Deuteronomy: A Covenant of Exclusion

Returning to our continuing study of the book of Deuteronomy, we touch on a section that makes moderns who are steeped in a culture reeking of a false understanding of “inclusion” very uncomfortable. This section deals with people who, for seemingly arbitrary reasons, were excluded from societal roles.

Scripture and Summary

Deuteronomy 23:1

Here an individual’s lack of physical wholeness subjects them to an element of exclusion. The phrase “assembly (congregation in some versions) of the LORD” here refers to both the civil (administrative) and religious (collective participation) spheres of life in the nation of Israel.(1) Physical integrity, especially of the male in regard to procreative ability, was paramount in ancient cultures and was especially emphasized in Israelite culture.(2) This exclusion doesn’t mean that such a person wasn’t considered an Israelite, or couldn’t be a worshipper of Yahweh, but that they were excluded from community eldership and the corporate exercise of worship.

Deuteronomy 23:2

A person born of a “forbidden union (ESV)” also experienced similar exclusion. Most likely, these were children born out of wedlock. (3) Such a situation might arise from those instances described in the previous chapter.

Deuteronomy 23:3-6

Those belonging to the tribes of Ammon and Moab were forbidden forever from ever partaking in the civil and religious life of Israel due to their treachery against the people of Israel. This law, because of the patriarchal nature of ancient societies, is aimed specifically at men. Women, such as the Moabitess Ruth, who abandons the gods of her people to become a worshipper of Yahweh, do not seem to have this law applied to them.(4) Such a prohibition seems to underline continuing hostilities between the people of those nations.(5) This prohibition even seems to extend to direct commercial interactions with them.(6)

Deuteronomy 23:7-8

The descendants of two specific groups are allowed to become participatory community members. The descendants of Israelite women who had married Edomites and Egyptians are permitted upon the third generation to engage fully in Israelite society, provided that there are no other prohibitive conditions. This also meant that, because of their condition as “acceptable” they could be freely traded with, though caution was still to be exercised.(7)

Deuteronomy 23:9

Warfare was to be conducted as an act of worship before Yahweh. While terrible and unconscionable acts could occur in the heat of battle, the lulls did not allow for evil to be carried out “in the camp”. The danger of wartime is that the bands of morality could become loosened; however, among the people of Israel a high moral standard was to be continuously observed.(8) Such behavior would reflect a positive desire for Yahweh to be present among his people and thereby guarantee victory.(9)

Deuteronomy 23:10-14

Written into the law are regulations regarding the behavior in the camp. This regulation in v10 parallels a similar command in Leviticus and seems to be aimed at sexual activity. A man might bring along his wife in a siege situation. Or a man might take an opportunity to relieve the stress of his situation manually. In such a case, a man was ceremonially excluded until he had been ritually clean. (10) The second regulation in v12 and 13, while similarly echoing its ceremonial aspect, has larger consequences that actually effects the entire camp. There is to be a habitual and present mindedness of one’s actions, even in the management of human waste that affects the relationship of the people to God.(11)

Application 

These laws, disconnected from their historical context may seem backwards, even redundant and absurd even petty, or perhaps even obvious. However that is backward thinking. These laws had a deep symbolic sense that goes beyond their political and practical beliefs. 

Just as the illegitimate and incomplete were excluded from the immediate presence of the people, we were once excluded from the presence of God, however in Christ we are adopted into God’s family and what was lacking in us was restored. Further, it’s only through active and intentional acts of sanctification, ministered by the Spirit that we can hope to have victory over our sin and impurities. Minimizing the standards of God in our behavior towards one another, like not properly removing and disposing of the waste from camp will bring about sickness, so we must be ready to exclude those caught in sin, until they repent and are clean so that they can return in full fellowship, and dispose of those things that bring about disease of heresy and unbelief. 

Notes

  1. Rousas J. Rushdoony. Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Deuteronomy. Chalcedon Publishing. Valencia, CA. 2008. p. 341
  2. Walter Brueggemann. Abingdon Old Testament Commentary Series: Deuteronomy. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN. 2001. p. 227
  3. Ibid. p. 228
  4. Rushdoony. p. 342-3
  5. Brueggemann. p. 228
  6. Rushdoony. p. 344
  7. Ibid. p. 348
  8. Ibid. 
  9. Brueggeman. p. 231
  10. Rushdoony. p. 349
  11. Brueggemann. p. 231

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