Summary: Marriage and associations with non-believers
Tags: Marriage and association with non-believers
Before the words of Nehemiah 10:30-29 we had the firm agreement we talked about last week from chapter 9 verse 38
‘in view of all of this – which was God’s continuing providence, love, and forgiveness in the face of the repeated apostasy or denial of God by the people, in view of all of this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, Levites and our Priests are affixing their seals to it.’
Now we see Nehemiah Firming up the law- making it more comprehensive:
And he starts by dramatically insisting that men from the community should not marry foreign women, and that the community should not give their daughters to foreigners in marriage. Nehemiah expands intermarriage prohibitions from the much earlier Deuteronomy 7:3-4 and repeated in Nehemiah chapter 9 verse 8 to all the people around us, or `all the people of the land’ as the NRSV reads. So he now includes Ashdodites, Ammonites, and Moabites against whom himself in chapter 4 and Ezra in chapter 9… protested against.
With language such as `who do detestable things’ suggesting they worship other Gods’ are immoral in many ways, and eat detestable things – at least from a Jewish point of view. (Like pork and black pudding presumably).
The laws given by God were viewed by the Jewish people through the lens of a people who truly believed they were chosen as God’s special representatives on earth. God’s chosen people- and yet in pre- exile to Babylon and during exile they had forgotten and denied God’s law as found in the bible which at that time was the first five scrolls from Genesis to Deuteronomy. Now – returned to Jerusalem they affirmed their wish to obey these laws.
And the first matter raised and expanded by Ezra and Nehemiah is an injunction on marrying foreigners.
On the face of it a recipe for inbreeding which could lead to a higher incidence of gene disorders, structural abnormalities and inherited disease conditions, caused by harmful recessive genes.
But Nehemiah and Ezra wouldn’t have known about any of that- they were just following God’s law as given directly to Moses from Deuteronomy—but they added to it.
And the focus of Today’s sermon stays with chapter 10 verse 30
“We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons. Looking at the Old Testament and the new to answer that question for ourselves, and I doubt we will all agree.
In Deuteronomy, the restriction on marriage was only against the Canaanites – God’s concern for his people that the immorality of these seven nations would corrupt the Hebrews. It can be argued that the restriction would only last as long as the immorality did.
Ezra’s scope in Nehemiah was more universal – and hasn’t lasted the test of time. Today in admittedly a recent significant change:
Of the non orthodox Jewish Rabbis. The vast majority will conduct interfaith marriages, especially of those living outside Israel.
In 21st Israel itself however, matters with the Orthodox Jewish remain much the same, intermarriage is not recognised. And when it comes to Israeli Arabs who number roughly 21% of Israel’s over 8 million population the fractious relationship that existed at the time of Nehemiah and before remains.
A 2007 opinion survey in Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper found that more than half of Israeli Jews believed intermarriage is equivalent to "national treason”. And government funded agencies enforce psychological assessment on Jewish Girls with Arab Boyfriends.
So what can we learn about interfaith or faith and no-faith partnerships and marriage when we apply New Testament teaching to Old Testament:
The Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament in the vast-majority of cases, condemn inter-faith marriages:
I’m not going to say them all now, that would take all day, but a few:
Exodus 34:12-16: "Take care not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going, or it will become a snare among you. You shall tear down their altars, break their pillars, and cut down their sacred poles...You shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land...And you will take wives from among their daughters for your sons, and their daughters who prostitute themselves to their gods will make your sons also prostitute themselves to their gods."
Here, God orders the Israelites to destroy the religious structures of the people of the land that they were invading. He further instructs the Israelites to not allow their sons to marry foreign wives - women who would follow a different religion and worship other Gods.