Grace and Distance (Deuteronomy 23:3-4)

No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of their [descendants], even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the LORD, because they did not meet you with food and 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.

Deuteronomy 23:3-4

This verse caught my attention this morning. On the surface, there are probably a fair few who would read it and think only of the prohibition God is making. These two groups are not allowed in God’s sanctuary. And, to be fair, God has some good reasons for that. There are the reasons given in the passage—failing to show the most basic of hospitality and trying to get Israel cursed—which are pretty compelling in and of themselves as far as the ancient world is concerned. But more, Ammon and Moab are the descendants of Lot through his daughters’ incest with their father (Genesis 19:30-38). Lest I be left to think that God did not care at all for these people groups, Deuteronomy 2:9 records God telling Moses to leave them alone and not make war with them. So God is concerned with these people, but He is primarily concerned with the holiness of Israel. It’s not that Ammonites or Moabites can never enter the assembly, but that they would need to be far removed from their heritage to do so

All of that is as it may be, but the verses caught my eye because Moab is listed there and Jesus’ lineage includes a woman by the name of Ruth. She marries Boaz and they have a son named Obed who has a son named Jesse who has a son named David—yeah, that David—whose family will ultimately result in the birth of Jesus Christ. To add more wrinkles, Boaz is the son of a guy named Salmon (not the fish) and a woman named Rahab—yeah, the prostitute from Jericho. Now, it would be a lot of generations before Jesus would come on the scene, so He was probably cool with regard to the whole tenth generation deal. But David and his son Solomon were fourth and fifth generation. So what gives?

Two things, I think. Each of these depends on whether we see the whole tenth generation statement as literal or as a figure of speech. If the statement is taken literally, then David’s entire relationship with God was one of grace; one of God allowing a man who wanted to come near to Him to do so despite his family line and heritage. Now Rahab and Ruth are awesome women where faith in God is concerned even though neither one starts her life Jewish, but each one would have had children and grand children on down for ten generations who were excluded from the assembly if these verses were taken literally. So, despite the fact that David had a family history that should have excluded him from the assembly if this statement is literal, God not only allowed David to be a part of the assembly, but chose David to be king. That is some serious grace. If the statement is taken as a figure of speech, then the intent seems to be that God wants there to be separation from the past life and practices of their pagan roots. It’s good to follow God. It’s better to follow God and not pollute our worship of Him with artifacts of where we and our family came from in a spiritual sense. We should not bring in our ideas of what right and wrong look like, but come and see what God’s right and wrong look like and change to meet His standard.

That’s what these verses communicated to me this morning: grace for those with a speckled past and the reality that we need to sever ties with the things that have gone before. I may have been a spiritual Moabite before coming to God—the result of immorality, caught up in all manner of immoral practice, trying to find ways to injure God’s people—but God wants me to be distant from that past and, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, a new creation. Grace to allow me entry and separation from what has gone before to maintain fellowship.

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