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Excluded: Deuteronomy 23

In Summary:

Well, Deuteronomy 23 is ahead of us today. It opens with a challenging verse and does not get much easier to consider until near the end. The first section of this chapter deals with people who are to be excluded from the assembly of Israel. The mixture of prohibitions here are somewhat confusing, and all carry cause for alarm to the modern sensitivities. After all, one cannot choose to be born Edomite and not Moabite. And the troubling Deuteronomy 23:1 (which I’d prefer not to think much about) makes no loophole for accidental emasculation. No matter how it happens, one is excluded from the assembly. There is something to consider about the connection between Deuteronomy 23:1 and Galatians 5:12, but we’ll leave that to one side for the time being.

Another theme of this chapter is the presence of God among the Israelites, though that is common refrain among the writing in Deuteronomy. The idea that one needs to use proper latrine techniques strikes me as humorous, and yet Moses connects it to the presence of God. That is a way to look at life we often avoid: God is present at all times.

The last thing I’ll take note of here are the commands to allow Egyptians, eventually, into the assembly and to not return fugitive slaves who come to Israel. Both of these were in response to the time the Israelites spent in slavery in Egypt. Essentially, once it was clear than an Egyptian was not from those who had oppressed Israel, they could become part of the people of God. And fugitive slaves were to always be welcome, because the Israelites were former slaves.

In Focus:

Let’s focus on the end of the chapter. Specifically, Deuteronomy 23:21-23 where the Law specifies rapid fulfillment of vows made to the Lord. The people of Israel have, at this point, seen all of the Law and the regulations regarding vows and offerings and sacrifices. They know of required ones and voluntary ones.

The command here is that the voluntary vows should not be delayed. If one made a promise to God out of joy and not obligation, then he should fulfill it rapidly. This was not about repentance and forgiveness sacrifices, though, for not vowing would have been acceptable. These were the vows made in a freewill nature.

In Practice:

I see a couple of applications in practice. First, we see that God knows people pretty well. He knows that we are less likely to deliver the longer it has been since we made a promise or commitment. Think about your New Year’s Resolutions—if you can remember them. This is why it’s important to remind yourself of your lasting commitments on a frequent basis. More than 15 years ago I vowed to live in the covenant of marriage with Ann. I wear a reminder because it is too easy to let a commitment slip as the years go by—even great commitments like that!

Second, we see an important note for our promises to God. We ought not make promises we will not keep—it is better to leave off the promising altogether! Let your yes be yes, your no be no, and avoid bogging everything down with promises. But when you do promise? Be quick to deliver, not slow.

In Nerdiness: 

Is there something to be made of the Septuagint’s use of the word “ekklesia” for assembly here? It’s the same word used for the assembly that is the “church” in the New Testament.


Additionally, I would recommend to you C.S. Lewis’ discussion of economics based on charging interest in Mere Christianity. He raises a good question about how moral the economy can ever be if it is based on something explicitly forbidden by God to His people. If we only have one example of God establishing a nation including its civil law base, which is what we have in the establishment of Old Testament Israel, then should we not consider whether or not that informs some of our practices? Without going into theocracy/theonomy nonsense, but looking at the moral concepts. After all, many of the problems in the American economy center on lending/credit practices. Just some thoughts that need completion.

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