Through faith in the blood of Jesus, you can be part of the assembly of believers in heaven1
Introduction: In Deuteronomy, Moses revealed that the Jews were to gather three times a year to honor God in one assembly (Dt. 16:16). These three assemblies all foreshadowed Jesus (Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 10:1). The first assembly foreshadowed His death and resurrection. (The Feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits). The second assembly foreshadowed when the Holy Spirit came to dwell with us. (The Feast of Weeks and Pentecost). The third assembly foreshadowed the time when Jesus would dwell with us on Earth and when believers will dwell with Him in heaven. (The Feast of Booths / Tabernacles). Each assembly or festival was a “holy convocation” or rehearsal for Christ (Lev. 23:2). Today, believers are freed from any legal obligation to celebrate these festivals (Col. 2:16-17). Instead, these festivals are like a wedding anniversary or a birthday. They are voluntary ways to express one’s love and devotion to God.
In addition to describing three assembles every year, the festivals also foreshadow three “assemblies of God” during human history. The first assembly happened at Mount Horeb. At that time, God was betrothed to Israel for marriage (Jer. 2:2). He made a marriage contract in the form of the Ten Commandments. The Jews initially accepted God’s marriage proposal: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Ex. 19:1-8). Yet, a wedding contract must be signed by a friend of the bride and a friend of the groom. Moses was a friend of the bride, Israel. But God did not allow him to sign the contract. Instead, Moses broke the Ten Commandments (Ex. 32:19). The sin that caused the people to break the wedding contract was spiritual adultery and idolatry. God, however, remained faithful to His promised bride (Ps. 18:25). He later implored the Jews to return to their husband: ‘“Return faithless people,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am your husband.’” (Jer. 3:14). But they did not return. They again spurned God when Jesus came. The second “assembly of God” happened in Jerusalem when God put the new wedding covenant into the hearts of the gentiles through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3; Jer. 31:33; Ps. 40:8; 2 Cor. 3:3). The third “assembly of God” will happen in heaven when the bridegroom and the bride are finally able to dwell together (Rev. 20:4). This will happen when Jesus completes His marriage with His church (Rev. 19:7-14). Paul stated that he “betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” (2 Cor. 11:2). Like the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13), each person should be preparing to join God’s final assembly.
Who can be part of the last and future “the assembly of God?” First, through faith in Jesus, you must become a Spirit-filled believer. Through the example of an excluded eunuch, God reveals that each person is in a spiritually dead state and in need of spiritual rebirth. Second, through faith in Christ, you must become part of God’s adopted family. To illustrate this, Moses gives the example of four nations. The Ammonite and Moabites were excluded because they were born out of incest and unrighteousness. They symbolized our flesh. The Edomites were eligible because they descended from Isaac’s eldest son. But they later lost their right by constantly fighting against God’s people. They established that no one is saved by heritage alone. The fourth nation Egypt was eligible for salvation. It established that salvation was available to even the worst of sinners. Third, although not required for salvation, God also wants you to live a life that is pure. Your purity is an example to others. Fourth, you should seek to free others from spiritual bondage through the freedom that only Jesus can offer. Fifth, you have a duty to make only holy life offerings to God. Yet, this must be out of gratitude, not obligation. Sixth, you should help those in need around you. Yet, you should never take advantage of the generosity of others. Finally, God does not want you to delay in vows to serve Him.
God’s prohibition against castrated men entering into His holy assembly. God’s first rule was to prohibit any eunuch from entering into His holy assembly: “1 No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” (Dt. 23:1). A similar prohibition existed for male animal sacrifices: “Also anything with its testicles bruised or crushed or torn or cut, you shall not offer to the LORD, or sacrifice in your land,” (Lev. 22:24). Here, God repudiated the practice of some ancient Middle Eastern civilizations where parents would mutilate their children to allow them to serve in the houses of powerful persons or leaders (James-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Dt. 23:1). This was, however, different from the prohibition on Levites serving in God’s Temple when they had physical defects (Lev. 21:21). Instead, like the circumcision, this condition was hidden from others. Unless a eunuch told others about his status, only he and God would know if he was unfit to join the assembly. The prohibition against eunuchs in God’s assembly has a spiritual corollary today. Only you and God know where your heart is and whether you have faith. Even without faith, you might look pious to others. Yet, if you have no faith, you are in God’s eyes like a spiritually dry and dead eunuch.
All persons can become fruit-bearing members of God’s society. Although eunuchs were excluded, God promised that a day would come when all could be made whole to serve in His assembly: “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely separate me from His people.’ Nor let the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’ For thus says the LORD, ‘To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant. To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.’” (Is. 56:3-5). Christ’s death can restore anyone who is spiritually dead, even a eunuch. In the book of Acts, Phillip met an Ethiopian eunuch who worked in the court of the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch read the prophecy in Isaiah regarding the sheep being led to the slaughter and asked Phillip to explain it (Acts 8:27-36). As a eunuch, he was ineligible under the Law from entering into God’s holy assembly. Yet, after professing Jesus Christ to be the son of God, he was no longer barred from being in God’s assembly (Acts 8:37-9). Because of Christ’s death: “No personal blemishes, no crimes of our forefathers, no difference of nation, shuts us out under the Christian dispensation.” (Matthew Henry on Dt. 23:1). After you accepted Christ, you too went from being a “dry tree” to one capable of bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Yet, a believer who walks by the flesh will not bear the fruit of the Spirit. If none of the nine fruits of the Spirit are visible in your life, what might that tell you? (Matt. 7:16). If you have some (but not all) of the fruit of the Spirit, can you grow complacent in your walk? Like Phillip, are you helping the spiritual eunuchs around you to understand God’s Word?
Through faith in Jesus, you can be born again of the Spirit2
God’s prohibition against illegitimate people entering into His holy assembly. Because sin cannot be in God’s presence, He also excluded any person or nation born out of incest or adultery. This included the nations which descended from Lot’s incest: “2 No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of his descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the Lord. 3 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, 4 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. 5 Nevertheless, the Lord your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the Lord your God loves you. 6 You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days.” (Dt. 23:2-6). To a Westerner, the world “illegitimate” might suggest that it included any person born out of marriage. Yet, according to the Talmud, the word “illegitimate” corresponded to a person born of adultery or incest (Maimon., 'Issure Biah.,' c. 15. §§ 1, 2, 7, 9). Many Jews also interpreted this to also include any marriage forbidden in Leviticus 18:1. Moab, one of the excluded nations, in Hebrew meant “from the father.” The Moabites, like the Amorites, came from the daughters of Lot who committed incest with their father (Gen. 19:30-38). Thus, they were barred from God’s assembly. The Hebrew words “to the tenth generation” further suggest an indefinite exclusion (cf. Gen. 31:7; Nu. 14:22; Job 19:3; Ps. 3:6). God suggested that persons or nations born out of incest or adultery were indefinitely excluded without some means for atonement to cleanse their blood lines. Yet, Rahab from Jericho and Uriah the Hittite suggested that individuals who were righteous within the unsaved nations could still be redeemed. Being conceived without a human father, Jesus would have been considered illegitimate and viewed by some to be unfit to be a priest or to serve in God’s assembly. Yet, He went on to become our High Priest (Heb. 4:14). He now sits on the throne advocating daily for each believer (1 Jo. 2:1; Heb. 7:25; 9:24). Is there any sin in your background that is holding you back from serving God? If so, your self-condemnation is from the devil and not from God (Ro. 8:1).
Through faith, you become an adopted child of God, free from all condemnation3
Your flesh wars against the Spirit. God told Abraham that, after 400 years, “they [the Jews] shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Gen. 15:16). He also promised to give the lands of the Amorites in modern day Syria to Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 15:18-21). The Amorites most likely knew these prophesies and therefore sought to defeat the Jews as they approached the Promised Land. Yet, God protected the Jews when the Amorites came to attack and kill them (Nu. 21:21-35). He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him (Prov. 30:5; Ps. 18:30). The Jews then traveled back to the plains of Moab where they stayed until God gave the word for Joshua to take them into the Promised Land (Nu. 22:1). The Moabites feared the Jews (Nu. 22:3). They worried that the Jews’ vast numbers would consume all the economic resources around them (Nu. 22:4). Solomon warned that the fear of men brings a snare (Prov. 29:25). Balak was their king. His name meant “to lay waste, to destroy.” (Nu. 22:2). Like his name suggests, he sought to lay waste to the Jews. Both the Amorites and the Moabites symbolized the flesh. They formed a pact against the nation of Israel, the descendant of Isaac. Isaac was the child of faith or God’s promise (Nu. 22:4). Your flesh is likewise at war with the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). In relation to the things of the flesh, God warns: “You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days.” (Dt. 23:6). Are you looking to your flesh for peace and prosperity? Is the flesh winning the daily war for your mind?
The devil conspires against us. The conflict caused by these nations competing for the same land replayed a conflict that once plagued Abraham and Lot. Their herdsmen disputed over the same lands. To avoid conflict, Lot took the valley Jordan and Abraham took Israel (Gen. 13:5-15). Because the middle and southern portions of Jordan belonged to the descendants of Lot, God told Moses not to attack them (Dt. 2:9). But the king of Moab did not know this. Thus, he sought to hire the sorcerer Balaam to cast a spell on Israel (Nu. 22:7). He reasoned that Balaam’s spell might cause enough confusion within Israel to allow his troops to defeat them in battle (Nu. 22:6). The battle against Israel continued on. David later cried out to the Lord for protection from the evil men who conspired against him (Ps. 140:1). Are you aware that the devil is also plotting against you? Are you crying out for God to be your shield? (Ps. 7:10; Prov. 30:5).
The failure of the Ammonites or Moabites to seek redemption. Centuries later, Nehemiah repeated God’s prohibition against the Ammonites and the Moabites from serving in God’s assembly (Neh. 13:1-2). As God knew in advance, they would never attempt to be reconciled with Him. The Ammonites and the Moabites later came together with others to wage war against King Jehoshaphat (2 Chr. 20:1). The prophet Jeremiah later gave God’s prophecy of judgment against these nations: “This message was given concerning Moab. This is what the LORD of Heaven's armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘What sorrow awaits the city of Nebo; it will soon lie in ruins. The city of Kiriathaim will be humiliated and captured; the fortress will be humiliated and broken down.’” (Jer. 48:1). “Concerning the sons of Ammon. Thus says the LORD: ‘Does Israel have no sons? Or has he no heirs? Why then has Malcam taken possession of Gad and his people settled in its cities?’” (Jer. 49:1). The prophet Ezekiel also gave God’s prophecy of judgment against these nations: "And you, son of man, prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD concerning the sons of Ammon and concerning their reproach,’ and say: ‘A sword, a sword is drawn, polished for the slaughter, to cause it to consume, that it may be like lightning—”’ (Ezek. 21:28). The prophet Zephaniah also gave God’s prophecy of judgment against these two nations: “I have heard the taunting of Moab and the revilings of the sons of Ammon, with which they have taunted My people and become arrogant against their territory.” (Zeph. 2:8). The prophet Isaiah also gave God’s prophecy of judgment against these two nations: “The oracle concerning Moab. Surely in a night Ar of Moab is devastated and ruined; surely in a night Kir of Moab is devastated and ruined.” (Is. 15:1). As a fulfillment of these prophecies, neither nation exists today. They exist only through archeological remnants and what the Bible tells us about them. For the mighty nations who live by the flesh, including America, can they expect a different fate than Moab or Ammon? (Ps. 68:21; 110:6).
Heritage by birth alone does not guarantee a place within God’s family. Although some nations were impure from sin through birth, some nations squandered their opportunity to receive God’s blessings. The nation of Edom was one example of this: “7 You shall not detest an Edomite, for he is your brother; . . . . 8 The sons of the third generation who are born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord.” (Dt. 23:7-8). The Edomites were related to Israel as the descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau (Gen. 25:24). Yet, even with God’s promise of protection, the Edomites waged war against the Jews: “For again the Edomites had come and attacked Judah and carried away captives.” (2 Chr. 28:17). David later cried out for God to judge them: “Remember, O LORD, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said, ‘Raze it, raze it To its very foundation.’” (Ps. 137:7). God later judged the Edomites for their sins through four prophets: “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Because Edom has acted against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and has incurred grievous guilt, and avenged themselves upon them.’” (Ezek. 25:12). “Because of violence to your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame, and you will be cut off forever.” (Obed. 1:10). “For My sword is satiated in heaven, behold it shall descend for judgment upon Edom and upon the people whom I have devoted to destruction.” (Is. 34:5). “[B]ut I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” (Mal. 1:3; Ro. 9:13). Just as God foretold, the Edomites have also disappeared. They exist only through archeological records and from what the Bible says. Like the Edomites, the Jews later squandered their inheritance when they rejected Jesus. Yet, God still has a plan to save a remnant of the Jews (Ro. 11:23-27). Have you, like Esau’s descendants, squandered your inheritance by embracing the flesh?
Yet, even the worst of sinners can be saved. While illegitimacy and a life of the flesh can squander the chance to be in God’s assembly, being a heathen at war with God is not, per se, an exclusion either. Contrary to what some might expect, God told the Jews not to despise the Egyptians: “you shall not detest an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land . . .” (Dt. 23:7-8). They had imprisoned the Jews for 400 years. They treated them poorly as slaves (Ex. 1:14; 2:23). Pharaoh first planned to kill every male Jewish baby and their entire nation at the Red Sea (Ex. 1:16; 14:5-9). Yet, the Egyptians had at one point showed hospitality to Jacob’s family. Many private Egyptians also showed acts of kindness toward the Jews (Ex. 12:36). God further told the Jews to be kind to foreigners because they were once foreigners in Egypt (Ex. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:34; Dt. 10:19). The Egyptians symbolize the opportunity that God extends to even the worst of sinners to find salvation. Unlike the Edomites, the Egyptians did not wage war again against Israel until the six-day war in 1967. In 1979, the Egyptians were further the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Consistent with these verses, Egypt is the only former enemy of Israel that still exists with the same name. Before you accepted Christ, you were like the Egyptians, an enemy of God (Ro. 5:10; Col. 1:21). Yet, through Christ’s blood, you were grafted onto God’s holy tree (Ro. 11:17-24). Have you given thanks that you will be part of the assembly of God in heaven? If you are living by your flesh, how thankful are you?
God’s prohibition against fighting evil with evil. Although the requirements for entering God’s assembly end in verse 23:8, God continues in the rest of the chapter to provide rules for purity and holiness that He expects from His people. Amongst His examples, His first is a general exhortation not to engage in any practice during combat that is evil: “9 When you go out as an army against your enemies, you shall keep yourself from every evil thing.” (Dt. 23:9). With God, the ends never justify the means. Even during combat, the Jews were not to engage in evil practices while fighting their enemies. Similar exhortations exist in the New Testament: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men (Ro. 12:17). “[N]ot returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” (1 Pet. 3:9). You must not hate those who hate you. Nor can you hold grudges for wrongs that others have done to you. For “if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:15; 18:34-5; Mk. 11:26). Instead, you should: “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Lk. 6:28). Have you forgiven those who have caused you harm? Are you praying for your enemies?
God’s prohibition against ritual uncleanness in His presence. As God’s next example of being holy, He prohibited any man who suffered a “nocturnal emission” from being within the Jews’ camp for one day. Such a person had not committed a sin. Instead, the person was “ritually unclean”: “10 If there is among you any man who is unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he must go outside the camp; he may not reenter the camp. 11 But it shall be when evening approaches, he shall bathe himself with water, and at sundown he may reenter the camp.” (Dt. 23:10-11). A similar rule of ritual purity is also found in Leviticus: “Now if a man has a seminal emission, he shall bathe all his body in water and be unclean until evening.” (Lev. 15:16). To a modern reader, this rule regarding ritual purity might seem like a tangent from the rules that it follows. Yet, just as Jesus often conveyed messages through parables, God sometimes conveys messages through symbols. Because God includes a contrast between eunuchs (“dry trees”) and persons with wet dreams (persons who could not control their reproductive thoughts), we must again look for symbolism behind these rules. While one type of person can be excluded from being in God’s presence if he is spiritually dead, another can be temporarily excluded when he loses control of his thoughts and allows unclean thoughts to take control of his mind.
God requires that you cleanse your thoughts to prevent you from acting upon the evil ones. Your dreams and private thoughts are personal. Unless you share them with others, no one else will know about them. Yet, God cares about even the most intimate details of your private thoughts. He cares because He knows that uncorrected evil thoughts can ultimately lead to sin. If sin brought into the world disease, strife, harder work, and increased child pain (Gen. 3:15-16; Rom. 8:20), it also distorted many people’s sexual desires. Because unchecked evil thoughts can lead to evil actions, Jesus warned that what comes out of your flesh can defile you (Mk. 7:20). Paul also warned against “. . . the deeds of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:24). He warned that “. . . the lust of the flesh . .. is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 Jo. 2:16). “Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God . . .” (Rom. 8:7). “and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:8). We must therefore “. . . put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Rom. 13:14). For “. . . flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 15:50; Ro. 8:6; 8:13). Like the eunuch, only God and the man would know if the man needed to be excluded from God’s presence due to a private nocturnal emission caused by lustful thoughts or dreams. God also knows your thoughts (Matt. 10:30-31; Lk. 12:7). If you fail to cleanse your mind, you may eventually act upon your evil thoughts. That is when sin is born. At first, your sin may be hidden from all but you and God, like a nocturnal emission. Yet, if left unchecked, your sin may grow into fornication or adultery. Thus, Paul warns that “one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption . . .” (Gal. 6:8). The requirements in Deuteronomy specifically called for the impure man to “wash” himself (Dt. 23:11). How do you cleanse your thoughts? You must “wash” by reading God’s Word: “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word,” (Eph. 5:26). This will expose any hidden sins to allow you to repent of them. Are you washing your mind daily with the Word? Are you seeking the Lord each day to renew your mind and repent of any evil thoughts? (Ro. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 6:15).
God’s prohibition against ritual uncleanness within the camp. God’s next requirement was that the Jews show the highest level of hygiene within their camps. He required that each Jew carry a spade to dig a hole and cover up his or her excrement in the correct place: “12 You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, 13 and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement. 14 Since the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you or He will turn away from you.” (Dt. 23:12-14). This hygiene rule might seem odd for a Bible commandment or out of context with the verses that surround it. Yet, God’s hygiene rules were revolutionary in an unclean world that knew nothing about bacteria, viruses, or how diseases were spread. His rules prevented the Jews from suffering from a number diseases caused by the spread of fecal matter through drinking water, people’s feet, hands, and food. Yet, for this rule to be listed in this chapter, we must again look for its spiritual hidden meaning: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” (Prov. 25:2).
Be holy and don’t leave messes for others. There are at least two hidden meanings to this hygiene rule. First, through Christ, God expects you to be clean and beyond reproach to be in His presence: “because it is written, ‘you shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Pet. 1:16; Lev. 11:44-5; 19:2; 20:7). Your righteousness is but “filthy rags” or “menstrual rags” to God. (Is. 64:6). Through Christ, God expects you to be spiritually “clean” in all that you do to be in His presence: “A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it.” (Is. 35:8). Thus, through Christ, you must endeavor to be spiritually clean in your walk with God. Failing to be clean will not undermine your salvation. Yet, it might impact whether your prayers are “hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7; Jo. 9:31). Second, the requirement for a person to dig a hole and bury his or her excrement in the right place symbolized a duty of care that each believer owes not to create problems for others. In more vernacular terms, believers should not leave messes in life that other persons will step in. The only exception to this rule would be circumstances beyond your control that require others to help you, like an illness, a natural disaster, or a lost job. If God exposed your thoughts and actions to His light, would they appear clean and washed to Him? Or, to use the analogy from these verses, would your thoughts look to God like the spiritual equivalent of exposed fecal matter? Finally, are you creating messes in your own life for others?
Keep your mind and body holy to serve God4
God’s prohibition against returning an escaped slave to his master. As an additional requirement for being in God’s holy presence, He required that believers help any person seeking to escape physical or spiritual bondage: “15 You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him.” (Dt. 23:15). These verses create a problem for Bible critics who claim that the Bible justifies slavery. If it did, why would God encourage believers to help those who had escaped from slave masters? When a believer accepted a person who offered to become an indentured servant to pay off debts or help a family, God also expected believers to give generously to the indentured servant at the end of his service to ensure that he or she never needed to return to that status again: “13 When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.” (Dt. 15:13-15). Like divorce, slavery was something that God only tolerated due to the hardness of people’s hearts. The Americans in the South who used the Bible to incorrectly claim that God encouraged slavery were not the only ones to make this mistake. There were also evil men in Israel who would return escaped slaves to bondage instead of freeing them (e.g. 1 Kgs. 2:39-40). Are you seeking to help people break free from their bondage to sin? Have you told anyone you know in the last year about the freedom from bondage through Christ?
God’s prohibition against offerings from prostitutes. God also required that believers make a holy life offering to Him. Being a prostitute or – even worse – being a temple prostitute, violated God’s rules for holy living: “17 None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute. 18 You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of the Lord your God for any votive offering, for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God.” (Dt. 23:17-18). The Jews had paid a great price when Baal-peor sent temple prostitutes to seduce them (Dt. 4:3). Baal-peor tried to curse the Jews without success (Nu. 22:23-33). He came up with a plan to have the Jews defile themselves with the Moabite and Midianite women, who together formed an alliance against Israel (Nu. 22:4). He instructed King Balak to send his most attractive women to invite the Jewish men to Moabite banquets (Nu. 31:16). The women then seduced the men through acts of temple prostitution. The men would have had free sex with the prostitutes in exchange for their agreement to first eat foods sacrificed to Baal-peor, the Canaanite fertility god, and then to worship him (Nu. 25:2-3). God later killed 24,000 men who had fallen to these sins (Nu. 25:9). Many believers are tempted to ignore these verses from the Old Testament under the assumption that Jesus fulfilled every Law, including the prohibitions against sexual sins. To the contrary, He raised the bar regarding what He expects from each believer. How then do these verses apply today?
God has no use for a servant consumed with sexual bondage. Jesus condemned the church of Pergamum for leading believers into the same kind of sin that the Jews suffered at the hands of King Balak and Baal-peor: “you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” (Rev. 2:14). Pergamum symbolized the union of the church and the world. God wants a holy life offering from you that is set apart from the world (Ro. 12:1). If your life offering is filled with sexual sins, it resembles the “wages of a harlot” to God. He cannot use you as a servant to help others until you first break free of your own bondage. Are there any sins that you need to repent of?
God’s prohibition against charging interest to other believers. As another part of being holy, God required that the Jews not take advantage of the poor when lending money: “ 19 You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, or anything that may be loaned at interest. 20 You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countrymen you shall not charge interest, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess.” (Dt. 23:19-20). After Jesus died, the rabbis created a “Prozbul” or legal loophole in Jewish law to get around both the prohibition on interest and the cancellation of debts on the Sabbath year. It was a legal document that accompanied any loan. It transferred the loan to a court entity, which was exempt from these rules. For businesses or the wealthy, it also created a partnership for loans to be paid back with profits, not interest. Yet, these legal loopholes were unnecessary. In Exodus, God explained that the Jews were only prohibited from charging the poor interest: “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.” (Ex. 22:25). Changing interest to the poor was a form of oppression and therefore the evil that God sought to prevent (Prov. 22:16; 29:7; 14:31; 31:9). Christ also commands that you lend to those in need, even when you will not be repaid: “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount.” (Lk. 6:34). “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matt. 5:44). Are you giving to those in need through churches or Spirit-led charities?
God’s prohibition against taking advantage of a neighbor’s generosity. While God required that His people be generous to the poor, He also prohibited believers from taking advantage of other believers. A person in need could take no more than the absolute minimum to get by for that day alone: “24 When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you are fully satisfied, but you shall not put any in your basket. 25 When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain.” (Dt. 23:24-25). These verses provide a Biblical foundation for anti-poverty programs like school lunches for kids and food stamps. Yet, wealth redistribution is not consistent with these verses. Are you taking advantage of other people’s generosity? Are you looking for a hand up or a hammock?
God’s prohibition against delays in honoring your promises or vows to Him. Finally, God stated that a person could not be deemed holy in His eyes if the person delayed a promise that he or she made to Him: “21 When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the Lord your God will surely require it of you. 22 However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you. 23 You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God, what you have promised.” (Dt. 23:21-23). Verse 22 suggests that God does not want you to make a vow to Him until you are ready. Jesus also warned against casual vows to God that you might foolishly break (Matt. 5:33-37). He wants you to count the cost of any vow that you make to Him (Lk. 14:28). Yet, when a seeker asked Him if he could bury his father before following Jesus (a metaphor for closing down his father’s business), Jesus responded that he could not delay in his commitment to follow and serve God (Lk. 9:60; Matt. 8:22). Your life could end at any moment. Jesus also warns that He could return at any moment (Lk. 12:40). Thus, you cannot assume that you will have decades or even years to decide whether to either accept or follow after Christ (Jam. 4:13-14; Heb. 3:12-13, 15). Jesus gave us the parable of the ten virgins to illustrate that some will foolishly wait until it is too late to accept Him (Matt. 25:1-13). Are you waiting for the right time in your life to be more than a passive observer for Christ?