3.60 Deuteronomy -- Treatment of Foreigners: Related Peoples
Deuteronomy's main focus is on Israel's responsibility to obey God's commands. Some of these commands involve the treatment of non-Israelites. But there is no single method of dealing with aliens. In fact, the treatment of foreigners depends upon which of five groups they belong to. The most common modern misunderstanding of the Old Testament's racial teachings is to ignore the differences among these various groups, and to assume God decreed the annihilation or enslavement of all foreigners. Let us look at the 5 groupings in detail:
a. Related Tribes. God forbade Israel to attack nations whose founders were related to Abraham or Isaac: Edom, descended from Esau (Deut 2:4-5); and Moab and Ammon, descended from Lot (Deut 2:9, Deut 2:19). It is interesting that the same phrase is used in each verse: "I have given -------- to ---------- as a possession." This is stated more explicitly in Moses' swan song:
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel (Deut 32:8).
These allotments of national territories are not stated earlier in the Bible. So this shows us that God acts outside the Bible and outside sacred history. He is not merely the God of Abraham and his descendants, He is the God of the whole earth, who determines the boundaries of all its inhabitants. These land-grants were not revealed to men, not even to those foreign nations to whom He gave the land. After all, the Ammonites and Moabites, not to mention the thousands of other peoples scattered over the globe, all served some form of false deity and did not have any knowledge of the true God who gave them their land. Nevertheless, God told the Israelites He was the one who set their boundaries and Israel had to respect the borders of the surrounding nations. They were not to be treated like Canaanites and annihilated.
However, there are restrictions on these nations because of their hostility to Israel during the Exodus. Moabites and Ammonites were excluded from joining with Israel even to ten generations, because they did not supply Israel with food and water, and, probably more seriously, they hired Balaam to curse Israel. This was the same penalty as was accorded to Israelites of illegitimate birth (Deut 23:2-3). This was a "hard" exclusion, a virtually permanent anathema against these nations. Edom and Egypt fared far better, and were restricted only to the third generation. Egypt was the land of captivity and slavery, and Edom refused assistance to Israel during their escape (Num 20:14-21). Nevertheless, after only three generations, people of Edomite or Egyptian heritage could become part of Israel, provided they complied with all the other regulations (circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, feasts and sacrifices, etc) (Deut 23:7-8).