Tough Passages #5: Eunuchs and Pharisees (Deuteronomy 23:1)

In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way.  Last month, we looked at a strange command from Deuteronomy about illegitimate children.  This month, we have an even stranger command to look at.

The Verse

He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.

Deuteronomy 23:1, KJV

The Secular Response

If someone ever tries to debate that “we are all God’s children” kindly remind them that if you’re in any way missing your goods, you’re pretty much screwed. If you have testicular cancer, according to The Bible, you really shouldn’t bother praying for yourself.

Also, new rule: according to this rule, if someone kicks you in the balls in church, in addition to being in extreme pain, in order to be polite, you have to walk all the way outside until the pain subsides (and rises to your stomach.)

Ivana Wynn, ranker.com

Our Reply

This one is very similar to our previous Tough Passage. In April, we looked at the next verse in this chapter, which said that children with parents from another nation couldn’t hold political office, and we noted that it is intended to show the lengths God will go to in order to protect His people (and we also pointed out that the verse can’t kick children whose parents weren’t married out of the church, because that would leave out Jesus).

Historical facts clear up this passage, too; the prohibition isn’t against eunuchs being allowed to get close to God.  It targets men who have partaken in pagan rituals, or become close servants to pagan kings, from being appointed to positions of leadership.  Again, it’s just showing how much God cares about His people and how much He wants them to be protected (in this case, from idols).  It’s another law given to Israel as a state, and intended for a time.

But this month, Ivana Wynn’s specific (and intentionally silly) objections are what I want to talk about, because she’s saying things that sound like they could be holy.  In fact, I’m struck by how much her intentionally-silly takedowns of fundamentalist reactions sound like actual things actual pharisees have actually said.

For instance, the law that God gave prohibits working on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees took that…a little overboard.  Rather than simply refraining from going to their job, the Pharisees insisted that you couldn’t do anything at all on the Sabbath, from gardening to cooking.  In another law, God mandates tithes from the produce or income of all Israel’s people; Pharisees took that to the extreme and began to tithe from their spice cabinet.

Legalists are living like atheists.

There are plenty of modern examples, too.  Christians who insist that drinking alcohol is a sin.  Or watching Rated R movies, or listening to secular music.  If your image of a Christian is a stern, tight-lipped grandmother saying “No!”- well, then, you know what I’m talking about.

Of course, Ivana’s jab is meant to be a joke at the expense of legalists (one that I find funny).  But it also highlights an important truth: Legalists are living like atheists; seeking fulfillment through their own abilities, rather than falling into God’s waiting arms.  In their quest to become holy, they neglect the very reason for holiness.  It’s a sad misunderstanding of God’s law, especially after Jesus.

Holiness is important, but it’s a result of Christ’s work, not a prerequisite.

See, Jesus came to free us from all of our sins, including the sin of making up new types of holiness for ourselves.  He makes a way for fallen people to get to God that doesn’t involve our own effort, because our own effort could never get us there anyway.  Ignoring His gift by trying to do it on your own is ignoring the entirety of God’s story, and in a way, ignoring the existence of God Himself.  Holiness is important, but it’s a result of Christ’s work, not a prerequisite.

So surrender to the gift He gives, and the freedom that He died for.  Because when you’re a Christian legalist, you aren’t closer to God.  You’re a functional atheist.

• • •

Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture!  Next month in Tough Passages, we’re going to talk some more about children, this time in Psalm 137:9.  In the meantime, there will be lots of great content coming out every week!

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