Feedback: Does Deuteronomy 23:3 Invalidate Jesus’ Messianic Claim?

(And Does the Bible Conflate the Ammonites, Moabites, and Midianites?)

by Troy Lacey on November 5, 2021
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Some suggest Jesus could not be the Messiah since he descended from a Moabitess and an Ammonitess, but the charge fails to understand all of Scripture.

I read an article [website redacted] which asked these questions [below]. Are their questions valid?

How can Jesus be the Messiah when he has both Moabite and Ammonite ancestry listed in his genealogies (per Deuteronomy 23:3)? Also did the author of Deuteronomy 23:3–4 “forget” that in Numbers 22:7 it was Midian and not Ammon who with Moab, hired Balaam to curse Israel. How can the Holy Spirit be “real” if it allowed Moses to err and write in Deuteronomy 23:3–4 that it was Ammon instead of Midian who with Moab hired Balaam to curse Israel? The Holy Spirit is not supposed to contradict itself and make mistakes, yet did here, unjustifiably cursing Ammon for all eternity for an action initiated by the “elders of Midian.” And why then were Midian’s descendants not cursed by God and forbidden to enter the Holy Congregation, but only Ammon and Moab are cursed?

—C. D.

Hello C.D., thank you for writing to Answers in Genesis. First of all let’s look at the Deuteronomy passage in question.

No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. (Deuteronomy 23:3–4)

There has been a recent skeptical claim (and it has been repeated on multiple skeptic websites) that since Jesus has both Moabite (direct) and Ammonite (by adoption) bloodlines, he cannot be the Messiah. But first of all those who promote this claim make a classic blunder here. The text specifically states that an Ammonite or Moabite are the proscribed people. Yet neither of these apply to Jesus’ bloodline. Notice that the term used for each is male, not female. An Ammonite woman is not called an Ammonite, but an Ammonitess (1 Kings 14:21; 2 Chronicles 12:13) and a Moabite woman is called a Moabitess (Ruth 1:22; 2 Chronicles 24:26). And according to Jewish law and tradition, curses follow the father, not the mother. The meaning of the text is that (a) any pagan Ammonite or Moabite male cannot enter the assembly of the Lord, or (b) anyone who has an Ammonite or Moabite father and Israelite mother cannot enter the assembly of the Lord. Therefore this text is not applicable in disqualifying Jesus as the Messiah. It is also referring to the Ammonite or Moabite man remaining pagan (not worshipping the one true God). In the occurrence that he married an Israelite woman, his offspring were still under the ban. In Jewish commentaries, rabbis generally interpreted the command of Deuteronomy 23:3 to apply to a (male) Moabite and Ammonite, but not to a Moabitess or Ammonitess. “Ammonite and Moabite converts are prohibited from entering into the congregation and marrying a woman who was born Jewish, and their prohibition is eternal, for all generations. However, their female counterparts, even the convert herself, are permitted immediately” (Mishnah Yevamot 8:3).1

Yet neither of these [terms] apply to Jesus’ bloodline. Notice that the term used for each is male, not female. An Ammonite woman is called not an Ammonite but an Ammonitess, and a Moabite woman is called a Moabitess.

Regarding the Ammonite bloodline, that was through Solomon’s son Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:21), and he is only in Jesus’ bloodline through Jesus’ adoption by Joseph. In regard to the Moabite bloodline (from Ruth) not affecting Jesus’ rightful claim to the Messiahship, there are a couple of factors to consider.

Another reason Deuteronomy 23:3 would not have applied to Ruth and her offspring is simply because a non-Israelite mother in Israel (especially one who was a proselyte!) did not determine the nationality of her offspring. Joseph’s Egyptian wife did not make their sons Ephraim and Manasseh Egyptians (Genesis 41:50–52). Moses’ marriage to Zipporah, a Midianite (Exodus 2:11–25), did not disqualify their sons Gershom and Eliezer from being Israelites (Exodus 2:22; 18:1–4), nor did it make them Midianites. Salmon’s marriage to Rahab (the Jerichoan harlot) did not mean their son Boaz was a recognized Gentile of Jericho (Matthew 1:5). And the Moabitess Ruth, wife of Boaz, did not make their son Obed, their grandson Jesse, their great-grandson David, or their descendants Joseph and Mary (the earthly parents of Jesus) anything other than legitimate descendants of Abraham (Matthew 1:1–17; Luke 3:23–38)—according to the standard reckoning of Israelite heritage. In the eyes of all of Israel, David was an Israelite of the tribe of Judah—and was no more a Moabite than he was a Jerichoan.2

And additionally, the Israelites were to “treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34). People from other nations who worshipped the Lord were allowed to give food offerings to the Lord and were allowed to meet in the general assemblies of the people during religious festivals and were to follow the same rules and be treated as Israelites (Numbers 15:14–15). The “sojourner” (any foreigner living in the land of Israel) was commanded to give thanks and praise to God in the place that God would choose (meaning at first the Tabernacle at Shiloh, and ultimately the Temple at Jerusalem) along with Israelites (Deuteronomy 16:11). And the foreigner living with the Israelite was to assemble with them “that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 31:12–13). Do these passages seem like they are saying that sojourners who worshipped the one true God and not their pagan gods were denied a place in the assemblies for religious festivals? Certainly not!

While the above quote from the Mishnah Yevamot states that male Ammonites and Moabites were prohibited from marrying Jewish women and being in the assembly, that may be referring only to the Tabernacle and Temple proper, not to the general assembly gatherings. Furthermore, that is a rabbinic interpretation, and it may not apply to proselytes but only pagan Moabites and Ammonites. For example, in the Mishnah Yevamot it states that “Mamzerim and the Gibeonites who converted to Judaism in the days of Joshua are prohibited from entering into the congregation and marrying a woman who was born Jewish. Their prohibition is eternal, for all generations, and it applies to both males and females.” Yet we read in Scripture that the Tabernacle during the time of David was in Gibeon (1 Chronicles 21:29), and it was there that the Lord appeared to Solomon and where Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom in ruling Israel as king (1 Kings 3:5–15). Additionally, one of David’s mighty men, Ishmaiah the Gibeonite (1 Chronicles 12:4), was likely with David when he called the assembly to designate Solomon as his successor (1 Chronicles 28:1), and he swore fealty to Solomon alongside the princes of Israel (1 Chronicles 29:24). Also during the time of Nehemiah, Melatiah the Gibeonite and 95 other Gibeonites helped rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:7, 7:25), which when completed were recognized even by Nehemiah’s enemies as the work of God (Nehemiah 6:15–16). Furthermore, we read in Joshua 9:7 and 11:19 that the Gibeonites were of Hivite descent, not of Moabite or Ammonite descent and therefore the proscriptions of Deuteronomy 23:3 do not apply to them. Therefore, this quote from the Mishnah Yevamot seems incongruous with these passages of Scripture if the Gibeonites were “outcasts” to the assemblies of Israel.3

Skeptical About the Holy Spirit?

Frequently, in addition to the above claim of Jesus’ Messiahship being invalidated by Deuteronomy 23:3, there is also included with it a separate (but related due to the nationalities of the peoples mentioned) alleged contradiction about the Holy Spirit confusing and/or conflating Ammon, Moab, and Midian.

First of all, we need to recall that Deuteronomy 23:4 specifically lists two reasons for the curse on Ammon and Moab. The first one, often missed by the skeptics making this claim, is “because they [Ammon and Moab] did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt.” As descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19:37–38), they should have been sympathetic to the plight of the Israelites as they left Egypt. Instead, they were hostile, even though God had forbidden Israel to enter their lands, harass them or take any of their territory (Deuteronomy 2:9 & 19).

God often viewed Midian and Moab as one unit and/or Moab and Ammon as one unit when they were in collusion against Israel.

Also, Moab and Ammon are often viewed as one group. What Moab does can be said of Ammon and vice versa (see Judges 3:12–14, 11:12–28, 2 Chronicles 20; Jeremiah 40:11; Zephaniah 2:8). And Numbers 22–24 shows how Midian was totally intertwined with Moab, and their elders (or rulers) were both united under Balak of Moab. 1 Chronicles 1:46 also seems to hint at strong ties between Midian and Moab. The point is that God often viewed Midian and Moab as one unit and/or Moab and Ammon as one unit when they were in collusion against Israel.

It may also be that Midian was not specifically named in that generational curse in Deuteronomy 23 because Moses had married a Midianite woman, his father-in-law was a Midianite priest to God, and his brother-in-law Hobab (Numbers 10:29) served as a scout and guide for them in the wilderness for a time. Perhaps (unlike the case of Sodom) there were enough righteous people in Midian that the Lord would not allow them all to be cursed. Yet Midian did not escape unscathed from the Balak/Balaam incident, for we read in Numbers 25:17 that God instructed Moses to “harass the Midianites,” and in Numbers 31:2–7, they went to war against them and killed most of the Midianites (some fled from the battle and turned up later in Judges 6 and 7, where they were defeated again by Gideon). Therefore, there was no need for them to be cursed: they were judged by God (and we trust that the Judge of all the earth will do right per Genesis 18:25). The ones who remained after their defeat by Gideon were “subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted their heads no more,” meaning that they no longer had the strength to battle Israel’s armies (Judges 8:28).

Conclusion

Jesus’ Messianic status was and is not affected by his Moabitess ancestry (through Ruth), and he had no Ammonitess ancestry except by adoption, as the maternal line came through David’s son Nathan, not Rehoboam (Luke 3:31). And time and again throughout Scripture, the people of Ammon, Moab, and Midian are equated as collaborating against Israel and are often labeled as a group by the Holy Spirit. There are no contradictions with Deuteronomy 23:3 and other Scripture.

Though the Samaritans were outcasts in Israel, Jesus brought them near with his blood, just as he did with Israelites and other Gentiles and has made them (and us) all one people (Ephesians 2:11–13).

Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the anointed one of God, and ironically one of the first persons, besides Andrew (John 1:40–41) to recognize this was a Samaritan woman (in John 4:25–29) who then brought other Samaritans to Jesus who then also believed Jesus was the Christ (John 4:40–42). The Samaritans were of mixed Jewish, Canaanite, and pan-Mesopotamian heritage, per 2 Kings 17:24. No doubt, some had Ammonite and Moabite ancestry in their blood. Yet recall that one of the last things Jesus said to his disciples before his ascension was that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Though the Samaritans were outcasts in Israel, Jesus brought them near with his blood, just as he did with Israelites and other Gentiles, and has made them (and us) all one people (Ephesians 2:11–13).

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:14–19)

Footnotes

  1. Mishnah Yevamot 8:3, Sefaria.org, accessed November 2, 2021, https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Yevamot.8.3?lang=bi.
  2. Eric Lyons, “Ruth, David, and a Moabite Mandate,” Apologetics Press (2018). Accessed September 17, 2021. https://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1285&article=2862.
  3. While the various Mishnayot can be helpful in ascertaining rabbinical thoughts on passages of Scripture, we need to remember that they are not Scripture and thus not inspired text. There are even disagreements between rabbinic schools within them on biblical texts. Where they disagree completely with biblical texts, they can be pointed out as in error.

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