The Worthiness of Worship

1 “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.

“No one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord.

“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.

“You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land. Children born to them in the third generation may enter the assembly of the Lord. – Deuteronomy 23:1-8 ESV

Moses now shifts his focus from marriage to the wider corporate context of Israel. More specifically, he addresses the topic of worship or the corporate assembly of the covenant community. Six times in eight verses, he will discuss those who are forbidden to “enter into the assembly of the Lord.” This is a reference to the gathering of the people of Israel for all God-ordained feasts and festivals, or other prescribed occasions where the people were to gather for public worship.

Those times at which the corporate community gathered together before the Lord were to be seen as sacred. Those events were to be attended only by those who could be deemed legitimate members of the covenant community of Israel. God had made His covenant with Abraham and his descendants. They were considered by God to be holy because He had set them apart from all the other nations. So, there were restrictions concerning who could take part in these sacred assemblies.

First of all, Moses prohibits the inclusion of any males who suffered from any form of emasculation. This would include those suffering from any form of birth defect concerning the male genitals or those who had accidentally or deliberately been emasculated. This regulation, while seemingly unfair and exclusionary, had a purpose behind it. Any emasculated man would have been considered physically incomplete or lacking in wholeness. Wholeness and holiness were closely linked in the Hebrew way of thinking. And emasculation would have left the individual incapable of procreation because of their inability to produce the seed necessary for conception. These people were not to be treated as second-class citizens, but they were restricted from joining in the corporate worship of God. Again, this had to do with wholeness and holiness.

The second restriction has to do with anyone born of a “forbidden union” or illegitimate birth. This most likely included anyone whose parents were of mixed ethnic backgrounds, particularly referring to a Hebrew and a pagan. But it is thought to have included children born out of incest, rape, or some other unholy union between a man and a woman. Once again, it is not that these people were to be considered as non-members of the Jewish community, but that their participation in the corporate worship of the nation was restricted. The issue was that of holiness or wholeness.

Anyone of Moabite and Ammonite descent was also restricted from participation in the corporate worship of Israel. The mention of these two people groups indicated that Moabites and Ammonites could convert to Judaism, but they could not join in the national assemblies reserved for the worship of Yahweh. There are several factors behind this prohibition. The first is that these two people groups were the descendants of the two sons born to Lot as a result of his incestuous relationships with his own daughters (Genesis 19:30-38). But they were also guilty of having treated the Israelites harshly during their journey to the land of Canaan. The king of Moab had attempted to use a prophet to curse the people of Israel, but his efforts were derailed by God. This snub of God’s chosen people had long-term ramifications, restricting any Ammonites and Moabites who converted to Judaism from participating in corporate worship with the nation of Israel.

But any Edomites who had converted to Judaism were not to be restricted from the corporate assemblies of Israel. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob. And the Israelites were commanded to treat them as brothers.

Finally, anyone of Egyptian descent who had become part of the Hebrew nation was also to be treated fairly and allowed to participate in the worship of Yahweh. This inclusion of the Egyptians seems odd when you consider that the people of Israel spent more than 400 years as their slaves. But the nation of Egypt had been used by God to foster the growth of the nation of Israel. When Jacob and his family had first arrived in Egypt, they number just over 70 people, but by the time they left four centuries later, they numbered in the millions. And it had been the people of Egypt who had blessed the Israelites by providing them with gifts and treasures when they departed.

The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. – Exodus 12:35-36 ESV

So, God commanded that the Israelites treat any Egyptians in their midst who worshiped Him to be treated as equals, allowing them to join in their corporate assemblies.

The coming together of the people of God for times of corporate worship was meant to reflect their status as His chosen people. We have seen how God commanded the purging of evil from their midst. This was particularly important when it came to times of worship. The presence of the wicked or evil would pollute their corporate holiness. God was to be treated with reverence, and as worthy of the greatest honor they could bring. These assemblies of the Lord were not to be taken lightly or flippantly. God was to be honored as holy and deserving of the greatest respect. So, these prohibitions have much more to say about the perfection of God than they do about the imperfections or unworthiness of the individuals mentioned. The worship of God was to be taken seriously, and by providing clear directions and restrictions regarding proper worship, Moses was reminding the people of Israel just how worthy of worship their God was.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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