Moses' seventh speech, Part 18, How should Moabites and Ammonites be treated?
Apr 22, 2013
In speaking about the Ammonites and Moabites, Moses concludes in Deuteronomy 23:6 (NASB),
6 You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days.
This must be taken in the context of what Moses has already said in verse 2, that they could not “enter the assembly of the Lord… to the tenth generation.” This is not an infinite period of time, but rather an indefinite period of time. For this reason, Young’s Literal Translation renders verse 6,
6 Thou dost not seek their peace and their good all thy days—to the age.
Rotherham’s The Emphasized Bible reads,
6 Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their welfare—all thy days unto times age-abiding.
This leaves the door open for God to accept them after an indefinite duration of time, that is, after “the age” has passed. Moses was speaking of those people as nations, rather than as individuals. If any such individual had determined to leave his nation and his people, and join himself to the covenant with Israel, he would have been accepted by God. By leaving one’s nation, and by undergoing the purification ceremonies practiced at the time, and especially by expressing faith in the God of Israel, such a man would no longer be an Ammonite or a Moabite, nor would they any longer carry the national curse brought upon them by Lot’s incest with his daughters.
In the same manner, we too are able to transfer our citizenship from our own earthly nations to the Kingdom of Christ. Paul thus says in Colossians 1:13 and 14,
13 For He has delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred [methistemi] us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The Greek term methistemi means “to transpose, transfer, remove from one place to another.”
Paul says again in Philippians 3:20,
20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul, though born of the tribe of Benjamin, was a citizen of “heaven.” That is, he considered himself to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God. In his earlier life, his ethnicity had made him a citizen of Judea, as long as he followed their laws and was not expelled from the nation (as the law allowed). But Judea was not the Kingdom, nor did their ethnicity give them any exclusive right to be citizens of that heavenly Kingdom. They merely had an advantage, in that they were in possession of the Scriptures which could teach them the will of God and how to become a citizen of Heaven.
Any foreigner had the right to renounce his citizenship and transfer his citizenship to the nation of Israel. It was a matter of legal citizenship, not race. This transfer of citizenship did not change anyone’s ethnicity, but it did give them full legal equality with ethnic Israelites. All who had genuine faith in the God of Israel were more than the sum of their ethnicity, for they were equal citizens of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is a type of nationality that stands above the Kingdom of Israel.
Israel itself was called to be the Kingdom of God, and the presumption was that all Israelites would form the first ethnic group to enjoy legal citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Of course, history shows that only a few Israelites actually were citizens of the Kingdom, for most of them followed after other gods and had no faith in the God who had redeemed them from the house of bondage. Their ethnic connection to Abraham and to the nation of Israel did not automatically make them citizens of the Kingdom of God.
And so Israel was cast out of the land and divorced by God (Jeremiah 3:8). Why? Israel had proven itself to be something less than the Kingdom of God. Further, if there were true believers among those Israelites who were taken captive to Assyria, these never lost their citizenship in the Kingdom of heaven. They simply ceased to be citizens of Israel, for there was no longer a nation of Israel, nor was the nation married to God any more.
Over the years, however, some of those ethnic ex-Israelites may have found faith in the true God, in which case they regained citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. In time it became clear that God was regathering His people under the New Covenant. With them were gathered many other people from different ethnicities, as Isaiah prophesied in 56:8,
8 Yet the Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”
This, says the prophet, is how God makes His house “a house of prayer for all the peoples.” This was a prophecy based on Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of his temple, wherein he asked that the prayers of foreigners, as well as Israelites, would be acceptable to God (1 Kings 8:41-43). Isaiah thus links the temple to foreigners who wished to join themselves to the covenant of Israel (Isaiah 56:3-8).
In other words, ethnicity is an earthly phenomenon, but God’s intent is to bring all men into the Kingdom of God. The ethnic children of Abraham and Israel were the first major group to be offered citizenship in this Kingdom, after being delivered from Egypt. But they were to be a light and an example to the other nations, showing them the path toward citizenship in the same Kingdom.
Israel failed in this regard, for as it turned out, the other nations showed Israel the path toward citizenship in the kingdoms of Baal and Molech. It was a reverse evangelization, which God judged. In time, Jesus came to show the way again. Like Israel, the church too was supposed to be the Kingdom of God. Those who followed the King (Jesus) were granted citizenship, regardless of ethnicity. Though it enjoyed greater success than Israel in previous generations, it too became corrupted. Hence, not everyone who has the Christian label is actually a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Church denominations have often expelled genuine citizens of the Kingdom from their midst or have persecuted them for various reasons, but only God can revoke one’s citizenship from the Heavenly Kingdom.
When we step back and look at the larger picture, we see how the law of Moses strictly excluded Ammonites and Moabites indefinitely. Deuteronomy 23:6 instructs further that the Israelites were not to seek their peace or prosperity indefinitely. In other words, as long as they remained Ammonites and Moabites, having no desire to join themselves to the covenant of God, and having no faith in the God of Israel, they were to maintain the clear separation. Why? Was it because of their ethnicity? Not at all, other than the fact that their ethnicity carried the spiritual curse since their incestuous beginning. The separation was due to their worship of false gods, for if they had worshiped the true God, they would never have been separated by law from Israel.
History tells us that the Israelites did indeed begin to worship the gods of Ammon and Moab. We read in 1 Kings 11:33,
33 because they have forsaken Me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the sons of Ammon…
Israel was forbidden to seek their peace—that is, to make peace treaties with them—or to seek their prosperity—help them financially—as long as they worshiped false gods. But this did not mean that the Israelites were to refrain from showing kindness or compassion toward them. In fact, Israel was supposed to be a light to all nations that worshiped false gods. The overriding purpose of God in all things has been to restore all mankind to Himself. The divine plan has been to put all things under the feet of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:27).
Therefore, when Ruth the Moabitess desired to join herself to the covenant with Israel, through the influence and example of her mother-in-law, Naomi, there was no hint in Scripture that she ought to be excluded and sent home. By joining herself to the covenant with Israel, she no doubt submitted to the purification rites that were designed to cleanse her from the national curse that had passed down to her ethnicity from Lot’s daughters.
This is, in fact, the legal basis of Christian evangelism today. When we study the law regarding Moab and Ammon, we must look at it with New Covenant eyes and apply it by the mind of Christ. He is, after all, the Author of the divine law. The problem is that men in His day misunderstood the law, making it exclusive to Israelites, and having no compassion for those of other ethnicities.
This was even a hindrance to apostolic evangelism, until God revealed to them that they needed to change their views. By this time, they were no longer concerned with Moabites and Ammonites, but they were applying these laws to the Samaritans, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans according to their understanding. Philip went to Samaria, and the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:15). Peter went to a Roman garrison in Caesarea and was surprised when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 10:45). Paul later went to the Greeks with the same results.
Even so, many among the Judean Christians continued to insist that other ethnicities be circumcised, essentially commanding them to become Jews. They did not understand that the Kingdom of God was above ethnicity or national citizenship, for it was based on faith in Jesus Christ—not faith in Jerusalem, its temple, and its priestly system of sacrifice. Neither did they understand that the Kingdom of God did not consist of two classes of people based upon ethnicity.
The Apostle Paul believed in equal citizenship in Christ, arguing that there was just “one new man” in Christ (Ephesians 2:15), and this caused some tension and conflict between him and Jewish Christians. The non-Christian Jews even hated him for upsetting their established order that kept proselytes as second-class citizens.
This is why it is important to understand Deuteronomy 23 with the mind of Christ, rather than interpreting the law in traditional Jewish ways.
This is the eighteenth part of a series titled "Moses' Seventh Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.