Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy 23

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Deuteronomy 23

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Acceptance into the Congregation 

Verses 1-8 of this chapter deal with laws pertaining to the ancient physical nation of Israel—they are not applicable to the Church of God today. For example, verse 6 states that Israel was not to seek the peace of the Ammonite or the Moabite "nor their prosperity all your days forever." Christ, on the other hand, tells His disciples to love their enemies, to bless them who curse them, and to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9, 43-45). The word "forever" in Deuteronomy 23 must be understood in context. Often this word means forever as long as certain conditions apply (e.g., compare Exodus 21:5-6). Deuteronomy 23:1 prohibits eunuchs from entering the assembly of the Lord—that is, from receiving Israelite citizenship, which would have entitled them to full participation in Israelite society and the rights of being an Israelite. Thus, having the status of a "stranger," they could have joined in festival worship and many other aspects of Israelite life but were still forbidden from certain things, such as partaking of the Passover. And they did not have all the protections under the law that Israelites did, such as having to be released from slavery in the year of release. Also, according to verses 2-3, descendants of illegitimate unions, as well as of Ammonites or Moabites, were denied Israelite citizenship until the family had dwelt among God's people for 10 generations. Again, this is said to be the rule forever. But for those in Christ, such distinctions are eliminated and cannot apply in the way described here. True Christians may be from any nation and can suffer from any physical debility. As recipients of the Holy Spirit, they are spiritual Israelites, who may immediately worship God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24). As Paul tells converted gentiles, "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19).

Deuteronomy 23:9-11 states that an individual who contracts some ceremonial defilement during the night does not become ritually clean again until the next sunset. This is, of course, a ritual law that is no longer in effect. Still, as mentioned before, there were undoubtedly health benefits to such laws. And thus, the underlying principle of physical cleanliness is still very much applicable today. Verses 12-13 concern sanitation laws about dealing with human waste. Remember from the highlight on Leviticus 13-15 that dung was a major ingredient in the "healing" ointments of ancient Egypt. Of course, such products would have done nothing but worsen the condition of ailing patients. Only the revealed knowledge of the all-knowing God saved the Israelites from the same harmful practices. The next verse, Deuteronomy 23:14, it should be noted, can also be applied in a spiritual way—God may turn away from us if He sees something spiritually unclean in our lives that we do not want to get rid of.

The proscription against returning a slave in verses 15-16 is not talking about indentured servants within Israel. The Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown Commentary states in its note on these verses: "Evidently a servant [slave] of the Canaanites or some of the neighboring people, who was driven by tyrannical oppression, or induced, with a view of embracing the true religion, to take refuge in Israel. Such a one was not to be surrendered by the inhabitants of the place whither he had fled for protection."

No Selling Dogs and No Banking? 

In verse 18, the principle is expressed that ill-gotten gain cannot become "holy" by giving a portion of it to God. The word "dog" here, it should be pointed out, is not a reference to an actual canine animal. Rather, as the previous verse makes mention of two related professions—that of a ritual harlot and that of a "perverted one," i.e., a male prostitute—so the same two should be understood in verse 18. Thus, a harlot and a dog refer to a harlot and a male prostitute. Actual dogs in the ancient Middle East were often looked upon as worthless scavengers and so became metaphoric for unsavory or immoral people. Indeed, the word "dogs" is often used metaphorically in the Bible (compare Psalm 22:16, 20; Matthew 7:6; Matthew 15:26-27; Philippians 3:2; Revelation 22:15). Therefore, if someone runs a pet store or raises animals and sells dogs, it is perfectly acceptable to offer a portion of the profit to God. The verse in question has nothing to do with that.

Verses 19-20 forbid charging interest of a poor brother, but permit charging reasonable interest of a foreigner, as loaning money to foreigners was usually done in a business context (compare Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary, note on 23:19-20; "Usury," Unger's Bible Dictionary; New Bible Dictionary; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible). In fact, the Church of God in modern times has long understood that an Israelite was permitted to charge reasonable interest of even another Israelite if the purpose of the loan was not to help a poor and needy brother, but as a business transaction in a commercial context. Indeed, Christ cast banking (in which interest is charged of some so interest can be paid to others) in a positive light in some of His parables (compare Matthew 25:27; Luke 19:23). The same principles, then, apply today regarding Church members. Judging from the spirit of the law, it would be inappropriate for a converted Christian to charge a poor and needy person interest, whether or not the poor person is in the Church (compare Galatians 6:10). On the other hand, it would not be wrong for a converted Christian to charge another person, even one in the Church, interest on a loan given strictly in a business context.