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Scripture reading – Deuteronomy 23

We continue our study of Moses’ challenge to Israel as he prepared that nation to go forward without him as its leader. Some of the principles in today’s Scripture may seem mundane; however, such was not the case for a nation that had suffered the humiliation of bondage for four centuries.

Moses taught the children of Israel how to conduct themselves in the sight of the LORD and preserve their sanctity as His people. In today’s devotion, we will consider the right of citizenship in ancient Israel and the exclusion of some from “the congregation of the LORD” (23:1).

The Feminization and Castration of Men Was Forbidden (23:1)

The topic of mutilation or castration is one in which we must use discretion; however, the LORD was clear in His instruction concerning honoring one’s vessel (i.e., body). There was to be no mutualization of a man’s private parts, for such was unnatural and against God’s created order.

Illegitimate Sons (23:2)

Sons born of adultery, or incest, were to be excluded in Israel unto the “tenth generation” (23:2). Also, sons borne of extra-marital relationships were excluded, for their conception was contrary to the will and design of God’s order.

Ammonites and Moabites Were Not Permitted in Israel (23:3-6)

These nations were the offspring of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38). While the Ammonites and Moabites might live in the land, they were not accepted as part of the congregation of Israel (the exception could be if one became a proselyte of the God of Israel, as was the case with Ruth the Moabitess, who became the wife of Boaz, Ruth 1:4; 4:13). Also, the Ammonites and Moabites had made themselves adversaries of Israel by hiring Balaam to curse the people (23:4-6).

Edomites and Egyptians (23:7-8)

Edom and Egypt were not friends of Israel; however, both had a history that prevented their complete exclusion. The Edomites were of the lineage of Esau and, therefore, distant kin of Israel through Isaac (for Esau was Jacob’s brother, 23:7). Egypt was also an exception, for that nation had been the host of Israel during their sojourn in that land. 

Cleanness and Purity in Times of War (23:9-11)

Remembering the presence of the LORD was represented by the Tabernacle amid the encampment; the people were reminded to keep themselves clean (23:9-10). A man who was not clean was to remain outside the camp until the evening and “wash himself with water” before entering the camp (23:11).

A Lesson in Sanitation (23:12-14)

The sanitation guidelines given by Moses to Israel placed that nation centuries ahead of other countries. The tribes were instructed to practice cleanliness and basic sanitation. They were not to answer nature’s call (i.e., to relieve themselves) within the camp. Instead, they were instructed to go outside the camp’s borders, “have a paddle” (a spade or shovel), and cover their excrement.

We understand much about sanitation and disease today; however, only in the past two centuries has proper hygiene been fully appreciated. The sanitation commanded by the LORD was not only because He dwelt amid His people but also because it was right and good for the health and well-being of the people (23:14).

Compassion for a Fleeing Slave (23:15-16)

A slave that had fled from his heathen master and sought refuge in Israel was not to be returned to his master (23:15). Instead, he was given shelter in the land and allowed to dwell where he chose (23:16).

Prostitution and Sodomy Condemned (23:17-18)

All manner of gross immorality accompanied the worship of idols in ancient times. Whoredom, and sodomy were ever present among the heathen nations. No daughter of Israel was to fall into whoredom, and no son was to be a homosexual (described as “the price of a dog,” thus graphically describing the debasement of sodomy, 23:18).

Usury: Charging Interest on Debts (23:19-20)

Israelite men were not to charge their fellow man (“thy brother”) interest for borrowing money (23:19). A “stranger,” however, a non-Hebrew, was lawfully charged interest on debts (23:20).

To Vow, Or Not to Vow (23:21-23)

Swearing an oath, or vowing a vow, was a serious matter with the LORD and was not to be taken lightly (23:21). No man was to “vow a vow unto the LORD” and fail to fulfill it without delay (23:21b). Indeed, it would be better not to have committed oneself to a vow, than to do so and fail to fulfill it (23:22-23).

To Eat, or Not to Eat (23:24-25)

Suppose a man is hungry and lacks the means to feed himself. Should that man be permitted to take from another’s field or vineyard and satisfy his hunger? The answer was recorded in Deuteronomy 23:24-25 which reminds us that the God of Israel was compassionate and merciful.

A hungry man was allowed to eat grapes from his neighbor’s vineyard and take wheat kernels from his neighbor’s field. He could not, however, go into his neighbor’s field with a vessel and fill it. So, instead, he was allowed to take only what he needed to quench his hunger.

Closing thoughts:

The growth of incivility we observe today is attributable to society rejecting the spiritual principles and precepts of God’s Word. I trust you are developing an appreciation for the judicious nature of the LORD and His grace and compassion expressed in His Law and Commandments. The LORD requires that we exercise grace and common decency toward others.

Questions to consider:

1) Who was excluded from entering the congregation of Israel? (23:1-6)

2) What was the law concerning a slave who had escaped his harsh master? (23:15-16)

3) How serious were vows made to the LORD? (23:21-23)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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