No one of illegitimate birth may enter the assembly of the LORD, nor may any of his descendants, even to the tenth generation.
Certain principles underlie these exclusions which it is worth our while to note. It will be seen that, though bars of this kind are done away in Christ, there was a fitness, under the theocracy, in the exclusion of the classes specified from full participation in covenant privilege, such exclusion being in harmony with the idea of "a holy nation" - type in earthly mold of the ideal kingdom of God.
I. THE EXCLUSION OF THE MUTILATED. (Ver. 1.) The idea here is that the preservation of the body in its vigor, and in the entirety of its functions, is a duty which we owe to God; that mutilation of it or dishonor done to it is dishonor done to him - a species of profanity. Those in whom this work of dishonor had been wrought, unfitting them for the discharge of the distinctive functions of their manhood, were barred from entrance to the congregation. The ban is removed under the gospel (Isaiah 56:3-5).
II. THE EXCLUSION OF THE CHILDREN OF INCEST. (Vers. 2, 3.) "To the tenth generation" seems to be a periphrasis for "forever" (Nehemiah 13:1). The rabbins take the term "bastard" to refer to children born of incest or adultery. These were to be excluded through all their generations. This principle, irrespective of the ground stated in ver. 4, would have sufficed to exclude Moab and Ammon. The truth conveyed is that the impure are unalterably debarred from membership in God's kingdom. God's kingdom is a kingdom of purity. In its final form nothing of an impure nature will be found in it. Impurity of heart and life exclude from inward membership in it now, and will do so forever. Known impurity should exclude from Church fellowship on earth (1 Corinthians 5:1, 2). The outward bar no longer exists, and the offspring of impure connection, if children of faith, are welcomed to the spiritual fold. But the tendency of sins of parents still is, as of old, to exclude children from the fellowship of believers. The unchurched little ones grow up outside the pale of ordinances, and tend, in course of generations, to become increasingly estranged from the means of grace. Parents who sin themselves out of Church fellowship thus do their children, as well as their own souls, an irreparable injury.
III. THE EXCLUSION OF THE UNMERCIFUL AND OF THOSE WHO SHOWED HATRED TO GOD'S PEOPLE. (Vers. 4-6.) The principle here is obvious. Christ expressly excludes the unmerciful from all participation in his kingdom (Matthew 25:41-46). And there can be no "peace" and no "prosperity" to those who are actuated by hostility to God's kingdom. So long as they retain this character, we cannot wish it for them. Hostility to Christ's people is hostility to Christ himself (Acts 9:4, 5), and reacts fatally on the soul (Matthew 21:44). It draws upon it God's indignation, and ends in final exclusion from heaven.
IV. THE ADMISSION OF THOSE WHO SHOW KINDNESS TO GOD'S PEOPLE. (Vers. 7, 8.) The Edomite and the Egyptian were not to be abhorred; their children might be admitted in the third generation. The Edomites had not been as friendly as they might have been, but they had at least furnished the Israelites with victuals in their march, while the Egyptians had for a long time shown them kindness and hospitality. For these things they "had their reward." Acts of kindness to God's people do not entitle to admission into God's kingdom, but they show a "nighness" of spirit to it, and are remembered in God's dealings with the doers of them, and may issue in their final salvation (Matthew 10:42). Note: Past kindnesses are not to be forgotten because of a late change of disposition. The Egyptians were kindly remembered, though their treatment of the Israelites had latterly been very cruel. It is to be remarked also that the tone in which Edom is uniformly referred to in this book does not in the least harmonize with the late date assigned to it by many critics. Edom, in the time of the prophets, had become Israel's implacable foe. - J.O.
Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped.
A Flemish artist was painting a picture when two friends noticed the high finish of a broom which was only an insignificant item in the composition. He told them he should spend three more days in working on the broom, intending to be mindful of detail in the general effect of his picture. Moses gave grand laws to the Israelites. His legislation as to the religious duties of the people is sublime. But he was not indifferent to regulations touching their common life, and bent his mind to the task of showing the minute as well as the vast in the order of right-doing. The word servant as used by Moses meant slave. Remembering what the Israelites had to endure in their Egyptian bondage, he had great sympathy with those who were held in servitude and compelled to work without remuneration. He could well understand that a man or woman in slavery, badly treated, and with no hope of an ameliorated lot, would, if possible, get away from the cruel owner and make a desperate rush for liberty. He did not blame the slave for stealing away from the owner. If technically there was theft in such an action, there was no dishonesty. The slaves who at one time escaped from southern plantations to Canada did no wrong. The masters suffered loss, but they lost what did not belong to them by any righteous law. There is a moral and spiritual application of this. Many people are in slavery. It is true they have not lost their civil liberty; they have not been sold in any slave market; they know nothing of literal chains, scourges, and labour for which there is no payment. They are proud of the freedom which is one of the glories of their native land. But they are slaves, for they are in bondage to evils which they have allowed to obtain mastery over their souls. There are powers in them which make them feeble for action when they would do good, and almost force them to transgression of Divine law. They have a right to break loose from the enthralling powers of sin, for sin holds nothing by legal proprietorship. Every sinner has a right to freedom, and is urged to rush to Jesus as a refuge from tyranny. The escaped slave was to be kept from the pursuer. When in the morning the master called for the slave, and there was no answer, and looked for him, but could not find him, he would conclude at once that the slave had gone away. Making inquiries, the master would ascertain the direction the fugitive had gone, and follow him until he found the place in which he was hiding. He would say to the elders: "My slave is here, and I must have him. Give him up to me." "No, no" was to be the reply; "we shall never give him up, and so long as these walls stand the poor man shall be kept out of your hands." We rejoice that our country has long been what the Israelitish village and city were to be to the escaped slave in the old time. The footprint of the slave on British soil is the certificate of his manumission. When the slaves of sin get loose from their bonds, and escape into Immanuel's land, they at once experience the blessedness there is in the liberty of the children of God. Christ never gives up to any old master those who have fled for refuge to His land; He loves them so much that He does not wish to have them out of His sight; and to defend them from the powers which would tear them back to sin He throws around them the awful grandeur and radiant blaze of His own perfections. The escaped slave was to be kindly treated. The man who had made a rush for freedom was not to rush into a new slavery. Those to whom he fled for refuge were not to take advantage of his necessities and use him in compulsory labour for their own profit; no service or tax was to be levied on him as the price of security from his old master. He was to be treated as a free Israelite, and to be allowed to live and work where he liked. The sinner who escapes from slavery to Immanuel's land is to be welcomed and cared for by members of the Church. He is to be recognised as having a claim to brotherly love, and to all the dignities and privileges that distinguish the Christian life. Even if members of the Church do look shyly on a newly converted sinner, Jesus does not, but bids him welcome to the palace of love, and opens to him immensities of blessing.
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