). The reasons for returning in these instances are different. Be that as it may, they are not sent back to merciless masters.
17 - 18 Against Cult Prostitution
17 “None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute. 18 You 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.
The prohibition of cult temple prostitution should not be necessary. That Moses mentions it, indicates that he knows the people, that they are capable of such abominations. This commandment in fact proved necessary, for it was later shamefully transgressed (Hos 4:14; 2Kgs 23:7; Mic 1:7). This instruction concerns both male and female prostitutes. The word for male prostitute is ‘dog’ and is used figuratively here in the expression “wages of a dog” (cf. Rev 22:15).
God absolutely does not want any sacrifice from such people. It is “an abomination” to Him (cf. Pro 15:8). The possibility exists that such persons may go so far as to pay certain vows with money obtained by this shameful way. In their own estimation, it gives them some kind of approval to continue their sinful business (Pro 7:14-15). But God cannot accept anything that puts aside penance and repentance.
We can only honor God with sacrifices that we have obtained in an honest and honorable way. So it’s not only about what we give, but to God, how we acquired it is also important.
19 - 20 Not Charge Interest to a Countryman
19 “You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, [or] anything that may be loaned at interest. 20 You 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.
Moses forbids taking interest of a countryman. The brother who has come to the point that borrowing money is necessary, has become poor and is in great need. He does not require the money to afford more luxury, but to stay alive. Charging interest to such a person only makes his situation worse. Whoever contravenes this dictate, reveals a greed for money. To a stranger, however, interest may be charged. Such a person lends for business purposes, not to stay alive.
21 - 23 A Vow Must Be Performed
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. 22 However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you. 23 You 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.
Making vows is taken seriously. It should keep us from making rash statements (Pro 20:25; Ecc 5:4-5). It is also good to think when singing songs of dedication, in which we promise to live completely for the Lord. We should not sing such a thing thoughtlessly, but consciously. At the same time is the need for prayer seeking the Lord’s help in making the vow a reality. A vow must be performed.
24 - 25 Taking the Fruit of One’s Neighbor
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. 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.
This law indicates that there will be an abundance of wine and grain in Canaan. The little bit taken and enjoyed by someone, will not be missed by the owner due to abundance. This is a law concerned with welfare, seeking to provide help and support for the needy. For example, poor travelers can be strengthened and refreshed by the implementation of this law. The disciples of the Lord Jesus make use of this ordinance (Mt 12:1). They are not reprimanded by the Pharisees because they do it, but because they do it on the sabbath. According to their homemade laws isolated interpretation, this is forbidden, but not by God’s law.
God wants His people to be a giving people. He wants them to learn not to stand on the right of possession, but to grant to others of their abundance. It is proof of hospitality. It teaches us to be sharing. What we give away is not lost at all but will increase gratitude. Notwithstanding that, care is taken to ensure that this sharing is not abused. When an inch is given, a mile should not be taken.
The vineyard speaks of the joy in the heavenly land. The grain speaks of the Lord Jesus as the food of the land. Everyone has a personal joy stemming from fellowship with God, and receives personal strength by being occupied with the Lord Jesus.
We may also enjoy blessing each other and building each other up, from what the Lord has graciously given to one and the other. This, however, must be done with due caution. We may enjoy and be edified by what others have written, but it should not just be glibly repeated when we pass it on to others. It must first be processed intelligently and put into practice. If we only flippantly repeat what others have discovered in the Word of God, we have been busy with the basket and sickle in another’s field.
We may use what someone else has written, but we must do it in the right way. For example, when preparing for a ministry, we should not quickly go through a commentary and then pass on what we quickly read. It must first become a fruit of our own vineyard by processing it in our own heart with the Lord. Then it has become our property and we can pass on what we enjoyed ourselves and by which we are edified.