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While Deuteronomy 23:1 seems to forbid eunuchs straight across the board from having a part in Israel, we know from such passages as II Kings 9:32 and Isaiah 56:3-5 that eunuchs were present in ancient Israel.

I notice that, in Deuteronomy 23 and Isaiah 56, strangers are mentioned immediately after, and thus in the same context. Perhaps it has something to do with leadership?

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  • I too have found the relationship between strangers and eunuchs in Isaiah perplexing, +1 for pointing that out! – Bach May 24 '20 at 1:38
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    And check out this highly related question: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/503/… It seems that specific privileges were taken from the eunuch (like taking part in the assembly, intermarriage, etc.), not that they were killed or entirely eliminated from Israel. – Bach May 24 '20 at 1:49
  • @Bach Thanks! That pretty much confirms what I was thinking. – Iconoclast May 24 '20 at 14:38
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“No man with crushed or severed genitals may enter the assembly of the Lord.”

This is the Law of Leviticus 21:16-23.

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron, saying, ‘No man of your offspring throughout their generations who has a defect shall approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a defect shall approach: a blind man, or a lame man, or he who has a disfigured face, or any deformed limb, or a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf, or one who has a defect in his eye or eczema or scabs or crushed testicles.’”

The mention of this specific prohibition in Deuteronomy is singled out from the others given in the Leviticus text. This seems to be intended to discourage anyone of Israel from becoming a eunuch. This was not a practice in which the children of Israel were permitted to engage. In fact, self-mutilation of any kind was forbidden, and crushed or severed testicles was regarded by the Lord as a defect. What made it worse was that this was not a defect from birth or accident but on one of human design. The difference between this and circumcision is that circumcision was the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants, and without it, they could have no covenant relationship with Jehovah. Genital mutilation on the other hand, was a common form of heathen devotion to some deity or monarch. I could be wrong, but I think one would be hard pressed to make a case that Israel ever engaged in the practice of castration. This law seems to be aimed at the foreigners among them who may have been eunuchs for whatever reason.

We do know that there were eunuchs who were employed in the services of the kings throughout the history of Israel from the time of Saul onward, but it is never demonstrated from any text that any of these were of Jewish descent. The eunuch Ebed-melech who defended Jeremiah to king Zedekiah of Judah was an Ethiopian, Jeremiah 38:7. It was eunuchs in 2 Kings 9:32 whom Jehu ordered to throw Jezebel from the window, but their nationality is never mentioned. It is quite likely that all the other eunuchs mentioned in the history of the kings were foreigners as well. It is certainly never mentioned that any of them were Jews, though it must be conceded as a possibility. Had they been, they would have been so in violation of the law of Moses.

These defects did not of course deny such as these the privilege of worship, it merely limited how far they were permitted to approach the Lord. The same law applied to those of priestly descent,

“No man among the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a defect is to come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a defect, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat the food of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy, only he shall not go in to the veil or come near the altar because he has a defect, so that he will not profane My sanctuaries. For I am the Lord who sanctifies them.’”

Though still privileged to enjoy the support and bounty of the altar, a priest with any kind of defect was not permitted to officiate in any capacity at the altar, nor was he permitted to enter into the sanctuary. By the same token, a eunuch was not excluded from the privilege of worship, but it did limit how far he could approach God. (See Acts 8 and the eunuch who had gone to Jerusalem to worship.) In Isaiah 56:3-4 the Lord promised this concerning the foreigners and the eunuchs who worshiped him,

“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.’”

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  • Thanks for your very thorough reply! – Iconoclast May 27 '20 at 13:05

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