Interpreters are not agreed what is here meant by entering into the congregation of the Lord, which is here forbidden to eunuchs and to bastards, Ammonites and Moabites, for ever, but to Edomites and Egyptians only till the third generation. 1. Some think they are hereby excluded from communicating with the people of God in their religious services. Though eunuchs and bastards were owned as members of the church, and the Ammonites and Moabites might be circumcised and proselyted to the Jewish religion, yet they and their families must lie for some time under marks of disgrace, remembering the rock whence they were hewn, and must not come so near the sanctuary as others might, nor have so free a communion with Israelites. 2. Others think they are hereby excluded from bearing office in the congregation: none of these must be elders or judges, lest the honour of the magistracy should thereby be stained. 3. Others think they are excluded only from marrying with Israelites. Thus the learned bishop Patrick inclines to understand it; yet we find that when this law was put in execution after the captivity they separated from Israel, not only the strange wives, but all the mixed multitude, see Neh. 13:1-2. With the daughters of these nations (though out of the nations of Canaan), it should seem, the men of Israel might marry, if they were completely proselyted to the Jewish religion; but with the men of these nations the daughters of Israel might not marry, nor could the men be naturalized otherwise than as here provided.
It is plain, in general, that disgrace is here put,
I. Upon bastards and eunuchs, Deut. 23:1, 2. By bastards here the Jewish writers understand, not all that were born of fornication, or out of marriage, but all the issue of those incestuous mixtures which are forbidden, Lev. 18:1-30. And, though it was not the fault of the issue, yet, to deter people from those unlawful marriages and unlawful lusts, it was very convenient that their posterity should thus be made infamous. By this rule Jephthah, though the son of a harlot, a strange woman (Jdg. 11:1, 2), yet was not a bastard in the sense of this law. And as for the eunuchs, though by this law they seemed to be cast out of the vineyard as dry trees, which they complain of (Isa. 56:3), yet it is here promised (Deut. 23:5) that if they took care of their duty to God, as far as they were admitted, by keeping his sabbaths and choosing the things that pleased him, the want of this privilege should be made up to them with such spiritual blessings as would entitle them to an everlasting name.
II. Upon Ammonites and Moabites, the posterity of Lot, who, for his outward convenience, had separated himself from Abraham, Gen. 13:11. And we do not find that he or his ever joined themselves again to the children of the covenant. They are here cut off to the tenth generation, that is, (as some think it is explained), for ever. Compare Neh. 13:1. The reason of this quarrel which Israel must have with them, so as not to seek their peace (Deut. 23:6), is because of the unkindness they had now lately done to the camp of Israel, notwithstanding the orders God had given not to distress or vex them, Deut. 2:9, 19. 1. It was bad enough that they did not meet them with bread and water in the way (Deut. 23:4), that they did not as allies, or at least as neutral states, bring victuals into their camp, which they should have been duly paid for. It was well that God’s Israel did not need their kindness, God himself following them with bread and water. However this omission of the Ammonites should be remembered against their nation in future ages. Note, God will certainly reckon, not only with those that oppose his people, but with those that do not help and further them, when it is in the power of their hand to do it. The charge at the great day is for an omission: I was hungry, and you gave me no meat. 2. The Moabites had done worse, they hired Balaam to curse Israel, Deut. 23:4. It is true God turned the curse into a blessing (Deut. 23:5), not only changing the word in Balaam’s mouth, but making that really turn to the honour and advantage of Israel which was designed for their ruin. But though the design was defeated, and overruled for good, the Moabites’ wickedness was not the less provoking. God will deal with sinners, but according to their endeavours, Ps. 28:4.
III. The Edomites and Egyptians had not so deep a mark of displeasure put upon them as the Moabites and Ammonites had. If an Edomite or Egyptian turned proselyte, his grand-children should be looked upon as members of the congregation of the Lord to all intents and purposes, Deut. 23:7, 8. We should think that the Edomites had been more injurious to the Israelites than the Ammonites, and deserved as little favour from them (Num. 20:20), and yet “Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, as thou must an Ammonite, for he is thy brother.” Note, The unkindness of near relations, though by many worst taken, yet should with us, for that reason, because of the relation, be first forgiven. And then, as to the Egyptians, here is a strange reason given why they must not be abhorred: “Thou wast a stranger in their land, and therefore, though hardly used there, be civil to them, for old acquaintance’ sake.” They must not remember their bondage in Egypt for the keeping up of any ill will to the Egyptians, but only for the magnifying of Gods power and goodness in their deliverance.