The first time I heard this distasteful word was when I was five years old and about to go to kindergarten. My mother sat me down and made me promise not to tell anyone that I was adopted. I was very confused by this request. But she went on to explain that there were people in the world who might be mean to me because my parents were not married when I was born and call me a bastard. I was still more confused because my dad and mom were married. She smiled and explained that yes they were married and that I was their daughter and no one else’s, and therefore not a real bastard.
Then as an adult I saw this verse.
“No bastard shall enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD. Deut. 23:2
This brings to mind two questions. What is a bastard? What does it mean to enter the assembly?
The English translation seems pretty straightforward. However mamzer is one of the rarest words in the Hebrew. The standard way of ascertaining what a word means is to look at all its uses. That’s hard to do when it is used only one other time in the whole of the Old Testament were it is translated mongrel not bastard.
. . . . a mongrel people shall dwell in Ashdod; and I will make an end of the pride of Philistia. Zech. 9:6
So what is a mamzer? That’s a little hard to tell. It should be noted that none of the children born in the Bible to unmarried or incestuous relationships are called mamzer. [Gen. 38:26-29; Judg. 11:1-2; 2Sam. 12; Hos. 1:2]
The mongrel people dwelling in Ashdod were most likely a group of people who moved into the empty cities of the Gaza. These new people are not the Philistines, the warrior giants of the famed Goliath and his brothers. These are people that have moved into the area after the Philistines had long disappeared from the historic record. The last mention of Philistines in the Bible was king Ussiah breaking down their walls. After this, the Egyptians and the Assyrians stop recording dealings with them.
And he went forth and warred against the Philistines, and brake down the wall of Gath, and the wall of Jabneh, and the wall of Ashdod, and built cities about Ashdod, and among the Philistines. 2Chr. 26:6
All this leaves us with only one conclusion. They are children of a mixed religion marriage, e.g. a Israelite married to a pagan worshiper.
Enter the Assembly
If you look back at Deut. 23 passage you will see that there are others that are restricted from entering into the congregation for ten generations, the eunuch, the Ammonites, and the Moabites. Edomites are only restricted for three generations.
“He whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of the LORD. Deut. 23:1
“No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none belonging to them shall enter the assembly of the LORD for ever; Deut. 23:3
The children of the third generation that are born to them may enter the assembly of the LORD. Deut. 23:8
Some think that these people were excluded from communication with the people of God in their religious services. This is because the eunuch, the Ammonites, and the Moabites were servants or slaves and would have been present during services.
However eunuchs and foreigners are encouraged to stay in the congregation.
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” Is. 56:3
Then there is a theory that it only means that they are excluded from having an office in the congregation, meaning they could not be judges or elders. The reasoning behind this is because those of the priestly class were not allowed to served as priests if they had a blemish, such as crushed testicles than these excluded people were to be treated the same. [Lev. 21:16-24]
The only other place were there is an explanation of this is the putting away of the foreign wives and children in Nehemiah.
On that day they read from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God; Neh. 13:1
It was permitted to marry people from these nations as long as they proselytized. Ruth is the prime example of this. She merely states “Your God is my God.” [Ruth 1:16] However after their time in Babylon they had acquired wives and therefore children that were unconverted.
So based on the Nehemiah passage those that were excluded from entering the assembly were those that were attached to the Israelite in some manner but never changed their religion. These are the mamzers.
The enemy has stretched out his hands over all her precious things; yea, she has seen the nations invade her sanctuary, those whom thou didst forbid to enter thy congregation. Lam. 1:10
This is why Paul must clarify the position of individual faith, over corporate faith.
For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy. 1Cor. 7:14
Messiah gave us the Kingdom Age. We are no longer instructed to maintain a physical nation, but rather a worldwide spiritual kingdom.