(Shivta, Israel, Photo by HRM)
Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19
Of all the difficult verses in Ki Teitzei, I want to focus on Deuteronomy 23: 1 – 3, which specifies certain people that are not welcome into the congregation of Israel. The verses read;
“No one wounded, crushed or whose member is cut off does enter the assembly of יהוה.
2 “No one of illegitimate birth does enter the assembly of יהוה, even a tenth generation of his does not enter the assembly of יהוה.
3 “An Ammonite or Mo’aḇite does not enter the assembly of יהוה, even a tenth generation of them does not ever enter the assembly of יהוה,
There are numerous types of people not welcome into the congregation of Israel; for these verses we are specifically looking at eunuchs and people born ‘illegitimately’. Depends on who you ask, but the term ‘bastard’ can be considered a rude term or not, it is however what the Bible is referencing here.
Let me attempt to explain further. An illegitimate birth is someone that is born out of wed-lock. It does not necessarily refer to someone born of incest, however verse 3 likens someone of illegitimate birth to an Ammonite or a Moabite. This is because the tribes of Ammon and Moab are descendants from Lots ‘encounter’ with his daughters after the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18). Regardless of that implication though, someone of illegitimate birth is generally just someone born outside of the confines of marriage.
Today this isn’t a big deal, however in the ancient world been illegitimate was a big issue. It meant that you were an outcast from your family and that you had no right to an inheritance.
Whilst we may have some understanding of what a ‘bastard’ is today, we are far removed from what an eunuch is. Basically put though, an eunuch is a castrated male.
Castrating males was a widespread practice amongst the ancient world, most notably in Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Persia and later the Hellenized world (even places like China). Most castrated males were taken as slaves and were castrated as a means to punish them.
The famous Sima Qian, an ancient Chinese historian, recounts how 8 years later, after been castrated for offending the Emperor still sat, ‘in a daze’, sweat drenching his clothes as he thought of his shame, wishing that he could ‘hide away in the farthest depths of the mountains.’
It is certainly an unfathomable punishment and there is evidence suggesting that castration, akin to beheading, was performed in the ancient world as a means to shame and rejoice in the defeat of an enemy.
For those that continued to serve as slaves, castration served a practical purpose in that it prevented the males from mixing with the women of their captive nation. As such, eunuchs were favored in the service of royalty and it was quite a widespread practice, amongst slaves and those not slaves, but who in the service of their king underwent castration voluntary.
Ironically then, eunuchs were both despised and sought after in the ancient world. As time continued, it became a popular practice as castrated males, particularly those castrated from a young age, retained their youthful features and developed physically and emotionally feminine qualities which made them desirable in the ancient world; in ways that are utterly profane and rejected by our God and therefore by Israel. So common was the practice amongst royal slaves and servants that the term for an eunuch, ‘saris’, is interchangeably translated as ‘officer’ in the Hebrew Bible.
Nonetheless, herein lies one of the most beautiful teachings of Scripture, because as an eunuch, or as someone of illegitimate birth, you are not welcome into the congregation of Israel.
Perhaps that comes as a shock; I would be delusional if I pretended otherwise. Surely the notion that someone, based on the circumstances of their birth, as not been accepted by God is obscene, and a fact that I’m sure many secularists would relish in.
These verses however connect to a far deeper truth, and if we are to understand what the scripture teaches then we have to read it in its entirety and understand our verses in their context, both historically and within the words of scripture itself.
Understanding these verses, contextually, poses a few questions.
How is Deuteronomy 23 true, while Scripture also says?
Ezekiel 18:21–22 (The Scriptures)
21 “But the wrong, if he turns from all his sins which he has done, and he shall guard all My laws, and shall do right-ruling and righteousness, he shall certainly live, he shall not die.
22 “All the transgressions which he has done shall not be remembered against him—in his righteousness that he has done, he shall live.
What about someone of illegitimate birth, who did not commit the sin which produced his life?
Especially when Scripture also says that;
Ezekiel 18:20 (The Scriptures)
20 “The being who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the crookedness of the father, nor the father bear the crookedness of the son. The righteousness of the righteous is upon himself, and the wrongness of the wrong is upon himself.
Surely someone of illegitimate birth, or an eunuch, can perform righteousness and lay claim to the above words?
The answer of course, is yes, and yet the words of Deuteronomy 23 remain true, they are not, as many suggest, done away with, and rather than ‘abolish’ part of the Torah to balance these things, we must ask how is all this true?
The answer lies in becoming a true Hebrew.
As you know, to be an Israelite, is to be a Hebrew. Hebrew is a term first mentioned in Genesis 14 of Abraham, shortly after for those in his service, and after this, starting with Joseph, a reference to anyone born of Israel. In the book of Exodus YHWH also proclaims himself to be the God of the Hebrews (Exodus 3:18).
The word Hebrew means ‘to pass over, to pass away’. It refers to an actual spatial or physical movement, and this is because the term Hebrew is referring to Abraham passing away from his homeland when he answered God’s call to go to the land of Canaan. The term Hebrew therefore, is referring to leaving behind one’s pass and answering the call of God. This is also referencing a person abandoning their old ways, and taking on God’s ways. Having done so, having left behind our sinful pasts, we then can cross over into God’s acceptance, in a sense.
The notion of Hebrew is also related to the idea of baptism which again is derived physically from Abraham who would have crossed the Euphrates in his journey. Baptism however, like Hebrew’s ‘crossing over’, symbolizes a washing away of the past and of taking on the identity of God. This is even related to marriage, which our relationship with God is, in that a Bride forfeits her identity and takes on the identity of her husband, in our case, of God.
You may remember a certain Moabite (forbidden from entering Israel) by the name of Ruth. This same Moabite continued on to marry Boaz and is in the genealogy of King David and our Messiah, Yeshua. By the reckoning of Deuteronomy 23 you could argue that King David and Messiah are illegitimate heirs to Israel’s throne. This is not so though, because Ruth crossed over, she abandoned her identity as a Moabite and took upon the identity of her husband, the identity of Israel and the service of its God. Ruth encapsulated the concept of becoming a Hebrew when she spoke the words;
Ruth 1:16–17 (The Scriptures)
16 … “Do not urge me to leave you, or to go back from following after you. For wherever you go, I go; and wherever you stop over, I stop over. Your people is my people, and your Elohim is my Elohim.
17 “Where you die, I die, and there I shall be buried. יהוה do so to me, and more also—for death itself parts you and me.”
Understanding the concept of becoming a Hebrew is how we can understand that an eunuch, or someone of illegitimate birth, including Ruth, is able to be accepted by God into the congregation of Israel. This is because when we enter into covenant with Him, when we cross over, we leave our past identities behind.
The eunuch then is no longer seen as an eunuch in a sense; having crossed over he will be made whole in the Kingdom of God, in Israel.
For the one of illegitimate birth, you are no longer illegitimate. You are no longer without inheritance, no longer with shame, no longer without family, no longer without Mother, or Father; because you have a family, you are accepted, you have a Father, you have equality with your brothers, you have an inheritance; you are no longer a ‘bastard’.
‘Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, he is a renewed creature, the old has passed away, all matters have become renewed (2 Cor. 5:17)’. ‘Because through Him, we have access to the Father by one Spirit. So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:18–19).’
In the Kingdom of God we all come broken, but in crossing over, we receive the wholeness and healing that our Master and Messiah gifts to us. In union with our Master, we are all made whole.
Saying then that no ‘bastard’ can enter into Israel, is akin to saying that no forsaken man can enter, for we are all made whole in His Kingdom and we are all made legitimate sons of the Most High God.
Saying then that no eunuch can enter into Israel, is akin to saying that there will be no shame or broken man in the Kingdom of God, for our God is a God not of shame, but of honor and of wholeness. So, ‘Fear not, for you will not be put to shame, do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; But you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more’ (Isaiah 54:4)
Having then, crossed over, the Scripture says;
“Guard right-ruling, and do righteousness, for near is My deliverance to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.
2 “Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who lays hold on it, guarding the Sabbath lest he profane it, and guarding his hand from doing any evil.
3 “And let not the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to יהוה speak, saying, ‘יהוה has certainly separated me from His people,’ nor let the eunuch say, ‘Look I am a dry tree.’ ”
4 For thus said יהוה, “To the eunuchs who guard My Sabbaths, and have chosen what pleases Me, and hold fast to My covenant:
5 to them I shall give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters—I give them an everlasting name that is not cut off.
6 “Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to יהוה, to serve Him, and to love the Name of יהוה, to be His servants, all who guard the Sabbath, and not profane it, and hold fast to My covenant—
7 them I shall bring to My set-apart mountain, and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their slaughterings are accepted on My altar, for My house is called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”
Therefore it is written;
Deuteronomy 23:1 (The Scriptures)
“No one wounded, crushed or whose member is cut off does enter the assembly of יהוה…