Deuteronomy 23:21-23

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 23:23 (CSB)

23 Be careful to do whatever comes from your lips, because you have freely vowed what you promised to the Lord your God.

Reflection/Application:

Where the previous pericope was concerned with the relationship between Israelites, this pericope is concerned with an aspect of the relationship between an Israelite and God. Specifically, it is concerned with making a voluntary vow and following through with it.

We might expect to read something like, “Make many promises to the Lord,” in scripture, but that is not the case. Instead we read a warning to think hard about making such promises, for if we do, God fully expects us to follow through and keep it. And why wouldn’t we expect God to hold us up to our end of the promise… he perfectly executes his promises and fulfills them always, so should his people do the same, especially those vows made with God! Further, it is not a sin to avoid entering into voluntary promises, we are no less “righteous” by not constantly making hasty, poorly thought about, promises to God. It is a better representation of God to make promises that we intend to follow through with rather than go back on our word.

God expects us to follow through with our promises, especially those to Him, and it is “counted against [us] as sin” when we do not follow through. Another wrinkle here may be the timing of our vows to God. Notice that Deut. 23:21 adds, “do not be slow to keep it,” in reference to following through with our vows. I’m not sure that this is saying, “You have two days to follow through,” or something like that, some sort of hard time limit. Instead, I think this is more likely suggesting do not enter into a vow that you are not prepared to begin fulfilling and will do so without hesitation. In other words, if our promises remain unkept because of our voluntary choice to refrain from fulfilling them, even though we might intend to at some time in the future, it seems maybe that is a sign of our misplaced trust and/or authority in ourselves, or our “things”, rather than God.

Finally, we should not under-emphasize the importance of prudence, of wisdom and non-hasty decision making. Deut. 23:22 doesn’t say to just avoid making “sinful vows”. Obviously we should avoid those. But that’s not what it says, it says that it will not be a sin to choose not to make a vow. It is not a sin to avoid making a commitment to do something we are not able to do… and it does not even qualify the reason for abstaining! Certainly we should not look at this as some sort pass to avoid good works and serving, that is not the spirit of this passage. Instead, it is a call to recognize what our gifts are that God has endowed us with, and utilize them in such a way that our vows to God are able to be satisfied by us. It is a call to make vows to God that we fully intend to keep, and avoid making vows we don’t intend to keep.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for always being true to your word. I am sorry, I have made vows to you and not kept them. Seems I do it way too often, and I want to change. I pray for the wisdom and control to avoid these false promises, and instead be mindful, and led by you in making such promises, as well as in keeping them. Amen.

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Deuteronomy 23:19-20

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 23:19 (CSB)

19 “Do not charge your brother interest on silver, food, or anything that can earn interest.

Reflection/Application:

Another short, straightforward pericope, but this time concerning the relationship between Israelites. This particular passage is concerned with charging interest. Three thoughts:

  • An Israelite, or a brother (or sister), is not to charge interest on “anything that can earn interest,” which is presumably anything with value, when dealing with a brother (or sister). It is reasonable to expect that if a brother were to borrow to begin with, it would be out of some need. So, what we might expect here, is that God commands his people to not exacerbate whatever situation one’s brother may be going through that prompted the borrowing to start with. After all, additional debt due to interest certainly would be counterintuitive. Further, since God does not exact some sort of “interest” from his people following his freely given grace, why would we expect God’s people to do so among each other?
  • The command is not in force when dealing with a foreigner. At first blush we might question why that is, after all, wouldn’t the circumstances most likely be the same? Why wouldn’t we expect the same “free grace” that is required between brothers? The difference here, I think, is that the foreigner, clearly a reference to one who is not one of God’s children, plays by different rules. In reality, there are certain hardships that accompany being separated from, and rebellious to, God. We could argue that the initial loan is in fact a sufficient act of grace from God’s child toward the foreigner, and the charging of interest is symbolic of the strain and struggle of being separated from God. Also, we should not see this as some sort of God-ordained opportunity to fleece via unfair and crooked practices, the foreigner. We should fully expect the child of God to practice fairness, in a God honoring and glorifying way, even when dealing with foreigners.
  • By forgoing the charging of interest with a brother, it allows for the blessing of God in our own lives, in the lives of the one giving, or loaning. I do not think it is coincidence that this is tied to the entering of Canaan, “the land you are entering to possess.” As the Israelites are about to enter the land that God is giving them, interest free, an all-out gift, they are reminded to mirror God, rather than chase after human and worldly riches through the squeezing of one’s spiritual brother. And ultimately, where are we turning for our “enrichment”? Are we turning to interest and getting all we can from others, including our brothers and sisters, or are we turning to God for our fulfillment?

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for freely giving to us. You provide everything, literally everything, from the tangible things we might own, to the ground we walk, and the air we breathe. I am sorry for placing material things above others, especially brothers and sisters. I pray for a loosening of my grip on worldly things, and a turn to you, freely giving what you have given me, to others. Amen.

Deuteronomy 23:17-18

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 23:18 (CSB)

18 Do not bring a female prostitute’s wages or a male prostitute’s earnings into the house of the Lord your God to fulfill any vow, because both are detestable to the Lord your God.

Reflection/Application:

The second in a series of very short pericopes, this passage is the past of the “purity” commands. This pericope addresses the practice of cult prostitutes, and the corruption accompanying it.

First we see the command that one of God’s people should not engage in such detestable acts. And although we might think of women when we see the word prostitute, God is clear that this is a command for both genders to avoid such sexual behavior. I do not think that we should assume non-cult prostitution is acceptable since Deut. 23:17 specifically targets cult prostitution. Instead, I think the point here is presenting the idea that such behavior should be in no way associated with the worship of God.

I think this is furthered by the second part of the passage concerning the wages of a cult prostitute, male and female, and the “detestable” nature of them. So not only is the act something that God commands not to participate in, but the pay collected for engaging in such behavior carries the same detested state. We should not have much trouble with understanding this, it seems quite intuitive that God would not encourage our engaging in behavior that is directly opposed to his commands through the acceptance of such tainted money from doing so, for worship of God.

Although this passage clearly commands us to avoid engaging in such types of activities, the point, I think, is more aimed at the purity of God’s people through proper activities and offerings in worship.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for being perfect, pure, and loving. I pray that we would avoid detestable acts, and instead seek after your ways, being a light, rather than looking like the dark world. Amen.

Deuteronomy 23:15-16

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 23:15 (CSB)

15 “Do not return a slave to his master when he has escaped from his master to you.

Reflection/Application:

This is only a two verse pericope, and it seems out of place following the previous passage concerning camp purity. Despite this, there are some interesting points to glean here.

  • Considering the placement following the passage concerning a military encampment near an enemy of Israel, it seems logical enough to conclude that this passage is referring to slaves escaped from Israel’s enemies. With that understanding, these verses take a slightly different meaning. Just as we today should welcome, encourage, do what we can to help someone flee a pagan life to come to know God and join his family, we might see this in a similar way: these escaped slaves would be fleeing a pagan nation to God’s chosen people. We should expect those fleeing pagan nations to be brought into God’s nation rather than returned to such a life.
  • Israel itself was a slave nation before God brought them out of Egypt. How messed up would it be if the Israelites turned around and sent escaped slaves back to their pagan masters? Not only did God free his people, the Israelites, but he also made a covenant to deliver them… to “not mistreat” them.
  • These escaped slaves, these people, were not to be segregated, but instead to be adopted into Israel, living among the Israelites within the city gates. Not only that, the Israelites are not to abuse this arrangement and somehow twist it into an excuse to denigrate, abuse, and generally “mistreat” these people.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for saving me, for adopting me rather than returning to my master of sin! I am sorry for not always doing and behaving the same way to others, those struggling to escape their sin chains. I pray for compassion and grace, and the words and actions to do your work and will in those lives. Amen.

Deuteronomy 23:9-14

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 23:14 (CSB)

14 For the Lord your God walks throughout your camp to protect you and deliver your enemies to you; so your encampments must be holy. He must not see anything indecent among you or he will turn away from you.

Reflection/Application:

This passage contains a couple examples of acts that would be considered “offensive”, or “indecent”, and have to be handled a certain way lest God “turn away” from the Israelite soldiers that are encamped.

The first example given is of an involuntary emission of semen while sleeping. A command related to this was seen previously in Leviticus 15:16. The man is then unclean, and must remove himself from the encampment until he has bathed and evening comes. This is an involuntary action, it, as described, occurs during the night, while the soldier would be sleeping.

The second example is concerned with human excrement and the fact that it should be done outside camp, and it should be covered. Although there is no statement of uncleanliness here, it can be presumed that not following these rules would result in some sort of unclean state, whether spiritual or not! This is also an emission of sorts, but this is a voluntary emission. It does occur, but there is some form of control over when and where it happens.

In the end, it would seem that, even with acts that are not inherently sinful, we can become unclean either by the act itself, and are required to respond appropriately to be cleansed, or we are expected to take appropriate steps to ensure we do not defile the places God has appointed to remain pure. And, ultimately, it is God’s decision that determines what is, and is not, clean, and it is our duty to respond appropriately, lest God turn away from us, exposing us to our enemies.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for not being a capricious God, but instead telling us what is clean, and what is not, and the steps we must take to be cleansed. I’m sorry for the times I decided what was appropriate, rather than observing your guidance. I pray that we would, no matter if our condition is the result of an involuntary or voluntary act, follow your resolutions and be cleansed and restored. Amen.

Deuteronomy 23:1-8

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 23:2 (CSB)

2 No one of illegitimate birth may enter the Lord’s assembly; none of his descendants, even to the tenth generation, may enter the Lord’s assembly.

Reflection/Application:

At first read we might, as I did at first, think this passage is barring large swaths of people from being part of Israel in the sense of God’s people, whom he has entered a covenant relationship with. But, that is not what is said here, this passage appears to be specifically addressing attendance of the “assembly”: the gatherings for festivals and special worship. This certainly seems clear because it makes no sense to exclude an innocent child of an act of incest, for example, from being a part of the covenant community of Israel. Further, we eventually have the example of Ruth, a Moabite (Ruth 4:10), who becomes a part of the Israelite community.

So, instead, it would seem these restrictions are specifically concerning these special festivals and worship events. Why? It would seem that this is important to reinforce the difference between being a child of God versus the rest of the world. Deut. 23:1-2 address behavior that resembled pagan practices, and were thus prohibited from the assembly lest anyone think those pagan practices are somehow acceptable and pleasing to God. The bans on the enemies of Israel are easy to understand. One slight problem might stem from why the Egyptian later generations are treated differently, but it is addressed right in the passage by noting the different relationship. In the end, we must understand that being a member of the God’s covenant community does not automatically ensure participation in the assembly, nor does exclusion from the assembly necessitate an exclusion from the covenant community. Instead, these commands, it would seem, are about ensuring the assembly be representative of God and his people, and convey no sense of the pagan practices, nor perpetuate the attitudes of those who stood against God and/or his people.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for always being the perfect standard! We might have a hard time understanding exclusions, but we easily understand our propensity to sin and fall away from you and your ways. I pray that we would represent you, as fully as possible, in an untainted way, without all our pagan tendencies, to the world. Help us to do just that. Amen.

Deuteronomy 22:13-30

Key Verse(s):

Deuteronomy 22:22 (CSB)

22 “If a man is discovered having sexual relations with another man’s wife, both the man who had sex with the woman and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.

Reflection/Application:

I’m not sure any one single verse is a “key” verse of this pericope, so I simply selected one that is a good representation of what is happening here. This pericope, it would seem, has a bit of a dual role: it is somewhat related to the “marriage” between God and his people, and it also, obviously, has practical, “real world” implications.

It is interesting that throughout this pericope, men and women are treated, generally, in an equal manner: neither has some sort of preferential treatment over the other. We don’t see men “getting off easy”, as one might expect considering the time period and patriarchal community. Instead we see a strong commitment by God, via his commands, to protect and provide for women. This is easily seen in passages like vv22-27. There might be some pushback on vv23-24, and the notion that just because something happened within the city versus in the country the punishment is extremely different. But we should note that v23 describes the act differently than the rape that is described later in the open country. It’s obvious that what is described and implied here is a consensual sexual act, else the woman would have been expected to alert someone if she was being raped in a populated area.

Where things get a little more muddy is in the first half of the pericope, and then vv28-29. We might wonder why such a despicable man would not be subject to the same death penalty as those committing the other acts. Especially the rapist in v28. But if we pause and think on this, we see that this is actually a protection of the woman, and her family. As a victim of rape, the woman, whether right or wrong, would have been defiled and her prospects of marriage would be essentially gone. But instead, God’s command ensures her care, and some sort of monetary gift that the father would normally receive as a “bride price”. What is not stated here, and we must assume, is that all of this would be at the woman’s consent to follow through with the marriage.

Additionally, we should recognize that all of these commands, as well as addressing when these acts took place, would also have served as a deterrent for those contemplating such sinful acts.

The final verse of the pericope does not outline a punishment. We might guess one based upon the content of v22 though, and then the assumption is that this particular act is exceptionally despicable due to the nature of the relationships between those involved.

In the end, the goal of these commands is not to withhold some sort of pleasure from us, but to lead us to the greatest pleasure, which would be found by following God’s design. We should be very careful about letting our modern culture and worldly “morality”, to define what should and should-not-be good and evil… it is God’s standard alone that defines that standard.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for giving us guidance. For telling us, even though we might think something is okay, or we might want something to be good, that we are falling short. I am sorry for dishonoring your creation, and crashing through the guardrails you put in place for us, for me. I pray that we would put our fleshly desires behind us, and find true happiness in your design and ways. Amen.