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Moses writes in Deuteronomy 23:1,
1 No one who is emasculated, or has his male organ cut off, shall enter the assembly of the Lord [kahal].
Under the Old Covenant, such physical incapacity barred men from being part of the assembly. The assembly, or congregation, is the kahal, This is the Hebrew word that is carried into the New Testament by the Greek word ekklesia, “assembly, or church.”
If we were to take this law literally, or if God were really that concerned with sexual debilitation, then we might insist that such men cannot join the church. In fact, if men believe that joining the church is necessary for salvation, they may deny salvation to all eunuchs. So what is the truth about this?
First of all, we can surmise how the priests interpreted this law in Isaiah’s day, for the prophet writes a rather astounding word from God to clarify this law. Isaiah 56:3-6,
3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from His people.” Neither let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the Lord, “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, 5 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.”
This ought to be considered a Supreme Court ruling to clarify the law of Moses. Eunuchs could not reproduce, and so it was said of them that their name was cut off. That is, they would have no sons to carry on their family or to inherit their property. But Isaiah honors them with “an everlasting name which will not be cut off.” This seems like a contradiction, but keep in mind that the job of the prophet was to interpret and apply the divine law by the mind of Christ.
It is clear, then, that Moses’ law was being misinterpreted in Isaiah’s day. It was not to be applied literally, says Isaiah. So how should we interpret it? The key is in Isaiah’s statement itself. The reward given to a eunuch is “a name better than of sons and daughters.” What can be better??
The requirement for membership in the Old Testament “church” was physical, or fleshly. Most of the people had very little genuine faith throughout Israel’s history, and yet they enjoyed church membership as long as they qualified physically and kept up their rituals. No one was “cut off from among their people” unless they violated certain laws in a tangible manner. From that standpoint, faith was not a requirement for church membership. Only works were required.
Of course, this was never the intent of God. God has always required faith for membership in “the true church,” whose membership list is the Lamb’s Book of Life in heaven and not on earth. And so, an emasculated man might be excluded from church membership on earth, but in no way does this affect his status in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Under the Old Covenant, an emasculated Israelite might have no physical sons, but he could yet be among the sons of God, as Jesus said in John 1:12, 13,
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood(line), nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
It is clear, then, that one’s ability to reproduce children is only a type and shadow of the real concern that God has—reproducing sons of God in the image of Christ. A eunuch might have no children but have the faith to bring forth “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Isaiah probably understood this, but it becomes abundantly clear under the fresh anointing of Pentecost in the New Testament.
One of the first among the ethnos to be converted to Christ was the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:27). Isaiah had prophesied of him in Isaiah 52:15, the very passage that the eunuch was reading when Philip was transported supernaturally to explain the word to him. Acts 8:32, 33 says that the eunuch was reading a passage from Isaiah 53 about the suffering Servant. Philip told him that this was a prophecy about Jesus Christ, who had been the Lamb led to the slaughter.
That section began in Isaiah 52:13. Our Bibles do not divide the chapter in the right place. The section should begin:
13 Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up, and greatly exalted. 14 Just as many were astonished at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men. 15 Thus He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what they had not been told them, they will see, and what they had not heard, they will understand.
Verses 13 and 14 foretell the beating that Jesus received just before His crucifixion. Yet verse 15 also says that as a result, “He will sprinkle many nations.” This began with the Samaritan revival in Acts 8, and the Ethiopian eunuch as well. When the eunuch was baptized according to the law of baptisms (Heb. 6:2; 9:10-14), it fulfilled Isaiah 52:15, showing that Philip sprinkled him according to the law in Lev. 14:7.
Likewise, take note that the eunuch needed enlightenment and understanding. When Philip explained the Scriptures to the eunuch, he fulfilled verse 15, which can be paraphrased to read, “what the teachers had not explained to them, they will see; and the explanations that they had not heard before, they will understand.”
What exactly were they to see and understand? The answer is found earlier in verse 13, “Behold, My servant will prosper.” The eunuch wanted to know who that servant was. No one had been able to tell him the answer. Philip told him that it was Jesus, and he explained to him the recent events of His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
The Hebrew word for “servant” that is used here is ebed. It has a numeric value of 76, and the word is used 800 times in Scripture. The number 76 is the biblical number of cleansing, and is thus connected to the idea of baptism as a cleansing ritual. God’s servants are cleansed.
The New Testament Greek word kurios (“Lord”) has a numeric value of 800. Thus, hidden in the mathematics of the text itself is the key to knowing the identity of that suffering Servant. It is the Lord Himself, who came to earth and was born in Bethlehem. Hence, a servant of God is cleansed and knows Jesus Christ as the great Servant.
Furthermore, His birth in 2 B.C. came 76 x 7 years after the Edict of Cyrus in 534 B.C., which allowed the Judeans to return to their land and rebuild Jerusalem. From a prophetic standpoint, it took 532 years (76 x 7) to cleanse and prepare the way for Christ’s birth after the government of Judah had been raised from the dead. I wrote about this at the end of chapter 8 in my book, Secrets of Time.
The Ethiopian eunuch stands out as the one among the ethnos who began to fulfill these prophecies in Isaiah 52:15. Yet he also became the beneficiary of the prophecies in Isaiah 56:3-5, for his faith brought him to the place where he could become one of the sons of God. By faith he received a name that is better than that of physical sons and daughters.
It is of interest to note that he had been a convert to Judaism up to that point, even though he was a eunuch. And so even the religious leaders in the temple knew that he was not to be excluded from “the church.” Perhaps they believed that Deut. 23:1 applied only to priests or to the high priest (Lev. 21:20).
As New Covenant believers in Christ, how are we to view this law?
We see these physical requirements as prophetic types that reveal spiritual requirements. In this case the physical requirement speaks of the idea of Sonship. It is tied to the law in Deut. 25:5-10, which we will cover in more detail later. In that law, if a man dies childless, his oldest surviving brother was called to raise up a son (the firstborn of the widow) in the name of his dead brother. All of those children would be his biological children, but legally the firstborn would belong to his dead brother. This law forms the backdrop for the book of Ruth.
Such was the practice during the Old Covenant. But that law prophesied of something greater. Jesus was not ashamed to call us brethren (Heb. 2:11), and He died childless. We are His brothers, called to raise up seed unto our elder Brother, so that He does not lose His inheritance in the earth. The “seed” that we are raising up is holy unto the Lord, sanctified and set apart for Him, for they are the sons of God. Though we are the biological parents of the Christ in each of us, that “son of God” legally belongs to Jesus Christ, our older brother.
When the Holy Spirit comes upon us (as with Mary in Matt. 1:18), we become the mother, even as God is the Father of “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Paul speaks of this as a pregnancy in Gal. 4:19, anticipating the full manifestation (birth) of the sons of God.
This is the basic message of Sonship as revealed more fully in the New Testament. The law of Moses, along with prophets such as Isaiah, foreshadow this truth of Sonship, even though their writings need clarification through the inspiration given at Pentecost. Having received the Holy Spirit, our eyes are now opened to the Sonship laws, among which is Deut. 23:1.
We may now see that God’s intent was to show that if a man does not reproduce Christ, he cannot be part of the true church. The true church, or assembly, is defined in Heb. 12:22 and 23,
22 But you have come to Mount Sion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect.
If we are “enrolled in heaven,” it is because the Spirit of God has begotten Christ in us, and that holy seed is growing and maturing until the full birth takes place through the feast of Tabernacles. We are begotten through Passover, we mature through Pentecost, and we give birth through Tabernacles.
The basic law in Deut. 23:1 is a foundational revelation of New Testament truth.