Monday, November 12, 2007

Deuteronomy 23:1–8

Deuteronomy 23:1–8: Exclusion from the “Assembly”


In this chapter, Moses gives the Israelites rules about people who are to be excluded from the “assembly of the LORD.” Unfortunately, I’m not completely sure what the “assembly of the LORD”—also called the “congregation of the LORD” in the King James Version—is. I’m assuming it’s participation in Israelite religious activities, that involve going to the Tabernacle/Temple.

But here is the list of people who are to be excluded:
  • Anyone who has been emasculated
  • Anyone “born of a forbidden marriage” (verse 2), which can also be translated as “one of illegitimate birth.” Even this person’s descendants, down to the tenth generation, are to be excluded.
  • No Ammonite or Moabite, even down to the tenth generation, can enter the assembly. Why?
    For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. However, the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.
On the other hand, the Israelites are not to “abhor” Edomites or Egyptians (verse 7); Edomites because they are the Israelites’ brothers, and Egyptians because the Israelites lived as aliens in Egypt. They can’t get into the assembly right away, though; only after the third generation of children may they enter the assembly.


You may have noticed that everything listed here, that would make someone excluded from the assembly, is outside of that person’s control. It hardly seems fair; after all, if my parents weren’t married when I was born, that’s not my fault, is it? I can see them being excluded from the assembly, but why me?

However, these rules aren’t about the Israelites, they’re about the LORD. As a Holy God, He demands perfection, and won’t permit imperfections to come near Him—regardless of their cause.

The rules make a lot more sense to me when I look at it from my point of view: I was born sinful, and, therefore, could never have entered into God’s presence. Aside from church, or the “assembly,” there would eventually have come a time for me to die, and when I did, I wouldn’t have been able to enter His presence. Although I am responsible for my own sins, there is also a sense in which I couldn’t have prevented myself from committing sins, because I’m a slave to sin (Romans 6, 7:7–25, Galatians 4–5). (It’s not a perfect analogy, because I am responsible for my sins, whereas someone who was born a bastard had no control over the situation.) But this is part of why grace is called “grace:” God didn’t have to save me, but He did. And although I don’t deserve to enter His presence, one day I will.

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