Deuteronomy 23:1-8 lists some people that are forbidden to enter "the assembly of the LORD".

Deuteronomy 23:1-8 (NKJ)

Those Excluded from the Congregation

1 “He who is emasculated by crushing or mutilation shall not enter the assembly of the LORD. 2 “One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD. 3 “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD forever, 4 because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. 5 Nevertheless the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam, but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you. 6 You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days forever. 7 “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land. 8 The children of the third generation born to them may enter the assembly of the LORD.

What does "the assembly of the LORD" mean or refer to?


4 Answers 4


According to the Sages of the Talmud, "entering into the assembly" means marriage.

Maimonides codifies this law of the four nations as follows:

Any gentile who converts to Judaism and accepts upon himself all the commandments of the Torah and slaves who are freed from slavery, attain the status of a Jew as the verse says: 'As for the congregation, there shall be one statute, both for you and for the stranger that sojourneth with you' (Numbers 15:15). And such a person is allowed to enter the congregation immediately except for an individual of the following nations: Amon, Moab, Egypt and Edom. When an individual from one of these nations converts to Judaism, he is a complete Jew in every respect except for the aspect of marriage into the congregation.

Hilchot Issurei Biah (Laws Pertaining to Forbidden Relationships) 12:17

A few years ago I wrote this short piece about the status of Amonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Edomites in Jewish law.

  • 3
    Interesting article. My naive assumption was that the assembly had something to do with public worship. Nov 4, 2011 at 18:08
  • A.) I understand the Rabbinic requirements for conversion, for marriage, and their requirements for conversion, (including acceptance of the Oral Law). B.) However - conversion to Judaism - as a religion, (per Maimonides et al) - is not this context; these are national laws; C.) In Joshua 5:5, Israel is circumcised again - even though they were the "Assembly of God" - which challenges whether conversion is required or not. Apr 25, 2017 at 19:31
  • So Boaz could marry a Moabitess and that was fine but a Moabite could not marry into Israel by marrying a Jew, yes? So that is why David was okay, correct?
    – Ruminator
    Oct 24, 2017 at 2:11
  • It says to the tenth generation, Judah had Tamar’s child, his daughter in law. Was that not illegitimate? For David was the tenth from Judah... Jul 21, 2021 at 11:57

The Tanakh translates בִּקְהַ֖ל יְהוָֽה in Deuteronomy 23 as "congregation of the LORD." Bernard M. Levinson's commentary in the JPS Study Bible states:

The congregation of the LORD (v.2) served as the national governing body, akin to to a popular legislature, that was charged with a broad range of judicial, political, and policy matters (Judges 20:2) 1

The verse Levinson cites:

And the chiefs of all the people, of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, 400,000 men on foot that drew the sword. (20:2 ESV)

Additional support for understanding Deuteronomy in the context of restrictions on serving in positions of authority can be seen in Micah:

Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance. Therefore thus says the LORD: behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster. In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you and moan bitterly, and say, “We are utterly ruined; he changes the portion of my people; how he removes it from me! To an apostate he allots our fields.” (2:1-4 ESV)

Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot in the assembly of the LORD. (2:5 ESV)

The phrase "assembly of the LORD" in Micah is בִּקְהַ֖ל יְהוָֽה as in Deuteronomy 23.

Ehud Ben Zvi states Micah 2:1-5 is on social ethics, divine judgement and hope, noting:

Elite people within society design (or, "work") evil; the LORD plans (Heb) "evil" (misfortune) against them. Moreover, members of this group are able to do so because they have the power; the LORD certainly has the power to carry "evil" (misfortune), and God's might is infinitely superior to these people (cf. Prov 22.23) 2

The JPS Tanakh translation of verse 5 notes the phrase is speaking to legal or judicial matters:

Truly, none of you shall cast a lot cordd in the assembly of the LORD! (2:5 JPS)
Note d - On apiece of land, thus acquiring title to it; cf. Josh 18.6 and Ps 16.6

Ehud Ben Zvi notes verse 5 appears to apply to future generations:

The descendants of the transgressors will not be part of the assembly of the LORD. This verse suggests a transgenerational aspect in the divine punishment. 3

Thus, while lacking a specific number of generations, Micah otherwise appears to be in agreement with Deuteronomy 23.

1. Bernard M. Levinson, The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 418
2. Ehud Ben Zvi, The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 1208
3. Ibid

  • @elikakohen I have added an explanation as to how I think the passage in Micah applies. Apr 26, 2017 at 6:29
  • This is a great answer. +1. But maybe - "IN the assembly of the Lord" might indicate that these leaders were a part of the Assembly - and not the entire assembly. But - it is an awesome answer. Apr 27, 2017 at 18:26

It is not only the sages that interpreted the verse as referring to "Marriage", as Amichai wrote, but we find it in the bible itself!

In Neh 13:1–3.

יג:א בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא נִקְרָ֛א בְּסֵ֥פֶר מֹשֶׁ֖ה בְּאָזְנֵ֣י הָעָ֑ם וְנִמְצָא֙ כָּת֣וּב בּ֔וֹ אֲ֠שֶׁר לֹא־יָב֨וֹא עַמֹּנִ֧י וּמֹאָבִ֛י בִּקְהַ֥ל הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים עַד־עוֹלָֽם: יג:ב כִּ֣י לֹ֧א קִדְּמ֛וּ אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בַּלֶּ֣חֶם וּבַמָּ֑יִם וַיִּשְׂכֹּ֨ר עָלָ֤יו אֶת־בִּלְעָם֙ לְקַֽלְל֔וֹ וַיַּהֲפֹ֧ךְ אֱלֹהֵ֛ינוּ הַקְּלָלָ֖ה לִבְרָכָֽה: יג:ג וַיְהִ֖י כְּשָׁמְעָ֣ם אֶת־הַתּוֹרָ֑ה וַיַּבְדִּ֥ילוּ כָל־עֵ֖רֶב מִיִּשְׂרָאֵֽל:

13:1 At that time they read to the people from the Book of Moses, and it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite might ever enter the congregation of God, 13:2 since they did not meet Israel with bread and water, and hired Balaam against them to curse them; but our God turned the curse into a blessing. 13:3 When they heard the Teaching, they separated all the alien admixture from Israel".

This is a very clear interpretation of the verses in Deut 23. This is surely not an invention of Nehemia, for the text clearly states that they found this ban in the Torah itelf! This leaves no room for doubt. There are some other indications in the bible that this is how it is to be interpreted, but the passage in Neh. will suffice.

The IVP Bible Background Commentary though has a totally different interpretation

[assembly of the Lord/Israel] is a technical term for all those adult males who are enfranchised to make decisions, participate in *cultic activities and serve in the military of Israel (Mic 2:5). Because they were a chosen people, who were required to maintain their *ritual purity as part of the *covenant (Ex 19:6), the unclean and the stranger were excluded from the activities of the assembly.

If one insists that the simple meaning of the verse is not intermarriage but to bar them from getting full citizenship, then we can say that intermarriage was included in this ban as evident in Neh. Being that the purpose of this ban is to ostracize them and make them inferior to the Israelites so that they shouldn't have equal status with that of an Israelite, we can assume that this had some implications regarding marriage as well. For more on this see JPS Torah Commentary, Deuteronomy by Jefferey Tigay P. 210. and this.

  • Good because of the contextual link to Nehemiah 13:3. A.) However, this answer incorrectly asserts that validity of translating "בָּדַל", (definition) in Nehemiah 13:3 as "separated out", instead of "divided" or "identified". B.) As a result, this answer represents views of "ethnical purity" - which does not seem to be supported by the text. Though perhaps, it does apply to the Levites and Priests. Apr 25, 2017 at 21:50
  • Why is the answer incorrectly asserting that the definition of בדל is "separation" when the bible constantly uses it in such context? (see for example Genesis 1:4) Your novel idea of Nehemia purifying the priesthood "only" is completely unfounded, and wholly lacking; and you have not brought enough proof to support it. My interpretation on the other hand is simple and straightforward and based on the Bible itself!
    – bach
    Apr 25, 2017 at 22:11
  • Bach : בדל does mean "separate / divide / identify" but it does NOT mean "separate out, exclude". My objection is against applying Deuteronomy 23, and Nehemiah 13 generically, as a general ban on ethnical or international marriage. These are very specific prohibitions against Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab from "joining the Assembly" - not simply about marriage. And yes, the text very clearly states that Nehemiah "purged | וְטִֽהַרְתִּ֖ים" the Levites and Priests of these nationalities. He was able to do this, because Israel had been "separated and divided" the rest of Israel - beforehand. Apr 27, 2017 at 19:50
  • Also, "our novel idea of Nehemia purifying the priesthood "only" is completely unfounded, and wholly lacking;" If this had been done, how could the Messiah be born, since David - of Judah - was a Moabite? Apr 27, 2017 at 19:53

1. Question Restatement :

Deuteronomy 23:1-8 lists some people that are forbidden to enter "the assembly of the LORD". What does “the assembly of the LORD” refer to?

Note: Other answers might indeed show how "Assembly of God" came to be understood. This answer is only suggesting what it originally meant.

2. Context and Translation :

"Assembly of God", and "Church of God" are linguistically the same exact thing - notwithstanding theological differences.

Deuteronomy 23:1-8, in Hebrew, is translated by the Greek Septuagint Deuteronomy 23:3 : קהל יהוה and ἐκκλησίαν κυρίου.

See also : other examples of "Assembly of God" in the Hebrew texts.

The context of Deuteronomy 23:1-14 contains prohibitions to keep Israel away from anything unclean, and is specifically addressing health issues:

NASB, Deuteronomy 23:9 “When you go out as an army against your enemies, you shall keep yourself from every evil thing.

Deuteronomy 23:1 “No one [whose testicles are swollen, crushed, or cut] shall enter the assembly of the Lord.
Note: See also Leviticus 21:20, Leviticus 22:24 regarding "male" health.

Deuteronomy 23:2 - Nor a Eunuch, or his descendants to the 10th generation ...
Notes:(See θλαδίας definition and also LXX Deuteronomy 23:2 defining "מַמְזֵ֖ר (Mamzer)" as a sterile person, a Eunuch). Also, see Zechariah 9:6 regarding a sterile nation. Perhaps significantly Acts 8:27, the Ethiopian Eunuch.

Deuteronomy 23:3-6 - Nor Ammonite, or Moabite, [because they are cursed].

If God was making prohibitions to perhaps safeguard Israel from peoples with disease - then it is understandable that prohibitions safeguarding Israel from cursed peoples would be in the same context.

3. Answer - The Multitude of People made Holy by God :

The "Congregation of the Lord - קהל יהוה", in Scripture, was understood as the multitude of peoples that are sanctified, (made holy), by God. It is the people where the presence of God is. It was NOT a reference to an ethnically pure Hebrew race.

Note: King David is a third generation Moabite, (Ruth 4).

"Holy", (קָדַשׁ definition) - is to separate something, from another - for one specific purpose.

NASB, Exodus 19:6 - And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

NASB, Numbers 16:3 - They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”

Temple Period Jews Held this "Holy Nation" View :

NASB, Acts 20:28 - Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, (ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ κυρίου καὶ θεοῦ) which He purchased with His own blood.
Note: This is a Passover reference, as Exodus.

NASB, 1 Peter 2:9 - But you are a chosen generation, a [kingdom of priests], a holy nation,

The Assembly of God was a Mixed Multitude :

NASB, Exodus 12:37-38 Now the sons of Israel ..., about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. 38 A mixed multitude also went up with them ...

NASB, Numbers 15:15 - As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you,

NASB, Deuteronomy 23:7 - “You shall not detest an Edomite, for he is your brother; you shall not detest an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land. 8 The sons of the third generation who are born to them may enter the assembly of the Lord.

Conversion Ritual was Irrelevant :

NASB, Joshua 5:5 - For all the people who came out were circumcised, but all the people who were born in the wilderness along the way as they came out of Egypt had not been circumcised.
Note: Circumcision / Conversion was separate from being a part of the "Assembly of God".

4. Nehemiah 13 is not about a single ethnicity in Israel :

Nehemiah is cited in another answers in ways that affirm "ethnical purity" interpretations of Deuteronomy 23. And certainly, Rabbinicism has used texts like this to justify "Mamzer" prohibitions against inter-marriage.

But Nehemiah 13 - in Context - is a specific prohibition against people from the nations of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab - not simply against any of the ethnicities in those nations.

NASB, Nehemiah 13:3 - So when they heard the law, they [divided (בָּדַל) all the multitude] from Israel.
Note: Nehemiah 13:3, in Hebrew, does not at all say that Israel cut-off or kicked out foreigners from Israel. (See Hebrew occurrences of "בָּדַל".) In Nehemiah 13:30, "טָהֵר | purge", is used. In this case, "בָּדַל" conveys the idea that certain Israelis were "identified".

NASB, Nehemiah 13:23 - In those days I also saw that the Jews had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab.
In Nehemiah 13:3, Nehemiah refers to dividing Israel and the "Multitude", but increases specificity to "The Jews" and then eventually to "The Levites and Priests". But, why does Nehemiah inconsistently reference "The Jews" instead of "Israel" as he had before? This may have been a Euphemism for "Religious leaders" - as perhaps in Nehemiah 2:16, Interlinear, (where Nehemiah didn't report to any authority). Also seen in the Gospel of John many times. Also, Nehemiah is explicitly comparing them to King Solomon, (Nehemiah 13:26). Regardless, in the end - it was the Levites and Priests that were purified, not merely divided.

Nehemiah 13:29-30 - Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. 30 Thus I purified them [the priests] from [every foreigner] and appointed duties for the priests and the Levites, each in his task
Note: Nehemiah took action against the Levites and Priests. Many translations render the Hebrew - "מכל־נכר, (interlinear)", as: "everything foreign" rather than "every foreigner". But, the context is clearly about Nehemiah purifying "foreign peoples" from the priesthood, and not "foreign things".


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