Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The old heading of this chapter, “Who may or may not enter into the congregation,” supplies a good connection with what goes before. From the law of marriage in the Church of Israel it is a natural step to the Children of Israel, the members of this Church.
He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.(1) The rule that a eunuch should not enter into the congregation was doubtless intended to prevent the Israelitish rulers from making eunuchs of their brethren the children of Israel. As a set off to this apparent harshness towards the man who had been thus treated, we must read Isaiah 56:3-4, in which a special promise is given to the eunuchs that keep God’s Sabbaths and take hold of His covenant. God will give to them within His house and within His walls “a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters—an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” As a special calamity it was foretold to Hezekiah that some of his descendants should be eunuchs in the palace of the King of Babylon. But Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in whom this prophecy was fulfilled, have ennobled the “children that are of their sort” for evermore.
We have no means of knowing whether the eunuchs that were in the service of the kings of Israel or Judah (1Samuel 8:15; 1Kings 22:9; 2Kings 8:6; 2Kings 9:32, &c.) were Israelites by birth or not. Ebedmelech, the Ethiopian, who received a special blessing from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 39:15-18), was a foreigner, and so very possibly were most, if not all, of his kind in Israel.
As to the second clause of this verse, it must be remembered that circumcision was the sign of the covenant of Jehovah; mutilation a form of heathen self-devotion. (See Gal. 5, 12, Revised New Testament, Margin, and Bishop Lightfoot’s comment on that place.) St. Paul’s words in Galatians receive a double meaning from this law. By doing what he refers to, they would cut themselves off from the congregation of the Lord. Rashi also gives another meaning, which would connect the precept with Leviticus 15:2.
A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.(2) A bastard shall not enter.—Such a person would not, even now, be circumcised by the Jews, or permitted to marry an Israelitish woman, or be buried with his people; therefore he was excluded from the covenant. It is manifest how efficacious would be the enforcement of this law also in preserving the purity of family life.
An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:(3) An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter. According to Rashi, “shall not marry an Israelitish woman.” It must be remembered that the children, according to Jewish law, follow the father, not the mother. The case of Ruth would not, therefore, be touched by this precept.
Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee.(4) Because they met you not with bread and with water.—We learn incidentally from this passage how the Moabites and the Ammonites requited the forbearance shown them by the Israelites (Deuteronomy 2:9; Deuteronomy 2:19; Deuteronomy 2:29). No one not acquainted with the details of Israel’s intercourse with these people on their journey could have written thus.
Because they hired against thee Balaam.—See Numbers 22 and Numbers 31:16, and Numbers 25.
Nevertheless the LORD thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the LORD thy God loved thee.(5) Because the Lord thy God loved thee.—The contrast between what He says to Israel in this book and what He said by Balaam is very striking. (See on Deuteronomy 31:16.)
Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land.(7) Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite . . . an Egyptian.—The contrast between these and the Moabite and Ammonite is drawn rather well by Rashi in this passace. “Learn here,” he says, “that he who makes a man to sin, treats him worse than he who kills-him; for he that kills, kills only in this world, but he who causes him to sin, banishes him both from this world and from the world to come. Edom, therefore who met them with the sword (Numbers 21:18; Numbers 21:20) they must not abhor; nor, again, Egypt, that would have drowned them (Exodus 1:22); but those who made them to sin are to be abhorred of them, because of the counsel wherewith they counselled them to cause them to sin.” The counsel of Balaam and the whoredoms of Moab are referred to; the Midianites who joined in this effort had been chastised already (Numbers 31).
The children that are begotten of them shall enter into the congregation of the LORD in their third generation.(8) The children that are begotten of them From this passage it is clear that it was not only from Egypt that a “mixed multitude” came up with Israel. It seems to have been impossible to prevent some inter-marriages between Edom, Moab, and Israel when the Israelites passed through their land. Such a precept is suitable to the circumstances of Moses’ time. It would be less necessary when the bulk of the people had gone over the Jordan and left Moab and Edom far behind.
When the host goeth forth against thine enemies, then keep thee from every wicked thing.Deuteronomy 23:9-14. PURITY OF THE CAMP.
(9) When the host goeth forth against thine enemies . . . keep thee.—“Because Satan maketh his accusations in the hour of danger” (Rashi).
(10) Uncleanness that chanceth him by night. As in Leviticus 15:16.
(11) When the sun is down.—“No man is clean (after ceremonial uncleanness) except at the going down of the sun” (Rashi).
(12) Without the camp.—It must not be forgotten that this is the camp of the army, not the whole encampment of Israel in the wilderness. The entire passage is continuous from Deuteronomy 23:9. Hence the whole discussion raised, after the appearance of Dr. Colenso’s work, on the size of the camp of Israel and the possibility of obeying this rule, was simply waste of words, and arose out of a misunderstanding of the matter under consideration. The sanitary value of the rule has been abundantly demonstrated in our own day.
(13) A paddle—rather, a pin, or spike, like that with which Jael slew Sisera. The word for “weapon” does not occur elsewhere. The LXX. translates it “a pin or tent-peg at thy girdle;” the Hebrew word (âzên) being like the Greek (ζώνη). But both Targums interpret the word as “weapon,” connecting it with the Hebrew zayin, which has that meaning. The hinder end of the spear in Abner’s hand was sharp enough to strike Asahel a fatal blow when he followed him (2Samuel 2:23). Saul’s spear also was “stuck in the ground at his bolster” (1Samuel 26:7), probably with its point upwards, by the same spike.
(14) For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of . . . thee.—A most beautiful argument for purity in every sense. It was evidently present to St. Paul’s mind in 2Corinthians 6:16 to 2Corinthians 7:1, “God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them. . . . Having therefore these promises . . . let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee:Deuteronomy 23:15-16.—REFUGEES.
Thou shalt not deliver . . . the servant.—Even on Israelitish ground the escaped slave was free. Rashi adds, “Even a Canaanitish slave who has escaped from abroad into the land of Israel.”
There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.(17) Whore and sodomite seem both intended to be taken in the sense in which they belonged to the temples of Baal and Ashtaroth, of persons dedicated to impurity.
Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the LORD thy God.(18) The hire of a whore.—Even a lamb or a kid might not be sacrificed for them, if obtained as the wages of sin (Genesis 38:17).
The price of a dog.—The ass might be redeemed with a lamb, and the lamb could be sacrificed. The dog could not be treated thus. Yet “the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” But there is a “dog that turns to his own vcmit again,” and of these it is written that “without are dogs and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie” (Revelation 22:15).
Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury:(19, 20) Usury.—See Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-36. Some recent writers on this law have thought that it forbids the putting out of money to interest. But it is noticeable that in both the previous passages referred to (in Exod. and Lev.) the loan is supposed to be made to a “poor man” in “real distress.” Usury in such cases means oppression; and so it is proved to be by the examples given in Nehemiah 5:2-5; Nehemiah 5:10-12. The connection between this exaction and modern investments is not obvious, except in a very few cases. The Mosaic law against usury does not belong to commerce with other nations; it is part of the poor law of the land of Israel.
When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.(21) When thou shalt vow . . . thou shalt not be slack . . .—The three yearly feasts are mentioned by Rashi and the Rabbis as occasions for the payment of vows. (See 1Samuel 1:21.) This precept is cited in Ecclesiastes 5:4, but with sufficient verbal variation to prevent its being called a quotation.
When thou comest into thy neighbour's vineyard, then thou mayest eat grapes thy fill at thine own pleasure; but thou shalt not put any in thy vessel.(24) When thou comest into thy neighbour’s vineyard.—Rashi tries to limit both this and the following precept to the labourer engaged in gathering the vintage or the harvest, when vessels are used and sickles employed. But the plain meaning will stand, and is accepted by our Lord in the Gospel. The objection made to His disciples was not that they plucked their neighbour’s corn, but that they did it on the Sabbath (a kind of harvesting, and therefore unlawful according to the scribes).