Call to Worship March 8 2020

Thoughts on Deuteronomy 23:1-14

When reading these verses recognize they are a continuation of previous chapters. They not only express covenant community laws, but they express similar ideals. The ongoing idea regarding purity in the community and worship remains to be a major theme in Chapter 23. The word “assembly” in the text refers to the whole of the community whether at worship or war. Yet it does not mean that all of the community will always be able to gather in the same place all at once. Instead it refers to the awareness of the Israelites as an elect people of God as they live throughout Canaan among multiple pagan nations (McConville, 347-348). So when and where they gather they are to recognize these particular matters in proper context. Furthermore, each of these examples reminds the Israelite community of the purity of God and their need to follow Him alone.

A theme of the scripture in general regards the presence of God. This chapter reflects a specific context of that concept precisely concerning Israel in Canaan. First, the chapter defines an aspect of the assembly at worship and who was to take part. Verses 1-8 command particular adherence concerning the emasculated man, one of illegitimate birth, and the foreigner in the assembly. Cultic practices were forbidden for Israel including its sons and daughters working as cult prostitutes. Even the wages from such practices were a blasphemous offering (vs. 17-18). So the man emasculated on purpose, as in some cultic pagan practices of the day, was kept from the assembly in worship. The man born of cultic pagan practices or some type of incestuous relationship was obstructed from worship as well (Currid, 376). Also, Raymond Brown indicated, “These two classes of people were sad evidence of the physically and morally damaging practices of heathen religions…Such restrictions were aimed at preserving Israel’s distinctive testimony to God’s holiness and were designed to guard the Hebrew worshipping community from alien pagan influences” (Brown, 219). These are physical bodily distinctions barred by God in worship and the following verses speak of physical ethnic distinctions. 

Verses 3-8 describe nations that must be vetted properly in consideration for the worshipping assembly. Passages 3-6 cast out the Ammonite and the Moabite. “The Ammonites’ sin was one of omission,” according to Raymond Brown, “they did not show compassion to the Israelites during their wilderness journey. The Moabites’ offence was one of commission—they made strenuous (but unsuccessful) attempts to pull Israel down through the prophetic oracles of Balaam” (Brown, 220). Neither sins of commission or omission outweigh the other in God’s eyes. The parables of Matthew 25 explain this truth, according to Brown “the lamps were not filled; the talents were not used; the needy were not helped” (Ibid.). Furthermore, recognize God’s command in the text affords to His people His holy retribution, holy protection, and holy coalition. Those two nations were condemned to know the wrath of God in time through the acts of His people. God was protecting His people from the ungodliness of these tribes. In addition, he is binding Israel to alliances with those who have not predominantly done evil toward His people.

The Edomites and Egyptians in contrast were more positively connected by their pasts to Israel. “The reason for leniency…[the] Edomites are relatives of Israelites, since they are descendants of Esau…(Gen. 36:1–19). They are to be treated differently because of their close ties of kinship to Israel (see 2:4)…leniency to Egyptians is due to their hospitality to the Hebrews during the patriarchal period…The biblical writer, however, does not have in mind the four-hundred-year period of slavery and oppression in Egypt” (Currid, 378). God deemed a sliding scale of inclusion for these peoples over time. Therefore, he graciously recognized the hospitality of the one and the kinship of the other as a bridge to the covenant community in due time.

Sometimes Israel was an assembly gathered for war and purity was of no less an issue. The appropriate washing and cleanliness regarding two personal bodily functions are considered in vv. 10-14. The man with an involuntary nocturnal emission was unclean in the camp just as defecation was as well (McConville, 350). A debate continues as to the exact meaning of the words translated nocturnal emission in the NASB. Some refer to it as a “seminal emission” with some possible connection to Leviticus 15:16-18, or others as “urination” (Currid, 378-379, Brown, 221 & McConville, 350). The second issue concerns defecation and the cleanliness of the camp. So, do not urinate and defecate in the camp as God is among you in the assembly even at war. If you must defecate go outside the camp and bury it in the ground. John Currid stated, “The hygienic value of this practice is obvious. But the biblical writer provides a theological justification for it…Because of Yahweh’s presence, the camp of Israel is to be holy, that is…(‘set apart’). No ‘indecent thing’, such as feces left lying about openly in the camp, is to be allowed” (Currid, 379-380). Likewise, if there is some type of involuntary nocturnal emission then wash properly for cleanliness and in sacred understanding of the presence of God before reentering the camp at sundown.

Someone once said, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Although there is something to be gleaned by that statement, Deuteronomy exclaims something far greater. Purity is in God and God alone. We are made to worship and by the noetic* effects of the fall we falsely worship. Even the very natural emissions of our bodies are tainted with sin. What hope do we have, but to follow God’s command? Ultimately, we have been commanded to trust that God has a purpose in all things. Trust that He knows humanity better than we do and His Moral Law tells us we are sinners. His sundry laws encapsulate the pervasiveness of our sin natures, reminding us that our hope for purity is only found in God through His Son Christ.


  • Noetic– deals with the extent of sin to the mind and the futility of human thinking about God apart from Christ. The mind is not useless, but by itself it cannot reason properly regarding The Triune God and the gospel.  
  • Bibliography:
  • Brown, Raymond, The Message of Deuteronomy, ed. J. A. Motyer and Derek Tidball, The Bible Speaks Today (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993).
  • Currid, John D., A Study Commentary on Deuteronomy, EP Study Commentary (Darlington, England; Webster, New York: Evangelical Press, 2006).
  • McConville, J.G., Deuteronomy, ed. David W. Baker and Gordon Wenham, Apollos Old Testament Commentary, (Downers Grove, IL. Inter-Varsity Press, England, Apollos, 2002).

Thoughts on Deuteronomy 23:15-25 thru 24:22

The following portion of chapter 23 and chapter 24 develops further laws regarding living with neighbors. Moses elaborated on various subjects such as loans, pledges, civil liberties, considerations in marriage, hospitality, and vows. Each of these topics contributed to the life and health of the Israelite community. All of these subjects considered elements of the Moral Law, especially the eighth commandment (Currid, 381). Yet, each law has an individual dynamic to be considered and obeyed among the Israelites.

Making vows is a part of life (Deut. 23:21-23). We promise to do this or that for one person or another. Sometimes we make vows to ourselves and other times we make vows to God. Vows are often mentioned in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and the Psalms in connection to offerings made to God (Woods, 248). In this portion of scripture a vow to God was directly mentioned regarding a “presentation of goods or property” (E.H. Merrill, 315). Simply explained, do not make a vow to God and not keep it. Vow breaking is sin. Yet, it is not sin to make no vow at all. In the words of Jesus, “let your statement be Yes, yes or No, no” (Matthew 5:33-37), especially when it concerns the Lord.

Vows are taken in marriage and Moses gave further instruction in those vows in two matters (24:1-5). First consider verse 5, a newly married man was not to go off to war. He was to stay home for one year to lead and establish his home and family. Second, there were times in sinfulness of heart marriage vows were broken. God knew the prevailing Gentile culture gave little care for the bonds of marriage. Yet, as the creator God ordained marriage. Furthermore, he did not leave his people without instructions in marriage and divorce.

Chapter 24:1-4 addressed a specific issue in marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Marriage was not to be taken lightly. So wisely choose a spouse, for the consequences may be positive or negative. In this text if the wife did not “find favor in the eyes of the husband”, find favor literally means “an indecent thing, “ then he could divorce her. The exact offense alleged in the words are unsure, but it could not have been adultery as that was punishable by death. Yet, divorce was serious and those situations needed parameters. Later Rabbinical schools differed on what constituted a legal divorce writ in the laws of Moses, but Jesus, in Matthew 19, called them out for excessive negligence and hardness of heart (Currid, 389-390, Ridderbos, 233 & Brown, 228). People are prone to all types of unfaithfulness and fickleness, but God wanted to address a particular issue in divorce for the good of the community and the couple involved.  

God was not prescribing divorce, but describing how it was to be handled in this instance. The law had several facets to it for the protection of the people in holiness before God. It protects the woman being divorced. If she did not have this certificate, she could not remarry. Dr. Brown wrote, “Without such legal protection, any homeless woman could easily become the victim of slanderous attacks, especially by a malicious husband and his friends who might even accuse her of adultery, thus putting her life at risk.” Also, it keeps the husband from remarrying her after the divorce from or death of a second husband for a couple of reasons. “The true reason,” according to Dr. Currid, “may simply be to protect the woman from exploitation by the first husband. He may have personal gain in mind if she has received an inheritance due to the second husband’s death or if she has received a divorce settlement” (Currid, 390). Also, if she had done something “indecent” the first time, why take her back? Furthermore, to remarry her a second time would defile both of them in the eyes of the Lord. These were vows not to be taken lightly, and although divorce was permissible, God still governed this affront to him by His word.

Vows were often made inside the covenant community with loans and pledges. Sometimes loans were made with fellow Israelites or foreigners. Often when this transaction occurred among the Israelites an item was given to the lender as a pledge to pay back the loan. Stipulations are provided for Israel in several of these verses (Deut. 23:19-20, 24:6, 10-13). You may make a loan for money or food, but with no interest to your countrymen. No pledge is to be accepted that will inhibit the livelihood of the debtor’s family, verse 6 (McConville, 360). Likewise if a pledge is offered, of a cloak (Ex. 22:26-27), from your fellow Israelite, you may accept it. But you must return it in the evening for their use in covering up for sleep. These actions served several purposes; the debtor received compassion from his brother, the wealthier lender avoided taking advantage of a brother with less financial stability, the economic solvency of the community was aided by not over taxing the poor, and the Lord of Righteousness was pleased with His children working together (Currid, 396 & Brown, 224).

The foreigner may be treated differently. Israelites may charge interest on a foreigner’s loan. McConville stated, “The difference is not ‘racial’, but a matter of different regulation for international trade, in which Israelites no doubt paid interest as well as received it” (McConville, 352). Commercial business needs to make money, so Israelites made money in trade off Gentiles and vice versa. The issue was one of covenantal mercy inside the covenant community. Whereas that was neither to be expected from Gentiles nor a binding vow from Jews to Gentiles in commercial interaction.

In addition, a further act based on the ideal of a vow was the idea of hospitality. It was pronounced in these chapters to varying degrees with foreigners and countrymen in certain contexts. Chapter 23:15-16 establishes how to treat a foreign slave or refugee who enters the camp. The refugee is given merciful and appropriate civil liberties without harassment (Brown, 222 & Currid, 382-383).  They are implored to be gracious to this foreign slave in remembrance of Israelite slavery in Egypt.

Hospitality continued as a theme in Deuteronomy 23:24-25 and 24:19-22. The former is built on kindness from one neighbor to another. They may eat in their neighbor’s vineyard or grove, but only enough to satisfy them at that time. Otherwise to take home basketfuls would be stealing. The latter verses indicated the importance of hospitality to the widow, orphan, and alien or foreigner. “These laws,” according to Dr. Currid, “reflect a spirit of charity and goodwill that is to prevail in Israel. And they highlight the truth that all the people have rights to share in the blessings of the land of promise given by Yahweh. A good example of these laws in practice is found in Ruth 2:1–7” (Currid, 401). What value of being part of a covenant community may be seen if those in covenant with their God and each other fail to care for and help one another in times of need? So it is with the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). How may we speak of a new covenant people if we do not keep our word and fail to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ? Each one of the themes in these aforementioned verses exclaims the importance of keeping our vows to God and man, especially our fellow believers.



  • Brown, Raymond, The Message of Deuteronomy, ed. J. A. Motyer and Derek Tidball, The Bible Speaks Today (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993).
  • Currid, John D., A Study Commentary on Deuteronomy, EP Study Commentary (Darlington, England; Webster, New York: Evangelical Press, 2006).
  • McConville, J.G., Deuteronomy, ed. David W. Baker and Gordon Wenham, Apollos Old Testament Commentary, (Downers Grove, IL. Inter-Varsity Press, England, Apollos, 2002).
  • Merrill, Eugene H., Deuteronomy: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture NIV Text, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary, ( Broadman & Holman, 1994).
  • Ridderbos, J., Deuteronomy, trans. Ed M. van der Maas, Bible Student’s Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1984).
  • Woods, Edward J., Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. David G. Firth and Tremper Longman III, Tyndale Old Testament, Commentary Series, vol. 5, (Downers-Grove, IL, Inter-Varsity Press, 2011).