We are unsure as to exactly what was meant in the first verses of this chapter, by certain persons being forbidden to “enter into the congregation of the Lord.” Perhaps it means that they were excluded from mingling with the people of God in their religious services, or maybe it simply means that they were excluded from holding office as elder or judge among the people. Or it may have been a prohibition to these persons from intermarrying with the Israelites. No matter what was meant by “entrance into the congregation of the Lord,” it is plain that disgrace was put upon the persons who were referred to here. Let us learn here to give thanks for the advantages and value the privileges that both we and our children enjoy, since we are counted among the number of God’s people. No personal blemishes, no sins of our forefathers, and no difference of nationality shall ever shut us out from the blessings of the Gospel.
At this time, Israel was encamped together like a great army; and this vast army was just about to enter into action, which was likely to keep them together for a long time. Therefore, the Lord gave them particular directions for the preservation of good order in their camp. In one word, the charge was to be clean. The soldiers themselves must take heed of sin (verse 9), for sin and guilt make men cowards. They were also to be careful to not grow careless in the observance of purifications from ceremonial uncleanness (verses 10-11), and they were to ensure that their camp was free of natural pollution (verses 12-14). If such great care was to be taken to preserve the cleanliness of the body, how much more ought we be careful to keep our minds pure! Let us pray for grace to preserve the inward purity of our souls, in consideration of the eye of God, which is always upon us.
The rest of this chapter deals with five separate topics that have no relationship with one another. First, the land of Israel was to be a sanctuary of refuge for servants from neighboring countries, who were wronged by their masters and fled there for shelter (verses 15-16). The Israelites were not only to protect such persons; but also, assuming them to be willing to embrace the worship of the Lord, they were to encourage them to settle among them. It is an honorable thing to protect the weak, as long as they are not wicked; indeed, the Lord encourages His people to help the oppressed. And new converts to the truth should be treated with particular tenderness, so that they are not tempted to return to the hard master of sin and Satan, from whom they have fled.
On the other hand, the land of Israel was to be no shelter for those who were wicked and unclean (verses 17, 18). No houses of uncleanness should be kept by either men or women. The sins that are named here are bad among any people; but they are even worse if they are committed by those who profess to be the people of God, for they are to be a holy people. And He does not accept any offering at all from the profits and proceeds of such wickedness, for such sacrifices are nothing except an abomination to Him (Prov. 15:8).
The matter of lending upon interest was settled in verses 19 and 20. No Israelite was to lend upon usury to a fellow-Israelite. They held their estates immediately from and under God, Who distinguished them from all other people; and in token of their joint interest in the good land which He had given them, He appointed that – when necessary – they should lend to one another without interest. Their estates were arranged in such a way that there was little trading among them, and it was seldom (if ever) that they needed to borrow any great sums – except for what was necessary for the subsistence of their families, when their harvests had met with any disaster; or in other similar circumstances. And in such cases, to insist upon repayment of interest on such a small matter would have been very barbarous. When a borrower makes a profit or hopes to make a profit, it is just and right that the lender should also share in the gain. But to him who must borrow for his necessary food, pity must be shown; and in such cases, we ought to lend – hoping for nothing again – if we have the means to do so (Luke 6:35).
In verses 21-23, the Lord’s people were left at liberty as to whether or not they made vows in addition to what was commanded by the law. They were expressly told that it would not be reckoned a sin in them if they did not make any such vows, for God wishes His people to be free and cheerful in His service; however, they were laid under the highest obligations, if they did make a vow, to perform it speedily. And the rule of the Gospel (2 Cor. 9:7) goes somewhat even further than this: “Every one, according as he purposeth in his heart” – although it may not have even gone out of his lips – “so let him give!”
This chapter concludes (verses 24-25) by giving allowance to the people of Israel, when they passed through a field or a vineyard, to pluck and eat of the grain or grapes that grew by the roadside; however, they were to carry none away with them. This is why Jesus’ disciples (Matt. 12:1-8) were not censured for plucking the ears of corn, for it was well enough known that the law allowed it; but rather, they were rebuked for doing it on the Sabbath Day, which the tradition of the elders had forbidden. By these precepts of freedom and liberty to partake of the fruits of the vine and of the field among one another, was not the Lord teaching us that our spiritual blessings are common blessings, which we may all equally and freely partake of in Jesus?
Lord, we thank You that we are not shut out from Your presence, for we are permitted to come before You by the way which is opened for sinners in the blood of Jesus! Amen.
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