WVW: Deuteronomy 23:1- Cut off What?!
Updated: Aug 15, 2020
My wife told me a story she heard while she was in psychology class in college. Her professor was telling a story about a time he had to make a visit to a psychiatric ward and confront a person who was locked in the bathroom threatening to hurt themselves. The man had gotten ahold of a butter knife and was threatening to castrate themselves. The professor did not go into details about why the man wanted to perform this action, but he had acquired a butter knife and locked himself in the bathroom. The professor’s job was to “talk him off the ledge” but unfortunately when they broke the bathroom door down, the damage was already done.
The man had severed a majority of his genitalia through self-mutilation. The professor went on to describe the scene and how bloody the bathroom was from this man’s botched attempt to castrate himself. According to Deuteronomy 23, this guy probably isn’t saved… wait, what? You see, in Deuteronomy 23:1, God issues specific instructions to Moses about who can and can not enter the assembly of the Lord, and verse one zooms in specifically on self-mutilation of one’s genitalia. A perfect verse to help out on this Weird Verse Wednesday!
What is the context?
Deuteronomy 23: 1“No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord. As we enter chapter 23 of Deuteronomy, it is important to establish context to understand what is going on. The law was given to Moses in Exodus which was then given to the Israelites followed by the forty years of wandering in the desert. As a new generation of Israelites rises, Moses now gives the law again, which is what we see in Deuteronomy, or second law as the Greek translated tells us. There are various divisions in this book, and chapter 23 falls into a section focused on Israel’s civil life. This collection of various laws found in chapters 12-26 is aimed at setting Israel apart from the rest of the world. Yet, nestled in these various laws on civil living is the verses found in Deuteronomy 23 discussing mutilation.
Dating back to the covenant seal with Abraham, God established a physical sign with His people, circumcision. Through this, Jewish men would circumcise male children eight days old as a sign of them being admitted to the covenant. While this practice was carried on through the generations, God made it a specific law to not allow the mutilation of a person from entering the assembly of God.
What is the Assembly of God?
The assembly of God is often referred to as the worshipping community gathered before the presence of God, not the whole of Israel’s population. Verses 1-8 are a collection of verses aimed at keeping unclean individuals out of God’s presence. During this period among various pagan rituals conducted during this period was the reason God addressed such a claim. In verse 2, no one born of the forbidden union, and in verse 3, no Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of God. The Eunuch is often referred to as the one born out of a forbidden union, and in these cultures, it was common practice to castrate or damage oneself. While this practice seems insane by today’s standards, it was common practice during the time of Moses, so much in fact that God had to instruct His people to not allow one who purposefully inflicted this kind of damage on themselves.
While we may often come across many obscure verses or passages in the bible, a little bit of studying goes a long distance. When we understand the culture, and the context behind the verse we can finally come to understand the purpose of such a text as Deuteronomy 23:1. At a first pass by, this text may seem crazy, or even gross some people out, but buried in the context, God has a purpose for all things. To keep His assembly clean of those who are unworthy to be near Him. This is the meaning behind this obscure text.
What does this mean for us?
As I’m told, Bibledingers likes to conclude each Weird Verse Wednesday with a Gospel presentation; with Deutoronomy 23:1, it’s not directly related to the gospel, but we are undoubtedly presented with an incredible reminder that the people in the Old Testament had a very specific set of rules to obey in attempt to be right with God. The glorious truth of the Gospel is that it is not a works based truth. Jesus Christ did it all for you on the cross and you through faith in Him, can be saved too. If you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ feel free to reach out to anyone at Bibledingers@gmail.com or me personally on Instagram at Reformed_lifestyle with any questions that you have about the Bible.
(Dingers, this Weird Verse Wednesday was written by Alex Zenk from many awesome podcasts: Undying Light, and A Matter of Truth Podcast. You can also find him on Instagram at Reformed_lifestyle. If you like what you read, check out more of his stuff at www.undyinglight.org).