CIVIL RIGHTS . WHO MAY AND WHO MAY NOT ENTER INTO THE CONGREGATION . UNCLEANNESS IN THE CAMP TO BE AVOIDED . RECEPTION OF FUGITIVE SLAVES . LICENTIOUS PERSONS TO BE REMOVED , AND GIFTS THE PRICE OF IMPURITY TO BE REFUSED . LAWS REGARDING USURY , VOWS , AND CERTAIN DUTIES OF CITIZENSHIP .
Five classes of persons are here excluded from the congregation of the Lord.
As Ammon and Moab had met the Israelites with hostility, and had brought Balaam to curse them, a curse had thereby been brought upon themselves, and they also were to be forever excluded from the congregation of Israel.
Stern safeguards sometimes needed.
It was no small part of the education of the Hebrew people at once to stamp as disreputable the practices of bodily mutilation which were common enough among heathen nations. The honor of the congregation of the Lord was bound up in its freedom from complicity therewith. Eunuchs and illegitimate offspring were excluded from the congregation of the Lord, lest the moral virus connected with the associations of their life should be as poison in the camp. Hence this shield against its poisonous influence is to be preserved down "to the tenth generation," both as a brand on former sin and as a guard against future evil. Sentence of exclusion is also passed on the Ammonites and Moabites (see Genesis 19:36-38 ). The stain on the origin of these races is grievous. And the new generations had, by their hostility to the people of God, and because of their superstitious arts, shown that naught but peril could attend their admission, for a long time to come. To seek "their peace and prosperity" would have been an increase of peril, as well as a connivance at wrong. Hence it was forbidden ( Deuteronomy 23:6 ). That this, and not the cultivation of needless hostility or revenge, was intended by these prohibitions is clear from Deuteronomy 23:7 , Deuteronomy 23:8 . Two extremes are to be avoided. No rancor or grudge is to be cherished over past ills inflicted, and yet kindliness of feeling is not to be allowed to degenerate into even apparent friendship with ungodliness and sin. In these facts and precepts the following teachings are included or suggested.
I. The perfection of social life can only be secured when the several members of any society are holy unto the Lord.
II. The outside world presents very much that is the reverse of this, even all kinds of spiritual and sensual wickedness.
III. While it behooves us to cherish a spirit of true benevolence towards all, yet we may never wink at sin.
IV. It may be necessary for us to adopt stern measures towards ethers, even that of banishment ( 1 Corinthians 5:6 , 1 Corinthians 5:13 ), in order to avoid contamination.
V. We may well cherish, and teach others to cherish, a special hatred of sins of the flesh, since it may not be for many, many generations that blood-poisoning thereby ceases to corrupt or taint the life. Surely men would more frequently check themselves in sin if they would remember for how long they may enfeeble the constitutions and embitter the lives of those who may hereafter owe their existence to them.
The excluded from the congregation.
Certain principles underlie these exclusions which it is worth our while to note. It will be seen that, though bars of this kind are done away in Christ, there was a fitness, under the theocracy, in the exclusion of the classes specified from full participation in covenant privilege, such exclusion being in harmony with the idea of "a holy nation"—type in earthly mold of the ideal kingdom of God.
I. THE EXCLUSION OF THE MUTILATED . ( Deuteronomy 23:1 .) The idea here is that the preservation of the body in its vigor, and in the entirety of its functions, is a duty which we owe to God; that mutilation of it or dishonor done to it is dishonor done to him—a species of profanity. Those in whom this work of dishonor had been wrought, unfitting them for the discharge of the distinctive functions of their manhood, were barred from entrance to the congregation. The ban is removed under the gospel ( Isaiah 56:3-5 ).
II. THE EXCLUSION OF THE CHILDREN OF INCEST . ( Deuteronomy 23:2 , Deuteronomy 23:3 .) "To the tenth generation" seems to be a periphrasis for "forever" ( Nehemiah 13:1 ). The rabbins take the term "bastard" to refer to children born of incest or adultery. These were to be excluded through all their generations. This principle, irrespective of the ground stated in Deuteronomy 23:4 , would have sufficed to exclude Moab and Ammon. The truth conveyed is that the impure are unalterably debarred from membership in God's kingdom. God's kingdom is a kingdom of purity. In its final form nothing of an impure nature will be found in it. Impurity of heart and life exclude from inward membership in it now, and will do so forever. Known impurity should exclude from Church fellowship on earth ( 1 Corinthians 5:1 , 1 Corinthians 5:2 ). The outward bar no longer exists, and the offspring of impure connection, if children of faith, are welcomed to the spiritual fold. But the tendency of sins of parents still is, as of old, to exclude children from the fellowship of believers. The unchurched little ones grow up outside the pale of ordinances, and tend, in course of generations, to become increasingly estranged from the means of grace. Parents who sin themselves out of Church fellowship thus do their children, as well as their own souls, an irreparable injury.
III. THE EXCLUSION OF THE UNMERCIFUL AND OF THOSE WHO SHOWED HATRED TO GOD 'S PEOPLE . ( Deuteronomy 23:4-6 .) The principle here is obvious. Christ expressly excludes the unmerciful from all participation in his kingdom ( Matthew 25:41-46 ). And there can be no "peace" and no "prosperity" to those who are actuated by hostility to God's kingdom. So long as they retain this character, we cannot wish it for them. Hostility to Christ's people is hostility to Christ himself ( Acts 9:4 , Acts 9:5 ), and reacts fatally on the soul ( Matthew 21:44 ). It draws upon it God s indignation, and ends in final exclusion from heaven.
IV. THE ADMISSION OF THOSE WHO SHOW KINDNESS TO GOD 'S PEOPLE . ( Deuteronomy 23:7 , Deuteronomy 23:8 .) The Edomite and the Egyptian were not to be abhorred; their children might be admitted in the third generation. The Edomites had not been as friendly as they might have been, but they had at least furnished the Israelites with victuals in their march, while the Egyptians had for a long time shown them kindness and hospitality. For these things they "had their reward." Acts of kindness to God's people do not entitle to admission into God's kingdom, but they show a "nighness" of spirit to it, and are remembered in God's dealings with the doers of them, and may issue in their final salvation ( Matthew 10:42 ). Note: Past kindnesses are not to be forgotten because of a late change of disposition. The Egyptians were kindly remembered, though their treatment of the Israelites had latterly been very cruel. It is to be remarked also that the tone in which Edom is uniformly referred to in this book does not in the least harmonize with the late date assigned to it by many critics. Edom, in the time of the prophets, had become Israel's implacable foe.—J.O.
The congregation of the Lord jealously guarded.
There has been considerable controversy about what the term" entering into the congregation of the Lord signifies. It cannot be the Old Testament equivalent for our " communicants ," or "Church members;" for it would seem from Exodus 12:48 , Exodus 12:49 , that Jewish privileges were open to strangers on condition of their circumcision. Nor need we interpret it as merely indicating the marriage connections which Israelites were to avoid. We are satisfied with the interpretation, received by many, that the congregation ( קָהַל ) does not always signify the sum total of the people, but the great assembly of elders. The prohibitions in this passage would, therefore, mean prohibitions from holding office in the theocracy; in fact, they show those who were ineligible to the Jewish eldership. The ineligible parties are—
1. Eunuchs . For physical perfection was indispensable in a kingdom typically and ideally to be perfect. Besides, it has been said that this excluded class are deficient in courage, which the elders required. £
2. Those whose family had the " bar sinister " within ten generations . This was a great penalty against concubinage, and must have made the Jews most particular about the legality of their marriages.
3. Amorites and Moabites . They are treated like those with the " bar sinister ," as a judgment on their inhuman treatment of Israel. So that there was caution to be exercised in the admission of outsiders to the honors of the Jewish commonwealth.
4. Edomites and Egyptians . They could not enter themselves, but their grandchildren were eligible. They were not kept waiting so long at the door as those previously mentioned. This jealous guarding of the gate is surely instructive.
I. IT SHOWS US THE DUTY OF LAYING HANDS SUDDENLY UPON NO MAN . This was Paul's direction to Timothy regarding the ordination of elders ( 1 Timothy 5:22 ). Their selection was so important, that it should not be hastily or carelessly done. They should get time to prove themselves as worthy. And our ideal of Church officers should be so high as to allow of the introduction of no ill-qualified person through our haste or careless selection.
II. A CHURCH SHOULD MAINLY PRODUCE ITS OWN OFFICERS . Just as breeding is so important physically, so is Church training spiritually. It is the children in the tenth generation of the bastard who are, so to speak, by their ecclesiastical development through nine previous generations in ecclesiastical connection, to wipe out the ill effects of the "bar sinister." The grandchildren of the Edomite and Egyptian are to be eligible, because for three generations connected with the Church. That Church will be strong who can train up from among her own children the officers she needs.
III. OFFICE IN GOD 'S CHURCH SHOULD BE THE HIGHEST AMBITION . For people are not in a wholesome state when they place offices in the world before those in the Church. God's service is highest service, whatever current opinion may be. Let the thought of holding office in the Church of God be held before Church members as the very noblest ambition for themselves or their children, and then shall the Church he placed upon the pinnacle it deserves.—R.M.E.
Loss of sacred privilege a grievous penalty.
In such passages as this, very much more is intended than is expressed. We have to read between the lines, for only they who lived in those days of Jewish life could comprehend the shadowy hints, the pregnant suggestions, which are here reduced to words.
I. THE ABUSE OF REPRODUCTIVE VITALISM IS A GIGANTIC SIN . The law of the natural kingdom, with regard to every species of life, that its "seed should be in itself," obtains in man its highest form. But here human inclination, passion, will come into play. It is an honor which God has conferred upon us, in that he has made us agents co-operating with him in the perpetuation of the human race. And the abuse of this function is followed forthwith by the Divine censure. In many cases, judgment swiftly follows upon the heels of the sin. As at Bethpeor, sudden and overwhelming penalty fell upon the Jewish culprits who yielded to the seductive snares of the Moabite women, so that there fell of the Hebrews four and twenty thousand men; so summary vengeance falls upon such transgressors still. Adultery and incest are stamped with the red brand of God's hottest wrath. One feels in reading the shameful narrative of Lot's incest at Zoar, as if the historian had not left on it the burning stigma of indignation; but we may draw no such conclusion from his silence. In this chapter we perceive how the blank is filled. The issue of that incestuous intercourse are branded with perpetual shame.
II. THIS GIGANTIC SIN BEGETS A SERIES OF GIGANTIC EVILS .
1. It begets callous selfishness in posterity . God did not forget that the Moabites and Ammonites refused the common necessaries of life to the Hebrews, who sought nothing more than a friendly passage through their territory. Although this sin was a branch and offspring from the first, it was something new, and demanded fresh chastisement. For every offence in God's kingdom there is prepared a just measure of retribution.
2. It begets malicious opposition . They hired, in their blindness, the services of Balaam, the sorcerer, in the hope that he would blast and ruin them with his witchery and curse. The end was frustrated. The purchased curse was changed into blessing. Nevertheless, the intention was criminal. The hearts of the Moabites burned with hate for their kinsmen; and base intentions shall be scourged.
3. It begets idolatry and blind fanaticism .
III. SUCH EVILS CULMINATE IN JUSTEST PUNISHMENTS . Suitable penalties begin to appear in this life.
1. There is the loss of external privilege . Such "shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord." What? Not when the present generation has passed away? No; not to the tenth generation! No; not forever. Possibly the culprits despised the privilege, mocked at the loss. But none the less was it an immeasurable loss, a terrible privation. It is not said that a penitent Moabite should not be forgiven—should not obtain eternal life. Yet the loss of external instruction and help lessened the probability that penitence would visit the soul. We do ourselves wrong when we contemn religious privilege.
2. There is the loss of friendly intercession . "Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity … forever." Prayer for such is interdicted. Brotherly sympathy is denied. The Hebrews were ordained to be a nation of priests. The intention was that, by virtue of their growing piety, they should be, as an entire nation, the priests of the Lord, while foreigners should immigrate to be their husbandmen and vine-dressers. By reason of the Jew's superior knowledge of God, they might be successful intercessors for other nations. But from this gracious privilege the Moabites and Ammonites were permanently excluded. Despise not the prayers of the devout.—D.